The Eagles made a slightly surprising move in bringing back 36-year old running back Darren Sproles. After missing 23 games in the last two years, Sproles is back for one last rodeo to finish his career as an Eagle, with whom he’s been breaking ankles with since 2014, and push for another Super Bowl ring. The Birds already had a crowded backfield before the arrival of Sproles, but how does his return change the complexion of the position?
Sproles may be one of the best dual-threat backs in league history, if not the best. In 2017, he still found a way to total 73 yards on 10 receptions before his injury, building on the 427 yards and two scores he caught for in the year prior. His 2018 season was mostly spent on IR due to a hamstring injury and as a result, it’s safe to assume that Sproles won’t be carrying the rock more than Sanders or Howard in a traditional scenario. But as a change-of-pace back, wildcard returner, stern pass-protector, and release valve in the passing game, Sproles does bring value…and it’s that value that could force some of the other running backs on the roster out into the cold.
Drafted by the Eagles in 2016, Smallwood draws mixed opinions from Eagles fans. In fairness, he has developed his game year-on-year, really focusing on lowering his pad level in 2017, and setting career-highs in receptions in 2018.
Smallwood tallied 151 yards during a crucial four-game stretch last year, notching a run of at least 10 yards in three of them. What’s even more impressive is that in short-yardage situations, Smallwood somehow found a way to shine. Converting on 71.4% of those situations, Smallwood achieved 5 first downs on 7 carries. An area where Josh Adams, a downhill monster who one would assume to thrive in these situations, fared significantly worse (converting 0/10).
The truth is, while Wendell Smallwood isn’t glamorous or flashy, nasty, or electric, but he has a level of development and trust from the coaching staff that keeps him in the fold. In what could well be a battle for RB4, Smallwood will yet again have the choice of spoils. It’s entirely down to him whether or not he proves enough to win that role, something kind of handed to him by default in years past. This has to be a step up for Smallwood, and he knows it.
Verdict: Heavy pressure
After exploding onto the scene as an undrafted rookie free agent two seasons ago, Corey Clement struggled last year. He ended the 2018 season on IR, but injuries may have been hampering him long before that week 14 closure. Clement just seemed lost in the rotation, playing second fiddle to Smallwood.
Clement did flash that same explosiveness he did as a rookie, with strong games against the Colts (his heaviest workload of the season, averaging 3.6 yards per carry on 16 carries) and the Giants, but they were exacly that, flashes. Through the inconsistency, the Eagles leaned on Josh Adams just as Clement was finding his groove and upon the return of Darren Sproles, his role was marginalized. But there remains one gleaming positive to Clement’s game.
He may have the best hands in the entire running back room.
He registered a total of zero drops in 2018-2019 to go along with a catch rate of 88.0%, averaging 8.7 yards per catch. Even with Sproles in the backfield, he won’t be around forever and has hardly been durable in the last two years. Nobody has really proven themselves as a pass-catcher at the NFL level in this backfield as Clement has. As far as security goes, niches matter…and Clement’s may just be the most valuable here.
Verdict: A front runner for the RB4 role.
Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame last year, Josh Adams would eventually push himself into a starting role, where he started five games late in the season, totaling 333 rushing yards and a trio of touchdowns in that span. As injuries ripped their way through the backfield, Adams went from being an afterthought to a key piece in the resurgence of a rushing attack late in the season,
Adams proved himself as a downhill runner, ending his rookie season with 511 total yards, the most on the team. But he also underwent surgery on a torn labrum following the team’s playoff loss to New Orleans, something that flew massively under the radar.
The running style of Adams is reminiscent of Jordan Howard and it would make sense to keep him around as a backup to the former Chicago Bear who can emulate his style, but if the team find more value in Clement and Smallwood, risking him on waivers may only see him snapped up by another team. A lot rides on the rehabbing of Adams and just how hard he can run in preseason.
Verdict: On the outside looking in
The Louisiana Tech product was one of the Spring’s big standouts and saw plenty of time as a punt returner. The problem is, even Doug Pederson compared him to Darren Sproles. At 5’6, 203 lbs, he averaged 4.3 yards per carry last preseason on 25 carries, but if it’s a baby Sproles the team want, they already have the original at hand…
“We have a player [RB] Boston Scott, who’s been on our roster since the end of last season or halfway through [last season].” Pederson said during OTA’s. “He’s a guy that can kind of fill a Darren Sproles [role]. He’s in that same body type and same quickness. We’re working him in a couple of different situations as a runner, as a punt returner, and just kind of getting a feel for him because he wasn’t a guy we initially brought onto our team early.”
If Scott can provide a special teams spark, as he did against the Texans in week 14, then that will surely that will only bode well. If you partner that with his very unique skill-set that would almost mirror what the team has in Sproles, it’s hard to imagine the team risking losing him to another team on waivers…but that’s implying he storms training camp and preseason. Anything less than a stunning effort this Summer will not be enough to see him climb the Mountain.
Verdict: It’s a long way to the top if you wanna be like Sproles…
Siiiiighhh. Pumphrey may be one of the most underwhelming picks in recent memory. The SDSU product was promised to be another built like Darren Sproles, but ran for just 49 yards on 26 carries during the Eagles four-game preseason stretch as a rookie. After being stashed on IR, he spent some time with the Lions practice squad and now returns for another shot at proving he can cut it at the NFL level. He just looked out of place in preseason action, being thrown around violently and unable to humiliate defenders as he could in college. Maybe there’s life yet, but he’s already looking up to Boston Scott…and is doing so from a long way back.