Stars and sleepers: Ten running backs the Eagles should absolutely look at to replace Jay Ajayi

The Eagles announced today that starting running back Jay Ajayi had torn his ACL and would miss the remainder of the season. A heartbreaking injury for a player who has already endured this injury once (on his other leg) and was set to enjoy a breakout season in his final contracted year, with new agent Drew Rosenhaus getting ready to spark a big payday. The big question right now is, what options do the Eagles have?

 

In house:

The Eagles have three healthy running backs as of this moment, presuming Corey Clement returns to action on a short week. Wendell Smallwood would be partnered with Josh Adams and last year’s undrafted hero in a three-headed monster that hasn’t done ‘awfully’ in the absence of starters. Against the Colts, the backfield put up 152 yards worth of rushing offense, accompanied by a Wendell Smallwood touchdown.

What really stands out right now is a sudden surge in efficiency from Smallwood as a receiver. His huge touchdown reception and 2-point conversion turned heads everywhere on Sunday. This was an element of his game that previously was extremely ineffective. Now, if Smallwood can expand his potential as a dynamic threat, it could well free up Adams to be the downhill threat he was at Notre Dame, with Clement being the third-down option, or even switching roles with Adams.

It’s not as if the Eagles are devoid of talent, but they are devoid of certainty. All three of the aforementioned backs have sustained injury setbacks within the last two years that have caused them to miss significant time. Clement’s is the least worrying as it was just preseason to begin with, but the bumps and bruises seem to be catching up to the former Wisconsin Badger which may prompt the Eagles to look elsewhere.

The trade block:

Ameer Abdullah
With Kerryon (my wayward son) Johnson and LeGarrette Blount headlining the Lions backfield and Theo Riddick always proving to be a threat, the Eagles could be in a position to poach Abdullah from Detroit. The 25-year old has amassed 500 rushing yards in two of his last three campaigns as a change-of-pace catalyst, amassing 9 touchdowns during that span. Abdullah hasn’t taken a regular season carry for the Lions, but he’s another back that has versatility on his side which could be a great asset in Pederson’s offense.

There is a slight concern with fumbling, but the Eagles aren’t exactly in a position to be picky and a change of environment with a newly acquired chip on his shoulder may be all Abdullah needs to show the form he did against the Vikings last season, amassing 94 yards and a touchdown.

 

Le’Veon Bell
For those of you who listen to my weekly Eagles podcast, you’ll already know my stance on this and the injury to Ajayi has not moved the chains.

In case you don’t have 30 minutes to listen to a British analyst rant about why the move is obscene, here’s a quick summary.

The Eagles would be paying $9.4M in cap space for a half-season rental, making him the second-highest paid player on the team in that span. As of right now, the Eagles have invested less than half of that amount across their entire 5-man backfield, which is staggering. They’re not going to break the bank for a rental.

Let’s not forget how long it took Ajayi to settle in, either. It took 3 games for Ajayi to receive more than 10 carries and if the same were to apply to Bell, due to getting acclimated with the scheme, terminology and offense as a whole, that would the Eagles with an even smaller window to work with.

Thirdly, they would HAVE to make a huge move to facilitate the arrival of Bell. Many point to trading Nick Foles, which is a brilliant idea considering the Eagles have given up more QB hits than 30 other NFL teams. Shoot for the stars…

Bell is a generational talent, but not one the Eagles can afford.

 

Daniel Lasco
This one’s interesting as I actually mocked him to the Eagles back in 2016 when he worked out for the team prior to the big event. Drafted by the Saints, Lasco has bounced on and off the team with injury and it’s clear with just 32 career rushing yards, he’s going to be lost behind the Saints depth. However, the former Cal product flashed plenty of potential prior to the NFL and could be a cheap trade option.

Lasco isn’t a power runner, nor is he as elusive as Smallwood for instance, but his ability to burst through the trenches and bounce to the outside could make him the perfect compliment to a backfield looking for consistency, versatility and unpredictability. Three traits that Lasco boasts whenever he touches the ball.

 

Ty Montgomery:
The Eagles may be able to swing a trade with their potential NFC rivals in Green Bay. Having just played a season-high 29 snaps in Sunday’s loss to the Lions, Montgomery failed to really do much with them. Montgomery is a dual-threat back who has actually amassed more receiving yards than rushing yards four times in five games this season, used as a third option behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. It’s a long shot and Montgomery is not going to fit the mold that Ajayi left behind, but the Stanford product totaled 457 yards last season and averaged a stunning 5.9 yards per carry. He could be a great fit in an Eagles offense that thrives on option plays and play-action looks and available for a much cheaper asking price than a certain back whose name rhymes with Bleneon Snell.


Bilal Powell
With Isaiah Crowell coming off of a record 219 yard performance against the Broncos defense, the backfield woes are finally looking up in New York. Trenton Cannon could emerge as the number two back and all of a sudden, there isn’t much room left for Powell, who already has 264 yards on 59 carries this year. The former Cleveland Brown could be a great fit in Philadelphia and posted back-to-back 700 yard seasons for the Jets in 2016-17. The asking price could be minimal and with 1,562 career receiving yards to his name as well, the deceptively fast 5’10 rusher could thrive in an environment where he’s no longer fighting for a lifeline.

 

Tevin Coleman
Freeman’s partner in crime has endured a tough start to the year. The Falcons are 1-4 and Coleman has 225 yards and a touchdown on 61 carries. Another dual-threat back to bear in mind, it would behoove the Eagles to at least enquire to see if the shifty back could be listed for auction.

The game changer here is that Ito Smith is breathing down Coleman’s neck and Freeman is back in the fold. Against the Steelers, Coleman tallied just 15 yards on 7 carries, surely paving the way for Smith to capitalize on what could be a backfield competition midseason to earn the #2 bragging rights. If that battle is already lost, the Eagles could sweep in with a huge rental pickup.

 

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Free agents:

Mike Gillislee:
The Saints cut Gillislee after just four games (He carried the ball just 16 times for 43 yard) as their own backfield slowly returns to strength, but the Eagles could be the perfect partner at this point. He’s recently worked out for several NFL teams and most notably spent last season as a third-down back for the Patriots, totaling 383 yards and 5 scores in 9 games. He runs hard and having been cast out of New Orleans with three quarters of the season remaining, the Patriots have already come knocking again…will the Eagles?

Terrance West:
West emerged as the Ravens go to running back in 2016, passing the 700 yard mark and scoring six times. After missing time due to a suspension in 2017, the Ravens eventually parted ways with the 27-year old, leading him to also spend time with the Saints. He appeared in just five games for the Ravens last season and after the Saints took off their collar, he’s tried out for various NFL teams but failed to find a new home. The familiarity with Joe Douglas may come in handy here and it could lead the Eagles to take a flyer on a very low-budget option.

 

Orleans Darkwa
If not for Saquon Barkley, I don’t understand why Darkwa was allowed to walk out of the Giants building. After originally being the third option in 2017, he amassed 751 yards in 15 games, defying the odds and running his heart out. He reportedly had several free agent offers, but remains unsigned after an early workout with the, you guessed it, Patriots. Cleared from injury, it would hardly be surprising for Darkwa to come in for a workout.

 

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

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