If you were born in the late 1990s or early 2000s, some of your earliest memories of Philadelphia Eagles football probably involved Brian Westbrook and LeSean McCoy. From 2002 to 2014, Philly was blessed with some outstanding running back play from these two legends. Whether it was Westbrook’s numerous clutch runs in the postseason, or Shady making countless defenders look stupid in the open field, these two were a pleasure to watch as a young Birds fan.
As the Eagles drift into irrelevancy and the rest of Philly sports fails to pick up the slack, I started reminiscing on the simpler times. And it got me thinking, which of these backs had a better Eagles career?
It’s not an easy question to answer. Both played at extremely high levels throughout their tenures with the Eagles and there’s too many memorable moments to count. So, I decided to dig into both of their stats and career highlights to determine which running back should go down as the best Eagles ball carrier of my lifetime.
Here’s the criteria I based my decision on:
- Career regular season stats
- Career postseason stats
- Awards/accolades accumulated throughout their tenure
- Lasting impact on Philadelphia
Let’s jump right into it.
Career Regular Season Stats
Westbrook: 5,995 rushing yards; 37 rushing touchdowns; 4.58 yards per carry; 426 receptions; 3,790 receiving yards; 29 receiving touchdowns; 9,785 yards from scrimmage
McCoy: 6,792 rushing yards; 44 rushing touchdowns; 4.65 yards per carry; 300 receptions; 2,282 receiving yards; 13 receiving touchdowns; 9,074 yards from scrimmage
This ended up being a little closer than I expected, but it’s more so due to the fact that Westbrook played two more years in Philly than McCoy did. Even despite being in Philly for two additional years, Westbrook was still outgained in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and was slightly lower than McCoy in rushing yards per attempt.
Westbrook did, however, outshine Shady in the receiving department, which was to be expected. Even if McCoy played eight years as opposed to the six he did, it’s unlikely he would’ve reached the same output that Westbrook had. Adding on the receiving numbers Shady totaled in his next two years after leaving Philly, it would put his total receptions at 382 and his total receiving yards at 2,930. He would’ve surpassed Westbrook by a wide margin in yards from scrimmage, though.
It should also be noted that McCoy had four 1,000 yard rushing seasons in six years, whereas Westbrook only had two in eight years. Westbrook eclipsed the 1,500 yards from scrimmage mark three times — one of those years being 2007 when he led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,104. Shady also eclipsed the 1,500 yards from scrimmage mark three times in his Eagles career, as well as leading the league in 2013 with 2,146 scrimmage yards.
Given all the evidence, it’s hard not to give the nod to Shady on this one. Playing two less years in Philly and still beating Westbrook in every rushing category is pretty telling. Not to mention he matched Westbrook’s production in yards from scrimmage.
Oh yeah, and McCoy is the all-time leading rusher in Eagles history. Case closed.
Verdict: LeSean McCoy
Career Postseason Stats
Westbrook: 9 playoff starts; 591 rushing yards; 3 rushing touchdowns; 4.58 yards per carry; 33 receptions; 334 receiving yards; 3 receiving touchdowns; 925 yards from scrimmage
McCoy: 2 playoff starts; 147 rushing yards; 1 rushing touchdown; 3.87 yards per carry; 9 receptions; 60 receiving yards; 0 receiving touchdowns; 207 yards from scrimmage
While the regular season numbers were pretty close, the postseason stats swing heavy in the favor of Westbrook. It’s hard to have much of a playoff legacy when you only have two career postseason starts with a team, but Shady’s impact in those games was minimal. Even in his All-Pro 2013 season, McCoy only averaged 3.67 yards per carry in the lone postseason game that year.
McCoy was more known for his regular season numbers, whereas Westbrook really elevated his game in the biggest moments. During the 2006 postseason run with Jeff Garcia at quarterback, Westbrook was the anchor for Andy Reid’s offense. He went over 100 yards in both postseason games that year, along with finding the end zone three times.
The next time Westbrook and his Eagles were in the playoffs, the 2008 season, No. 36 again showed up in crunch time. In the final minutes of the Wildcard game against Minnesota with his team holding a two-point lead, Westbrook took a screen pass 71 yards to the house to essentially clinch the victory for Philly.
