Adventures at Summer Camp: Lehigh Day 1

Because someone has to read all the news coming out of the Eagles training camp.

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Confirmed: DeSean Jackson let frustration over his contract hurt his performance:

“Human nature-wise, yes it affected him,’’ Culley said. “It did. He tried not to let it affect him. Sometimes he didn’t do a very good job of that. It affected him in meetings. It affected him on the field. There were days when it didn’t. But it made him inconsistent. And that’s where the human nature part of it comes in.”

“I saw a couple of times last year where I saw him maybe trying to maybe save himself because (he was thinking), ‘I’m not under contract and I don’t want to get hurt,’’’ Culley said. “I don’t think there was a fear factor involved. I think it was more, ‘I don’t want to get hurt because I don’t have a contract.’ The first two-and-a-half years he was here, that wasn’t an issue. A couple of times last year, that came up. And I believe it came up simply because of that.”

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Punters, ahoy. The Eagles brought in not one, not two, not three, but four veteran punters for tryouts yesterday. It’s not that surprising once you understand how bad Chas Henry was last year. Reuben Frank says the most likely candidate to sign is former Pro Bowl Cowboy Mat McBriar. I honestly didn’t realize he had fallen off last year and was cut. Turns out, he couldn’t lift his foot.

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The Felony That Wasn’t. I love how the charges were dropped against Dion Lewis because the DA concluded there was “no evidence a fire alarm was ever pulled.”

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Backup Running Backs Will Push… Who? I absolutely don’t understand where this headline comes from. Sheil’s replacement isn’t looking so hot.

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Speaking of Mr. Kapadia, he brings us a great quote from Howard Mudd on where Danny Watkins is in his second year. Sounds like the mental side of the game is the real roadblock for our friendly neighborhood fireman:

“Comfort in the position, eliminating doubt about himself,” Mudd said. “That just happens to players. That just happens. That’s part of the growing process. I call that the valley of darkness. You get somewhere and then you start doubting yourself, doubting, doubting… and then the ball is snapped and you don’t have a clue where you are. You can be very amateurish, if you will. All of a sudden, it starts to click again and you quit doubting yourself. Do well, and then all of a sudden, for whatever reason, you get there. So Danny, that’s what I think the offseason’s done for him.”

Jimmy Kempski tells us that Mudd also alluded to the Vandervelde-Reynolds backup center competition as the position battle he’s most looking forward too. I’m not sure if that’s positive or depressing. Final Mudd note: I discount every positive thing he says about Demetress Bell by half. There’s only one Jason Peters, and unfortunately he couldn’t keep his balance on a Roll-A-Bout.

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In other meta-reportage, Jimmy needs to stop wasting his time talking to guys like Keenan Clayton after practice. Clayton’s competing with Moise Fokou for the coveted “last linebacker cut” trophy. Then again, at least our favorite NFC bEast blogger didn’t get stiffed like ol’ timer Paul Domowitch.

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Rampant Tight End Speculation! The Eagles have now been linked to Visanthe Shiancoe and (gag) Jeremy Shockey. Raise your hand if you’re shocked that the Brett Brackett hype was purely media-driven. No one? Good.

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Andy Reid Weight Loss Watch. He totally walked home from practice, guys.

Is LeSean McCoy Better Than Brian Westbrook?

Thank you everyone who has already bought the Eagles Almanac 2012! I’m really proud of the work we’ve done on this book, and I hope you all enjoy it.

This week, I’m going to share a series of smaller graphics and other posts based on the work in the Eagles Almanac. For those of you who bought it, hopefully this will provide an opportunity to discuss some of the findings (since that’s difficult on an ebook). And for those who haven’t, you’ll see what you’re missing.

Below is a simple chart from my article, which was a detailed examination of LeSean McCoy’s running style and the areas he can still improve. The question this chart poses, as the title suggests, is whether Shady is a better back than Westbrook, using Football Outsiders’ year-by-year rushing plus receiving DYAR (defense-adjusted yards above replacement). Your answer probably varies from “so far” to “not yet.”

Westbrook McCoy DYAR

How Does LeSean McCoy’s Contract Stack Up?

Running Back Contracts

Exact McCoy details: 6-year, $45.615 million contract with $20.765 million guaranteed (first three years base salary plus $8.5 million signing bonus).

