It’s been a wild offseason for Corey Clement. The former Wisconsin Badger had the talent of a mid-round draft pick, but off-the-field issues and concerns saw him slip through the tracks into the undrafted free agent pool. The Philadelphia Eagles would take a chance on Clement, giving him a chance in the NFL. His talent spoke for itself and the dominant style he embodied bought an interesting niche to Pederson’s Offense. The chances of making the final 53 seemed slim…but plausible for a rusher who has so much potential.
A sports hernia held Clement to just four games in 2015, in which he was still able to amass 221 total yards..but he bounced back stronger than ever in his senior season. The 5’10, 210 lbs, workhorse back totaled 1,375 yards on the ground and 15 touchdowns in 2016, earning All-Big-Ten honors in the process.
Later in the offseason, the Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount, one of the most prolific North-South runners in the game. Just like that, Clement’s chances of making the final roster seemed to take a huge hit. As OTA’s dawned, Clement flashed his explosive potential before the vets arrived and made the most of his reps. When Wendell Smallwood showed up however, a whole new battle in the backfield emerged.
The West Virginia standout stormed into Training Camp with a tenacious new mentality. Lowering his helmet and pushing through tackles, the second-year running back looked explosive during the opening stages of Camp in what rapidly became a game of “Anything you can do, I can do better.” Unfortunately for Smallwood, the best kind of ability is availability…meaning that even though he may seem entrenched in the Eagles rushing rotation, his injuries which have kept him out of pre-season have opened up a huge platform for Clement and one he’s taken full advantage of.
Against the Packers, Clement led the Eagles in rushing with 13 yards on 7 carries. One week later, he was inserted into the game after a disappointing opening stint from LeGarrette Blount. A bursting 24 yard rush set the tone early as Clement went on to lead the team in rushing once again, amassing 34 yards as well as his first NFL touchdown.
“It felt great.” Clement said of what that experience felt like. “All of those years of me dreaming about playing in that stadium and getting a chance to get in the end zone, my hat is off to the O-line for helping me get into it. When you get close to the goal line you have to smell it and you have to refuse to be denied and I just locked in on my linemen, believed in them, and just charged right up their backs.”
While that moment was certainly one he will never forget, the physical running back has expressed no desire to stop there.
“It was a dream come true. Having the chance to score at Lincoln Financial Field and all of those years that I drove over the [Walt Whitman and Ben Franklin Bridge] and seeing it from the distance, feeling the crowd behind me was truly an honor. I had to work for it and it wasn’t given so now I’m just looking for the next one.”
He may not have to wait long either. The Eagles are set to face Miami next week in their third preseason game of the offseason and if the first two fixtures are anything to go by, Clement could see a heavy workload yet again. While Blount has struggled getting to the outside for numerous reasons, Clement has shown no hindrance whatsoever bouncing around his blocks and using his impressive speed to make things happen. It’s been a strong offseason to say the least and that hasn’t been lost on Doug Pederson.
“Yeah, Corey’s been doing a really good job for us.” Pederson told the media after the win over Buffalo. “He’s a tough kid, as you can see, he’s a tough runner, hard runner, smart kid. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He’s put himself in a good position. He’s competing with the other running backs there at his position, and just excited to, you know, for him to score tonight. He had a couple nice little runs, and he’s doing a nice job in camp overall.”
So what’s the ceiling for Corey Clement? The Practice Squad seems like an extremely likely landing spot, especially considering how valuable that 10-man unit was during the latter stages of last season when the injury bug struck, forcing the likes of Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson into action.
However, there is a slight possibility that injuries once again force an unlikely scenario. If Wendell Smallwood misses more time or if other backs in the dynamic backfield struggle with durability, Clement’s chances of forcing his way into the fray begin to sky-rocket so long as his production continues to follow suit. As of right now, Clement is still the underdog. That gritty back-against-the-wall mentality has served him well so far and it follows him into the locker room.
“I felt a lot more calm and being able to handle all of the situations, like catching out the backfield, I think it is definitely vital from game one to game two to expand on a lot of things as far as corrections. Duce and I always film study, everybody is always in a room, and it’s all about how you take constructive criticism. You have to take it to your fullest advantage and use it to perform out here.”
Then of course there’s the bigger picture. LeGarrette Blount’s contract is of course only a one-year deal, meaning that the Eagles will have to make a decision after next season whether or not the 30-year old veteran is deserving of one more payday. If that answer is negative, an attractive draft class awaits…but so does Corey Clement. The Eagles may express a desire to have a reliable and physical backup to Blount this season but if they do see that in Smallwood, Clement has every chance of jumping up and nestling in behind the more elusive rusher who would take on that hypothetical workhorse role next season. It frees up a draft-pick for the Eagles to spend on an area of need and most importantly conserves some much needed cap space.
It may be a little too soon to predict a long-term future for the undrafted free agent, but if Clement continues to impress coaches and work hard to make his mark, then it’s absolutely plausible that he can work his way up the ladder…even if that does mean starting at the bottom.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports