In the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles did something relatively surprising. They drafted up several spots in order to ensure that they secure the talent that they want. That man, was San Diego State running back, Donnel Pumphrey. One of the most prolific backs in FBS history..but one that has already caused great debate amongst fans, less than 24-hours after being drafted.
The reason for the unrelenting back-and-forth on social media, is his size. At just 5’8 and 169 pounds, comparisons can naturally be made with current Eagles running back, Darren Sproles..but they’re not all fair.
Pumphrey-Sproles comparisons are obvious, but also simplistic. Sproles is 190, benched 23 reps at combine. Pumphrey is 176, benched 5 reps
— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) April 30, 2017
Sure, both backs are similar in terms of size and style of rushing..but I can’t remember a time where on a large third down conversion, the reason for it has been because of reps at the combine. The bottom line is that there seems to be some confusion over how Pumphrey will be used in the NFL..which in itself is causing a lot of debate. Prior to the start of the day, Doug Pederson met with the media and shed some light on what exactly it was he was looking for.
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 mentioned a three-down back..but then also alluded to the other backs on the roster.
The Eagles didn’t just draft a running back, they traded up a few spots to ensure they get the right one out of a large pool. There were some other, perhaps more fitting three-down back options there, but Pederson’s quotes yesterday may have been a smokescreen. By adding a running back who received for a total of 1,041 yards in his career, rushing for 6,405 more, the Birds all but confirm that they will be approaching 2017 with a committee effort once again.
Sproles, Smallwood, Mathews and Pumphrey combined could wreak havoc if used in the right fashion..and drafting a back who screams versatility and fits so well with the system, means that there isn’t a domino effect of decisions regarding the future of current backs on the roster, who could be losing out or lose value in the event of a 20+ carry per game rusher.
The Eagles, once again played it safe with this one and instead of stripping everything back and starting again..decided to simply build on what they’ve already established. Howie Roseman opened up to the media last night when asked about the decision to bring in the prolific rusher.
Anyway, it was a little bit like defensive tackle last year. It was interesting because when we went through it last year and all the defensive tackles you felt like, maybe they go later, but there was a run on those guys. By the same token, we’re really excited to make sure that we got Pumphrey, and then we like the players that are in the building. We’ve got Ryan [Mathews], we’ve got Darren [Sproles], Wendell [Smallwood], and Byron Marshall is a guy who can cross-train and play receiver and running back, as well.
We’ve got some talent at that position, and we’re excited to see them.”
Versatility seems to be the key focus here..and that was the sentiment echoed by Joe Douglas, not his size.
“With Pumphrey, the thing that stands out the most is prolific production. He’s set every record. You’re talking about a guy that broke [Pro Football Hall of Fame RB] Marshall Faulk’s record. Lightning feet. Great feet and great hands. And don’t let the size fool you: this guy, he’s a little dog that thinks he’s a big dog, and he plays that way. I love the way he plays, and I love how productive he is.”
Production is what really stands out. As the only player in FBS history with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, Pumphrey shattered school records, passing Marshall Faulk’s records in his final season. With six 200+ yard rushing games under his belt and 14 of 150+, production is not something that evades Pumphrey..and it was just as prominent at the Senior Bowl, an even which as we all know by now, the Eagles love to pluck talent form.
With 82 special teams yards during the game, Pumphrey followed up with 4 rushes for 28 yards. The burst of Pumphrey, who rushed for 17 touchdowns in his senior year is what really stood out. His acceleration and ability to hit the hole assertively, despite his small frame would have resonated well with the Eagles..and may have been the catalyst in his selection on Saturday.
The truth is, this year’s running back class was the deepest that it’s been in years. From Dalvin Cook and Christian McCaffrey, to Alvin Kamara and Jeremy McNichols, all styles, frames, and prototypes were well represented. The Eagles had countless opportunities throughout the weekend to add a big, bulky feature back who could power his way through the trenches..but they didn’t.
Instead, the Eagles decided to build on the foundations that they had already planted in 2016, opposed to stripping everything back and starting a fresh. Which given the rollercoaster season endured by the backfield last season, was by far the smartest thing to do. From a fully fledged committee effort, to games of complete rushing absence and others with nothing but feature backs..the backfield lacked identity. One that is now confirmed with the addition of Pumphrey.
After such a dominating performance against a stern Defense against Pittsburgh, many were excited to see what the Eagles backfield would do next. That excitement turned into anxiety, and that anxiety turned into a complete loss of hope. There was no greater sign of the Eagles failure to balance the Offense and the catastrophic effects it can have, than the dismantling handed to them by Cincinnati.
Throwing the ball 46 times, Carson Wentz had little help outside and even less behind him. It’s arguable that the wildly inconsistent backfield’s lack of production could be a byproduct of Lane Johnson’s absence, but the lead rusher in both of their last games rushed for under 50-yards.
It’s a formula that simply did not work. But with a season of experience under his belt, and the watchful eye of Duce Staley alongside him, Pumphrey could be primed for success at the next level..because like when Sproles first started out..”He’s too small. He’s not durable enough. He’s not powerful enough.” This leaves him in a very unique position where opposing Defenses could take him for granted and overlook his presence, just as many are doing now.
The unsuspecting burst through the trenches is sometimes all it takes for a dying offense to resurge into life. This draft was all about surrounding Carson Wentz with talent..and drafting Donnel Pumphrey fits that criteria perfectly.
Pumphrey may not be as physical as Dalvin Cook, or bear the frame of Alvin Kamara. But he has heart. He rushes with such elusiveness that it’s THAT aspect that should draw comparisons to Darren Sproles. The things that can be changed, that can be coached, that can be improved.
We see it time, and time, and time again in the NFL. The size debate. The armspan debate. The age debate. Instead of those, debate production. Debate what you see on film. If you do that..you suddenly see just how much of an asset Pumphrey could be in the years to come.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports