LeSean McCoy: The Worst Running Back in the NFL

Math don't lie: LeSean McCoy finished dead last in our Week 5 NEP rankings.

Okay, okay, okay. Sensationalist headline. Guilty as charged.

You know what else is sensational though? The fact that LeSean McCoy, possessor of talent non pareil, playing in Chip Kelly's up-tempo system, could finish dead last in our weekly player rankings. I mean, come on; he was worse than Toby Gerhart? Worse than Trent Richardson?

Yep, and we'll go into why in a hot second. For those of you new to these rankings, we're using NEP, or Net Expected Points, which is a defense-adjusted calculation on a player's impact on his team's ability to score points. For example, if you rush for two yards on a 3rd-and-1, you've extended the drive and helped your team's scoring chances; a loss of one would end the drive and hurt those chances. It's math, it's real, and my word, it's beautiful.


Player Opp NEP
Peyton Manning vs. ARI +21.72
Philip Rivers vs. NYJ +18.70
Russell Wilson at WAS +13.94
Joe Flacco at IND -16.62
Christian Ponder at GB -14.97
Michael Vick at SD -12.62

No shock to anyone that Peyton Manning tops our list with a +21.72 NEP; he shredded the Arizona defense something fierce. What more can you say about a guy who throws three different touchdowns for +4.00 NEP and above? Philip Rivers and his +18.70 take the silver; he has been an absolute tear if you haven't noticed - his current number one statistical comparable is 2003 Peyton Manning - proving that you don't really need an elite running back to perform at a high level, you just need to face the Jets. Russell Wilson's +13.94 rounds out the top three on the strength of an amazing rushing performance; his +10.02 NEP on the rushing side of the ball is the best quarterback rushing performance this season.

On the flip side, Joe Flacco (-16.62) continues to make his contract look worse and worse, which in and of itself is an impressive feat. You might argue that runner-up Christian Ponder (-14.97) was more broadly incompetent, but NEP often hinges on usage and context, and as such, Flacco simply was more damaging: a failed fourth-down, a pick leading to points, and a terrible 1-11 on third downs. Michael Vick (-12.62) takes a bronze of pure ignominy; he deserves special notice for somehow being worse than Geno Smith.

Running Backs

Player Opp NEP
Branden Oliver vs. NYJ +11.41
Eddie Lacy vs. MIN +9.26
Arian Foster at DAL +8.93
LeSean McCoy vs. STL -6.56
Ahmad Bradshaw vs. BAL -6.04
Alfred Morris vs. SEA -6.00

So dominant was San Diego's beat down of the hapless Jets that they landed both a quarterback and a running back in our top lists; typically the outcomes are binary, and it's either one or the other.

We've already written that Branden Oliver (+11.41) is one of our top Week 6 waiver adds; it really does make you wonder what exactly the Chargers were thinking in placing him behind the consistently terrible Donald Brown. Elsewhere, Eddie Lacy (+9.26) made like Stella and got his groove back against the Vikings with several key third-down conversions and big red zone plays, which are huge for NEP. Arian Foster (+8.93) takes third on the strength of his consistent, workman-like performance against Dallas - like always, he's a dream until his hamstring wakes you up, screaming.

While both Ahmad Bradshaw (-6.04) and Alfred Morris (-6.00) are somewhat surprising entrants on the losers list, the real shock here is at the top with none other than LeSean McCoy (-6.56).

McCoy's uniformly still very much an obvious buy-low candidate, but for the purposes of Week 5, he featured all the hallmarks of a very inefficient performance. Bear in mind that NEP calculates a single player's impact on his team's ability to score points: things like a turnover, a failed third-down conversion and negative plays have a huge impact on that. McCoy turned the ball over in his own red zone, had only three first-down conversions, and was the lead actor in five negative-yardage plays.

Does that make him the worst running back in the league? Of course not. But in total, the negative plays, the end of drives, and the backbreaking turnover meant that he cost his team nearly a touchdown. Bad play over heavy usage is exponentially worse than bad play over light usage, and before you hate mail me, that is precisely why McCoy tops our list as the worst running back in Week 5.

Wide Recivers/Tight Ends

Player Opp NEP
Demaryius Thomas vs. ARI +19.19
DeSean Jackson vs. SEA +11.72
Vincent Jackson at NO +10.94
Dane Sanzenbacher at NE -2.96
Steve Smith at IND -2.52
Bruce Ellington vs. KC -1.07

You probably didn't need some fancy-shmancy Ivy League fancy-pants algorithm to tell you that Demaryius Thomas (+19.19) was the best performing receiver of the day; you couldn't turn around without seeing him waltzing into the end zone, making you kick yourself for not trying to trade low for him. His 86-yard touchdown racked up a +6.86 NEP, our highest singular play of the day.

In second place was DeSean Jackson (+11.72), perhaps the only player to successfully unlock the mysteries of Kirk Cousins' decision-making neural cortices, and in bronze is Vincent Jackson (+10.94), who is very quietly surging alongside a suddenly competent Tampa Bay team - he's the king of third-down conversions, which as you might imagine, is huge for NEP solely on the basis of drive extension.

The list of negative-performing receivers almost needs no analysis; any list that includes Dane Sanzenbacher (-2.96) and Bruce Ellington (-1.07) is notable only for the reason that by the time this article gets published and cached by Google, they'll both likely be out of the league. Steve Smith (-2.52) is a somewhat surprising silver medalist; a turnover in your end of the field and a very poor yards-per-completion rate (and thus, the end of drives) will do it almost every time.