LeSean McCoy or Adrian Peterson: Who’s the NFL’s Best Running Back?

LeSean McCoy Adrian Peterson
Brace Hemmelgarn USA TODAY Sports

Back in May, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson exchanged jabs in regard to which player was the best running back in the NFL. And now there’s an ongoing debate among media figures as to who rightfully should carry that torch.

When dissecting the issue, I find it hard to discount history and focus solely on the here and now. Because in the true sense of the debate, it’s whether you want Peterson or McCoy to be the running back on your team Week 1.

With that being said, I can’t help but pick Shady McCoy. Not only has he developed into a better between-the-tackles runner, but he has the sideline-to-sideline speed to beat defensive ends and linebackers to the edge. He’s also a three-down back and arguably the most well-rounded at his position in all the league.

McCoy is 25 years old and just now entering the prime years of his career. Every season he has played at least 13 games he’s eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark, and in a high-volume offense under Chip Kelly in 2013, he racked up a career-high and NFL-best 1,607 yards on the ground.

Explosiveness — McCoy has no shortage of it. He had nine carries of 20 or more yards, which ranked second in the NFL behind only Alfred Morris. He had three runs of 40 or more yards, which trailed only Matt Forte and C.J. Spiller.

Consistency — McCoy averaged 100.4 yards per game, 10 yards more than the next-closest player, Peterson. And among running backs with at least 200 attempts last year, only DeMarco Murray had a higher yards per carry average better than Shady’s 5.1.

As a receiver out of the backfield, McCoy was one of only 10 backs to haul in more than 50 passes and surpass the 500-yard receiving mark. Football Outsiders indicated McCoy played 79.1 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in 2013, meaning he doesn’t have to come off the field for any down or distance.

My argument comes in the light that Peterson finished fourth in the NFL’s Top 100 players list that came to a conclusion Wednesday night on the NFL Network. Peterson finished a spot ahead of McCoy.

Not only did McCoy have a better 2013 campaign than AP, but over the past three years McCoy has been the better back.

McCoy has rushed for 4,983 yards on 941 carries with 36 touchdowns and a 5.3 yard per carry average.

Peterson has rushed for 4,860 yards on 922 touches with 37 touchdowns and a 5.27 yard per carry average.

The numbers are absurdly close, but the younger, more well-rounded talent that is Shady McCoy has to get the edge over the soon-to-be 30-year-old Peterson.

Peterson is the prototypical old-school workhorse back. I have no shortage of confidence AP will still be one of the elite backs in 2014, running over defenders and putting together another strong campaign despite a journeyman and a rookie likely taking snaps under center. But beyond this year is more a concern, because I wonder when the tires reach 30 years old how much tread they’ll have left to run over people and still be churning out 1,000-yard seasons.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, McCoy has less tread and more to contribute, and can do so in an offense built around his skill-set. He’s a very viable MVP candidate, and I would not be shocked to see him lead the league in touches and yardage again this year, making an even stronger case to be the NFL’s undisputed best back.

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