Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson have some very difficult decisions to make over the course of the next nine days. Nobody really knows how the Eagles are going to approach the Draft. We know they want a Quarterback and we know that there has been plenty of time and resources spent evaluating and working closely with the top QB prospects in this years’ draft class. But there’s wanting a Quarterback and wanting a specific player..and the Carson Wentz hype train is well on its way to stopping in Philly.
Carson Wentz, Jared Goff and Paxton Lynch are all projected to go in the first round along with top running back prospect Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott and the Eagles is almost a match made in heaven and the pre-draft visit went so well that Elliott told the media that it was the Eagles who had shown him the most interest. But the decision on whether to draft a QB or a RB in the first round isn’t a case of filling a hole or finding “the guy”..it’s dictating how the shape of the backfield will look.
During his time as an Offensive Coordinator with the Chiefs, Doug Pederson saw two types of backfield. One with Jamaal Charles..and one without Jamaal Charles. Interestingly enough, there were a lot of similarities between the Chiefs extremely effective committee backfield and the Eagles rather scruffy and inconsistent one.
Darren Sproles is obviously the odd man out when it comes to height, but the four backs have a lot in common. Mathews is just an inch taller than both West and Ware, they measure in at similar weights and have an average 40-yard dash time of 4.45 seconds.
In terms of usage last season, one back from each team was seemingly favored over the other. The two backs with over 100 attempts averaged over 5 yards per carry whilst Sproles and West averaged close to 4 yards per carry.
Both teams also liked to use their running backs as targets out of the backfield and the one back who was the more efficient receiver in both teams also have very similar running styles and are the more elusive of the two on their respective roster. The other two, (Mathews and Ware) also have very similar running styles. Both can battle through the trenches, shake off tackles and cut in and out freely to pick up big yardage when Defenses least expect it.
Pederson is likely going to see these similarities and sure Mathews has his fair share of injury problems and Sproles isn’t getting any younger, but then there’s Kenjon Barner. A back often forgotten who is best known for his emphatic 92-yard pre-season punt return and his detailed history with Chip Kelly.
How does he stack up in comparison to the other four running backs mentioned? 5’9, 195 pounds, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.39 seconds and if we’re to go off of a full season’s numbers, averaged over 6 yards per carry under Chip in Oregon. I’m not saying Barner should start, but he has all the fundamentals and potential to establish himself as a key part of the Eagles run game.
The Chiefs also utilized a fullback last year and perhaps more significantly did so under Pederson’s tutelage. The Eagles have signed a fullback already this offseason and are currently hosting a tryout for Michael Zordich. The plan to bring that aspect of Reid’s Offense back to Philadelphia has all but been completed.
If the Eagles draft Ezekiel Elliott in the first round, they’re essentially pressing the “Jamaal Charles button”. With the use of a fullback, they’ll look to have one dominant running back burst through the trenches, making exciting runs and big plays whilst Mathews and Sproles become rotational pieces. Elliott is a player who can and most likely will change a franchise. I don’t need to sell his ability or potential at this point because by now we all know how powerful and impressive he was in College and can only imagine how dominant he could be in the right Offense. But the decision to take a Quarterback over Elliott would not only be a sign of what Pederson’s long term plan is regarding signal callers, but also a sign of confidence in his running backs.
The Eagles are in a perfect spot to take Zeke. Moving out of it to take a QB is actively ignoring the “need” for a running back and it might be more than just wanting the right project Quarterback. It’s knowing what you’re missing out on and being okay with it. A large part of that is because of how similar the setup is likely going to be in comparison to what he’s been used to running as an Offensive Coordinator under Andy Reid.
The Offense would naturally become run dominant with Zeke onboard. If the Eagles decide to pass on Zeke and/or trade up, the backfield is almost forced into becoming versatile. Its success would largely depend on the creativity of the play-calling and ability to catch out opposing Defenses by utilizing different types of running back in a variety of ways. Versatility would become the key factor and it’s a term Pederson is already very familiar with.
Pederson witnessed his Offense win game after game without Jamaal Charles in a committee backfield that kept Defenses on their toes and could change the pace with the flick of a switch. The Eagles don’t need Ezekiel Elliott to be able to implement that. There are plenty of running backs in the later rounds with great burst speed, versatility, size and explosiveness..it’s just that none are as well rounded as Zeke.
The Eagles would struggle to find a running back who could bring what Jamaal Charles/Ezekiel Elliott could to an Offense in the later rounds. But someone who can punch through the trenches, make a Defensive Coordinator second guess their play and catch out of the backfield? Absolutely.
With Murray out of the picture, analysts and fans are quick to jump on the Zeke bandwagon..and you can’t really blame them because how appealing he is as a prospect and the Offensive situation. But saying the Eagles have a hole could be deemed as reaching depending on your viewpoint.
The Eagles only have a hole at running back if they were to employ a run game that embodied how Charles ran in Kansas or Murray (attempted to) in Philadelphia. If they are looking for a prospect who would replace DeMarco Murray and become the lead running back, they HAVE to go with Zeke. But you can definitely make the case for moving forward without a designated number one back, or at least drafting one in the later rounds as a “project back” to develop and rotate into gameday situations as and when he’s needed.
If the birds do go ahead with drafting a Quarterback in the first round, there may not be many better coaches suited to getting maximum production out of a running back corps that lacks “elite” talent for whatever reason.
Trading up to draft a Quarterback has a lot of implications for the Eagles, but many are overlooking what it means for the backfield and it may not all be negative. IF the birds move up once again in the Draft, that’s a seal of approval on the current situation or at least a sign of confidence in a plan to adapt their situation into one that suits the style of Doug Pederson. It’s not ignoring a need if the front office doesn’t believe it to be one in the first place.