After an off-season of being linked to such highly touted draft prospects as Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon, you got the sense that the Eagles were really trying hard to find that franchise backfield mate for Carson Wentz. Well things didn’t exactly fall their way in April’s draft. They came away with what they hope is their future Sproles replacement in Donnel Pumphery and UDFA Corey Clement. Not exactly the future feature backs they were hoping for.
After the draft, they signed 30 year old free agent LeGarrette Blount and shifted gears towards a committee backfield approach. You can get by with that in the NFL but you get the feel that the team is looking for something more. They’re looking for something special, and as of right now, unless someone breaks out in a big way this year, that player is not on the roster. Let’s take a look at their running backs:
LeGarrette Blount – Bringing in Blount was a 1-year rental at best. Last years 18 TD season was definitely an outlier year. He was a goal line back on an amazingly efficient offense in New England. He approached 300 carries for the first time in his career but only averaged 3.9 ypc. He’s never really been anything special. He typically averages about 600-700 yards and 6-7 touchdowns. Blount is also a total liability in the passing game as teams know that when he’s on the field they can expect a run and will load the box. Best case scenario is that he is able to close out games and pick up short yardage and goal line opportunities. Other than that, this is a 1 year rental and you shouldn’t worry about resigning him in the off-season.
Darren Sproles/Donnel Pumphery – This is essentially one role here. Sproles has been an incredibly efficient player for the Eagles and it will be tough to see him go but he has already stated that this will probably be his last year. While being great at what he does, Sproles has never been able to carry the load for a team. The drafting of Pumphery signals that they like having this role in their offense and they want it to continue after Sproles is gone. Look at Pumphery as a future change of pace back and nothing more.
Wendell Smallwood – The 2nd year man from West Virginia was said to be turning heads throughout camp before another soft tissue injury sidelined him again. He was not a top target in the draft 2 years ago, but after missing out on some higher rated players the Eagles saw enough things that they liked in him to bring him in for a look. His size is good enough at 5’10, 208lbs, but he has to be able to prove that he can run between the tackles consistently in this league. Smallwood also has to prove that he can stay on the field, something he has yet to do in his brief Eagles career. The reports all summer have ranged from him being the lead back to being cut from the team entirely. We can hope for the best but ultimately I don’t think this is the running back prospect of the future for the Birds.
Corey Clement – When the Eagles signed Clement after the draft I thought that he would end up being the Eagles starting running back this year. The signing of Blount threw some cold water on that prediction but Clement is still here in camp and he has been doing some very nice things. A former 4-star recruit, Clement played behind eventual first round pick Melvin Gordon for his first 2 seasons at Wisconsin. A sports hernia injury ruined his junior year before finally taking over as a senior. Even in a shared backfield last year, Clement ran for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns. Clement was projected to be a mid-round pick but ended up sliding because of character and injury concerns. He was also knocked for not being able to catch the ball but in Wisconsin’s offense he was simply not asked to do that. He has shown no problems with his hands thus far in camp. At 5’10, 220 lbs the kid has the size to play in this league. If he has proven his quickness, vision, and blocking skills are up to par to the coaching staff, then Clement might not only make the team, but carve out a role for himself in this offense.
So you take a look at the roster and you see some solid players. You see guys that you can get by with this year. You don’t see that sure-fire stud who is going to take over this backfield for years to come. The Eagles want to find that player. For 2 years now they have sniffed around the top RB prospects in the draft but either passed up the opportunity to draft one or missed it all together. In the 2018 draft, the Eagles have their first round pick and 3 fourths (the one they acquired for Eric Rowe could become a 3rd) which could be packaged to move up. Those picks represent the best chance to draft the running back they’ve been missing and there’s a good chance that pick comes in the 1st round. Running back is arguably their most pressing position to get young talent. The other being offensive tackle with the future of Jason Peters up in the air.
