It’s easy for rushing milestones to get lost in the offensive blitz that is the Philadelphia Eagles. After all, through 15 weeks they’re ranked 21st in the NFL in rushing and were, at one point not too long ago, as low as No. 30.
But in the midst of their 116-yard performance Sunday against the 49ers, an important one was set. LeSean McCoy’s 48 yards gave him 606 for the season and the new franchise record for rushing yards in a season by a rookie.
Oddly enough, of all the good-to-great running backs that the Eagles have drafted—from Steve Van Buren and Wilbert Montgomery to Deuce Staley and Brian Westbrook—the record was held by the man McCoy ostensibly replaced: Correll Buckhalter. Now a Denver Bronco, Buckhalter had 586 yards in 2001 while splitting time with Deuce Staley.
In fact, McCoy was actually fifth on the list before the game, passing three other luminaries as well as Buckhalter to become the new standard bearer.
The question is this, though: Will this be a blessing or a curse?
After all, McCoy fits the mold of recent Eagles running back draftees: decent college backs selected a year or two before the previous incumbent outlives his usefulness, so to speak.
The problem, however, is that he could very easily fall into the mold of the four former rookies he surpassed on Sunday.
Of all the highly-selected backs in the recent past, none of them have had the baptism by fire McCoy has experienced this year.
Deuce Staley, who was the Birds’ featured back for five seasons, was selected in 1997—the last of Ricky Watters’ three great years in green. Duce only got seven carries as a rookie, but then had three 1,000-yard seasons in the next five.
Next came Brian Westbrook, who was drafted in 2002—which ended up being the last of Staley’s big seasons. He had 193 yards that year, and while B-West wasn’t a blow away runner until four years later, his incredible versatility made him one of the Top 10 Overall Backs of the decade.
Going back slightly further, you’ll find franchise rushing leader Wilbert Montgomery—who was drafted in 1977 and had three 1,200-plus yard seasons between 1978 and 1981—only had 183 yards as a rookie while backing up Mike Hogan.
Now look at the other side of the coin.
Buckhalter had a good rookie season splitting time with Staley, and was part of a three-headed attack with Deuce and Westbrook that gained over 1,600 yards in 2003. But he missed three full seasons, became a backup and, until this year, never eclipsed the yardage total he had in his first year.
The guy in third place on the rookie rushing list, Keith Byars, was good for about 500 yards a year throughout his Eagle career. But he became better known for being a prototypical H-Back, acting as more of a weapon in the passing game—he actually led the team in receiving yards in 1989 and 1990.
The other two guys in the Top Five, Po James and the aforementioned Hogan, had a combined 1,126 yards as rookies—and less than 2,000 total for the rest of their careers. Both were out of the league by age 27, and if McCoy even equals whatever his 2009 total ends up being next year, he’ll pass Po’s career total.
The Eagles, as well as their fans, hope McCoy falls in the former category as the exception, not in the latter as a rule.
After all, Westbrook is 30 and coming off a pair of concussions that cost him 10 games this season, and a triggered clause in his thought-to-be-lengthy contract means he will be a free agent after 2010. Even then, his $7.25-million non-guaranteed base for next year makes him a prime target to be cut.
While you’d like to think the Birds would give him a chance to become the franchise’s all-time rushing leader—he’s about 600 yards shy of the mark right now—last year’s Brian Dawkins debacle proves Andy Reid isn’t one to make emotional decisions.
But the way the Eagles have become a vertical passing team as of late, you wonder if they won’t just stick with a multi-back system. Leonard Weaver has emerged this year, Westbrook should still have another season, and Eldra Buckley could end up being very useful in the future.
You’d like to think McCoy will be at least the co-feature back next year and grow into the No. 1 role beyond that—which will hopefully make his rookie rushing record look all that much better when he’s done.
Let’s just hope it’s not because he ends up becoming the Charlie Garner or Buckhalter to someone else's Staley or Westbrook.
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