2012: $615,000
2013: $3.25 million
2014: $8 million
2015: $10.25 million
2016: $7.15 million
2017: $7.85 million

On LeSean McCoy's Workload

Jimmy Kempski has a post up that shows LeSean McCoy’s total snap count in 2011 — 894, which is the most of any running back, 50 more than Ray Rice and 100 more than Maurice Jones-Drew.

The data is interesting, but ultimately incomplete. After all, just because he was on the field more than other backs doesn’t mean he took a pounding on every one of those snaps. In fact, if you dig a little bit deeper, you see that despite McCoy’s vast lead in total plays, he was only seventh in total carries and fourth in total touches (rushing attempts plus receptions). Shady was on the field a lot, but his usage rate (percent of touches per total snaps) placed him 21st among the top 25 most used backs. He saw the ball 36 percent of all plays he was in, compared to 54.5 percent for Marshawn Lynch and 53.2 percent for Michael Turner.

Certainly every snap carries some amount of wear and tear, especially pass blocking. One could disagree with me on this, but I don’t think those other snaps hold a candle to the repeated and unforeseen hits a player takes with the ball in his hands. That said, I agree with Jimmy’s (and Andy Reid’s) overall point: they need to find a reliable backup who can spell Shady from time to time. This makes it puzzling that the Eagles would trust three inexperienced players to compete for the number two spot.

Post-Draft Position Breakdown: Running Back

Dion Lewis Eagles

What the Eagles did: The Eagles now have five running backs and three fullbacks on the roster, yet 23-year-old LeSean McCoy is the veteran of the group. The other seven have exactly 42 regular season snaps between them — and all of them from second-year running back Dion Lewis.

Let me just reiterate: that is a staggering level of inexperience. As of this moment, the Eagles still have two open roster spots, so adding a veteran like Joseph Addai or Justin Forsett is still possible. But so far it the front office has intimated that it is comfortable with a youth movement.

There’s no player behind McCoy that you can look at with confidence. Dion Lewis is the only one with NFL experience, and barely so. His kickoffs were a disaster and in limited playing time he showed some burst, but no indication he can take over full time in an emergency. Instead of giving their 5’7”, 2011 fifth-round pick some much needed veteran competition, the Eagles shopped at the discount store, picking up two high-profile rookies with promise as well as major reservations.

Paul Domowitch has a story today about seventh-rounder Bryce Brown’s college meanderings, and it can be summed up with one word: immaturity. Brown never had any legal problems, but he managed to quit on not one, but two football teams in three years. The physical tools on the 5’11”, 225 lb., sub-4.4 40 back are incredible, but he’s nothing more an interesting athlete without his mind in the right place.

The other guy fans are high on is Chris Polk, undrafted free agent out of Washington. Unlike Brown, Polk was tremendously productive in college, rushing for over 4,000 yards. However, his has a huge injury question mark. Despite a draft grade as high as the second round according to some experts, Polk was clearly taken off of all 32 teams boards. That’s not good.

As to fullback, Stanley Havili is the frontrunner, having rode the practice squad all 2012. The Eagles brought in two undrafted free agents to compete with Havili, Stanford fullback Jeremy Stewart and Massachusetts fullback/tight end/linebacker Emil Igwenagu.

What I would have done: The fliers on talented running backs are never a problem, per se. However, those players are like lottery tickets, great if you win but much more likely to end up discarded in the trash. There aren’t many exciting veterans available in free agency, but I would still try to grab one for insurance — at least until Lewis or one of the other backs look ready to step in for McCoy in a pinch. If I could do it all over I might have tried to nab Peyton Hillis as McCoy’s back up back in March. After a disastrous season last year, the multi-dimensional Hillis went to the Chiefs on a cheap deal.

I also would have tried to upgrade at fullback, but that’s a losing argument with this front office.

Way-too-early prediction: I’m not convinced the Eagles are sold on Lewis enough to make him the primary backup. The Ronnie Brown signing never worked, but that doesn’t mean the logic behind that deal doesn’t still apply. Addai or another back could still be in the cards.

Of the rest, Polk’s injury concerns must be worse than we know. Don’t expect anything more than injured reserve for him. There’s probably not a better candidate on the roster right now for training camp darling than Brown. Graig Cooper, an undrafted pick up last offseason, will compete but no one’s given any indication he’s more than a camp body. Havili will probably be the starting fullback and the Eagles will stash one of the others on the practice squad.