Fortunately for the Eagles the draft is loaded with talent at the running back position again this year. With college football officially kicking off this weekend here is a look at some names to follow for the upcoming season:
Saquon Barkley 5’11 223 Jr Penn St – This is a guy everyone should know. He could definitely be the final piece to this offensive puzzle if Howie somehow found a way to get this surefire first rounder. The kid is an absolute stud, rushing for nearly 1,500 yards at 5.5.ypc and 18 touchdowns last year. In addition, he also made 28 catches for 402 yards and four touchdowns as a receiver. It’s easy to see why he would be a perfect fit for this team. If you get a chance to watch Penn State at all I suggest you do so because Saquon Barkley will jump off the screen.
Derrius Guice 5’11 212 Jr LSU – Guice is another stud who is currently projected to go in the 1st round. He averaged 7.6 yards per carry for 1,387 yards with 15 touchdowns last season filling in while Leonard Fournette was out. Some in the scouting community have said that Guice’s game is more well rounded and better suited for the NFL than Fournette. He only had 9 catches last year so he would have to put more of that on film to feel like a fit for the Eagles.
Nick Chubb 5’10 228 Sr Georgia – Chubb originally burst on the scene as a Freshman sharing the backfield with Todd Gurley. He had season ending knee surgery in 2015 but bounced back strong with a solid campaign of 1,130 yards and 8 TDs last year. Once thought of as a day 1 draft pick, Chubb has to show the burst that he had before tearing his knee up to start rising up draft boards again.
Royce Freeman 5’11 231 Sr Oregon – After 2 scintillating seasons to start his career Freeman spent his Junior year nursing various injuries and didn’t look like the same player. This is a guy that has shown he has what it takes to run between the tackles while also possessing the speed to hit the edge. What makes him really enticing is the fact that even at his size he has shown soft hands when hauling in passes. He’s caught 56 passes over his career and look very natural doing it. Freeman is definitely someone to keep an eye on when thinking of the Eagles next year.
Bo Scarbrough 6’2 232 Jr Alabama – We’re going to see plenty of highlights of Scarbrough running over defenders and probably some where he shows off his nimble feet and runs around them as well. It will be awesome to watch but don’t let that make you think he’s a fit for the Eagles. Unless the Eagles go with a true thunder and lightening tandem approach, Scarbrough is not the kind of back they usually go for. Enjoy the highlights though.
Sony Michel 5’11 222 Sr Georgia – Michel may not be as notable as his more heralded teammate Nick Chubb, but he has a game that’s tailor made for the NFL. The Georgia rusher has nice speed and is a natural receiver which will make him very attractive come draft time. He could be an excellent fit for the Eagles in the middle rounds.
Mike Weber 5’10 214 RS So Ohio St. – Weber is the man who replaced Ezekiel Elliot and was very impressive in his own right. He averaged 6 ypc on almost 1,100 yards and 9 touchdowns. When you factor in his 23 receptions, he would seem like a fit in Philly. If the young man has a good season and gives up the final 2 years of eligibility he could be a nice day 2 or early day 3 target.
Damien Harris 5’11 216 Jr Alabama – Most people know Scarbrough from the Alabama backfield but what many don’t realize is that Harris actually led the team in rushing last year with 1,040 yards at 7.2 ypc. He also had 14 receptions for 99 yards. Harris may have a tough time getting the recognition at ‘Bama but when he has the scouts full attention at the combine he could start to rise up draft boards.
Rawleigh Williams 5’10 223 Jr Arkansas – Williams took over after Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams left for the NFL and he didn’t disappoint. Williams ran hard and showed the ability to stay on the field in passing situations. He has 15 receptions for an amazing 220 yards, showing great elusiveness with the ball in his hands in the open field, making him worth watching over the course of the season.
All of these guys are similar size and stature to some of the Eagles most recent stars at the running back position such as Shady McCoy, Brian Westbrook and Duce Staley. You’ve got to believe that Howie and Doug are looking to recreate that success and give Carson Wentz the dynamic running threat that he deserves to take his career to the next level. When watching the games this Saturday, keep an eye on these players. You could be watching the Eagles next Pro Bowl running back.
Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports