Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy has no doubt in his abilities, as he said earlier this week that he considers himself to be the best running back in football. In their annual list of the 101 best players in the NFL, Pro Football Focus disagrees with Shady’s self-evaluation.
Scanning the list, only 5 running backs crack the top 101: Ezekiel Elliott (22 overall), David Johnson (23), Le’Veon Bell (27), Jay Ajayi (31), and Jordan Howard (75). Of these five names, the biggest surprise, in my opinion, is how highly-ranked Ajayi is. Truthfully, he owes this ranking in large part to his dual-shreddings of the Bills, as he totaled 420 of his 1,272 yards (or 33% of his season’s total rushing yardage) on 61 carries in the two meetings between the bitter rivals. Writer Sam Monson noted that 900 of Ajayi’s yards came after contact, which was first by a wide margin, and he also broke a league-leading 58 tackles on rushing attempts.
McCoy was left off the list solely due to his negative grades as a pass blocker. Here’s what Monson had to say in explaining McCoy’s absence from the top-101 list:
“McCoy was kept in to block 92 times this season, and earned a pass-blocking grade of 37.1 — the worst mark of any running back in the NFL. On those 92 snaps, he allowed 13 total QB pressures. McCoy was certainly in the conversation in the latter stages of the list, and would be among the next few names to go on it but was ultimately kept off by his blocking performance.”
While this is certainly a black mark on McCoy’s season, it seems a bit ridiculous to dock the man that much for something that isn’t the primary function of his job. Yes, the modern NFL relies heavily on running backs who can block, and when they miss blocking assignments, it can lead to dire consequences.
However, the primary function of a running back is to gain yardage on the ground. While Ajayi outgained McCoy by five rushing yards, he did so on 26 more carries. Ajayi gained 200 yards in three games, and 100 yards in another; he gained 537 yards in his team’s other 11 games, an average of 48.8 yards per game. While McCoy did not gain 200 yards in a game this season, he did go over 100 yards seven times. If one were to remove his best four games (153, 150, 140, and 130), his yardage total sinks to 694 in the other 11, or 63.1 yards per game. McCoy is also a significantly better receiver than Ajayi, catching 50 passes for 356 yards and a touchdown. Ajayi caught 27 passes for 151 yards and no touchdowns.
Leaving McCoy off for his poor pass blocking is akin to leaving Frank Thomas out of a discussion of the best first basemen of the 1990s because he was a bad defensive player. While defense was part of his job at that time, it certainly wasn’t his primary use to his team. The Chicago White Sox wanted him to mash, and mash he did. The Buffalo Bills want LeSean McCoy to gain yardage, and gain yardage he did.
As the only running back on PFF’s “close, but no cigar” list, it can safely be assumed that they view McCoy as the sixth-best back in football; however, ranking Ajayi so far above him seems a bit crazy. With Richie Incognito serving as Buffalo’s lone representative in the top 101 (coming in at number 98), it’s safe to say that at least one more Bill should have been included, and LeSean McCoy is certainly the guy.