McCoy sparking comparisons to Detroit great Sanders

YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy won't entertain comparisons to Barry Sanders, but his Eagles teammates sure will.
YONG KIM / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER LeSean McCoy won't entertain comparisons to Barry Sanders, but his Eagles teammates sure will.
Posted: December 08, 2013

GROWING UP in Harrisburg, LeSean McCoy enjoyed watching Lions running back Barry Sanders run over opposing defenses on Sundays. With Sanders' unique style and raw talent, McCoy never imagined he would someday be compared to the Hall of Famer.

Known primarily for his ability to make something out of nothing, McCoy has remained humble throughout his short career whenever he is asked of the comparison to Sanders.

"I don't really see it as a comparison," McCoy said during his Wednesday news conference at the NovaCare Complex, as the Eagles prepared to host the Lions tomorrow. "I think Barry is probably the best running back to ever play this game. They compare us probably because of the cutbacks, but there is still a big gap between us two."

In reality, the comparison may be more accurate than McCoy thinks. Sanders, a first-round pick (third overall) in 1989, has been regarded as one of the best ever to play the game, racking up more than 15,000 yards in only 10 seasons in the NFL. Although McCoy, a 2009 second-round pick (53rd overall), does not have the same production as Sanders through his first four-plus seasons, their styles and explosive playmaking abilities are nearly identical.

Coming off his statistically best season in 2011 in which McCoy ran for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns, Sanders took notice and commented on what he saw out of the then-24-year-old back.

"I like the young McCoy kid from Philly," Sanders told ESPN's "First Take" in August 2012. "I think if he continues to do what he has done the last couple of years, he could certainly be one that standsout."

And a standout he has been. After 70 games in the NFL, McCoy will enter Sunday's game against the Lions only 46 yards shy of 5,000 rushing yards on 1,067 attempts, an average of 4.6 yards per rush. In addition to 35 career touchdowns, McCoy has fumbled the football only nine times, compared with Sanders' 41 fumbles in 10 seasons.

"I think early on when a lot of running backs enter the league, they kind of rely on their own talent and running ability," right guard Todd Herremans said. "I think [McCoy] has grown to understand the schemes and the concepts, and I think that has really shown with his production."

Added center Jason Kelce: "He has matured a lot, for sure, not just on the field but off the field as well, and he is a much smarter player now. He really understands the protections in and out, and I think that's something a lot of running backs struggle with."

The most obvious of comparisons when watching McCoy and Sanders side-by-side are the similarities in size, speed and ability to cut on command. Both running backs will be remembered as big-time playmakers with their inability to settle for a small gain up the middle unless aiming for a short first-down pickup.

"I've heard that comparison," Sanders told the New York Post in September. "There are some similarities there. He's slippery. He's always a moving target. He can hit you with a long run with his speed."

As somebody who watched Sanders in his hometown of Detroit, Eagles offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur has seen some of the same characteristics in McCoy but would like to see his running back focus on the rest of this season first.

"Growing up in Detroit, I watched Barry. He was one of my favorite players," Shurmur said. "He was out of sight. There was times when the o-line coach might say it was perfectly blocked, but you saw four guys in the hole, he'd find a way out of it."

"I think LeSean has some of those same characteristics by being able to make people miss. I think there's some comparisons there. Let's talk about those things after the season."

Like Sanders, McCoy is beginning to accept a role as a complete back with his ability to pick up blocks or make a guy miss when faced with a one-on-one tackle situation.

"[McCoy] is an incredibly hard guy to bring down one-on-one," Kelce said. "He does a good job setting blocks and he really has that feel for the game that a lot of running backs don't have which is when the play breaks down, what can you do to salvage it? He is one of the best in the game at that."

For the Eagles offensive line, blocking and protecting for a back such as McCoy has become as important as ever with his role in coach Chip Kelly's offense. Although some protections break down at times, the guys up front are often left in awe with McCoy's ability to make something out of nothing.

"He is probably the most elusive guy I have seen," rookie right tackle Lane Johnson said. "I have seen him get out of some trouble and I will stand there and say how did he do that? If you think there is no way he can get out of it, he will probably find a way out of it."

"Sometimes things happen where there is nothing outside or nothing up the middle as his aiming point, so he is one of the best in the game at making something out of nothing," Kelce said. "He knows how to improvise and hit a defense where he believes they are soft, which is something not a lot of running backs in this league know how to do."

Even though McCoy thinks he has a long way to go until he is in the same conversation with Sanders, Johnson and Kelce both said such a comparison might be the only way to categorize McCoy's many special talents.

"He is really an ankle-breaker, and if he sees his own hole, he will hit it just like Barry would," Johnson said. "You can't really teach that. As far as elusiveness and his running style, I would say he compares to Sanders well. I don't know if he is as quick, but otherwise the two are pretty similar."

"I think if there is anybody in the history of the league that could be compared to Barry Sanders," Kelce said, "I would say LeSean McCoy is at the top of the list or right up there with him."

Tight end Zach Ertz was named Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of the Week after catching a pair of touchdown passes against the Cards . . . As expected, safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Najee Goode are out this week. The Lions listed cornerback Darius Slay as doubtful, and running back Reggie Bush and corner Chris Houston as questionable.


On Twitter: @JohnMurrow12

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