LeSean McCoy is a Buffalo Bill. Imagine uttering that sentence a week ago. Things move fast in the NFL. What they don’t do is come out of nowhere. Unless you’re Percy Harvin, shocking trades simply don’t happen. That’s why, even though we knew McCoy’s relationship with his coach was frayed, word of his swap prompted double-checks of the account tweeting the news. Were we being Adarn’d? We were not. Now the question is, where do we go from here?
Unlike Chip Kelly’s dismissal of DeSean Jackson, McCoy’s ouster from the smoothie-land didn’t come on the heels of a career year. Last season was a downer for McCoy. Things were amiss from the start for a player who led the league in rushing in 2013, and entered 2014 as fantasy’s No. 1 player by ADP. First, there was the composition of the Eagles’ backfield. McCoy caught 52 passes in 2013, averaging an eye-popping 10.4 yards per grab. That provided a big chunk of McCoy’s value, both in real life and fantasy. Only catching passes was to be Darren Sproles’ job in 2014. McCoy managed 10 receptions across Weeks 1-2, but tallied just 18 thereafter. This was a big problem for a runner who limped to a 4.22 YPC after posting an elite 5.11 mark the year before.
Which brings us to the other job McCoy supposedly lost: Goal-line duties. By many measures, McCoy did indeed lose goal-line work. One year after scoring six more rushing touchdowns than any other Eagle, McCoy found himself out-scored 6-5 by the pint-sized Sproles. Plodding No. 3 back Chris Polk pilfered four scores more. But Shady’s touchdown plunge wasn’t all about lack of opportunity. In 2013, McCoy received 11 carries inside the five-yard line, and seven inside the two. In 2014, those numbers “fell” to 10 and five, respectively. Declines, yes, but it’s not as if Shady was glued to the sideline once the Eagles spied the end zone over the horizon. McCoy just wasn’t as good as he was the year before. Of McCoy’s seven 2013 runs inside the two-yard line, five resulted in scores. In 2014, that rate fell to 3-of-5. Even McCoy’s official demotion — of which he publicly acknowledged — was overblown, as seven of his 10 totes inside the five-yard line came in the Eagles’ final six games. Again, Shady simply wasn’t as effective as he was in 2013.
That is not to say that McCoy was bad. The perception of Shady’s 2014 is colored largely by his slow start, a slow start that coincided with the Eagles missing 3/5 of their offensive line for a large chunk of September. McCoy averaged 2.78 yards per carry in Weeks 1-4. Following RT Lane Johnson’s return from suspension in Week 5, that number shot up to a much more robust 4.64. If you insist on telling McCoy’s 2014 story via his season YPC of 4.2, then it’s also worth mentioning that his explosiveness hardly disappeared on film. It’s true that McCoy appeared more hesitant — a hesitance perhaps brought about by his line’s early-season struggles — but he still created 40 missed tackles. That was enough to tie with Jamaal Charles for eighth in the league. McCoy averaged 2.1 yards after first contact, hardly a glittering number, but down a modest 0.3 from his 2013 mark of 2.4. As is the case with McCoy’s overall YPC, that mark would undoubtedly be higher if not for his slow start behind an undermanned offensive line.
All of this is the complicated way of saying McCoy should remain an RB1 for Buffalo. Is it possible that, like Ray Rice, McCoy is headed for an early decline? You can never say never. No running back has touched the ball more times over the past five seasons. But none of the numbers are all that alarming. McCoy is headed into his age-27 season, a year that typically represents the peak of a running back’s production. McCoy’s 1,761 career touches also aren’t a particular cause for concern. 3,000, not 2,000, is the number that generally represents a cliff for running backs. Age, not workload, is the bigger harbinger of doom for a runner’s numbers, and again, 27 is usually the peak for players of McCoy’s ilk.
Even if you’re not troubled by McCoy’s age or workloads, perhaps you’re worried about his situation. McCoy is leaving a true master of the run in Kelly, and a coach fixated on running as many plays as possible. More plays means more opportunities to run. But if you’re not running for Kelly, you might as well be doing it for Rex Ryan and OC Greg Roman. In terms of carries, Ryan’s Jets offenses ranked fourth, fifth, sixth, 16th, second and first. In Roman’s four years coordinating Jim Harbaugh’s offense, the 49ers ranked ninth, third, seventh and third in rushing attempts. With no quarterback to speak of, few — if any — teams will run more than the Bills in 2015.
Last but not least as a stumbling block is Fred Jackson. F-Jax is Bills football. He’s also 34, injury prone and coming off a year where he averaged 3.72 yards per carry. Jackson remains a serious threat as a receiver, but realistically, he’s not going to average more than 8-10 touches per game, and even that is a stretch. The Bills didn’t trade Kiko Alonso so they could stick McCoy in a timeshare with a 34 year old. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that Jackson is eventually cut loose.
McCoy’s 2014 was a disappointment, but far from a disaster. His 1,319 yards rushing were third in the league. Time, workloads and situation remain on his side. The scenery has changed, but the bottom line remains the same: LeSean McCoy, elite RB1.