Eagles Running Back Situation Did They Make A Mistake?
Draft weekend has come and gone. It turned out to be a pretty good weekend for the Eagles. They acquired picks for the 2019 draft while coming away with solid players in this draft. A position that has been a topic of discussion has been running back. It was reported that the Eagles pre-draft were very interested in Derrius Guice, however, those plans fell through. After passing on him the Eagles elected not to draft any running backs. The Eagles have depth at the position but will passing on Guice come back to haunt the Eagles?
Running Back Central
The NFC East has turned into the home of the running back. For the foreseeable future for six games out of the year, the Eagles will be seeing Ezekiel Elliott, Saquon Barkley, and Derrius Guice. The Eagles, on the other hand, have a different approach. The running back by committee approach paid off as it helped lead the Eagles to their first super bowl. The team lost LeGarrette Blount in free agency but was able to re-sign Darren Sproles to a one year deal. With Jay Ajayi entering a contract year and Sproles also on a year deal who should the Eagles turn to?
Strength In Numbers
Ajayi will enter the season as the teams lead back. However, in his 11 games with the Eagles, he only received 15 or more carries three times. Just 24 years old Ajayi could be the Eagles back of the future but whether they decide to pay him is another question. Corey Clement shined last year as a UDFA. He recorded seven touchdowns and his playing time increased as the season went on.
With Blount gone, Clement should have a chance to see more playing time this season. Also with the departure of Blount, the resigning of Sproles was huge. Sproles will turn 35 in June but is eager to show he has something left in the tank after suffering a torn ACL and broken arm on the same play last year. These appear to be the Eagles three top options leading into the season while running backs Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood and UDFA Josh Adams are also in the mix.
There is a lot of youth in the backfield but also a lot of untapped potential. The team drafted Smallwood in the 2016 NFL draft but injuries and on-field inconsistencies have limited his chances. Smallwood received 22 carries between weeks three and four but would see his playing time decrease after that. Last preseason Duce Staley said the running back was having the best training camp out of all the running backs before suffering a hamstring injury. Also, the 24-year-old is entering his 3rd season but will have to show he can remain healthy in order to make an impact.
That leads us to everyone’s favorite running back Donnel Pumphrey. The NCAA’s all-time leading rusher got off to a rough start during the preseason before being placed on injured reserve. The Eagles traded up in the fifth round to select Pumphrey during the 2017 draft. There, however, have been talks that he could be on the roster bubble this season. With a full offseason to train and get stronger, and adjust to the NFL this could prove pivotal in whether or not Pumphrey is able to make the 53 man roster.
Eagles finally punch it in with Wendell Smallwood, gets a great block from Jason Peters 26-17 Birds pic.twitter.com/AVYy4ZbfPQ
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) October 1, 2017
Getting More For Less
Since LeSean McCoy was shipped out by Chip Kelly the Eagles have lacked that game-breaking talent at the position. Were the Eagles wrong not to select a running back the answer is simple no? Heading into this season with the exception of Sproles no other back is over the age of 24. We have seen in years past that having a committee approach has been just as effective as having one dominant back. While the luxury of a game-breaking running back is nice the Eagles have shown that strength in numbers works. The Eagles finished with the leagues third-ranked rushing attack in 2017.
Philadelphia was able to win the super bowl without a 1,000-yard rusher. The team also has not had a 1,000-yard rusher since McCoy and that is okay. While having to defend Guice, Elliott and Barkley will be challenging the Eagles backfield has a lot of promise. The team in recent memory has kept just three running backs on the roster to begin the season. Should Ajayi and Sproles become free agents after the season that could be the breakthrough opportunity Smallwood and Pumphrey need to really showcase their abilities.
— Philly Bleed Green (@phillybldgreen) April 30, 2018
Photo credit via Flickr/ Dora Grande