Is LeSean McCoy the Best Running Back in the NFL?


Jan 4, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy (25) carries the ball during the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Saints during the 2013 NFC wild card playoff football game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Saints defeated the Eagles 26-24. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

By this point in his career, Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has established himself as one of the best — if not the best — running backs in the National Football League. In a recent interview with Pioneer Press, Hall of Fame Running Back Jim Brown told the press that he believes that Peterson could ultimately break Emmitt Smith’s all-time rushing yards record.

However, the “best running back in the NFL” title won’t just be handed to Adrian Peterson. Only a few years after Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson made it clear that he thought he was the best running back in the league, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is now claiming that he’s on top. When asked whether he thought he was the first running back in the league on ESPN First Take, McCoy replied, “Yes sir.” LeSean McCoy then explained his reasoning:

"My brother always rips me all the time, trying to make me play harder. I say, ‘I’m the best,’ and he’ll say, ‘Did Adrian Peterson retire?’ I look at the last three years and everything. I think AP has been the best back for so long, and he’s been doing it for so long, that’s why he automatically gets the best running back [title].But the last three years? I’ve been All-Pro, first-team, twice. I never leave the field. I block. I catch. I never leave the field. I don’t have anybody do my job; I do it myself. Tons of credit goes out to Adrian Peterson. I’m a big fan of his, for sure. But I feel I’m the best.”"

Adrian Peterson laughed off McCoy’s comments in an interview on FOX Sports Radio:

"I definitely started laughing. It was funny because when Stephen [A. Smith] asked him the question, you know, he kind of hesitated. If you watched it, you know he didn’t believe it when he said it. So I’ve got to tell the youngsters, ‘Next time, say it with your chest, man. Say it like you mean it!”"

Let’s break down the battle between the two elite running backs? Does Shady have a legitimate argument?

LeSean McCoy just came of his best season in his five-year career, leading the league in rushing with a career-best 1,607 yards, and led the league in rushing touchdowns with 17 in 2011. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson rushed for 1,266 yards last season, one season after leading the NFL with 2,097 yards.

After an unbelievable 2,097 rushing yards in 2012, Peterson was the undoubtedly the best back in the league. But, he is on the decline, now approaching his 30th birthday. His yard-per-attempt average fell from 6.0 to 4.5 and total yardage plummeted from 2,097 to 1,266 from 2012 to 2013. It seems as if Peterson’s best years are behind him.

Shady McCoy is just only 25 years old and is coming off his strongest season in the NFL. According at Pro Football Reference’s Approximate Value, an attempt to attach a single number to every player-season, LeSean McCoy would rank fifth in terms of seasons 2011 to 2013 combined. However, the question is whether LeSean is the best back in the NFL now? Although ranking and scouting reports suggest otherwise, it seems as if McCoy is now the best running back in the league with Peterson’s best years behind him. However if he wants to prove this to critics, he is going to have to outperform Peterson in 2014.