PITTSFORD, N.Y. — Old?
Dream on, LeSean McCoy says, dismissively rearing back his head at the mere mention of the notion.
Having just turned 29, and entering his ninth NFL season, the Buffalo Bills running back doesn’t feel it or see it. Without naming names, the only thing McCoy notices when watching tape of players three, four and five years younger is a group that can’t shake, shimmy or explode through a hole like he still can.
“If I’m playing with them here or watching them on tape, I never say, ‘Well, man, he’s doing things I can’t do,’ you know?” McCoy told The Associated Press. “I’m saying to myself, ‘There’s stuff that I’m doing that they can’t do.”
He doesn’t foresee that changing any time soon.
“I feel good. I feel the same. I feel young. I feel about 25,” McCoy said. “I could keep doing this ’til I’m about 33, man.”
The player nicknamed ‘Shady’ for his occasional mood swings, has not lost his swagger or shifty step.
Enabling McCoy’s self-confidence is what he proved last season, his second in Buffalo after being traded from Philadelphia.
Putting aside his simmering anger toward former Eagles coach Chip Kelly for trading him, and a nagging hamstring injury — both of which hampered his production in 2015 — McCoy reminded everyone of what he’s capable of when healthy and focused.
Leading the NFL’s top running attack, he finished with 1,267 yards rushing — nearly 400 more than a year earlier despite just 31 more carries — and led Buffalo with 14 touchdowns, including one receiving. He ranked sixth in yards rushing, fifth with 1,623 yards from scrimmage, and tied for fourth in touchdowns.
Over the hill? Downhill’s more like it for a player who spent the 2015 offseason ridding himself of distractions by saying, “I put all the Bentleys and Rolls-Royces away and got to work.”
The payoff was validating.
“When I put my mind and dedication to football, if I put 100 percent in it, I got 100 percent out of it,” McCoy said. “That’s something I’ve been accustomed to doing. And it’s still been a blessing for me.”
The question remains whether McCoy can outrun age and be the exception to the stereotypical 30-year-old wall for running backs.
According to Pro Football Reference, since 1970 only 15 players have combined for 3,000-plus yards rushing past their 30th birthday. The top five are Hall of Famers, led by Emmitt Smith, who had 5,789 yards over his final five seasons.
Countless others have either stalled or retired, such as Barry Sanders, who left the game at 30 after gaining 1,491 yards rushing in 1998.
Then there’s Bills Hall of Famer Thurman Thomas, who managed just 2,345 of his 12,074 yards rushing beyond 30. Thomas chalked up his drop in production to losing playing time after Buffalo drafted Antowain Smith.
Until Buffalo considers bringing in an heir apparent, Thomas doesn’t see McCoy’s production slowing. Thomas noted that McCoy doesn’t take many direct hits. Another factor is the role he plays in the passing attack, lessening the number of times he has to plow through hulking defensive fronts.
“He’s a young 29. I know everybody’s going to be, ‘Ah, when you reach 30, that’s when it goes down,'” Thomas said. “But with this guy? I don’t see it happening.”
Turning 30 in March isn’t weighing on Carolina running back Jonathan Stewart.
“In this business, age shouldn’t be a factor because it’s all about production,” Stewart said. “If you are producing, it shouldn’t matter.”
At 34, Indianapolis running back Frank Gore leads active players with 13,065 yards rushing and isn’t changing the year-at-a-time approach he’s had since 2005, his rookie season.
“If I’m successful this year and I want to play next year, someone will pick me up. If it’s not here, someone else,” said Gore, entering the final year of his contract. “If I still love it, and my body is feeling good and I feel like I can do it, why not do it?”
McCoy thumbs his nose at the narrative, and blames the media for ignoring older players to hype the “Next Big Thing.”
“You look at Frank Gore, a guy that’s been putting up numbers, has had so much success and he kind of gets overlooked,” McCoy said. “I know about him because I’ve watched him, the growth each year, producing and getting better and better. Where the younger guys are like, ‘Ah, Frank, he’s down. He’s not the same. He’s older.'”
There’s no reason for McCoy to believe he can’t put up big numbers this year. The Bills’ offensive line returns and incoming coordinator Rick Dennison’s offenses rely heavily on involving running backs as rushers and receivers.
“I can run any scheme, but this scheme right here really fits me,” McCoy said, looking forward to his role in the passing game. “Nobody can cover me one on one, I mean, come on.”
McCoy has plenty to motivate him.
There are Hall of Fame aspirations for a player who ranks 38th on the career list with 8,954 yards rushing. Of the 15 players who have topped 12,000 yards, all but two (Gore and Edgerrin James) have been inducted.
How about a second NFL rushing title to go along with the one he won in 2013?
There’s helping the Bills end their 17-year playoff drought, which would provide a chance for McCoy to enjoy his first postseason victory after three losses in Philadelphia.
When it comes to age, he’s also chasing something he actually didn’t expect when he first entered the NFL — the opportunity to play beyond 10 seasons.
“I thought about just playing 10 years in the NFL and getting to 30, and that’s been easy,” McCoy said. “I set a mark and I feel like I surpassed that mark. So I’m just trying to move on.”
AP Sports Writers Steve Reed, Mike Marot and Brett Martel contributed to this report.