Eagles backfield shaping up to replicate Chiefs committee success

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By now, everyone is aware of the curious running back situation the Eagles have. There’s no clear cut lead back on the roster. Many beat writers and fans alike debate this topic on a regular basis. So I thought it was time to dig into film of the Kansas City Chiefs running backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware.

West and Ware were two unknown commodities last season for the Chiefs. The Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles suffered a torn ACL in week 5 versus the Chicago Bears. The Chiefs quickly became 1-4, and their best offensive player was done for the season. Many analysts wrote the Chiefs off as a playoff team quickly after Charles’ injury.

Luckily for Doug Pederson and company, they knew they had the depth. Charcandrick West was an undrafted free agent picked up by the Chiefs in 2014. He didn’t have a single carry in the NFL until Charles went down. He finished the week 5 loss against the Chicago Bears with 7 carries, for 31 rushing yards. That performance led to nine starts, 160 carries, 634 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. He averaged four yards a carry.

The Chiefs rushing attack was a huge reason the team went on an 11 game win streak, up, and until the divisional round versus the New England Patriots. West, however, wasn’t the only contributor. Spencer Ware, a former 2013 6th round pick of the Seattle Seahawks made his presence known. Coming into the season with only a total of three carries, Ware played a physical style of running that was complimentary to Charcandrick West. He started two games, while West was nursing an injury.

Ware finished the season with 72 carries, 403 rushing yards and six touchdowns. All while averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Adding the stats Charles was able to accumulate in five starts, equals out to the Chiefs being 6th in NFL in rushing. They averaged 127.8 yards a game, all while losing their best player Jamaal Charles for 11 games in total. The team finished the season with 387 carries, 1,971 rushing yards, and 16 rushing touchdowns (this includes Alex Smith’s rushing stats).

So as you can see, Doug Pederson isn’t new to dealing with unknown running backs. Ryan Mathews is the most accomplished rusher on this team, but has injury concerns while Kenjon Barner is labeled a “Chip Kelly’ guy. However, the 27 year old has reportedly bulked up and poised to find a role in Pederson’s offense. Seeing Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware combine for just three carries and 10 yards, should encourage Barner.

Kenjon Barner only has 34 carries, 131 rushing yards and no touchdowns on his stat sheet. He clearly needs to prove himself to this coaching staff to make an impact. It’s no coincidence however that Charcandrick West and Barner share similar skill sets. West is a speedy, elusive, and pass catching style of running back. Barner is likewise, but West has more physicality. If that’s how Doug Pederson envisions Barner’s role, that being similar to West’s, then it makes sense he’s bulking up.

Charcandrick West (5’10, 205 lbs.) ran a 4.27 in his pro-day’s 40 yard dash. Kenjon Barner ran a 4.5 during the 2013 NFL combine, but ran a 4.3 during his pro-day. So both have close to a similar speed skill set. West was targeted in the passing game 34 times last season. He ended the season with 20 receptions, for 214 yards and one touchdown. That score occurred on an 80 yard touchdown grab week 10 versus the Denver Broncos.

There’s definitely a possibility Barner could have the same role as West. Those regular season stats aren’t flashy, but as the lead-back role is slowly diminishing, the Eagles committee of running backs could surprise. West was more of the number one running back after Charles went down, but Spencer Ware saw a good amount of action.

Spencer Ware has a bruiser style of running the ball. He’s hard to bring down after the first hit. That style is somewhat similar to what Ryan Mathews showed, prior to his week 10 concussion versus the Miami Dolphins. Mathews never quite returned to form after the injury. That’s been the majority story of his career so far. Ware had the most rushing touchdowns for the Chiefs last season (six). There’s a chance Barner gets a bulk of the carries, while the Eagles change the role of Mathews to keep him fresh, but still remain effective in the run game. He’ll be 29 in October, so that may be the right approach, especially with an often injured running back.

Of course for this to happen, Kenjon Barner will have to prove he can handle a Charcandrick West type of role, in the preseason. Eagles 5th round running back Wendell Smallwood is a weapon in the running game. He’s going to have to compete for carries, but could have a strong preseason and make Pederson’s decision difficult. Darren Sproles has been a no show for the voluntary activities, but is expected to return to mandatory camp this week. The Eagles also have undrafted free agent running backs Byron Marshall and Cedric O’Neal on the roster. Undrafted running backs have proven to possibly become commodities to a team. The most recent example was Seahawks running back Thomas Rawls.

The Eagles rushing attack doesn’t look strong on paper. Neither did the Kansas City Chiefs once Jamaal Charles went down. Doug Pederson has helped Andy Reid weather this storm before. Remember, Pederson took over 2nd half play-calling week 7, which started the Chiefs 11 game winning streak (including the wildcard victory versus the Houston Texans). Kenjon Barner received the first team carries in OTA’s. It’ll be interesting to see if that continues moving forward to mandatory camp. The running back situation will be heavily under the microscope this week.

 
Photo credit: Chris Keane/Associated Press

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