Can Philadelphia Eagles RB LeSean McCoy supersede his outstanding performance in 2011? You bet your buttocks he can!
There are plenty of reasons as to why McCoy will improve upon his breakout season last year where he ran for 1,309 yards, rushed for 17 TDs, averaged 4.8 yards per carry and tacked on 315 yards receiving and three more scores.
Here are five reasons why the best is yet to come.
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He just turned 24 years old on July 12th and is entering only his fourth season in the NFL. If you look at the career stats of many great running backs, you'll notice that most of them had their best years after the age of 24.
Players of previous eras like Brian Westbrook, Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders had their best years between the ages of 24-28. Players of today like Frank Gore, Michael Turner and Fred Jackson have had their best seasons during that time frame or even later.
Maurice Jones-Drew exploded onto the scene after he turned 24 and went into his fourth year, just like McCoy.
The point is, McCoy is young, and statistics tell us that good running backs become great over the stretch of their careers that he is just beginning.
Yes, we lost Jason Peters, our best lineman. However, we have an adequate replacement in Demetress Bell who will be serviceable, at the least.
Beyond that, this will be Year 2 in the Howard Mudd scheme. Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Danny Watkins were all new last season, with the latter two being just rookies. It was Todd Herremans' first year at right tackle as well.
Another year of experience and continuity for this group and they will be even better. Offensive lines almost always get better as a group the longer they play together.
This may go hand-in-hand with No. 1 because one of the reasons those running backs performed their best during those years was due to veteran experience.
We still think of McCoy as a "young kid", but when you're entering your fourth season, you start to become a "veteran" as well. Does McCoy still have things to learn?
Yes, he does.
One area McCoy can improve upon is his pass blocking. He wasn't bad last year, but also wasn't good either. Pro Football Focus has him rated as the running back who gave up the most pressure on passing plays where a running back stayed in to block last season.
Per PFF, McCoy gave up a total of 18 pressures out of 140 pass-block snaps. They included one sack, three hits and 14 QB hurries. Of course, it's relative to how many snaps you play, and McCoy had the second-most pass-blocking snaps by a RB last year.
Still, it's an area he can improve in and that will come with experience.
Another area that will improve with experience is picking his holes and learning patience. Many running backs rely on instinct but are also less patient to wait for a play to develop before committing to a lane.
Given Mudd's stretch-running scheme, patience will be a virtue for McCoy and allow him to make better choices on where to run.
The Eagles had the ninth-rated passing game in 2011 and averaged just about 257 yards passing per game. As good as they were in the air last season, they can be even better in 2012.
How, you ask? That's easy, the receivers just need to catch the dang ball!
Collectively, Eagles receiving targets ranked towards the bottom in the NFL last season in dropped passes. DeSean Jackson's struggles with drops last year are well known, but the rest of the receiving corps had their fair share as well.
The passing game and the running game often compliment each other. If the Eagles are clicking on all cylinders when passing the ball, defenses have to play coverage and therefore leave open good running lanes.
McCoy is the perfect player to exploit those holes as well. It'll be bad news for defenses if they have to play their back-seven further off the line of scrimmage—and their safeties deep with the threat of Jackson—because McCoy will tear them up all day long.
So, if Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek all do their jobs well, it will leave tons of space for McCoy to run.
Bryce Brown could be a pleasant surprise
It's no secret that McCoy's backup in 2011, Ronnie Brown, was just plain awful. And with Dion Lewis, a rookie, the coaching staff didn't have many other options than to keep McCoy in the game.
McCoy played in approximately 82 percent of the team's offensive snaps last year. That's a huge load for a running back these days, and it appeared to take its toll on McCoy as the 2011 season wore on.
McCoy's numbers dipped in the second half of last season as compared to the first. In the first eight games, he averaged just about 5.4 yards per carry. In the last seven games, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry.
Furthermore, he rushed for 825 yards over the first eight games as compared to just 484 over his final seven.
These are signs of wearing down as the season goes along.
However, not to fear. With Mr. Halfback Option Pass Fumble gone, the Eagles will turn to a more experienced Dion Lewis as well as promising rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk.
All three of those players are capable of performing much better than Brown did last season. The only hurdle they need to clear is gaining the coach's trust. And to do that, they obviously need to play well in training camp and preseason.
If May's minicamps were any indication, at least one of those players will step up and gain the trust of the coaches and be able to provide McCoy adequate relief. In particular, Bryce Brown received rave reviews back in the OTAs, so he'll be someone to watch.
If the coaches can keep McCoy fresh by reducing his snaps, even just a little bit, it should go a long way for his productivity all throughout next season.
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