Is LeSean McCoy on Track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

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Is LeSean McCoy on Track for the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

LeSean McCoy just turned 26 years old. He’s only played five seasons in the National Football League, and there’s a good chance the best is still to come for Shady. It may seem premature to discuss his Hall of Fame chances, but a breakdown of his numbers shows McCoy is on the right track.

McCoy is coming off his finest season in the league. He was the star of Chip Kelly’s offense in 2013, leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,607) and scrimmage yards (2,146). McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per carry. He was only the sixth player in history to average at least five yards per carry with at least 1,600 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards.

McCoy fumbled just once. He played and started all 16 games for the first time in his career, and he had games like the Snow Bowl win over the Detroit Lions where he pretty much put the team on his back.

Through five NFL seasons, McCoy stacks up favorably with the all-time greats. He’s rushed for 5,473 yards and totaled 2,127 yards as a receiver out of the backfield. That’s 7,600 yards from scrimmage, which makes McCoy the 25th running back ever to accumulate such a total in his first five seasons.

Here’s a complete list of the other players to do so.

Numbers courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Nine of the 25 players are already in the Hall of Fame—Walter Payton, Tony Dorsett, Marcus Allen, Eric Dickerson, Thurman Thomas, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith, Marshall Faulk and Curtis Martin. LaDainian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson will assuredly make the Hall, which makes 11 of 25 players.

The recent players to have done so will probably fall short of the Hall of Fame. Terrell Davis was certainly on track but burned out. Eddie George, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Jamal Lewis and Clinton Portis had fantastic careers and combined for 12 Pro Bowls, but they’re in the very-good category that will likely include Frank Gore and Steven Jackson.

What McCoy has on his side is his efficiency in running the football. He’s averaged 4.76 yards per carry over his NFL career. Just three other players have rushed for at least 5,400 yards on 4.76 yards per attempt in their first four seasons. Their names are Jim Brown, Adrian Peterson and Frank Gore.

Brown is the greatest running back to ever play the game. Peterson will make the Hall when he’s finished. Gore will likely miss, but still, that’s two out of three.

And McCoy is just 26 years old with a handful of great seasons in front of him. The yards from scrimmage stat shows he's clearly on track with some of the greatest to ever play the game, and McCoy should have several more seasons of production ahead of him. 

Nick Foles ran Kelly’s offense to near-perfection in 2013, but he wouldn’t have enjoyed nearly the same success without McCoy. As good as McCoy was in ’13, there’s reason to believe he will be even better this coming season.

The Eagles return largely the same offensive unit as the one that scored 442 points and finished second in total yards gained last year. There’s no backup in the waiting to take carries from McCoy; Darren Sproles is more of a slot receiver who shouldn’t be expected to carry the ball more than three to four times per game. Chris Polk is a former undrafted back who will contribute solely in a change-of-pace role.

Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Say McCoy stays healthy for 2014 and puts up numbers similar to last year—275-300 carries, 1,500 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns plus 50 receptions for 500 yards and three touchdowns. And say he does it again in ’15 and follows with a similar season in ‘16.

Those are lofty expectations, but backs of McCoy’s talent don’t come around every day. He can thrive as a workhorse back. He seems to get stronger as the game goes on. He makes defenders miss in the same way Barry Sanders did.

Kelly got the best out of Foles, and he got the best out of DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and even McCoy. There’s reason to believe McCoy can be the NFL’s best running back for the next several seasons.

Shaun Alexander holds the league record with 5,011 rushing yards from his age-26 through age-28 seasons. O.J. Simpson and Sanders each put up over 4,900 yards. Adrian Peterson had 4,333, and he even missed six games due to injury. There have been nine running backs in history with at least 4,200 rushing yards from their age-26 through age-28 seasons.

It’s not unreasonable to expect McCoy to put up at least 4,200 rushing yards; that may even be conservative given what Kelly’s offense did in Year 1 in the league. For this purpose, let’s say McCoy adds 4,200 rushing yards and 35 rushing touchdowns to his totals over the next three seasons.

That’s going to put McCoy at 9,600 rushing yards in his first eight seasons in the league. What will separate him from backs like George and James is McCoy’s tremendous yards-per-carry rate. He’s at 4.76 yards per carry, and he’s probably only going to get better in the offense he’s playing in.

Polk averaged 8.9 yards per carry on his 11 carries in 2013. McCoy nearly matched his personal best, and did so on a league-high 314 carries. Michael Vick was at 8.5 yards per rush. The Eagles as a team averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, which led the entire National Football League.

Say McCoy gets to 9,600 rushing yards while maintaining his 4.8 yards per carry clip (which may even be conservative). He’s going to be just the fifth running back ever to pull off that achievement. And the other four backs are pretty legitimate Hall of Famers (or future Hall of Famers)—Brown, Simpson, Sanders and Peterson.

That’s not to say rushing yards are the end-all, be-all for running backs, but it’s certainly the primary number used to evaluate the position. Sixteen of the 28 running backs with at least 10,000 rushing yards are or will be in the Hall of Fame (Jerome Bettis has been a finalist for four years running, and he would make it 17 backs. If Jackson can sneak in, that’s 18).

Fourteen of the 18 backs with at least 11,000 yards are in the Hall. Bettis can become the 15th back. James, Fred Taylor and Corey Dillon very likely won’t make it.

McCoy also adds that extra element as a receiver, although that doesn’t normally make or break a running back’s Hall of Fame chances. He very rarely fumbles—he’s coughed up the football just 10 times in over 1,400 career touches, which comes out to once every 142.1 touches. Compare that to other all-time greats like Peterson (1 out of 72 touches), Tomlinson (126 touches) or Payton (50 touches).

What would really help McCoy’s case is a big performance in the playoffs. To date, he’s been very non-existent in the Eagles’ three playoff games since 2009: McCoy has rushed for a total of just 147 yards in three postseason contests; the Eagles have lost all three games.

Numbers courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Great running backs don’t always come through in the postseason. Smith was a major factor in the Dallas Cowboys’ three Super Bowl titles. Davis all but carried John Elway to consecutive Super Bowl championships in the late ‘90s. But Payton wasn’t the reason the Chicago Bears won in 1985. Brown never won a title. Dickerson had a handful of duds in the playoffs.

Still, if McCoy can deliver a Super Bowl championship to Philly and win the game’s MVP, it will go a long way for his chances.

Whether McCoy can make the Hall will ultimately come down to his ability to stay healthy. There have been 12 Hall of Fame running backs whose careers started after 1970. Earl Campbell is the only one of the group with fewer than 10,000 rushing yards, but he was a ridiculous talent who won the rushing title in each of his first three seasons before injuries derailed his career.

The average Hall of Fame back since 1970 has 13,327 rushing yards. Those totals are inflated by the top three—Smith, Payton and Brown—but it’s a safe bet McCoy could need at least 11,000 rushing yards for enshrinement. That’s a lot of rushing yards, although he can gain a lot of ground in the next several seasons.

Realistically, a projection for a running back is simply impulsive when he’s just 26 years old. This simply offers a glimpse at what McCoy has done so far and how he projects in the future, and there’s a good chance five years from now McCoy may be an all-time great.

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