After exploding onto the scene as an undrafted rookie free agent two seasons ago, Corey Clement struggled through a down year in 2018. He knows it, the fans know it and it showed on film. High hopes abounded for the young man in his second season and what he showed simply didn’t cut it. With the Eagles adding firepower to their backfield — trading for Jordan Howard and drafting Miles Sanders in the second round — the window of opportunity for Clement to make an impact as a longtime Eagle is quickly closing. A local kid with a massive chip on his shoulder, he has the fans behind him and will get a long leash from coaches, but will need to show more of the spark we saw in Super Bowl LII.
From the outset, the odds are stacked against him. He’s coming off a knee injury and while he admits nothing was torn, knee injuries are a cruel mistress especially for running backs. Wendell Smallwood made it known that he can be a serviceable back in any role in the offense, roles that were seemingly cut out for Clement. In an already crowded backfield rotation, two new faces — high caliber players at that — is not exactly what the doctor ordered. I outlined why I believe Clement may have a bounce-back year following the Eagles’ trade for Jordan Howard in one of my previous articles. This was before the team drafted Sanders and began featuring Howard in the passing game early on. Still, the stats don’t lie and a lot of the notions still apply.
Nevertheless, it got me thinking, what exactly is it that Clement brings to the table that no other running back on the Eagles roster does? First, he’s incredibly intelligent. He follows his blocks like a seasoned vet and knows how to set up running lanes for himself without making unnecessary lateral cuts. In the passing game, he can find holes in coverage and recognizes blitzes quickly. As a pass blocker, he has a sturdy base and quick feet, making him a reliable option against both bigger and quicker rushers. His hands — oh boy, his hands — not many running backs in the league can boast an 80+% catch rate.
So, what do all these single attributes culminate in if pieced together — a lethal weapon in the screen game. Now, in terms of a road back to success, that seems like a narrow pathway. Keep in mind the Eagles threw more screens than almost any other team last season. The team even went out of its way to add one of the most prolific screen receivers in the game last season. The Golden Tate experiment didn’t exactly work out as planned, but it proved the Eagles’ dedication to the screen and short passing game. Why not? It fits perfectly in their spacing-conscious system and gets their incredibly athletic offensive line downfield with a head of steam. Don’t expect plans to change for 2019.
What has changed this season is the Philadelphia roster. Gone is Golden Tate to greener . . . different pastures. Darren Sproles also remains unsigned for the upcoming season. That’s 67 (Tate’s 44 and Sproles’ 23) regular season targets out the door and while a bulk of Tate’s looks will go to other receivers, none of the Eagles wide-outs are known for taking screens to the house. Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz are likely the biggest threats to Clement’s workload in that regard, but that still leaves a big opportunity for the third year RB.
That brings us to the backs that are still on the roster. We here at PSN are big Boston Scott fans, but he probably won’t be given a heavy workload on offense straight out of the gate. Keep an eye on that man moving forward though — he’s special. There’s also the matter of Wendell Smallwood and Miles Sanders for Clement to compete with. The biggest leg up that Clement has is his pass blocking. There needs to be the threat of a six or seven-man protection and a deep pass option for running back screens to really leave their mark. It’s not all that believable that the Birds would leave Boston Scott or Miles Sanders home to block time after time. The defense just has to be more weary with Corey in the backfield.
Wendell has been serviceable as a blocker, but it’s as proficient finding space. That is the other area that sets Clement apart. Screens require decisive players that can set up their blocks. The lanes are set up, you just have to find them. Smallwood is alright at finding lanes but lacks the explosion that Clement has. Sanders is as elusive as any player on the roster, but makes a ton of lateral cuts and often tries to do too much on his own. This will likely get ironed out with more time in the league but will be a project in his first season. Keep in mind, he was only a one-year starter in college. Scott is still young and has made a living as a return man and will likely have the same acclimating to do as Sanders. Expect all of the guys mentioned, including Jordan Howard, to get their shot in the screen game. None of them, however, pose the same threat as a healthy Corey Clement.