Let me just premise this by saying if you spend a first round pick on either of these two guys, you have the potential to succeed in 2014. That being said, there’s a clear cut choice here, and it’s LeSean McCoy.
Unless you’re playing in a two-quarterback league, the first five picks of the draft should be — order is very debatable — McCoy, Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte. Those should be the first five guys off of every draft board.
The biggest argument for Manning is safety. I get it, Manning is money in the bank to score a lot of fantasy points — probably a good deal more than any running back will score this season. But isn’t it also true that the 10th ranked quarterback comes with less risk than the 10th ranked running back? Doesn’t Tony Romo come with less risk than Zac Stacy?
At the top, I’d argue that drafting the elite running back is the safe way to go. If McCoy has a down year, he’s still likely finishing the season as a top-15 back. If Stacy has a down year, he might be out of a job and on your leagues waiver wire by mid season.
When we set safety aside and just look at it from a value standpoint, the argument tilts even more in McCoy’s favor.
Manning had an absolutely historic season in 2013 that resulted in 406 fantasy points. Romo was the 10th highest scoring quarterback (standard scoring) with 252 fantasy points, or 62 percent of what Manning scored. There is absolutely no reason why anybody should be expecting him to repair what he did last year — a season like that had truly never happened before — so when he drops down to Earth a bit, even if he leads all QBs in fantasy scoring again, that gap should be smaller.
Charles lead all running backs with 295 fantasy points in 2013. Fred Jackson and Ryan Mathews both tied at 10th with 175 fantasy points, or 59 percent of what Charles scored.
The gap between the top fantasy running back and 10th best fantasy running back was greater than that same gap among QBs, even during a historic QB season. In 2012, Andrew Luck (the 10th highest scoring QB) produced 80 percent of the fantasy points that Drew Brees (the highest scoring QB) put up. However, Stevan Ridley (the 10th highest scoring RB) produced just 65 percent of the fantasy points that Peterson (highest scoring RB) produced.
Year in and year out, the gap between the top running back or two and the running backs outside the top 10 is significantly greater than that same gap among quarterbacks. Unless you think Manning is going to repeat his phenomenal 2013 season, there is no way you should be considering him over Shady; even if you do think he’s going to put up those gaudy numbers for a second straight season, some simple math indicates McCoy is still the right choice.