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LeSean McCoy asked to make something out of nothing in passing game

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The pattern of usage for LeSean McCoy gives us some fun stat oddities and shows how valuable the veteran can be

LeSean McCoy is, without question, coming off the worst season of his career. Though his year may have been a disappointment, perhaps some of the burden doesn’t rest squarely on Shady’s shoulders. It’s no surprise that McCoy has consistently rated well in terms of yards after catch, but what can this stat reveal about his 2018 season?

The NFL tracks some advanced stats, including yards after catch or “YAC” in their game statistics and information system. In that database for 2018 they recorded 135 NFL players in the “Receiving Leaders” category. While volume stats like catches (34) and yards (238) don’t show McCoy as an elite talent, he’s the tenth-highest qualifying player in the league when it comes to YAC.

At 8.47 YAC, McCoy is about two yards shy of top YAC man Austin Ekeler, but well ahead of the pack. Despite low volumes, this suggest McCoy was effective in the passing game once the ball was in his hands. Alone, this statistic would hardly be article worthy, so let’s discuss a more common stat and see where McCoy falls.

LeSean McCoy’s average yards per reception in 2018 was 7.00 yards. Go look at the YAC number again. That’s right. LeSean McCoy’s YAC average was higher than his yards per reception. Worded differently he averaged more yards after the catch than he averaged yards per catch. This is the result of McCoy’s average depth of target being 1.47 yards behind the line of scrimmage or -1.47 yards. Put another way: Shady was given nothing to start with in the passing game. In fact, he was given less than nothing and expected to make up the difference and then some.

Now I know what you might be thinking—“It’s common for a running back to get the ball behind the line of scrimmage”—and you’re absolutely right. But is it so common that the average depth of target is behind the line of scrimmage? Of the 135 qualifying receivers, only 15 of them had an average depth of target in the negative range. And only three were further into negatives than McCoy, with the worst of the bunch at -1.7 yards (Dalvin Cook). Put bluntly, very few players were put in a situation as far behind the starting line as McCoy was in 2018. Similarly, few players were better getting yards after the catch than McCoy.

One of the bigger questions surrounding McCoy isn’t comparing his peers to him, but to his former self. McCoy’s 8.47 YAC is his highest average since 2015 when he hit 8.94. He’s also rarely been asked to start from so far behind the line of scrimmage as he was in 2018. You have to go all the way back to 2012 where his average depth of target was -1.82 yards. When it comes to the short passing game, McCoy’s numbers compare favorably to his younger self.