Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey finds himself in unique position to make an impact in 2018

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The Eagles have had a different leading rusher in every season since LeSean McCoy’s sweet serenade to fans back in 2014. While much of this falls down to a real transitional period within the City of Brotherly Love, the last two season’s fall on the shoulders of Doug Pederson and his intent to re-shape the backfield into a committee effort. Now, set for their fifth different lead-rusher in as many years following the departure of LeGarrette Blount, the Birds have a very different rushing identity.

Doug Pederson finally crafted the rushing identity he wanted in 2017. A barreling workhorse in LeGarrette Blount was backed up by a reliable rookie in Corey Clement before Jay Ajayi swept in midway through the season to add in that extra element of explosiveness and give the team a sense of versatility and unpredictability. The offense became balanced and the Birds were finally able to move the ball at will, regardless of whether it was Carson Wentz, Nick Foles or even Nate Sudfeld at the helm. But with the backfield set to shape-shift yet again, is the timing right for one forgotten running back to make a mark?

With their fourth round pick last year, the Eagles selected a running back by the name of Donnel Pumphrey. A product of San Diego State, Pumphrey carried the build of Darren Sproles and the collegiate production followed suit. But when training camp and preseason rolled around, he was vastly outshined by undrafted free agent, Corey Clement. Two very different backs with juxtaposed styles, Clement began stealing the spotlight from Wendell Smallwood too, proving to be a versatile back who still brought down the hammer between the tackles and packed a real punch.

Pumphrey ran for just 49 yards on 26 carries during the Eagles four-game preseason stretch, with a longest attempt of a putrid 5 yards. However he did flash his versatility by lining up in the slot and catching 72 yards worth of passes, but that wasn’t enough to earn a spot in regular rotation. Pumphrey was able to cling on to the back end of the roster, but an injury would leave him completely sidelined for the remainder of his rookie season. So why could a comeback be on the cards?

Well to begin with, he’s had a full year under Duce Staley. Hey may not have been on the field practicing much due to his injury, but Pumphrey’s presence in the film room and watching how an array of pro-bowl talent gets it done will have undoubtedly improved his mental toughness, confidence and knowledge of the game at the next level.

Secondly, durability. 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, but neither is durability. The agile runner not only had 349 rushing attempts which was no.1 in the nation in his final season at SDSU, he had two straight seasons of 300 plus attempts.  In fact, his 276 rushing attempts during his sophomore year were only third to Ezekiel Elliott’s 289 and Faulk’s 300 in their junior years. A year away from the game may not exactly add an extra layer of rubber onto those tires, but at least reduce the impact that such a heavy workload during his career at SDSU would have had on his body as he prepares for the NFL.

The one thing that was blindingly obvious when watching Pumphrey in preseason was that the game was much faster and hits were much harder. He didn’t look like he belonged in that environment straight away until maybe the third or fourth game where the team began to play to his strengths. With a year under Duce Staley and a complete reset switch, the timing is perfect for ‘Pump’ to step it up in year two.

LeGarrette Blount is gone and the only real long-term option the team have for certain is Corey Clement. Ajayi’s contract could prove to be a haunting issue after the end of this season depending on if he would prefer to be the ‘main guy’ as he was in Miami or take a lower deal and bid for championships. Darren Sproles may have one or two years left in the tank, but if he does pull the curtains on an illustrious career then the Eagles don’t have that hidden weapon. Corey Clement provides the same explosiveness and versatility but the team have much bigger plans for him.

So, the stage is set for Donnel Pumphrey. Can he make the jump to the next level? Maybe a year behind the scenes to adapt to life in the NFL would have done the world of good for the young running back and maybe, just maybe, he can flash that same level of production once again.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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