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Buffalo Bills fantasy football primer: running backs

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LeSean McCoy and...well, LeSean McCoy

The Buffalo Bills have an absolute star at running back in LeSean McCoy. The 29 year-old veteran of eight NFL seasons has totaled 8,954 yards on the ground, 60 rushing touchdowns, 382 receptions, 2,930 yards receiving, and 13 receiving touchdowns in that span. Add in that he’s only fumbled 19 times on 2,280 total touches (for an average of once every 120 touches), and it’s easy to see why his value is so high both in real life and in fantasy football. If there is a premium Buffalo Bill to acquire in fantasy football, Shady is that guy.

Yahoo! fantasy has McCoy finishing as the 8th-ranked running back in the league, slotting just behind Jordan Howard of the Chicago Bears and just in front of DeMarco Murray of the Tennessee Titans. Yahoo! projects McCoy to score 223.4 fantasy points in a league where receptions count as half a point. Their statistical projection sees McCoy carrying 241 times for 1,110 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns, while adding 41 receptions for 321 yards and another 2 touchdowns receiving. They also assume that he will lose one fumble and score on a two-point attempt at some point during the season.

With McCoy projecting to be such a valuable player, it stands to reason that he will be drafted early. Shady is currently slotting as the fourth running back off the board, and his average draft slot is pick 8 of the first round. Melvin Gordon, Jay Ajayi, Devonta Freeman, and the aforementioned Howard are all slotted to finish slightly ahead of McCoy in fantasy scoring, but they are currently being drafted behind him. That’s not to say that McCoy represents a bad value at the eighth overall pick, however. It’s more indicative of players’ tendency to draft bell-cow running backs high. Six of the top-twelve picks in Yahoo! leagues are currently running backs, so investing in McCoy will require a round one selection.

As for his auction value, it’s a similar story. While he’s projected to be worth $54, he’s currently averaging a price tag of $57. Regardless of the total budget, that’s a hefty price to pay, but McCoy’s overall production will most likely be worth it. McCoy is currently owned in 99% of Yahoo! leagues (implying that 1% of those leagues are full of idiots), so if you’re looking to acquire a Bills’ running back, the percentages at present suggest that McCoy will be the only one worth drafting; however, if you subscribe to the “handcuff” theory, you may be in the market for one of McCoy’s backups. Which one makes the most sense?

According to the Yahoo! projections, it’s Jonathan Williams. Owned in only 5% of Yahoo! leagues, the second-year man out of Arkansas is projected to carry the ball 91 times for 396 yards and 5 touchdowns. Yahoo! also thinks he’ll add 11 receptions for 78 yards to his total, leaving him with 83.7 fantasy points for the season. Obviously, Williams would become more valuable if McCoy were to miss a game, which is a strong possibility. McCoy has only played 16 games twice in his career (in 2013 and 2014), and although he has only missed 11 games in his career, he’s still been a pretty good bet to miss at least one in each of his career seasons. You could target Williams pretty late and still acquire his services; he’s not listed among the first 200 running backs in auction leagues, and he doesn’t appear as a drafted running back (on average) among the first 60 running backs in standard draft leagues.

The dark horse at the position for the Bills is the veteran fullback Mike Tolbert, who is currently unowned in all Yahoo! leagues. While he hasn’t been much of a threat over the last few years with the Carolina Panthers, that’s easily explained by the offense trending towards using quarterback Cam Newton as a goal line back rather than the Toldozer. Yahoo! projects Tolbert to score 9.5 fantasy points, coming from 5 carries, 14 rushing yards, 1 touchdown, 4 receptions, and 18 receiving yards. Those projections are comically low for a guy who could see work as the team’s primary third down back based on his blocking ability alone. How could he provide offensive value if he’s there to block, you ask? Think about Tyrod Taylor on third downs—how often is he really pushing the ball aggressively downfield? There will be plenty of opportunity for Tolbert to block and release into the flats, allowing Taylor to check it down to the big fella for some bruising gains.

After some preseason games, we’ll update these projections and add some of our own.

This is the third installment of our Bills-centric fantasy football primer. If you missed our discussion of the wide receivers and the quarterbacks, they’re linked so you can check them out!