You have to go with Westbrook for this category. He started seven more postseason games than Shady and some of his best highlights came on the biggest stages.
Verdict: Brian Westbrook
Awards and Accolades
Westbrook: 2x Pro Bowler (2004, 2007); First-Team All-Pro (2007); NFL Scrimmage Yards Leader (2007); Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Famer
McCoy: 3x Pro Bowler (2011, 2013, 2014); 2x First-Team All-Pro (2011, 2013); NFL Rushing Leader (2013); NFL Rushing Touchdowns Leader (2011); NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
Despite having a memorable Eagles career, Westbrook was rarely recognized on the national level for his excellence. He was routinely one of the best dual threat backs in the league, but the fact that he never started all 16 games in a single season with Philly was probably his downfall in regards to award recognition.
McCoy, on the other hand, was considered by many to be a top-3 back in football from 2011-2014. In 2013, he led the league in rushing yards playing in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced, run-first offensive attack. Even playing under Reid, a coach well known for his reliance on the passing game, in 2011, McCoy led the league in rushing touchdowns along with earning his first first-team All-Pro selection.
Awards aren’t everything, obviously. Westbrook’s lacking awards cabinet wasn’t for a lack of talent or production, his health often got in the way of becoming a solidified top-tier back in the NFL. McCoy never dealt with serious injuries throughout his Eagles career, with the exception of 2012 where he missed four games.
McCoy edges Westbrook out in this department. More Pro Bowls, more All-Pro selections, and above all else, earning a spot on the NFL 2010s All-Decade Team. That selection essentially means McCoy is Hall of Fame bound, or at the very least, he’ll get strong consideration for it.
Lasting Impact on Philadelphia
Naturally, this section is more subjective that the previous criteria. Like I said at the beginning, if you grew up throughout the 2000s, the first two running backs to grace your television sets on Sundays were Westbrook and McCoy. They both hold a special place in my fandom.
Distinguishing which one had a larger impact on the city is no easy feat. For me, it comes down to what each back did on the biggest stages and how was their departure from the team felt at the time. Westbrook had the bigger on-field impact in big games. His postseason stats reflect that. But, when he left the team, McCoy was right there to pick up the mantel. The Eagles didn’t miss a beat once Westbrook left, and one could argue with substantial evidence that the running game in Philly got better when McCoy became the lead back.
McCoy’s departure from the team was much more abrupt. Chip’s reimagining of the Eagles offense was intriguing at first, but it soon became clear that the players he had prior to 2014 meant more to his team’s success than he believed. McCoy went on to reach three more Pro Bowls with the Bills once he left Philly, and his production didn’t really taper off drastically until 2018 when he turned 30 years old.
The way in which McCoy went out wasn’t ideal for his Philadelphia legacy, but it’s hard to place any of that blame on him. He didn’t force his way out, there wasn’t a ton of drama leading up to his exit. He was blindsided, just like all of us were.
McCoy loved the city of Philadelphia and it was clear he loved the organization, even when he left. His distaste for Chip didn’t ever seem to affect his perspective of the Eagles organization.
McCoy’s departure from the team is still felt to this day, as they’ve failed to adequately replace his on-field production. He’s a tough act to follow, but so was Westbrook, and McCoy followed Westbrook’s career up with a Hall of Fame worthy career. For that, his legacy and lasting impact on Philly will always outweigh Westbrook’s.
The Final Verdict
For those keeping track at home, McCoy leads 3-1. So yes, he was the better Eagles back in retrospect. The numbers don’t lie.
I’m sure there are some fans who don’t see it that way, and I wouldn’t want to argue with you on that. Westbrook was an essential part of the best era in Philadelphia Eagles history. He never became the Hall of Fame level back that McCoy did, but his impact on the Andy Reid era was unquestionable.
McCoy wasn’t so lucky during his time with the Eagles. He joined the team right at the end of Reid’s tenure. He was by far the best attraction the Eagles offense had to offer at the time, but the rest of the team never quite came together.
No playoff wins is disappointing, there’s no denying that. Running backs just don’t have the same impact on a football team’s success anymore, even for someone as great as Shady. The team was never built to win a championship when McCoy was in midnight green.
Shady’s lacking playoff production makes this a debate, but at the end of the day, McCoy was the far superior back than Westbrook, even when they were both as the heights of their careers.
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