Written By Sal Conti Follow on Twitter: @SC2sports_DFW
LeSean McCoy has let down many fantasy owners over the past 2-3 seasons. McCoy might be the most elusive running back in the game today. Injuries, lackluster quarterback play and the improper usage of McCoy have held him back. Andy Reid is a good coach, don’t get me wrong, but, if my predictions hold true, new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly should use McCoy much more effectively. After all, the former Oregon man is the wizard of the Read Option, a simple little running play that’s taken the NFL by storm ever since Cam Newton dominated his competition during his rookie year.
Kelly has been mighty tight lipped about the Eagles personnel and their schemes. Nobody knows exactly how they will run their offense, but we do know that there will be plenty of zone reads. How does this play work so effectively? What impact will it have on LeSean McCoy, and where do I rank him for the upcoming fantasy season amongst other running backs?
(This next sentence is really turning into a cliché for me; I’ll have to fix that in my upcoming articles)
Let’s take a look.
Some analysts and NFL fans are skeptical that Chip’s fast paced, exotic running game will translate to the NFL level. I mean, sure, Philly won’t be tallying on 50+ points on multiple opponents like Oregon did to theirs last season. But that doesn’t mean that Chip won’t get his main RB some very quality looks.
The bread and butter play of Chip Kelly’s offense is called the Zone Read, a running play in which the quarterback ‘zone reads’ the backside defensive end to determine what to do with the ball. All of the offensive lineman block to the strong side and never go the other direction. The ideal end result of this play is for the running back to burst through the hole made by the interior OL, or to make a cut inside to make space and break an even longer run.
There are two types of zone reads, the Inside and Outside Zone Read; I’ll go over the Inside Zone Read first.
For further reference, I’m going to refer to the backside defensive end as the “Read Man,” as 99% of the time, that’s who is being read. On the Inside Zone play, the read man is left unblocked. This allows him to make a decision on where to go much easier. If he stays where he is when the ball is snapped, the quarterback will hand the ball off to the running back. If the DE instead crashes towards the running back, the quarterback will pull the ball, and run outside.
Excuse the football jargon. Coach Sal just got a little too fired up at the thought of X’s and O’s. Here’s a diagram of the Inside Zone Read that displays what I just described.
The Outside Zone Read is very similar to its counterpart. However, hence the term ‘outside,’ in this play, the running back looks to run outside to the right, if he is given the ball. If the quarterback pulls the ball and runs, he still will run outside to the left.
Both of these plays can be flipped, as well, with the running back on the left or right side.
Alright kids school is out of session; now let’s take our new knowledge of the Zone Read and intertwine it with LeSean McCoy.
Shady is only 5’11”, but boy oh boy can he boogie. Barry Sanders compared McCoy’s game to his own, just to emphasize how agile he is. Not only does he have world class speed, but he can stop dead in his tracks, change direction, and then keep running. Mentally, LeSean is also very polished. Although his offensive line has been shabby in recent years, McCoy has the patience and vision to make crisp cuts and find himself room to make the biggest play possible.
From an analysis standpoint, it’s tough to fully project how McCoy will perform next season, as he will be playing in the new Zone Blocking System. What is encouraging, though, is that McCoy averaged 4+ YPC when running to the left or right sideline. This number bodes well for the Outside Zone Read.
I also see the number of McCoy’s red zone touchdowns to increase. Chip Kelly loves to run swing passes, screens, zone reads, and triple option plays from the 20 yard line going in. LeSean only had 47 combined red zone touches last season.
During his last season at Oregon in 2011, LaMichael James had 61. The difference in red zone touches may seem small, but that difference could pay dividends for your fantasy team, given the right outcome.
In Keeper Leagues, I like LeSean McCoy much, much more than I did before. Chip Kelly brings a whole new unique energy and scheme that works perfectly for a small, agile, shifty, and speedy running back like McCoy. The Eagles offense has been one to avoid for a few years now to say the least so as long as Chip keeps Philly at or around the .500 mark he won’t be in any danger of losing his job.
Andy Reid’s magic in Philly has simply worn off. I’m sure he and Jamaal Charles will have defensive coordinators scratching their heads for 16 weeks. However, there is no more intriguing fantasy running back to project for the upcoming season than LeSean McCoy, my 5th highest RB for the upcoming fantasy football season.