I had McCoy ranked as a low-end fantasy starter most of the summer and higher than any staffer throughout the preseason as a Bill. I immediately made him my top-ranked Chief RB and kept him as a fantasy starter in value upon learning the news.
Still, I cautioned that McCoy and Damien Williams would go through the Andy Reid committee experience as described in the link above and the highlights below, which countered our most visible industry analysts who believed Damien Williams would be the bell-cow:
- Andy Reid will use a committee when his backfield lacks experience and or skill due to injuries and suspension.
- Reid will elevate a committee back to a high-volume starter if he proves his value or the depth is lacking.
- Damien Williams is a competent NFL contributor with size, speed, and receiving skills.
- Williams's competence does not make him especially creative against tighter creases and he hasn't proven to possess strong processing speed and agility in moderately difficult, but executable scenarios for an NFL starter.
- Carlos Hyde and Darwin Thompson display compelling creativity, power, and processing speed in more difficult situations. They may not only reduce Williams' potential volume but also push him out of the committee by taking away various roles:
- Red zone and short-yardage (Likely Hyde but Thompson has underrated power).
- Passing downs (Thompson if he displays good pass protection).
- Two-minute offense (Thompson--see above).
- Early-downs (Both)
- The Chiefs play in a division that's generous to running backs as runners and/or receivers so as long as Williams earns volume, he should deliver starter production in leagues using 2-3 runners in a lineup.
- Williams's value has been largely touchdown-dependent.
- Hyde and Thompson have shown enough that Reid doesn't feel tied to Williams. This happened when Spencer Ware overtook a committee of Charcandrick West and Cyrus Gray and also when Kareem Hunt performed well to cut into Ware's hold as a starter before Ware suffered a season-ending injury.
- Williams remains draftable, but the best potential draft value might rookie Darwin Thompson.
After 12 weeks of Chiefs games, here are the facts about the Kansas City backfield and considerations for how to proceed down the stretch with Kansas City runners.
The Chiefs backfield has been valuable Point producers but maddening to predict
When ranking the fantasy production of team backfields, Kansas City is 14th among NFL backfields in standard leagues with 229.3 points and 12th in PPR formats with 299.3 points. The Chiefs have the 11th-most receptions at the position (70) and they're tied for fifth in touchdowns (14).
Technically, this is a fantasy RB1 backfield. From a practicality standpoint, it's been a disaster for fantasy players. The individual points totals tell the story.
The Chiefs Backfield's Individual 2019 Fantasy Breakdown (12-team leagues, PPR)
Total mess, right? If you're starting three running backs—and this is a big if when there were several weeks where you're better off starting four receivers in a PPR format with these flex allowances—McCoy led the backfield with seven startable games to Damien Williams's six and Darrell Williams isn't far behind with five.
Damien had the greatest high-lows of the trio because McCoy had the most RB2 production and the greatest sum of RB1-RB2 value. Overall, this spread made it difficult to predict when to use your share of this backfield because often seemed when one got hurt or fell out of favor, there were still two candidates to vie for touches.
The only easy moments amid the committee conundrum came in Weeks 3-4 when we knew Damien Williams would miss time. This is when McCoy and Darrel Williams traded off as fantasy RB1 and fantasy RB2 producers during this span.
For most of the season, the most compelling intel—whether it was an injury or a bench-inducing fumble or lackluster production that succumbed to a teammate's hot hand—occurred during the games. Here's the maddening breakdown of this depth chart's fantasy performance by week:
The Chiefs Backfield's Fantasy Performances By Week
|1||Damien Williams||12th||LeSean McCoy||30th|
|2||Damien Williams||36th||LeSean McCoy||58th|
|3||LeSean McCoy||6th||Darrel Williams||15th|
|4||Darrel Williams||11th||LeSean McCoy||18th|
|5||Damien Williams||45th||LeSean McCoy||51st|
|6||Damien Williams||33rd||LeSean McCoy||37th|
|7||LeSean McCoy||20th||Darrel Williams||55th|
|8||LeSean McCoy||27th||Damien Williams||31st|
|9||Damien Williams||9th||LeSean McCoy||58th|
|10||Damien Williams||11th||Darrel Williams||48th|
|11||LeSean McCoy||13th||Darrel Williams||25th|
|13||LeSean McCoy||27th||Darwin Thompson||33rd|
Joy. No runner on the team had more than two consecutive weeks as the leading fantasy producer of this backfield. By the time most fantasy players felt comfortable with the idea of starting the player for that third week, the scenario changed.
