Two-headed running back systems have been a cauldron of frustration for fantasy owners.
If you see a football fan fling the Doritos bowl across the room, while unleashing a stream of obscenities over a game not involving his favorite team, chances are that the “wrong guy” (the “other” running back) scored a touchdown.
After all, in the first round, they drafted the speedy, elusive, graceful halfback who picked up 43 yards for them on that particular drive, including a 20-yard burst to the opponent’s four.
That’s when the resourceful coach sent the backup running back into the huddle, the 245-pounder with calves like tree stumps.
You can guess what happens next: that running back plows into the end zone like a bulldozer, earning six points for both his football team, and the guy in Dorito Man’s league who drafted him.
No wonder Dorito Man is angry. Those six points should have been HIS!
It’s a dilemma for anyone that drafts Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams or Jonathan Stewart, who split everything like treasure hunters, same as in Houston with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. This season, the twin-power theory will affect Tampa Bay (LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin) and San Francisco (Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James).
But that’s fantasy. In reality, Philadelphia could use a little overcrowding at the running back position, especially if it’s somebody proven.
LeSean McCoy had a breakout year in 2011, with 1,309 yards, 17 rushing touchdowns, and three more scores on receptions. The 17 paydirt runs broke the Eagles' franchise record set by Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren, a mark that stood for 66 years. He only fumbled one time all season, on 321 touches (273 carries, 48 receptions).
Eagles fans have understandably embraced the rise of “Shady”, which seemingly levitated from the ashes of Brian Westbrook’s injury-laden decline. As much as the “Philly Phaithful” embraced Westbrook and his understated determination, McCoy has demonstrated the speed, agility, and an ankle-snapping cut move that could put him on a pedestal of All-Pro greatness, if consistency allows.
However, like any running back, McCoy has greater odds than any other position of suffering a horrific, and possibly career-ending, injury. When Westbrook sustained two concussions in 2009 at age 30, limiting him to just eight games, and only three of them were after the first head injury, McCoy stepped in as a rookie and filled in decently.
The team was confident enough in McCoy’s abilities to release Westbrook after the season. Of course, the injuries were likely a huge factor as well. Westbrook played a relatively-limited role for the 49ers in 2010 and then left the game shortly thereafter.
As for McCoy, upon becoming the starter, he was supplemented with a series of solid backups during the next two years. Among them were the stout Mike Bell, who was an ill-fit during the five games he played in 2010. He was traded before the deadline to the Lions for Jerome Harrison, who fared a little better.
Harrison went back to the Lions in the 2011 offseason, and the Eagles added Wildcat maven Ronnie Brown to be McCoy’s understudy. Brown was ineffective, carrying for just 136 yards on 42 carries, and had the most embarrassing fumble in recent memory against San Francisco. It was like he was attempting to throw the ball when wrapped up beyond the line of scrimmage, and the pigskin squirted out.
But regardless of Brown’s brain cramp, he was still a proven commodity that one wouldn’t think twice about entrusting to take over the game, should the lead running back wind up hurt. In fact, Brown started for McCoy in the final game of the 2011 season, after McCoy injured his ankle against Dallas the week before.
In what seemed to be a way of diffusing the stench after “The Dream Team” went a pedestrian 8-8 in 2011, the Eagles let Ronnie Brown walk, and San Diego signed him to aid Ryan Mathews in the backfield.
With McCoy clearly the starter in 2012, especially with a five year, $45 million contract extension, what respectable veteran back did Philly sign to play second fiddle?
The Eagles' running back “depth chart”, which could be considered an oxymoron, goes like this:
-Dion Lewis: an undersized 2011 draft pick who lacks sustained speed, and was just arrested with his brother for pulling the fire alarm at a motel because he was locked out of his room.
-Bryce Brown: a once-promising recruit with a checkered college resume after dropping out of Tennessee, and barely playing at Kansas State afterward; the Eagles chose him in round seven in 2012.
-Chris Polk: at one time considered a probable gem in the 2012 Draft, a weakened shoulder all but killed his stock. The Eagles signed him as an undrafted pick, which could be low risk/high reward.
So in other words, if McCoy tears his ACL in Week 1, the Eagles will either have to rely on a sack of magic beans, or they’re suiting up quality-control coach Duce Staley at age 37.
Philadelphia must have some serious confidence in Lewis to keep him in the second slot behind McCoy, or hubris has led Andy Reid into thinking that “if we have LeSean McCoy, why WOULD we need another running back?”
Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones couldn’t replace Jamaal Charles after his ACL tear in 2011, and Kansas City suffered immensely for it. The Baltimore Ravens had to sign the aging Terry Allen in 2001 after budding star Jamal Lewis went down in preseason with a knee injury, and the results weren’t pretty.
Having a good backup running back is a convenience that, because of the balance of quality, isn’t afforded to every team. That’s why Carolina, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Houston, among others, are more than willing to annoy fantasy football patrons with a deep committee. If one guy goes down, here comes another to fill the void, and fill it well.
Maybe McCoy will play sixteen games without a problem. Maybe he’ll get hurt, and Lewis or Brown or Polk will step in admirably. Maybe they’ll suck, and it’ll be a cautionary tale for the Eagles. Maybe Philadelphia won’t like what they see in preseason, and they’ll sign a veteran still waiting for a call, like Cedric Benson or Ryan Grant.
But until that chapter is written, as an Eagles fan, I implore the team trainers to not be stingy with the athletic tape on “Shady” before games. Rolls of tape are replaceable; his knees and ankles aren’t.