Ranked as RB8 & 10 in my initial 2018 fantasy football rankings, Melvin Gordon and LeSean McCoy both finished as top-10 fantasy scoring running backs last year and seem likely to do so once again in ’18.
With just four picks separating their current average draft position – Gordon 1.09, McCoy 2.01 – the difference between the two will likely come down to personal preference on draft day since their likely projected totals won’t be separated by a substantial amount.
My choice in this debate is Gordon for reasons that will be mentioned below, but there is a case to be made here for each player.
The Case for Gordon
Despite finishing as RB5 in fantasy last year, Gordon seems to carry this stigma that if he’s going to be your squad’s lead running back, you better be very strong elsewhere to get your team through the season and into the playoffs.
However, Gordon was a very consistent scorer and performed at the perfect time for you if you made your league’s playoffs.
Gordon finished the 2017 regular season under double digits in fantasy scoring just three times, and averaged 20.3 points per game (.5 PPR) during the standard fantasy football playoffs (weeks 14-16). Most importantly, he put up 25.9 points in your semi-finals and 20.3 points in your championship matchup if you were fortunate enough to make it that far.
For those who don’t think Gordon has boom weeks or can be the player that your fantasy team leans on, keep in mind that he topped 20 fantasy points five times last year including two games with more than 30.
Enough about last year, let’s move onto why Gordon will once again be a top running back to own in fantasy in 2018.
Let’s start with the evolution of the running back position. Just a few short years ago the “zero RB” strategy was introduced to fantasy players, and rightfully so, as offenses in the NFL became more and more pass heavy making receivers more valuable in fantasy football than they’ve ever been.
Fast forward to today, if you’re playing the “zero RB” strategy, I’d be willing to bet we won’t be seeing you in the playoffs anytime soon.
It’s not so much that running backs are averaging over 20 carries and being labeled as “bell cows” as they were in the past, but rather these running backs are lighter, more athletic and are more heavily involved in the pass game.
Gordon recorded 58 receptions last year which is basically equivalent to what a team’s third-leading receiver produces. Those additional 58 catches for 476 yards and four touchdowns through the air last season really add up when you start playing in half and full PPR leagues.
Ready for another reason to target Gordon on draft day? Tell me the running back that is going to steal his touches on a consistent basis. If your answer to this question is Austin Ekeler based on one game last year against Jacksonville where he caught two touchdowns, I’ll take my chances with that occurrence being an outlier.
Youth is also on Gordon’s side as he’ll be just 25 when the season starts, his fourth in the NFL. He also doesn’t have a great deal of usage so far in his career despite being the team’s lead running back.
Gordon has never topped 285 carries in a season, and despite this amount of usage, he’s been a great touchdown producer after not finding the end zone a single time his rookie year. Since his scoreless rookie season, Gordon has totaled 24 touchdowns over the last two years.
The Case for McCoy
Do you believe in running backs once they turn 30 years old? This is the primary question you’ll have to ask yourself when deciding whether or not to draft McCoy to your fantasy team in 2018.
Production really hasn’t been an issue, especially the last two years, as McCoy finished as RB7 last year and RB3 in 2016. It should also be noted that McCoy was able to accumulate these fantasy stats despite the fact that he’s typically the focal point of opposing team’s defensive game plans. Tyrod Taylor has been a decent fantasy quarterback, but he hasn’t had a receiver finish in the top 72 at WR in the last two seasons!
Although McCoy had a handful of games under double-digit fantasy points last year, he also put together a run of clutch performances when your team needed it the most. Between weeks seven through 16 – the weeks you’re making your run to the postseason and playing in playoff matchups – McCoy tallied five weeks with more than 20 fantasy points including 23.6 in the semis and 17.2 in the championship.
Along with turning 30 this offseason, another concern surrounding McCoy will be the fact that he’s playing on a team with so much uncertainty.
Will they stick with Taylor at quarterback? Does Zay Jones emerge or does the team land a top-end receiver? Do the Bills draft a running back to ease the load McCoy carries while preparing the draftee to be the future of the position?
While all of these questions will be important to monitor, you must also consider the fact that the Bills aren’t exactly an offensive juggernaut. This is important to note because you’ll often find that leading fantasy scorers play for teams that are near the top of the league in scoring.
The stat McCoy has going for him that makes him a great fantasy running back despite the team he plays for? The Bills are a combined 24-24 and average just 22.5 points per game over the three years McCoy has been in Buffalo. This shows that McCoy’s fantasy output isn’t dependent on his team’s success, which can’t be said for too many players in the league.
With McCoy you’re selecting a guy who will often be listed on the injury report but tends to play through the pain as he’s missed just one game over the last two seasons.
One final argument for the McCoy side – 38 percent of his regular season games will be against AFC East opponents. Why is this important? Miami, New England and the New York Jets all finished (basically) in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards allowed per game. The Dolphins were fairly respectable at 14th, but the Patriots and Jets finished 20th and 24th, respectively, allowing over 114 rush yards per game.
Whether or not the rush defenses in the AFC East will improve or not is nearly impossible to predict at this time, but if you put any stock into last season’s stats when considering players for your fantasy team, you’ll be hard pressed to find another running back with this amount of lucrative matchups.
Once again, I’m taking Gordon if my draft selection comes down between these two, but there is definitely a case to be made for both. Let us know who ya got!
Check out the latest episode of the Loaded Box Podcast where we preview the offseason for the teams in the AFC South.