McCoy hasn't played to his production ceiling but he has been the least maddening of the quartet. On the field, he remains the most refined runner on the depth chart. He's patient, creative when blocking breaks down, and he still has excellent movement and burst.
Three fumbles—two of them resulting in turnovers—have been a significant reason Andy Reid has not handed over the backfield to the veteran. He earned 15 touches in Week 4 against the Lions only to lose a fumble during his second touch in the middle of the second quarter a week later against the Colts and he didn't earn another touch for the rest of the game.
After earning 14 touches against Denver in Week 7, McCoy earned the bulk of the carries for three-quarters of the following game against the Packers until he fumbled late in the quarter during a key possession and the Packers subsequently took the lead. Guess who didn't see another touch during the fourth quarter?
Two weeks ago, McCoy fumbled but recovered his own miscue during a 13-touch effort against the Chargers. He earned eight touches against the Raiders during the first half of a blowout that allowed Kansas City to give Darwin Thompson playing time during the second half.
If this were a closer game, bank on McCoy earning more touches. I believe this because there's a clear pattern that I outline in the August article about Reid's behavior with his committees:
- Reid begins with a two- or three-headed backfield and evaluates which back is performing the best. If it's clear during the game, he'll ride the hot hand. If it's not, he'll evaluate post-game.
- The following week, barring injuries to the committee, Reid will give last week's top performer more of the touches. He doesn't increase the workload to a featured role but he ups the volume enough to test his idea about the player.
- If the player makes a significant mistake or several smaller mistakes, he'll re-evaluate the situation and even-out the touches or give another player a chance.
- After 2-4 weeks of this testing, if the same player holds up, Reid will begin to feed him a greater majority of the touches and by month's end, it will become clear who the lead back is.
- If the back fails again, it's back to committee town.
We've seen this in Philadelphia and with incarnations of the Chiefs backfield as detailed in what I shared in August. Unfortunately, the Chiefs backfield didn't have any player emerge because something happened every 1-3 weeks to lead Reid back to the committee.
Because McCoy has looked like the best of the bunch when he's on the field, it's plausible that Reid has been saving McCoy for the playoffs because he's had two proven committee backs who could keep McCoy fresh. I'm not buying it because based on Reid's committee behavior just outlined, it seems Reid has punished McCoy for mistakes.
If you know anything about Reid's personality, he enforces discipline but he doesn't hold grudges. Some managers will lose total trust in a talented player and make him crawl through glass to earn a small shot after a mistake. Others, like Reid, will weigh the history and value of the player and approach these issues on a case-by-case basis.
Considering his history with McCoy, Reid punishes at the moment and makes him work for more the following week but he and his staff are managing the situation by giving enough opportunities to earn back trust.
With McCoy's usage this year, Darrel Williams out, and Damien Williams iffy to play this week, McCoy remains the safest bet and a solid consideration for fantasy RB2 production in Weeks 14-16 if you have him and you're considering multiple options for one of your 2-3 slots in your starting lineup at the position. Another underlying reason for this conclusion is the Chiefs' win-loss record.
At 8-4, Kansas City will be competing with New England, Baltimore, and Houston for a playoff bye or hosting a home game. They can directly influence their destiny against the Patriots this weekend and with the Ravens and Bills each facing one playoff-caliber team during their final three weeks of games, there's a chance that the Chiefs will have a compelling reason to continue using its starters during the final weeks of the regular season.
It's safe to say that McCoy will at least play a significant role during Weeks 14 and 15 because these are the two most pivotal weeks for determining Kansas City's postseason path.
If Damien Williams returns this week and his rib cartilage injury isn't as much of a concern as Jene Bramel's week-to-week designation portends, then the situation becomes murky.