Photo from Getty.

Notes on the Rest of the 2012 Eagles Draft

Vinny Curry Marshall Philadelphia Eagles

The NFL draft is now in the books, and by almost all accounts the Eagles did little to complain about. Here are my miscellaneous thoughts on what happened on days two and three:

  • Watch the Vinny Curry interviews, then watch them again and again. His Eagles fandom is clearly as raw as yours and mine, and it’s awesome to see the excitement one of us would undoubtedly have, had we the talent to end up playing for our hometown team.

  • Nick Foles, the big reach. There has been serious quarterback inflation in the last two drafts, something which will be the focus of my post tomorrow. Until then, just consider that Nick Foles was the seventh quarterback selected, at pick 88 overall. Mike Kafka was the fifth off the board in 2010, at pick 122. A round and a half earlier, for a worse quarterback? Maybe. (Also, I’m 95 percent convinced that Russell Wilson was the real target.)

  • The Eagles have drafted defensive players with 9 of their last 11 first, second, and third round picks. So far, the results have been atrocious. Let’s hope this last batch can turn things around.

  • After complaining in recent years that the Eagles had become too safe in the late rounds and undrafted free agency, I certainly can’t complain about the wave of longshot, troubled players the Eagles snagged this time around. I actually like the strategy, especially at running back, where the team took a major athlete with limited production and questionable work ethic (Bryce Brown) and a productive talent who was taken off seemingly everyone’s draft board due to injuries (Chris Polk). Especially at running back, which other than pass protection is relatively easy to pick up, one of these longshots could pay off. A veteran back up would still be nice, though.

  • There are some other interesting names on the UDFA list. Kentucky punter Ryan Tydlacka should give Chas Henry some much needed competition. Another long snapper is a shot across reliable Jon Dorenbos’s bow. And not one but two fullbacks means we’ll have a healthy fight for one of the most marginalized positions on the team.

  • Please direct all your “steal” or “reach” designations here.

  • Two things granted: Brandon Boykin had great college production and the slot corner role is becoming more and more important. That said, I’m a little hesitant about drafting a guy whose size has made every draft expert who has looked at him say, “what a great nickel back.” In some ways, this pick was the opposite of the Curtis Marsh selection last year, when the Eagles went for physicality over refined performance. It will be interesting to watch which pick turns out better for the Birds going forward.

  • There’s a lot riding on Mychal Kendricks being Andy Reid’s first successful second round linebacker — and the results need to show right away. Under no circumstance should more than one of last year’s linebackers start in 2012. Right now Brian Rolle has the inside track on keeping his weakside job, but Casey Matthews could push him there, after ending last season on a relative high note.

  • My draft predictions weren’t half bad, if I do say so myself.

Photo from Getty.

Room to Improve for LeSean McCoy as a Receiver

LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy had an All-World rushing season last year, racking up 1300 yards and 17 touchdowns, good enough for best in the NFL in DYAR, by far. McCoy is also a more complete player than most other backs. His pass blocking has, by all accounts, improved significantly since he entered the league. And out of the backfield, McCoy has caught 166 balls over the last three seasons — third-most among all running backs.

Despite all those catches, however, there still seems to be room for improvement in the receiving department. While McCoy has already met or surpassed his mentor’s rushing ability, Brian Westbrook was a much more natural receiver. In fact, he was probably the best wideout the Eagles had for a number of years there.

At a basic level, Westbrook averaged 8.9 yards per catch over his entire career. McCoy has only managed 7.3 yards. That’s a large difference, although it’s hard to tell exactly why McCoy is deficient in that area.

One way to get a second-level look at McCoy’s receiving stats is to look at his receptions by distance. Pro Football Focus tracks passes thrown by direction, including whether those passes were thrown behind or in front of the line of scrimmage. Here is McCoy’s receiving production by year, delineated by passes thrown behind the line of scrimmage and past it:

LeSean McCoy Receiving Statistics

For starters, McCoy has always been targeted more in the backfield. Most of those are swing passes, screen passes, and shovels. However, at least until this year, he was also turning those passes into bigger gains. There’s an interesting trend, which may or may not be significant, where McCoy’s screens have become less effective each season while his receptions on pass routes past the line of scrimmage resulted in bigger gains.

