Over the next several days, I will go position-by-position and player-by-player to preview what could be in store for all 53 members of the current Philadelphia Eagles.
The first installment takes a look at the running backs, starting with...
LeSean McCoy - There are several interesting numbers that provide a better understanding of the kind of year McCoy had in 2010. With the help of Football Outsiders and STATS.com, here are 10 of them:
1. McCoy averaged 5.22 yards per carry, fourth among NFL running backs with at least 100 carries, behind only Jamaal Charles (6.4), Brandon Jacobs (5.6) and Chris Ivory (5.23).
2. McCoy showed at times he could be a big-play threat, with 28 carries of 10+ yards (tied for 11th-most in the NFL) and seven carries of 20+yards (tied for 15th-most).
3. Of the 17 players who piled up 1,000 yards or more, only LeGarrette Blount did so on fewer carries (201) than McCoy (207).
4. It sure seems like his comparatively light workload kept him fresh. McCoy averaged 6.1 yards per carry in the fourth quarter, second to only Charles.
5. He was good in short yardage too, converting eight of 10 opportunities on third-and-short.
6. McCoy averaged 7.9 yards per carry on turf last year, tops in the NFL. Indoors, he averaged 8.4 yards per carry.
7. He averaged 5.8 YPC to the left, 4.4 to the right and 5.1 up the middle.
8. He averaged 5.9 YPC in single-back sets and 4.5 YPC in two-back sets.
9. McCoy averaged 5.9 YPC with Michael Vick at QB and 3.8 YPC with Kevin Kolb behind center.
10. His 90 targets and 78 receptions were both first among running backs. The Eagles ran 47 running back screens, which was the most in the NFL.
So what do all these numbers mean going forward? Let's start with McCoy as a runner. Todd Herremans and Jason Peters were excellent blockers on the left side. Now that combo has turned into Peters and Evan Mathis, so we'll see if the Eagles are still more efficient running McCoy to that side.
I'm not sure his attempts will go up, and a repeat of McCoy's 5.2 YPC average would be impressive. Bodog has the over/under on McCoy's rushing yards at 950, while Football Outsiders projects him to pile up 1,100. A year ago, McCoy had 1,080 yards in 15 games.
It's tough to project McCoy as a receiver. On one hand, the Eagles will likely run a bunch of screens like they did last year to burn blitzes and take pressure off Vick. On the other hand, they might need McCoy to stay in as a blocker, at least early in the season, given the uncertainty along the offensive line. In 2010, when McCoy was on the field for passing plays, he went out into his route about 79.5 percent of the time and stayed in to block about 20.5 percent of the time, according to Pro Football Focus.
I'd say he's improved as a pass blocker, but still needs to work on that aspect of his game.
Overall, McCoy has really emerged into one of the better all-around backs in the league, and he's only 23 years old. Assuming he stays healthy, McCoy should take another step forward in 2011. And keep in mind that he could very well be in the same situation next summer that DeSean Jackson is in now. McCoy will be entering the final year of his deal in 2012 and is scheduled to make a reported base salary of $615,000. Oh yes, he too is represented by Drew Rosenhaus.
Owen Schmitt - The Eagles reportedly put in a claim for fullback Jerome Felton last week, which tells me they are not completely sold on Schmitt as their starting fullback.
Last year, when he was on the field, Schmitt was used as a receiver about 45 percent of the time; as a run blocker 41 percent; and as a pass blocker about 13 percent. Unlike the Eagles' previous fullback, Leonard Weaver, Schmitt is not a threat to run the ball. He didn't have a single carry in 2010, although he did catch 19 passes for 136 yards.
I don't see much of a role for Schmitt in 2011. As I mentioned above, McCoy was better in single-back sets (5.9 YPC) than two-back sets (4.5). And the Eagles like to run out of their standard 1-RB/3-WR/1-TE set. If they want to go bigger, they might use Clay Harbor as a second tight end, instead of Schmitt as a fullback. But more likely, we'll see more 4-WR sets, with the addition of Steve Smith.
Overall, Schmitt played about 32 percent of the offensive snaps last season. I think that number will drop in 2011.
Ronnie Brown - Brown was a good addition for the role the Eagles expect him to play, but I don't think he's going to have a significant impact on the offense on a week-to-week basis. He had just seven fewer carries than McCoy a year ago and produced just one run of 20+ yards, while averaging a career-low 3.7 YPC.
Granted, the Dolphins were a mess, but I have a hard time seeing many situations (other than pass protection) where Brown presents a better option than McCoy. I'd be surprised if he even got five touches per game in weeks where McCoy is healthy. Remember, it's not like the Eagles need to spell McCoy, given his relatively light workload.
Where Brown really could prove valuable is if McCoy gets injured. Brown was asked to carry the ball 15 times or more five times in 2010. And he also had 33 catches. If McCoy goes down, Brown presents a nice backup option, which is what the team was looking for when they signed him.
Dion Lewis - He was impressive in the preseason, showing he can run, catch the ball and pick up the blitz. Of course, doing those things against backups when there's limited game-planning is different than doing them in the regular season. Still, Lewis' performance was encouraging. He seemed tough and shifty, breaking tackles and also shaking defenders.
Right now, he's listed as the Eagles' kickoff returner, which will be a good way to get the ball in Lewis' hands. Even with the expected increase in touchbacks, he should get some opportunities to make plays on special teams. Given the Eagles' other weapons and the shortened offseason, it's tough to envision much of a role on offense for Lewis. If he gets on the field for pass plays, they need to be sure he knows what he's doing so Vick doesn't get crushed. Maybe Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg will surprise me and find a way to get Lewis two or three offensive touches per game.
Looking at the bigger picture, Brown signed a one-year deal, so Lewis is on track to be McCoy's complement in 2011 if everything goes well this season.
Earlier today, I posted What they're saying about the Eagles.
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