If you strictly look at past production, the scenario favors Damien because during the six weeks that Damien has been the leading producer of the backfield, McCoy has only had one relevant fantasy week—as a mid-range RB3. Even when McCoy led the backfield production with Damien healthy, McCoy was 27th among backs that week and Damien was 31st.
Not good. So, based on past dynamics, when Reid feels good about Damien and McCoy at the same time, Damien has been the better play. However, this is a strict column-counting process without accounting for any on-field context.
When accounting for the actual situation, Damien will likely still be limited if he returns this week and McCoy is the healthiest back who is once again in the high-end of Reid's committee cycle. If you're forced to play a Chiefs' back against New England's defenses that's the second-best unit and preventing fantasy points for the running back position, I would recommend McCoy.
Another reason for McCoy is that he fits the profile of the backs that have had success against the Patriots this year. Frank Gore, Le'Veon Bell, Nick Chubb, Mark Ingram II, and Ezekiel Elliott all performed efficiently and/or productively against New England and all five are patient and creative runners with great footwork and skill between the tackles.
Damien is good in space but still struggles with plays between the tackles where McCoy remains the superior decision-maker and this is where New England's defense will be most vulnerable. If Damien remains out—and out for multiple weeks—Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware will get a chance.
Thompson performed well in limited time against the Raiders in garbage time. He showed patience between the tackles and skill after contact. Because he's so agile and possesses a low center of gravity, defenders have a difficult time keeping track of him between the tackles. Because he's strong for his height and gets lost behind blockers, opponents also fail to get square hits on him as often as they might otherwise.
As promising as Thompson has been, I don't think he's played to his top speed. He's picking the correct creases but not hitting them as clean and quick as I've seen him do at Utah State. It's likely that he's still processing a little slower due to lack of ingrained familiarity and playing experience in the Chiefs' system.
Thompson's pass protection has been promising and effective with the exception of a nitpicky holding call last week on a cut block. Still, when examining the process behind the results, it's clear why Andy Reid doesn't see Thompson as a finished product in this area because Thompson's collision points have either been too low or not as balanced as they could be. When seeing that lack of technical consistency, it probably concerns Reid enough that he's seen the usage of Thompson as a "like-to-do" but not a "must-do."
Now that it could have been a "must," Reid brought Ware back to the fold. If you read the Gut Check, you know what Ware can bring to the fold—close-out touches, red-zone carries, and lots of touches on third downs and two-minute offensive situations. His familiarity with the offense makes him a plug-and-play option immediately.
While my old brethren at FFToday are reporting that Damien may return this weekend—and the owner of the site is based in Kansas City, so he may have a contact he trusts—I'd be wary of Damien having a significant role this week if the team brought Ware back. What does this mean for your fantasy team?
If you have Thompson, hold onto him or acquire him at some point if you have the need or luxury because he could earn a start in Week 16 if Kansas City loses to New England and we learn that the Chiefs are locked into its playoff spot sooner than later.
Ware is a cheap option I'd add this week while waiting to learn more about Damien's status. If Damien is pronounced fit and earns a solid workload without issue, Ware may still assume Darrel Williams's role as the reliable stand by. If Damien remains "week-to-week" and misses this game, Ware in Darrel's role becomes more compelling because when McCoy and Darrel were a healthy pairing during their five weeks together on the field both had fantasy-relevant production in four of those contests.
McCoy was an RB1 for one of those weeks and an RB2 for three others while Darrel had a week each as an RB1, RB2, and RB3. Ware was pushing Jonathan Williams and Jordan Wilkins this summer before suffering an injury.
Ware negotiated a settlement that included him getting cut so he didn't have to be on injured reserve for the year. He did this because he knew he'd be healthy enough to play by midseason.
And now the team where he's had the best production of his career has called on him to return. Could Ware be the C.J. Anderson of the 2019 fantasy playoffs and deliver a huge Week 16 effort? It's not something you rely on but you certainly should entertain why it's possible, even if it's more likely that his upside is closer to Darrel's stretch-run from last year—about 11 points in Week 15.
Not earth-shattering but playoff veterans know that you sometimes have to dig deep to find a winner.
Let's hope you don't have to do this guesswork to field a winning lineup. If you do, good luck and I hope this proves at the very least, a helpful decision-making exercise.