Part two of our “should they stay or go” series examines the Eagles backfield scenario. Just one year ago, there seemed to be no shape or identity at running back and now that statement could not be further from the truth. But how do the Eagles sustain that? Let’s take a look.
If there’s one thing we learned this season, it’s that LeGarrette Blount still has plenty of rubber on the tires behind the right offensive front. Leading the Eagles with 766 yards of rushing, Blount became the reliable bell-cow back he’s become renowned for in the Super Bowl, with a dominant performance over his former team. But now the veteran faces free agency on the back of a season where he broke off 7 runs of 20+ yards.
Another prove it may be on the contract for Blount, who found his perfect compliment in Jay Ajayi prior to the game against Denver. The Eagles would likely have to pay the 2x Super Bowl champion a fair sum of money if they want him to return. The question is, how productive do they see him being and will a full body of offseason work for Jay Ajayi see Blount’s role diminish as Ajayi grows into that role? If the answer is the latter, then the verdict will be to allow Blount to wade through free agency waters.
After being acquired by the Eagles in the heart of the regular season, Ajayi’s role grew and grew. His production followed suit too, with the running back amassing 408 yards as an Eagle and adding 91 yards through the air. Ball security haunted the former Dolphins bruiser to begin with, but strong postseason form after the Falcons game have almost erased that from the memory of many. It’s highly unlikely that the Eagles flip Ajayi in the offseason, especially after how quickly he took to the playbook when thrust into the deep end. The potential is sky-high for the Brit and the Eagles have a chance to develop a long-term three-down running back to play alongside Carson Wentz.
One of the team’s most pleasant surprises, Clement became just the third receiver to post a 100-yard game all season long…in the Super Bowl. On the biggest stage of all, the undrafted rookie built on his 321 yard rookie year with a stunning Super Bowl showing. With 123 receiving yards during his first year in the league and 3 receiving touchdowns, it’s clear Clement has incredible potential. Not only that, but all six of his regular season scores came from within the opposing 20-yard line, making him a lethal weapon for opposing teams.
Clement may be the surest fixture in the backfield as things stand and the future holds exciting things for the latest Wisconsin Badger to explode between the tackles.
The Eagles reeled Barner back into their locker room during the regular season when depth at the return spots suffered blows. There were some exciting highs and some worrisome lows for the former Oregon Duck, but the 27-year old showed his experience within this scheme and found his way to the end zone when it mattered most. The Eagles will probably keep Barner around for his efficiency on special teams and it doesn’t hurt to have a fourth back ready to step up and make a play if fatigue sets in elsewhere.
The West Virginia product has had a strange first two season’s in the NFL. After some flashes of potential as a rookie, Smallwood had to completely change his style in 2017, with Duce Staley encouraging to run through tackles as opposed to trying to avoid them. This new mindset saw him go head-to-head with Corey Clement, but it would be the undrafted rookie who came out on top.
Smallwood still had a role to play however. He amassed 174 yards on the ground and 103 yards through the air in 2017, but was scratched for nine of the sixteen regular season games and the entire postseason. This will be a pivotal offseason for Smallwood and I don’t think the Eagles would be willing to part ways with him just yet unless it’s in a trade scenario. If Smallwood can prove that he can still add some explosiveness to the backfield then he could well be able to carve his niche, but he may be on borrowed time if the other backs begin to steal the spotlight.
At 34-years old, Sproles is at the tail end of his career. The question is, after the Eagles went all the way to the Super Bowl and won it all, will the veteran running back want one more crack at a Super Bowl ring? Sproles is a pending free agent, which means the Eagles will likely have to sign him to one last short-term deal if this is to be the case. Sproles suffered a season-ending injury in 2017 and as durability continues to hinder the ‘little engine that could’, the Birds have a tough decision to make.
Sproles has proven he can still shine at the NFL level, just look back to his game in week two against the Chiefs where he ran the ball 10 times for 48 yards and caught two passes of more than 15 yards. The question becomes after a miraculous Super Bowl run, do the Eagles still have a burning need for Sproles or can they get by with Clement and company?
It remains to be seen whether or not Pumphrey will eventually replace Sproles, but right now Corey Clement has filled that ‘dual-threat’ role admirably. The Eagles may decide on bringing Sproles back for one last rodeo, but with the amount of depth in the backfield, I don’t think it’s as likely as fans would love it to be.
After missing his rookie season due to injury, there are plenty of question marks surrounding Donnell Pumphrey. The fact of the matter is this: Injury aside, Pumphrey was lucky to make the final 53-roster after a disappointing offseason in which he was outshone by everyone. His leaner and much smaller frame enabled him to work wonders for SDSU but during preseason and Training Camp, Pumphrey struggled at the next level. The Eagles aren’t going to give up on their draft selection after just one season, especially considering how much depth there is at the position. With a year to develop under his belt and the Eagles offense thriving on versatility, he is certainly going to be a player worth watching during camp this season, but with such a heavy RB competition set to begin yet again, Pumphrey is going to have to shine as he should have in his first year.
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