The opening three rounds of the NFL Draft have been and gone in what seems like a whirlwind. The Eagles added pass rush specialist, Derek Barnett, in round one, before double dipping at cornerback on day two, drafting Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. With two fourth round picks and a selection in each of the final three rounds, this is where the “low-risk, high-reward” mentality of the Eagles comes into play.
After going Defense with the first three picks, the Eagles still have some looming questions to answer, including how the backfield will shape up in 2017. It’s certainly not something that has been forgotten by the front office.
“This is a very good running back draft.” Roseman told the media last night. “We still have a lot of players that we like at that position. Some good players have gone at that position, there’s no doubt about it, and we knew when we made this trade with [Eagles DT] Tim [Jernigan] that we were going to have to sit there and we were going to miss out on a lot of good players, but it was going to be the same thing if we were picking at 74, between 43 and 74. There was really nothing for us to do. It was hard to get up to 99 when some of the players you’re talking about went. By the same token, as we looked at our board coming out, we knew that there would be running backs in this draft in every round that would be interesting.”
There are plenty of running backs left who could interest the Eagles. From the incredibly versatile Jeremy McNichols, to BYU’s Jamaal Williams, or Michigans De’Veon Smith, there is an abundance of late round talent who could fit Pederson’s system snugly..and they all bring something different to the table. But what is it exactly that the Eagles are looking for on day three?
“..Looking at the draft from top to bottom, going into it looking at three-down backs, number one, guys that can play obviously on all three downs, guys that, again, that are competitive, want to come in here and compete for the spot.” Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson explained yesterday. “I mean, we still have some good backs on our roster with Wendell [Smallwood] and Darren [Sproles] and Ryan [Mathews], and so we’re looking to find that three-down guy, but at the same time, add talent at that position. You know, and then looking at the guys that are left, I think there’s still one or two guys that are there that have an opportunity to fill that role if we get to that time and we get to that position again. You know, again, as Howie has mentioned, we focus on the best available adding talent, competition at every spot, and I think we’ve done that today, and we’ll look forward to that tomorrow.”
It’s interesting that Pederson was quick to mention the existing backs on the roster. The Eagles, when healthy, have one of the most dynamic backfields around..and as mentioned previously, there are plenty of questions to answer before the team decide on a running back. But a potential three-down back on day three tells me two things.
– The Eagles are comfortable with their existing backfield moving forward and won’t be making any sudden moves to shake things up. A three down back would take the pressure off of Ryan Mathews, removing durability concerns and reducing the workload of Darren Sproles in the process.
– The team are also comfortable with the structure of the backfield. It’s difficult to imagine any running back receiving 20+ carries per game in Pederson’s offense, especially with the amount of firepower surrounding Carson Wentz. A three-down back drafted late on gives the Eagles the one missing element from their rushing attack..a dominant downhill rusher, while retaining their offensive vision.
So now we know what the Eagles are looking for, it’s easier to narrow down the deep pool of rushers to see who fits the bill. Here are a few names who fit the mold:
Jamaal Williams, BYU
Compared to the likes of Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, Williams has gone almost unnoticed in comparison to the flashier backs in the draft. The sheer abundance of talent means that Williams is another player who in reality should be projected to go much higher than the fourth round.The 6’0, 220 lbs back has 3,901 yards on 726 attempts and 35 touchdowns in his career..but where value really lies for the Eagles, is his 567 career receiving yards.
With some minor legal setbacks and a less worrying injury history than some, Williams has seen his stock stagnate in the middle rounds. But he’s a dominant downhill runner with incredible vision, who averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2016. His physical frame, light feet and instinctive burst not only make him a perfect compliment to a backfield struggling to find its identity, but a rotational back who has the potential to become the workhorse that the Eagles crave.
Samaje Perine, Oklahmoa:
The 21-year old Oklahoma standout is certainly an intriguing prospect..and one who has gone under-the-radar with teammate Joe Mixon controversially stealing the spotlight. At 5’10 and 235 pounds, Perine recorded 4,112 yards which saw him soar to the top of the school’s record book..as well as ranking fourth in the school’s history with 49 career touchdowns.
The one thing that takes away from Perine is his lack of speed. A much more physical style of running back, Perine will rely on a strong combine to raise his draft stock. His strong base and powerful up-the-gut style would see him act as a perfect compliment to a diverse backfield..although he wasn’t used frequently as a receiving running back.
Perine is another back who fits an emerging mold for the Eagles and is a name worth keeping an eye out for as the draft continues.
Marlon Mack, USF
Mack is 6’0, 215 lb’s, of pure play making ability. The Sarasota, FLA native is the USF and AAC (American Athletic Conference) all-time leader in rush yards (3’609), all purpose yards (4,107) and touchdowns (33). Along with the USF career 100 yard games (20), Mack has proven to be an explosion waiting to happen. Using his combination of size, speed and strength to hurt the feelings of defensive coordinators for the last three years.
Mack’s most dangerous aspects to his game are his ability to create when nothing’s there and his open field vision. He is also a true three down back, as proven with his 498 yards through the air. The idea of Mack sharing the backfield with Carson Wentz is intriguing to say the least, and could create a one two punch to give the NFC headaches for years to come.
De’Veon Smith, Michigan
One of the other avenues for improvement this offseason is expected to be in the backfield. With Ryan Mathews facing an uncertain future, an aging Darren Sproles who has stated intention to retire after next season and Wendell Smallwood amongst other underdogs..it’s a position of interest that could utilize a committee effort behind a stern O-Line in 2017.
Insert former Wolverines running back, De’Veon Smith. During his senior year, Smith led Michigan in rushing with 846 yards and 10 touchdowns. At 5’11 and 228 lbs, Smith is an incredibly tough runner who is able to break tackles and keep the motor running after contact. He may not have the appeal or prestige of some of the higher round picks..but again, this plays into the Eagles favor.
He fits the Eagles Offense perfectly. Proving he can catch with a career 251 receiving yards at Michigan and a touchdown, he has also spent plenty of time growing familiar with a pro-style Offense under Jim Harbaugh. Add into this his solid frame and blocking ability and what you have is a jack-of-all trades running back who combines strengths of nearly everyone in the Eagles backfield and condenses them.
With such a strong running back class, Smith could slip through the cracks with ease..and with the Eagles already initiating a zonal rushing attack with littered success, an up-the-gut rusher (Cough like a certain DeMarco Murray) would be the perfect compliment to a committee effort that is striving for a true rushing identity.
Those names alone simply scream excitement and schematic fit. Could any of them end up sharing a backfield with Carson Wentz next year? Only time will tell..but the intent to add a downhill rusher certainly seems to be prominent as we head into day three.
Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports