Shady fading? Once-slippery LeSean McCoy sees production dry up

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Almost a year ago, after he surpassed 10,000 career rushing yards, Buffalo Bills running back LeSean McCoy targeted 12,000 yards as a better milestone to headline a potential Hall of Fame résumé.

McCoy's momentum toward that goal has slowed considerably this season. He is on pace to finish the season with 590 rushing yards, which would be the lowest mark of his 10-year career, and his 3.3-yards-per-carry average is also a career low.

Exiting Sunday's 27-23 loss to the New York Jets in the first quarter because of a hamstring injury, McCoy missed Wednesday's practice but returned Thursday. Coach Sean McDermott said the team would continue to monitor his health before making a determination about whether he will play Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

"I could use some more yards," McCoy said Thursday. "Any opportunities I get to do that, I'd love to do that."

McCoy has dodged any significant injuries this season. He missed a Week 3 win at Minnesota because of a rib injury, was held out for most of a Week 7 loss at Indianapolis because of a concussion and was sidelined for the vast majority of Sunday's game.

When McCoy has played this season, it has been difficult to decipher whether his lack of production has resulted more from a struggling offensive line in front of him or diminishing skills.

McCoy, 30, has seen a decline in the past two seasons that is common for running backs at his age. That can be measured by two of Football Outsiders' metrics for running backs: DYAR, or defense-adjusted yards above replacement, and DVOA, or defense-adjusted value over average. DYAR measures the player's total value; DVOA measures his value per play.

In 2016, McCoy ranked as second-best in both DYAR and DVOA among 42 NFL running backs with at least 100 rushes. In 2017, McCoy had the seventh-worst DYAR among 47 backs with at least 100 carries and the ninth-worst DVOA. This season, McCoy ranks 40th in DYAR and DVOA among 40 running backs with at least 100 carries.

There has been a similarly sharp fall for McCoy as a receiver. In 2016, Football Outsiders ranked McCoy seventh in DYAR among 53 running backs with at least 25 passes thrown to them. In 2017, his receiving DYAR dropped to 24th among 62 backs with 25 passes. This season, McCoy's DYAR is 39th among 40 running backs with 25 passes thrown to them.

The reasons for McCoy's slump have varied:

Big-play burst sometimes missing: McCoy has five rushes this season that have gained 15 yards or more; he averaged 17 per season during his first three years in Buffalo. He has four receptions that gained 15 yards or more, slightly below his average of six in his first three seasons with the Bills. Overall, McCoy has gained first downs or scored touchdowns on 16.5 percent of his touches, the lowest mark of his career. That rate has declined the past two seasons, from 25.3 percent in 2016.

Elusiveness sometimes lacking: Last year, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick praised McCoy for his ability to "make four guys miss in a phone booth." Those situations have greeted McCoy frequently this season. However, the instances of McCoy making defenders miss in the backfield, at the line of scrimmage or in the second level of the defense have been less frequent. McCoy spinning away from New York Jets safety Jamal Adams in the backfield for a 23-yard run in Week 10 was one example, but such plays have not come as consistently for McCoy as in the past.

Blocking has not helped: McCoy is playing behind an offensive line that Football Outsiders has ranked as the fourth-worst in the NFL this season. Breakdowns in run blocking have created fewer holes and caused negative plays. However, McCoy has run for negative yards or no gain at about the same rate in 2018 (25.5 percent of his carries) as the previous two seasons (27.8 percent in 2017 and 23.9 percent in 2016), meaning there is not an uptick of negative plays to explain his overall diminished production. Running behind the same offensive line this season, backup Bills running back Chris Ivory ranks 29th in both Football Outsiders' DYAR and DVOA among the 40 NFL running backs with 100 or more carries.

McCoy is under contract through 2019 at a cap number of $9.05 million next season, which is currently the third-highest on the team and the third-highest among all NFL running backs in 2019. If the Bills trade or release McCoy before next season, they would save his non-guaranteed $6.175 million base salary and would have $2.625 million in dead money against their salary cap for the remaining portion of his signing bonus.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane told The Buffalo News in November that McCoy will "definitely" be part of the team's plans in 2019.