LeSean McCoy was not prepared to anoint himself the NFL's best running back on Wednesday, but he put his name among the top three. McCoy gave a list of players who could be included with him, but the first one he mentioned was Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.
McCoy said he first began anticipating Sunday's visit to Minnesota in April, when the NFL released the schedule. He wanted to play in a game against Peterson, who is generally considered the NFL's best running back.
McCoy might not have taken that distinction from Peterson yet, but he's making it close this season.
McCoy's 1,305 rushing yards lead the NFL. Peterson is second with 1,221. They've been chasing each other in recent weeks: Peterson led McCoy before McCoy rushed for 217 yards in Sunday's win over the Lions, and Peterson left the Vikings' loss to the Ravens with a sprained foot after gaining just 13 yards.
Peterson's status for Sunday's game is uncertain. The earliest he would practice is Friday. McCoy hopes he plays so there can be a matchup of the two of the league's finest running backs.
"I definitely think I'm in the top five," McCoy said, before adding: "top three."
Asked who else is with him, McCoy offered a list that included Peterson, Kansas City's Jamaal Charles, Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, San Francisco's Frank Gore, and Houston's Arian Foster.
McCoy said to be considered the best running back, he'll need a string of all-pro seasons. He already had one in 2011. He said the keys are consistency, accumulating statistics, and winning games. And the top running backs all must have something special about them.
"Guys have a pretty good offensive line so they're going to get yards, but what else can you do special?" McCoy said. "Is he a shifty back, does he run you over, does he catch, does he run routes, is he a matchup mismatch for other defenders? What makes that guy special? All the guys I mentioned, I could give you two, three, four, five attributes that make them a special back."
McCoy was asked what makes him special. He mentioned his vision, how elusive he is, and how he is a "long-distance guy and just hard to tackle." He also mentioned the way he runs routes and his catching ability.
"Put that in my arsenal," McCoy said with a smile.
It's not hubris as much as reality. McCoy's production is worthy of his elite status. Each week, opposing coaches speak to Philadelphia-area reporters about the Eagles and almost all of them identify McCoy as the key to the team's offense.
"His change of direction is probably second to none," Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said Wednesday. "His ability to turn a nothing play into something, it's really special. The kind of year he's having is one of those years he probably wishes will never end."
The Lions entered Sunday's game with the No. 3 rushing defense before McCoy dropped them to No. 7. He ran for 116 yards against Tampa Bay, which has the ninth-ranked rushing defense. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, with only a penalty nullifying a 100-yard performance, against Arizona, which now has the third-ranked rushing defense.
McCoy improves as games go on. He averages 4.1 yards a carry in the first quarter, 4.6 in the second, 5.3 in the third, and 6.0 in the fourth. Against the Lions, he rushed for 145 yards in the fourth quarter.
"I think obviously there is a cumulative effect as the game goes along," coach Chip Kelly said. "I also think your guys up front have to continue to do what they are doing. At times it doesn't matter how strong the running back is if we are not strong up front we are not going to get any initial push at the line of scrimmage."
Those linemen have an eye on the rushing leaders and are committed to ensuring that McCoy is atop the list for the first time in his career.
He must fend off Peterson, who has twice won the rushing title. Peterson's injury complicates the picture, but McCoy sounds like he wants a competitive race to rushing supremacy.
"Hopefully he's healthy and he does play," McCoy said. "I think it's a nice challenge for our team, and also myself. A one-on-one battle."