Is Wendell Smallwood in danger of losing his spot on the Eagles depth chart?


As the offseason arrived, the Eagles most important needs were clear. Help was needed at wide receiver and cornerback, but there was underlying cry for help in the backfield. After a season where the rushing identity seemed to change on a weekly basis, the team decided to cement their direction by drafting Donnel Pumphrey…but that wasn’t all she wrote.

The Eagles would later sign former Patriots running back and Super Bowl Champion, LeGarrette Blount. A running back who is coming off of a career year in 2016, in which he led the league in rushing touchdowns with 18. With 470 rushing yards and eight touchdowns in as many career playoff games, Blount is a back who can dominate the game when chewing the clock if needed. If the Eagles are to balance the offense, having an extremely durable, and reliable three-down rusher is essential..and with over 2,000 yards in his last 33-regular season games for the Pats, Blount ticks all the boxes.

The addition of Blount to the Eagles Offense gave them two clear paths at running back. The versatility of both Sproles and Pumphrey opens up a realm of possibilities for the Eagles. We’ve already seen some of the ways that the team plan on using Pumphrey, as the SDSU standout has been lined up in split-backfield looks, in the slot, and even outside. Having two backs of a similar mold and size, who can hurt you in a variety of ways are going to cause plenty of headaches for Defenses, but if that wasn’t enough, the Eagles finally have a back who can punch you in the mouth and convert those tricky third downs.

The abundance of talent and blending of styles has seemingly left one running back out in the cold however, Wendell Smallwood. The West Virginia product was drafted in the fifth round of last year’s NFL Draft and would go on to record 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 carries, before suffering an injury that would cut his rookie season short. At 5’10, 208 lbs, Smallwood’s size worked both for him and against him in the Eagles committee backfield. From a situational back, to a change-of-pace rusher, and even the leader of the pack at times, Smallwood experienced it all in 2016.

If Smallwood’s place on the depth chart wasn’t in danger this offseason, it certainly is now. Enter undrafted rookie free agent, Corey Clement.Despite, sharing the backfield with multiple backs with the Badgers last year, he managed to rush for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns.

Considered a bigger back at 5’11, 220 lbs, Clement uses his size well when facing contact around the line of scrimmage. He has a strong base and thick thighs that help with his balance when running off tackle, and has better than average speed to get him to the second level in a hurry.

Clement has hit the ground running at Training Camp. The physical back has turned heads on several occasions so far after a quieter OTA period than many had hoped. But in the absence of the majority of the backfield, Clement has been shining by putting on some fancy moves and showing off just how impactful his size can be.

To make matters worse, Clement appears to have an ace up his sleeve.

Smallwood was used as a pass-catcher on several occasions during 2016, but with extremely limited success. The 5’10, 208 lbs, rusher struggled to catch the ball on screens and swings, amassing just 6 receptions on 12 targets for 55 yards. Although Pumphrey only made 27 receptions last season at SDSU, OTA’s made it clear that that role would be expanded upon as he prepares for his first NFL year. Naturally, this further marginalizes Smallwood.

It wasn’t that Smallwood was bad during his rookie year, given the strange rollercoaster of snapcounts he endured, the WVU product actually performed well for the most part. The problem is that he’s extremely similar to Kenjon Barner in the fact that while he’s efficient at hitting the hole, his style doesn’t bring anything spectacular to the table. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem and his style would actually bring the perfect change-of-pace back to the table. But with the future of Ryan Mathews anything but concrete, outside of Smallwood, the Eagles have two contrasting styles of running back…and if Blount were to ever go down with injury, the team don’t have another dominant workhorse back…except the potential wildcard of Corey Clement.

If it’s building sustainable depth that the Eagles want, then having two backs in each “role” makes sense. Pumphrey and Sproles would take the dual-threat stage, while Blount and Clement would be the workhorses. Nobody is saying that Clement is the next Marshawn Lynch, but if the potential is there as it clearly was in Wisconsin, then it’s certainly worth noting that Blount is at the end of the day on a prove-it deal.

One year behind one of the most powerful downhill rushers of the last ten years is only going to help Clement grow…then, when Blount’s contract expires at the end of the year, the Eagles aren’t going to be left in a position of running back need yet again. Clement could step up to the plate as the workhorse back in a dream scenario, with Pumphrey behind him. Sproles has already admitted his future is up in the air, and with Smallwood already cut in this scenario…the Eagles would only have to find depth at the position, not a starting back.

However it’s this one angle where Smallwood does have value. If the team are thinking long-term, the position (including Mathews) could lose three names by this time next year, meaning that if the Eagles want to keep Smallwood around for depth purposes, it may be his best chance of retaining his spot on the depth chart.

Training Camp is going to ultimately decide whether or not Corey Clement has enough explosiveness to make the final 53-man roster, but the real question is can Smallwood prove that he can bring something unique to the table?

If Smallwood fails to standout during Training Camp, it’s not out of the question that his spot on the depth chart becomes endangered. While he may not end up being cut, there is every chance that the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin can add some worrying vulnerability to his long-term future with the team.

Clement’s campaign for the final 53 has already started with an explosive first few days of camp. Now that Smallwood’s back at the NovaCare Complex, it’s time to see if he can answer the call and step up to the plate.


Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports