When the Eagles drafted LeSean McCoy back in 2009, the message was clear: He would eventually replace one of the team's all-time greats, Brian Westbrook.
To his credit, Westbrook never seemed to fight that reality. I remember seeing him help McCoy at training camp that summer. The pair only spent one season together, but this past offseason, McCoy said publicly he'd be in favor of the Eagles bringing Westbrook back.
Comparisons between the two started to creep up in 2010 as McCoy piled up 1,672 yards from scrimmage and averaged 5.2 yards per carry.
And now that McCoy has played even better through the first part of the 2011 season, it seems like a good time to revisit how he compares to his predecessor.
Let's start with their effectiveness in the run game. Westbrook's best seasons statistically were 2006 and 2007. Here's how those years compare to what McCoy is projected to accomplish in 2011. Of course, there is a huge disclaimer here. McCoy has only played six games. He needs to stay healthy and perform at a high level over the next two-and-a-half months.
On the other hand, McCoy is 23 and in his third season. In 2006, Westbrook was 27 and in his fifth season.
Here's a look at the numbers:
|McCoy 2011 (projected)
McCoy is averaging 17.5 rushing attempts per game. That's 11th-most in the NFL. In 2007, Westbrook set a career high with 18.5 attempts per game. He averaged 16.0 in 2006.
Like I said, McCoy has a long way to go, but he's on pace to set the Eagles' single-season franchise record for rushing yards. Barely. The number to beat is 1,512, set by Wilbert Montgomery in 1979. No other back has run for 1,500+ in franchise history.
McCoy's 94.8 yards per game ranks fifth in the NFL and is better than the marks by Westbrook in 2006 and 2007. His 5.4 yards per carry is tied for second, behind only Fred Jackson among running backs with at least 50 carries.
McCoy is much more of a big-play rusher this season. He already has five carries of 20+ yards. Last year, he totaled seven. To put that into better perspective, McCoy is averaging one run of 20+ yards every 21 carries. Last year, it was one every 29.6 carries.
In 2007, Westbrook totaled 11 runs of 20+ yards and averaged one every 25.2 attempts.
McCoy's runs of 10+ yards are way up too. He's already got 23 of them (most in the NFL), compared to 28 all of last season. McCoy is averaging one run of 10+ yards every 4.57 attempts. Last year, it was once every 7.39 attempts.
As we know, there's more to being tailback than running the football. And McCoy is not on Westbrook's level as a receiver.
The table below shows Westbrook's per-game receiving numbers in 2006 and 2007, compared to McCoy's in 2010 and 2011:
||Yds. per catch
As you can see, Westbrook has McCoy beat as a receiver. Westbrook averaged 8.9 yards per catch for his career and of course set the Eagles' franchise record with 90 catches in 2007.
The Eagles have not been able to get McCoy going in the passing game this season. He's projected to have 56 catches for 328 yards and is averaging an unimpressive 5.9 yards per reception. Those numbers are down across the board from 2010 (78/592/7.6). In 2010, McCoy had six plays of 20+ yards in the passing game. This season, his longest reception has gone for just 16 yards.
The Eagles targeted McCoy six times per game last year; he's being targeted five times per game this season.
Westbrook has the edge in some other areas too. McCoy has had ups and downs as a blocker and is not at Westbrook's level. And Westbrook of course could affect the game on special teams as a return man.
Overall, there's no downplaying McCoy's production through his first 23 starts. If he stays healthy, it's likely that McCoy's 2011 season will go down as one of the best by a running back in Eagles franchise history.
There's room for improvement as a blocker and a receiver, but when you consider the three running backs taken ahead of McCoy in the 2009 draft - Knowshon Moreno, Donald Brown and Beanie Wells - the Eagles' selection with the 53rd overall pick looks like a home run.
And don't forget McCoy is still on his rookie contract. He's scheduled to be a free agent after 2012, but considering his age and his production, it's hard to imagine the Eagles not locking him up long-term at some point in the next year.
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