(Note that YAC, yards after catch, include yards gained behind the line of scrimmage.)

So that’s interesting. But in order to get any context for those numbers, we have to compare them to other running backs. I averaged the 2011 reception figures for five comparable backs: Darren Sproles, Ray Rice, Chris Johnson, Arian Foster, and Matt Forte.

Other Running Backs Receiving Statistics

In many ways, these backs had the opposite production of McCoy. Most of their receptions came from routes past the line of scrimmage, not screens and swing passes. They were also more effective running those real pass routes than McCoy, with an average of 10.8 yards per catch beyond the line of scrimmage.

Granted, the reason McCoy runs few wide receiver-type routes is because he’s so valuable in the backfield — even as a decoy. But that’s true about these other running backs as well.

One way McCoy can take his game to the next level would be to apply himself this offseason to becoming a better route-runner and receiver when put in motion out of the backfield. That extra element made Brian Westbrook a multidimensional threat, and McCoy would be wise to follow in his footsteps.

Photo from Getty.

Extend LeSean McCoy’s Contract Already

LeSean McCoy

One of the most worrisome characteristics of Eagles front office in the last couple of years has been its seeming reluctance to hand out early contract extensions to their young players.

Now, there have been extenuating circumstances. For starters, the drafting has been poor overall, so there haven’t been many players since 2008 that have been worth extending. Additionally, the collective bargaining agreement drama delayed some contract talks.

However, the Eagles now have three young offensive stars who are/should have been prime candidates for extensions. DeSean Jackson, obviously, is the most urgent name. He’s scheduled to be a free agent in just a few weeks and the team is reportedly far apart in negotiations. Perhaps Jackson has been asking for a salary that’s too high, but in any case this could be a failure the Eagles front office hasn’t seen since Jeremiah Trotter left after the 2001 season.

On the flip side, Jeremy Maclin still has two years on his deal, so it’s not quite an emergency for him. If the Eagles are still operating with the same principles they did a few years back, though, he would be a prime candidate for a below-market value extension this offseason.

The middle case is LeSean McCoy, the Eagles All-Pro running back, who is about to enter the final year of his rookie contract. An extension with McCoy has to happen as soon as possible, lest the Eagles risk another DeSean situation. If an extension is worked out, we may be able to write off that problem as one special to, if not created by, Jackson.

Besides, McCoy has said publicly that he doesn’t want to end up like DeSean:

“Let me be honest with you, I never want to be in that situation,” McCoy said. “Everybody’s situation is different. [An extension] would be a blessing if that happened because I don’t want to go anywhere else or play anywhere else. I love it here. I’m a Pennsylvania guy – from high school to college to here.”

(Read what you will into McCoy twice firing and and re-hiring Drew Rosenhaus during the season.)

Still, the Eagles have already hurt themselves by failing to lock up McCoy a year ago. Back in October, I wrote about what that potential contract could look like. Here, again, are the most recent running back deals:

2011- Chris Johnson (25): 6 years, $55 million, $30 million guaranteed
2011- Adrian Peterson (26): 7 years, $96 million, $36 million guaranteed
2011- Frank Gore (28): 4 years, $26 million, $14 million guaranteed
2011- DeAngelo Williams (28): 5 years, $43 million, $21 million guaranteed
2010- Jamaal Charles (24): 6 years, $28 million, $10 million guaranteed
2009- Maurice Jones-Drew (24): 5 years, $31 million, $18 million guaranteed
2008- Steven Jackson (25): 6 years, $45 million, $21 million guaranteed
2008- Michael Turner (26): 6 years, $35 million, $15 million guaranteed

At the time I suggested McCoy’s production put him in line for a similar deal to the one signed by Jamaal Charles, who had comparable stats through his first three seasons. However, McCoy’s monster 2011 dwarfs Charles’s top production so far. That one year still doesn’t get him up to Peterson-Johnson stratosphere, but I’d be surprised if isn’t looking more at the Jones-Drew range.

A complicating factor is the pending free agency status of Ray Rice and Matt Forte. Both young, complete running backs are likely candidates for long term extensions in the coming weeks. The Eagles and McCoy may choose to wait until the running back market is set by those players before getting serious about negotiations.

It’s not ideal, given the opportunity the Eagles had to lock him up at a lower rate, but as long as a contract extension happens this offseason I don’t think any fans will complain.

