The Eagles backfield has seen some big changes over the last few months. From the departure of DeMarco Murray to the additions of Wendell Smallwood and Byron Marshall, the Philadelphia running backs could certainly spring a few surprises during the regular season. But with all the focus being placed on the rookies and how the backfield is going to shape out with an aging Darren Sproles and injury plagued Ryan Mathews, people seem to be completely overlooking Kenjon Barner.
When people think of Barner, they see a former Oregon Duck who has enjoyed a few memorable punt returns..but hasn’t contributed much else during his time with the Eagles.
— Aaron J. Fentress (@AaronJFentress) August 16, 2015
The problem is that he was largely overlooked due to the amount of drama surrounding the backfield last year. Amidst the Murray controversy and constant injury setbacks, the 27 year old was able to average 4.4 yards per carry on 28 attempts for 124 yards..which are not bad numbers by any stretch of the imagination.
With so much uncertainty over the shape of the backfield, Barner has every chance of playing a major role in the Eagles Offense next season. When the Chiefs assembled their committee backfield in the absence of Jamaal Charles, they tried to utilize two very different styles of running back as Doug Pederson told ChiefsDigest:
“You see Charcandrick is more of that slasher, quick-cutting guy,” Pederson said. “And here comes (No.) 32 (Ware), a big physical fullback-type, halfback-type guy that can hit you downhill, so it’s a little bit of a change of pace, I think, for a defense. And it’s great to give both of those guys equal opportunity.”
Barner is back who started out 2015 as the “slasher” and developed into a much more physical running back as the season progressed.
Barner’s first regular season snaps of 2015 came against the Bucs and the things you notice straight away are key. In every snap he takes, Barner hits the holes with conviction. He’s light on his feet and is able to burst through the trenches with some force. The problem is that he isn’t the strongest of backs, meaning he often ran into brick walls or got swallowed up.
Slowing Barner down is a problem once he’s at full speed. He may be light at 185 pounds, but he’s not the kind of back to shy away from a tackle..a stark contrast to what we saw from the much more intimidating figure of DeMarco Murray. Barner approaches tackles head on and pushes for extra yards in every situation.
Against the Lions is where Barner would make his next impact. But the below play alone shows just how easy it was to overlook him..and it’s through no fault of his own. Barner almost runs into his own teammate after Dennis Kelly pushes through his tackle and blocks the path of Barner. The result was a sloppy play that saw a wide open hole close up in an instant. It’s hard to establish momentum and turn heads when the opportunities are so limited.
Moments later, Barner showed some of that explosive burst I mentioned earlier. A 16 yard gain after shaking off two tackles and cutting inside not only demonstrated his ability to be decisive in his runs, but how light he is in his cuts.
It was almost as if Barner’s development began to sky rocket at this point. Barner made another big gain later in the game despite the Line failing to keep the initial hole open. Barner bounced to the outside with ease to turn a dismal situation into a healthy gain before being stopped abruptly.
A culmination of his burst, abilities to hit holes with conviction and drive for extra yards was on full display against the Patriots. Barner was able to get to the outside with some impressive footwork and make a huge 19 yard gain..his biggest gain of the season.
He continued to make impressive runs for extra yards and almost become a viable three-down back option for the Eagles. He may not have the stiff-arm that Mathews possesses or the large frame of DeMarco Murray, but Barner really began to attack his holes in this game..making him tricky to bring down at the best of times.
If this hasn’t changed your mind..one of the main themes for the Eagles moving forward appears to be versatility. Barner demonstrated his ability to make catches as well with this impressive gain over the middle in the Eagles final game of the season. The running back is able to cut through the trenches nicely, fade into space and make a nice catch before pushing for as much yardage as he possibly can.
If we go back to what Pederson said earlier about having two types of running back in his Chiefs committee backfield and compare it with our only real criticism of Barner (his lack of strength), we actually find something rather surprising. In a Pre-Draft preview feature for Bleeding Green Nation, Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro had this to say about the under the radar star:
“…who has worked so hard on his body in this offseason. I chatted with him briefly on Tuesday morning and he said he’s reduced his body fat and has added muscle. His arms are huge now and he’s bulked up his legs, too. Barner had a terrific preseason in 2015 and could be a player who has a more prominent role in the offense in 2016.”
Barner has already been taking reps with the first team during OTA’s and if he is as bulked up as Dave Spadaro regards him to be, there is absolutely no reason why Barner’s only weakness could turn into a strength. Whilst he may be some way off of becoming a dominant downhill runner, assuming that Wendell Smallwood or even Byron Marshall will be ahead of him on the depth chart come September is a huge statement to make.
Kenjon Barner can and most likely will play a key role in Doug Pederson’s West-Coast Hybrid Offense in 2016..it’s time to stop sleeping.
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