In a day and age where teams around the National Football League are spreading opposing defenses out and throwing the ball through the air, the Buffalo Bills appear to be looking to do the exact opposite under new head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Prior to the start of free agency, the team made a bold move, trading 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate, Kiko Alonso to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for LeSean McCoy, a 26-year-old superstar running back that’s earned two All-Pro nods and made three trips to the Pro Bowl. After awarding McCoy with a five-year, $40 million contract, the Bills signed fullback Jerome Felton and tight end Charles Clay in order to strengthen the run game.
In six seasons with the Eagles, McCoy has carried the ball 1,461 times for 6,792 yards, scoring 44 touchdowns at a rate of 4.6 yards-per-attempt. McCoy, who stands 5’11” and weighs 208 pounds is arguably the most elusive back in the league, possessing uncanny lateral agility, burst and speed. With Greg Roman’s offense based on a lot of power/gap blocking principles, some questions regarding McCoy’s fit have arisen, given that he’s spent his professional career playing in Andy Reid’s West Coast and Chip Kelly’s up-tempo spread offenses that were predominantly zone-based schemes.
I went back and watched games dating back to 2007, when McCoy was on his way to rushing for 2,816 yards and 35 touchdowns at Pitt, up until last year, in order to see how he’ll potentially fit in the Bills’ new offensive scheme.
In college, McCoy thrived in an offense similar to what the Bills will likely be running a lot of in the upcoming season- a power-based scheme that utilized a fullback and multiple tight ends attached to the offensive line.
McCoy didn’t have the size or bulk of a typical “power” back, but his excellent vision and burst between the tackles allowed him to make an immediate impact as a freshman. When LaRod Stephens-Howling went down with an injury McCoy was pressed into action and he dominated.
He was named the Big East Rookie of the Year in 2007, the Big East Player of the Year in 2008 and was named to the second-team All-American roster before going pro.
LeSean McCoy isn’t the fastest running back—he posted an average 4.50 second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day—but his ability to make defenders miss with his ridiculous jump cuts allows him to be a consistently explosive player.
Shady’s a smooth runner with lightning-quick feet, and he’s mastered the art of making the first man miss, planting his foot and exploding into daylight for a big gain. His 87 career carries of 15+ yards are a testament to this facet of his game.
McCoy is more of a “chunk” runner than a “home run” threat like C.J. Spiller was, but the rate at which he’ll gash defenses with 10, 15, 20+ yard gains makes him a threat every time he touches the ball. This is highlighted in the following clip against St. Louis on an outside stretch run. He’s able to accelerate and turn the corner into daylight, but can’t beat the safety to the sideline. Nonetheless, it’s an explosive play and it’s one that you can count on him to make at least once or twice per game.
Watching LeSean McCoy is a bit frustrating at times, because while he’s undoubtedly a fantastic and dynamic weapon in the backfield, he can get too confident in his movement skills. His desire to make the big play will cause him to bounce inside runs to the outside, and vice versa. It’s a double-edged sword that a coach will just have to accept with a player of his caliber.
However, what makes him so frustrating at times is also what makes him so exciting. In the following clip against the Rams, the Eagles are in “12” personnel- one running back and two tight ends. As he takes the handoff on an outside rush, McCoy sees a small window between the tight end and left tackle, getting skinny and bursting through it for a huge gain.
Shady’s vision is displayed again vs. the Rams on this next draw play, as he makes a subtle cut to avoid traffic and pick up five yards when nothing’s there.
In the passing game, McCoy is somewhat effective on screens, using his shiftiness and elusiveness to slide out and get in space to pick up a handful of yards.
He’s caught 300 passes for 2,282 yards and 10 touchdowns in his career but he’s not really a major weapon in the passing game, as he doesn’t have reliable hands (24 drops in career) and isn’t much of a route runner. In pass protection, McCoy can be a liability as well. In his six seasons, McCoy has allowed five sacks, 11 quarterback hits and 46 hurries when staying home in pass protection. He just doesn’t care about that aspect of the game, and you shouldn’t either—it’s not what he’s being paid $40 million to do.
Outlook in Buffalo
LeSean McCoy actually seems like a better fit for an offense like Buffalo’s, where he’ll be asked to rely on his agility and vision between the tackles in a run-first offense compared to one like Philadelphia’s where he wasn’t very effective in the passing game.
He’s gotten a label of being an “outside” rusher, but he’s actually been more effective when carrying the ball between the tackles.
He has experience rushing from a variety of formations, with a fullback and multiple tight end sets that the Bills will employ, as shown by this 21-yard gain from a pro set against the Giants.
Fans may get a bit frustrated with three things: a.) how he holds the ball, b.) his tendency to bounce runs outside, and c.) his “diva” attitude. While you’d like all three to be corrected, he’s never had a real issue with fumbles and he’s rushed for over 6,700 yards in six seasons, so they’re things you can deal with.
All in all, McCoy is a fantastic player that immediately makes the Bills’ offense better. Obviously, he’ll need help from a questionable offensive line, but he’s a great weapon that has proven capable of handling a big workload.