Photo from Getty.

The Eagles Future at Fullback

Only five teams in the NFL gave fewer snaps to their fullbacks in 2011 than the Eagles. Owen Schmitt had almost no impact on the offense, registering only 173 snaps — almost half the snaps of fourth/fifth wide receiver Riley Cooper. That’s a sharp decline from 2010, when Schmitt took over for Leonard Weaver after the first game and played in 352 snaps.

Moreover, Schmitt’s contribution on the field was limited. He carried the ball four times, ran passing routes 73 times, and pass blocked 25 times — all tasks that could have been better performed by other players. Even his 71 run blocking attempts, just over 4 per game, were at best at replacement level.

Overall, Schmitt is entirely expendable. Either through free agency or the draft, it wouldn’t be difficult to upgrade the fullback position.

However, the Eagles have long been uninterested in investing even moderate resources at fullback. Leonard Weaver was an exception, but he was also a great change-of-pace running threat. Without him, the Andy Reid has reverted back to ignoring the position. And even more so this year, as he often utilized two tight end formations with Clay Harbor instead of employing Schmitt.

The question is what to do going forward. I have no interest in retaining Schmitt or another player of his caliber. It’s a wasted roster spot that provides special teams snaps and poor offensive return.

Instead, I’d like to see the Eagles turn their diminished use of the fullback spot into an asset, by converting the position into something worthwile. How so? I can think of two ways.

The first would be to find a new version of Weaver, the RB-FB hybrid. Dion Lewis looked like he may be capable of holding down LeSean McCoy’s back up spot next year. However, his running style isn’t exactly bruising. If the Eagles signed someone like the Chiefs Le’Ron McClain, he could fill that dual role of FB-RB, and potentially free up a roster spot somewhere else. Stanley Havili — anyone remember him? — had a redshirt year on the Eagles practice squad. A draft option (taken as the most speculative of recommendations) might be Baylor RB Terrance Ganaway, who happens to be the Jeremiah Trotter’s nephew.

The second option would be to look for a more versatile H-Back. Harbor is already filling this hybrid role somewhat for the Eagles, although he’s more likely to line up as a wide receiver than as a fullback. With the offense going to more and more two tight end sets, it would be nice to keep a third guy on the roster. Having him do double duty as a part-time fullback could be a great way to get value out of the roster spot. National Football Post’s Wes Bunting projects Evan Rodriguez, tight end for Temple, as a late-round H-Back option.

The point is that keeping things as they are wastes a roster spot on a replacement-level player who is outclassed at basically every function he’s asked to perform. Even Schmitt’s role in the run game is being eclipsed. Why not try something new?

Photo from Getty.

Time to Cage LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy

A month ago I wrote that the Eagles needed to unleash LeSean McCoy. Amazingly, over the two games that followed, Andy Reid did just that.

Reid and Marty Mornhinweg let McCoy carry the ball 58 times in weeks six and eight. He rewarded them with 311 rushing yards, three touchdowns, and — most important — two victories. None of that was meant to last, of course.

In the last two weeks McCoy has only seen the ball 30 times total, a reversion to the subpar. And, surprise, the Eagles lost both games.

The logical answer would be to again exhort Reid to put the game on McCoy’s shoulders. He still provides the Eagles with the best chance to win and, after all, it worked the first time.

But sitting at 3-6 with seven games left, the Eagles don’t need wins any more. There’s nothing left to win. The 2011 season is already over.

Instead of giving the ball to McCoy, I suggest the Eagles coaches continue to do what they do best: protect their running back by absurdly limiting his carries. With a contract extension, McCoy hopefully will be a centerpiece of the Eagles offense for at least the next five years. His talents will be important to reviving the team’s hopes in 2012.

So why risk serious injury over these last few meaningless contests? Let Dion Lewis carry the ball and gain experience. See if he can be an adequate back up going forward. And, while you’re at it, don’t worry about rushing Michael Vick back from his broken ribs. Vick needs to iron out his accuracy issues, but maybe some rest on the bench would do him some good.

There are some other positions where it would be nice to rest a player or give a younger guy a shot during this extended 2012 preseason tryout. Brandon Graham could use more action, and Curtis Marsh should get a chance to prove he was worth a third round pick.

But there’s no one I want bubble-wrapped more than McCoy, and the Eagles coaches have been plenty willing to protect him when the games counted. It would be a shame to change course and wear him out now, to no positive end.

