Fantasy Points: Targeting Denver's Willis McGahee

You are going to see a lot more of this in 2012. (Photo by Garrett W. Ellwood/Getty Images)

In the last installment of Fantasy Points, Kirk listed one reason why you should look at Eric Decker, I'm going to use his words for why you should draft Willis McGahee:

This is the year you’ll want to draft Willis McGahee in your Fantasy Football League.

Why?

Two words. Peyton Manning.


I know this might be counter-intuitive, but trust, me, I hope to change your mind after the jump.

The thought of drafting a Broncos running back in 2012 may shock some fantasy football players out there, but there is more than a few good reasons to do it. I'll keep this simple, bullet point style:

  • The first is history. Peyton Manning has had his #1 running back average 1141 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. He also has only had two seasons with a running back under 7 touchdowns and six seasons under 10 touchdowns. We haven't even talked about receiving. If we include receiving yards and touchdowns, his #1 running back averages 1392 yards and 11 touchdowns. In terms of scoring, the #1 running back creates 24.3% of all touchdowns, that's just one running back. If the Broncos had this average in 2011, Willis McGahee would have had 8 touchdowns instead of 5. The Colts under Peyton Manning were hardly the massively unbalanced, pass-heavy team we remember, of Peyton's 13 seasons he had a 1,000 yard rusher nine times, he had a running back top 1,500 total yards six times and had a running back top 10 total touchdowns eight times, the run game does well when Manning is quarterback.
  • Tim Tebow is gone. Despite 2011 being one of McGahee's best seasons in his career, he struggled to find the end zone, after rewatching the games I found something, he didn't struggle rather the play calling changed. In the red zone Tebow became the primary weapon of scoring, taking away (from a fantasy standpoint) touchdowns from McGahee. With the arrival of Peyton Manning look for McGahee to once again be the main rushing weapon in the red zone, because really Manning isn't exactly mobile. As stated above, the Colts under Manning had their #1 running back average 10 rushing touchdowns, that's where McGahee wants, and likely will, be.
  • Tebow is gone, part 2. Not to pile it on Tebow, but he wasn't exactly the helper of the run game as some fans believed. This is counter-intuitive again for some, but after watching the games again and looking over the results, it seems that McGahee will see little drop off without Tebow. The main reason for this is in the receiving game and red zone. Under Kyle Orton, McGahee averaged close to three receptions a game for an additional 10 yards a game helping him average 86.6 total yards per game. Compare that to his total of one reception for two yards under Tebow, you have a higher total yards per game under McGahee. He also had more attempts per game under Orton, averaging 17 per game compared to the 15 under Tebow. For a simple stat line, here is McGahee under 16 games of Tebow compared to Orton:

    - Under Orton: 1386 total yards, 8 100 yard rushing games, 7 total touchdowns, 4.52 yards per carry
    - Under Tebow: 1302 total yards, 6 100 yard rushing games, 5 total touchdowns, 5.36 yards per carry

    Now the only area McGahee would do better under Tebow is yards per carry (I can't stress this enough, this is fantasy football, I'm not saying yards per carry isn't important, it is, but when it comes to fantasy, it isn't nearly as important). So you have increased total yards, increased touchdowns and for those who get a bonus for topping 100 yards, you get 2 more of those games.
  • Age isn't the issue. Often times we hear that once a running back hits 30 it's down hill, let's try this out. We'll start by looking to see if McGahee is on the right side or wrong side of the mark. He 30 and has 1790 rushing attempts to his name, let's see the average age of a running back with around that number of attempts. The average NFL running back gets to 1790 rushing attempts at the age of 28. The average NFL running back also begins his falloff at around attempt 2050. Actually the correlation is much stronger between 2050 attempts and the age 30. Running backs under 2050 attempts at the age of 30-32 show little to no drop off in production or efficiency. Overall age has little factor in running back production but is often used because it's tied to what does matter, attempts, and if we are measuring that, McGahee is a younger back than many expect.
  • The new guys have their own roles. With the drafting of Ronnie Hillman and the recovery of Knowshon Moreno, some have speculated that they will take a lot away from McGahee in terms of carries and playing time, not to fret fantasy fans, it doesn't appear that way. Let's look at this in a perfect world since we can't predict injuries. Moreno in this offense is geared to be the 3rd down back since he is well rounded enough as a pass catcher and runner to maximize 3rd downs, but he isn't going to be eating into McGahee on the first two downs. Even when we look at using two-back sets in the red zone, Moreno's skill set will likely see has a receiver out of the backfield rather than a short yardage back. Don't look for Moreno to take away much from McGahee's total carries. The same can be said for Hillman. While he isn't the receiver Moreno is, he also isn't the runner or blocker McGahee is. Having said that we have to remember that Hillman and Moreno's carries are likely to come from some of Tebow's old carries as well. Tebow had 122 carries last season, a good 40-50 of those will likely become passes in 2012 but that still leaves 70-80 attempts for Hillman and Moreno to fight over without even touching McGahee's work load.

Some of these things may have come as a head scratcher prior to the explanation so I hope you read each point rather than just the bold. So having said all this, look for Willis McGahee's rushing yards to drop slightly, his receptions to increase slightly and his touchdowns to increase by a good margin. My projection:

- 2011 Willis McGahee: 249 carries, 1,199 rushing yards, 4 rushing TD's, 12 receptions, 51 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD
- 2012 Willis McGahee: 230 carries, 1,000 rushing yards, 8 rushing TD's, 15 receptions, 80 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD

This all depends on injury of course. He is a very strong #3 running back in smaller leagues and a viable #2 in larger leagues where running backs can fly off the board. He could easily fall though in some leagues where hopefully you are playing with people who don't understand football or facts. Here's hoping.

Good luck in your leagues Mile High Report!

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