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How LeSean McCoy became NFL's most exciting player

Eric Adelson
Yahoo Sports

This Sunday, before kickoff in the game that will decide the NFC East champion, Philadelphia running backs coach Duce Staley will have a question for LeSean McCoy.

"Who's the best player on the field today?"

McCoy will answer: "I am."

Staley will reply: "Then go out there and prove it."

McCoy has been the best player on the field many games this season. Whether he's the best player in the NFL is up for debate. What he is, however, is the most exciting player in the league.

That's a feat in a quarterback-dominated profession that includes Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. McCoy, though, can surprise on every play. And it's not just his league-leading 1,476 rushing yards, which puts him ahead of second-place Jamaal Charles by nearly 200 yards. Nor is it just his 536 receiving yards, which is fourth among running backs.

No, it's more the way he moves when he has the ball.

"His ability to get in and out of a hole," says Staley, who used to be a popular running back for the Eagles. "I used to watch Barry Sanders and Barry was the only person I've seen like that. I compare McCoy to him."

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LeSean McCoy has totaled 2,012 yards rushing and receiving this season. (Reuters)

What makes McCoy so good (and so watchable) is how he plans a move or two ahead. If it looks like his upper body is moving in one direction and his legs are going in a different direction, that's because he is trying to divert two defenders at once.

"A guy is bearing down on him from five or 10 yards away," says Staley, "and he's moving up on the defender, shaking and baking. He'll make a move to get rid of one defender and he's also setting the next guy up."

McCoy has 42 rushes of 10 yards or more – leading the league in that category – which shows his vision is as good as his speed. Chip Kelly's offense has only helped, spreading the field and allowing McCoy more space even in the tiny places where he usually has enough. His 2,012 total yards through 15 games, up from 1,213 in 12 games last season, is proof.

But this season's performance may be as much about Kelly benefiting from McCoy as the other way around. When "Shady" – so named because of his moodiness as an infant – has 20 or more attempts, the Eagles are 6-1. They are 2-6 when McCoy gets fewer than 20 carries. Philadelphia has lost only once since October, and that came in a game against Minnesota when McCoy had just eight rushes. So the Eagles have gone from a mediocre team to a very dangerous team in the second half of the season at least in part because of McCoy. He's had triple-digit rushing games in three of his past six games.

Everyone's favorite McCoy game this season came against the Lions, in which he looked like he was running on pavement while everyone else was sloshing through a driving snowstorm. He had his usual two moves when a lot of defenders had zero. McCoy had 217 yards rushing – 97 of which came on two touchdown gallops.

The lasting memory for Staley, however, came after those runs. The coach challenged McCoy before the game to do little things better, like play faking and keeping his eyes down the field. Such a rudimentary request didn't sit too well with No. 25.

"He was offended," Staley says. That was the point; Staley knows he has a star who thinks like a fullback. "I loved it," he says.

McCoy was sterling in pass protection and blocking during that win over Detroit, against one of the best fronts in football, and on multiple occasions he came over to Staley after a play and quipped, "Yeah, 25, that's me."

He didn't need to announce himself. These days, everyone's already watching every move he makes.

 

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