Photo from Getty.

2011 Eagles Offseason Guide: Running Back

LeSean McCoy Eagles Running Backs 2011 Offseason

This is the second in a series of posts breaking down the Eagles position by position in advance of the upcoming draft and (hopefully) free agency. Yesterday we looked at quarterback. Today we’ll examine the running back spot.

2010 Recap: Last season was all about LeSean McCoy. The Eagles young starter ran the ball even more efficiently than Brian Westbrook at the same age. But other than McCoy, the running back position was a revolving door. Mike Bell was signed before the season but showed nothing. He was then traded midseason to the Cleveland Browns for Jerome Harrison. Harrison didn’t play a lot, but he performed when he was called on, including 100-yard rushing days against the Redskins and Cowboys. Eldra Buckley was the third back and saw very limited action. Although he did perform well on special teams.

At fullback, fan favorite Leonard Weaver severely tore his ACL on his very first carry of the season in week one. The team signed Owen Schmitt to take his place for the rest of the year and the former West Virgina grad performed adequately, if not particularly noteworthy.

Who’s Leaving: Much depends on the rules of the new collective bargaining agreement (assuming there is one). Harrison, a restricted free agent, was tendered at a second-round level under the current rules — meaning that any team who wanted to sign him would have to give up a high pick to the Eagles. Buckley was only tendered at the lowest level that allows the Eagles to match any offer, so he’s more likely on his way out. Finally, the team is only going to keep one fullback, so Weaver will have to fight to show he’s fully recovered to keep his job.

2011 Depth Chart: McCoy is the starter, backed up by a veteran (likely Harrison) and probably a rookie. Unless the team adds another fullback to make the battle more interesting, only Weaver or Schmitt will return.

Potential Additions: There are a few interesting free agent names. Darren Sproles of the Chargers is a lightning-quick back who would fit nicely into the Eagles’ speed offense — although he may be too expensive. Brian Leonard or Kevin Faulk also could be options.

If the Eagles miss out on Sproles, Oklahoma State’s Kendall Hunter may be the runner-returner that the team turns to in the draft instead. Hunter visited the Eagles for a workout last month.

Future Outlook: With McCoy in place for the long term, now would be a good time to get a secondary back who could grow into the back up spot. This would be the Correll Buckhalter to McCoy’s Westbrook, taking 5-10 carries a game and keeping McCoy from shouldering the entire load. It remains to be seen if the Eagles consider that high on their priority list.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Can LeSean McCoy Carry the Eagles in 2011?

LeSean McCoy Yards Per Carry Workload 2010 2011

Fans have always wanted Andy Reid to run the ball more, but those calls were especially loud last season when LeSean McCoy was tearing up field in his first season as the starter. On Monday I examined the striking similarities and subtle differences between McCoy and former Eagle Brian Westbrook. Those statistics showed that McCoy may be an even better runner than Westbrook was at the same point in his career.

Yet even if McCoy is a better runner than Westbrook, he still may not be able to handle the bigger workload that many fans want him to take on. Last year he only averaged 13.7 carries per game, surpassing the 20 carry mark only once — in a week six win over Atlanta.

That’s not surprising. Westbrook himself only rushed more than 20 times twice in his first four and a half years in the NFL. And, to be fair, there just aren’t many running backs left in the NFL who can handle the ball all the time. In fact, only six players had over 20 carries per game in 2010, and none averaged higher than 22 carries.

But could McCoy handle a bigger workload than the one he was given last season? Let’s look at his number of carries and yards per carry in 2010 on a game by game basis:

LeSean McCoy 2010 Rushing per Game Workload

So the blue is carries, corresponding to the left axis, and red is yards per carry, measured on the right axis. Over the season, McCoy’s workload and effectiveness varied substantially.

In the first half of the season, McCoy was being used a lot; he had 16 or more carries six times in the first eight games. Yet his production was actually down. McCoy had only three games during that stretch in which he averaged above five yards per carry and also had his two least effective games, in weeks six and seven.

Then things changed. McCoy only carried the ball an average of 12 times a game after week nine, but posted some of his best performances. While his yards per carry was a respectable 4.8 in the first half, it rose to 5.5 over the last eight games.

