By Derek Lofland.
It is hard to speculate about a player’s football future, when right now the most important thing is his health and well-being.
Eagles RB Brian Westbrook suffered his second concussion in three weeks last Sunday (November 15, 2009) and there are doubts about whether he will play again this season or any season beyond 2009.
Will he still be an effective Fantasy Football option going forward? How efficient will his replacement (LeSean McCoy) be?
Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reported the following quote by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center yesterday in his article Doctors to Westbrook: Walk it Off, “We are very encouraged by Brian's progress, we believe that he has an excellent prognosis and we expect a full recovery.”
The article even speculated that Westbrook might return to the football field this season. If that were the case, it would be great news for both Westbrook and the Philadelphia Eagles.
If I could compare Westbrook to one player from the past, I would compare him to former 49ers running back Roger Craig. Craig became the first running back to record 1,000 yards rushing and receiving in the same season, a feat accomplished back in 1985. Craig was not a dominant running back in terms of rushing production as he recorded only three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and never rushed for more than 10 touchdowns in a season. However, when you account for his receiving statistics we can see that he recorded six consecutive seasons from (1984 to 1989) with at least 1,300 yards from scrimmage and scored at least 10 touchdowns four out of his first six seasons in the league. Craig only ranks 34th among NFL running backs in career rushing yards, but is 23rd among running backs in yards from scrimmage.
Westbrook has been a very similar player. He has only two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and has never rushed for more than 10 touchdowns in a season. However, from 2004 to 2008 he had five consecutive seasons with 1,200 plus yards from scrimmage and has four seasons over 10 touchdowns, including three consecutive from 2006 to 2008.
The one problem that has made Westbrook such a risky fantasy pick over his entire career has been injuries. Not only has he never started a full 16-game schedule in his career, but also he is often playing hurt. He only missed five games from 2006 to 2008, but that does not take into account games that he played where he was limited by injury.
If you go by career touches, Westbrook should be productive for at least another three years, if not more. Despite being 30-years-old, he has only carried the ball 1,294 times. Compare that to San Diego Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson, who despite being only three months older than Westbrook has carried the ball 1,478 more times or more than double Westbrook's career total. We called Tomlison's fantasy end as well: Is LaDainian Tomlinson no longer a Viable Fantasy Force?
The problem is that injuries haven taken their toll on Westbrook and even if he does play going forward, he just does not look like his body is going to be able to hold up to the pounding that a NFL back is subjected to on a weekly basis.
For all intents and purposes, Westbrook is no longer a viable NFL player, which means Fantasy Football Owners are not going to see a lot of value from him going forward. This is something we speculated about for much of the offseason and is one reason we were advising people to stay clear in the first round of fantasy drafts. We just did not know that a series of concussions would be the issue; we were more worried about his past knees and ankles injuries.
The Eagles already began preparing for the fact that Westbrook might not be around next year. They drafted WR Jeremy Maclin in the first round to shore up their special teams and receiver position and they added RB LeSean McCoy in the second round as their running back of the future. That was smart, because most of the running backs that find their way to free agency are going to have a lot of mileage on their tires. The Eagles could have tried to sign someone like former Arizona Cardinals RB Edgerrin James, but that would not have solved the problem. Seattle tried that and ended up releasing James just halfway through the season.
The best place to find running backs is in the draft and it looks like the Eagles have found themselves a pretty good football player. McCoy is a player that was not a household name in college, because he played for Pittsburgh, which is not front and center on the college football radar.
McCoy was a player that could put up both rushing and passing numbers in college, similarly to what Craig and Westbrook have accomplished in the NFL. He finished his two-year Pittsburgh career with 584 rushing attempts for 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns, to go along with 65 receptions for 549 yards and one touchdown. He just turned 21 and has his entire NFL career in front of him.
McCoy has looked decent in his three starts this season. He started against New Orleans and while his rushing numbers were not impressive, he did record four receptions for 37 yards. Against Kansas City he had 20 carries for 84 yards and a rushing touchdown. Finally, he started against the New York Giants and had 11 carries for 82 yards and one touchdown. Overall, he has rushed 86 times for 353 yards and two touchdowns and caught 23 passes for 181 yards. If he starts seeing the bulk of the carries going forward, he could be a solid option for fantasy owners that are either suffering from Westbrook’s injury or were crafty enough to pick him up before Westbrook owners took advantage.
Despite being the likely starter going forward, I do not see McCoy having a tremendous amount of value going forward for the rest of the 2009 season. The best fantasy matchup he has in the horizon is the Atlanta Falcons in Week 13, who are the 10th worst fantasy running back defense. Most fantasy leagues have their playoffs in Week 15 and Week 16 when the Eagles play home games against San Francisco and Denver. Denver is the eighth stingiest fantasy defense to running backs this year and the 49ers are 19th. In 18 games combined, those defenses have given up only 10 rushing touchdowns.
If McCoy were an All-Pro back like Titans RB Chris Johnson or Vikings RB Adrian Peterson, I would not be worried. Their teams are going to feed them the ball no matter the opponent and those defenses are not so tough that a good running back would be unable to put up a huge day. The problem is that Andy Reid is one of the worst coaches in the NFL when it comes to committing to the running game. The Eagles have run the ball only 159 times this year, which ranks dead last in the NFL. In fact, only 10 teams have rushed for fewer than 200 attempts and six of those teams should break the mark this week as they are within 12 rushing attempts of 200. I expect Reid to work his way through this situation by increasing Donovan McNabb’s passing attempts. McNabb threw for 450 yards on 55 attempts in San Diego last week and the Eagles are eighth in passing attempts. McCoy is not going to be able to put up big numbers if he is only receiving 10 to 15 rushing attempts per game.
That does not mean McCoy does not have any value at all in 2009 or beyond this season. If you have injuries, he is a starting running back that can both run and catch the ball. He is only 21-years-old and is a great keeper in fantasy leagues going forward as he should be the incumbent starter in Philadelphia. I could envision his typical day having a 100-yard from scrimmage game with a couple of touchdowns, keyed by a long touchdown run. Just do not expect a Larry Johnson type of fill in where in 2005 Johnson rushed for 1,750 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns, despite only starting the final nine games of the season for the Kansas City Chiefs after RB Priest Holmes was lost for the season with an injury. McCoy just is not going to see the ball enough to have that type of impact. He is probably an average No. 2 or a solid flex play the rest of the season, depending on the matchup.
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