Editor's note: I wrote about LeSean McCoy Saturday morning and got lucky. The Eagles ended up selecting him with the 53rd pick overall in this weekend's draft. Here's an insider's look from Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, a reporter who covered McCoy during his career at Pitt.
Sports Illustrated's mock draft this week had the Eagles going with Pittsburgh running back LeSean McCoy with the 21st pick.
To get a better idea of what McCoy was like in college, we called on Paul Zeise of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Q: What are McCoy's strengths that make him one of the top running back prospects on the board?
A: McCoy is shifty and explosive and fast. He is also a more physical runner than people think because they only see the highlights of his long runs. He is one of the best I've seen at setting a defender up with a move or shuffle, then blowing past him, and that makes him dangerous in one-on-one, open field situations. He's also a lot tougher runner than you'd think -- he ran plenty between the tackles in the Dave Wannstedt/Matt Cavanaugh offense. And when he hits the hole, he has the speed to run away from defenses. He is really good at moving quickly in small areas and finding holes. He is often compared to Brian Westbrook, and he does catch passes out of the backfield well, but he is stronger than you think he is, given his size. He'd take hit after hit after hit and keep bouncing up. He also has good vision and a knack for finding cut-back lanes that don't seem to exist. I'd say there is one other thing that is tough to measure at a Scouting Combine -- his heart. He is a tough kid and a kid who faced stacked defenses every single week (he was Pitt's only offense), and a kid who often carried the Panthers, literally, to victories because the Panthers' passing game was non-existent. There were some games (see below) where he simply wouldn't let Pitt lose, and it wasn't uncommon for him to carry the ball 30 times or more. He almost always got stronger, ran harder and was tougher to tackle as the game wore on.
Q: What areas of his game do you think concern NFL scouts and personnel guys?
A: He is not a North-South runner, and that hurts him sometimes because he dances a little too much in the backfield trying to make something big happen. It is something you have to live with because his "dancing" would lead to the big plays and the longer runs, but there were a number of times when he'd get a few too many negative rushes in a game because he wasn't getting to the hole quick enough. For two years Pitt's coaches worked with him on taking what the defense is giving, and he got better in his second season at taking those 2-yard or 3-yard runs (as opposed to trying too hard for a 40-yard run and ending up with a negative 3-yard run because the hole collapsed). Ball security was also an issue at times as he sometimes carries the ball out like it is a loaf of bread. This is something that coaches can work with him on, and he did get better from year one to year two, but he has to continue to work on it. One other thing that will have to change once he gets to the NFL are his offseason workout habits, as he didn't always work as hard as he needed to in the offseason while he was at Pitt. He did work hard during the season and during camp and whatnot and he was one of the hardest workers at practice. Coaches often had to dial him back a little bit once his competitive juices started flowing, but he wasn't as self-motivated as a number of the other guys on the team, and that's mostly because football has always come easy to him.
Q: Tell us about McCoy's personality from having covered him. Is he good with the media? What was his relationship like with coaches and teammates?
A: Personality is one of his greatest strengths. He is a little immature and thus can come off as aloof to those who don't know him, but once you get to know him, you realize he has a great personality and he is really just a happy kid who enjoys life. His teammates and coaches loved him because he was the guy who a lot of times kept things light. He was the emotional leader of the team, and at times when he was taken out of the game for whatever reason, he never pouted or acted like a prima donna. He was the first guy on the sidelines patting guys on the back and cheering his teammates on. He's a team player, he wants to win, and he wants his teammates to do well. And he was asked to carry a ridiculous load because Pitt's quarterback play and passing game has been awful for two years, but he never threw guys under the bus or complained. As for dealing with the media, he never said no, not once that I can remember. He is cordial, he never treated us like we were wasting his time and he was refreshing in that he listened to questions and tried to answer them honestly (sometimes too honestly). He is also one of the few star athletes (perhaps only) I can remember who actually approached me a couple of days after an interview in which I asked him a pretty tough question and said, "Thanks for asking that question. It made me think about things for the last few days." In 2007, when he was a freshman, he fumbled on the goal line with the game on the line at Louisville, and he was the first guy in the media room, answering questions and taking responsibility for the fumble even though he was visibly upset and fighting back tears. That told me he is a stand-up guy and he understood what it meant to be the star.
Q: I was working in Harrisburg when McCoy was being recruited. What happened from the time he was a senior at Bishop McDevitt until the time he saw the field for Pitt?
A: Here is the best thing that happened to McCoy between Bishop McDevitt and Pitt: he was humbled, and as a result became a much hungrier player than he would have been. He broke his leg his senior year in the fourth game. He let his grades slide, and even though he committed to Miami, he wouldn't have been eligible so he went to prep school at Milford Academy. And that year he never really regained his high school form and was actually a back-up for most of the season. He was still committed to Miami, but Wannstedt kept recruiting him and sold him on the idea of being a huge fish in a smaller pond, as well as the fact that the Panthers' run-first offense needed a franchise runner. McCoy committed to Pitt and the rest, as they say, is history. He often talks about that year at prep school, the humbling experience it was, the fact that he realized how fragile his football career is and how it helped him grow up. He also said he realized how fickle the world of big-time sports can be because before he got hurt he had everyone on the planet calling him, and after he got hurt he became a forgotten man.
Q: What was McCoy's signature moment at Pitt?
A: In 2008, Pitt is playing against West Virginia, and once again the Mountaineers have taken Pitt's passing game completely away (which was a weekly occurence). Pitt's offense is stalling and they are struggling, but the defense keeps them within shouting distance. Wannstedt makes a decision with the Panthers trailing 15-7 with about 11 minutes to play: McCoy is either going to win or lose the game for Pitt. McCoy answers the bell and scores two touchdowns in the game's final 8:02, including the game winner with less than a minute to play. Perhaps the most impressive thing was the final drive was 10 plays for 59 yards -- or more accurately McCoy ran 9 times for 56 yards and the score (that's right, they gave it to him nine times in a 10-play drive and WVU again couldn't stop him). He finished with 33 carries for a career-high 187 yards and two scores.