We can also separate McCoy’s performance by carry:

Eagles LeSean McCoy 2010 Situational Yards per Carry

Through the first 15 carries, McCoy was consistently great, averaging over five yards per carry. And while it’s a small sample size beyond that, McCoy experienced a significant drop off when the Eagles kept feeding him the ball last season.

Eagles fans will never stop calling for the team to run the ball more, and McCoy’s talent only makes that prospect even more tantalizing. But the truth is that McCoy might look much less special if he had to take on a huge workload. The Eagles may be better off limiting his touches, at least for now, and keeping McCoy as a fabulous second or third option — rather than the focus on offense.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Who’s the Better Back: McCoy or Westbrook?

LeSean McCoy Brian Westbrook Comparison 2010 2004 Philadelphia Eagles

Recently, free agent and former Eagle Brian Westbrook said that he would like to return to Philadelphia. While such a move might make sense if Andy Reid wanted a veteran back-up, the truth is that Westbrook is a forgotten man in Philadelphia, where LeSean McCoy’s stellar 2010 campaign wiped away any doubts that he could fill his mentor’s big shoes.

When the Eagles let Westbrook walk last offseason, many people wondered if McCoy was ready for the starting job. His rookie season showed promise, but McCoy was still raw. He danced too much before hitting the hole, hadn’t mastered blocking assignments, and couldn’t be counted on in the passing game. But after changing his uniform number and physique in the offseason, McCoy was stellar in 2010. In fact, McCoy was one of the most consistent offensive leaders, racking up big numbers despite injuries at quarterback and holes along the offensive line.

However, one question remains. Is he better than Westbrook? That’s an easy answer regarding the 2010 versions of each, but we have to compare apples to apples. As I did early last season, I’m going to look at Westbrook’s 2004 season and McCoy’s 2010 — both seasons being the running back’s first as the unquestioned starter. Here are the stats:

LeSean McCoy Brian Westbrook Statistics Comparison

I broke down the numbers by rushing and receiving, so let’s examine them in that order.

Westbrook and McCoy had a shockingly similar number of carries in the same 16 games, including playoffs. Yet see who was the more efficient runner? Looks like Shady has a leg up on his predecessor at this point in his career. McCoy averaged half a yard more per carry and scored four more touchdowns. He also scored big DVOA points compared to Westbrook and had a higher Success Rate, another Football Outsiders stat that measures consistency. McCoy did benefit from a slightly better run-blocking offensive line, according to FO’s Adjusted Line Yards, but the difference was marginal at best. McCoy, in his first season as the feature back, was clearly the better runner.

Then, when you look at the receiving numbers, the paradigm shifts. Westbrook had a significantly higher Yards per Reception figure and scored eight huge touchdowns. Plus, while McCoy’s DVOA is solid, Westbrook’s is incredible. Number 36 was simply a better receiving threat.

What does this mean? Putting it simply: McCoy is a better rusher, but a worse receiver than Westbrook was at the same time in his career. That redistribution of talent fits perfectly with the rest of the Eagles current roster, which is already bursting at the seams with explosive outside threats. There’s less of a need to design pass plays for the running back when DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are on the outside (not that Terrell Owens was a slacker).

Even with these differences, it’s fascinating to watch McCoy follow in Westbrook’s footsteps, performing the same dual-threat running back role. Already, McCoy lived up to Westbrook’s example and has surpassed the 31 year-old in some areas. Only thing to see now is if McCoy can sustain it into the future.

Originally published at NBC Philadelphia. Photo from Getty.

Is LeSean McCoy Progressing Faster Than Brian Westbrook?

Does that mean McCoy has progressed a year faster than his predecessor? Not necessarily. First of all, McCoy was coming from the advantage of a big time college football at the University of Pittsburgh. Westbrook, on the other hand, was making the leap to the NFL from D1-AA at Villanova. He was fighting an uphill battle to even make it in this league.

Second, we don’t know that Westbrook couldn’t have taken on a bigger load earlier like McCoy did. #36 entered the league when the Eagles already had two capable backs in Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter. Andy Reid didn’t need to rush him along like he did with McCoy.

So, all that aside, what if we do want to compare the early Westbrook years with what we’re seeing from McCoy? Ultimately I think you have to compare Westbrook’s 2004 season, his first as “the man,” to McCoy’s 2010. And looking at the actual numbers, you can see a pretty obvious trend…