With Training Camp a little over two weeks away, it’s time to take a closer look at the battles that will be taking place down at the NovaCare Complex. The running back position was given a lot of attention this offseason by the Philadelphia Eagles, but what can we expect this Summer?
The Colts format
If we look at how Nick Sirianni deployed the Colts running backs last year and use it as a basic template, we come away with a pretty firm idea of how things should look in Philadelphia when it comes to outlining the backfield and the roles of each rusher.
The Colts carried four backs on last year’s roster en-route to a season that saw them rank 12th overall and 9th in rushing touchdowns. A torn Achilles for Marlon Mack pushed rookie Jonathan Taylor into the spotlight where he would go on to finish third in the NFL with 1,169 rushing yards. He was supported by the versatile Nyheim Hines who put up 862 total yards from scrimmage (482 of which were receiving yards), and Jordan Wilkins.
Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell
The only two names who are locks at this point are Miles Sanders and Kenneth Gainwell. The Eagles drafted Sanders in the second round two years ago and despite a slumping second year, much of what held him back wasn’t of his own doing. Selecting Gainwell in this year’s draft all but ensures his presence on the roster as a versatile option behind Sanders, who should still remain at the epicenter of the backfield. As for those surrounding him, that’s where the importance of Training Camp comes in.
Kerryon Johnson, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard
The addition of Kerryon Johnson could prove to be a notable one for the Eagles. A former second-round pick, Johnson has slowly fallen from grace over the past few years due to a worrying streak of injuries. The Lions added D’Andre Swift to their backfield last year after Johnson was unable stay healthy, and built their running back corps around him in the months that followed.
If Johnson can channel that same burst that saw him amass 1,225 yards and 8 touchdowns over three (mostly two) years, then he could absolutely see a resurgence in Philadelphia away from the limelight and pressure of a premier role. It’s a low-risk, high-reward signing that at the very least piles pressure on a name like Boston Scott.
Talking of Scott, he signed a one-year tender with the team. Formerly of the New Orleans Saints practice squad, Scott enjoyed a strong 2019 campaign – one he built on in 2020 by amassing a career-high 374 rushing yards and a further 212 through the air. The ‘Giants killer’ has been a nice piece behind Miles Sanders, but consistency has wavered and while capable, the Eagles could’ve really benefitted from a more physical back when Sanders was out of the picture with minor injuries last year.
This brings us to Jordan Howard, who will be back for his third rodeo with the Philadelphia Eagles. After an injury in the heart of 2019 arguably caused him to lose a step, he simply hasn’t been the same and a failed stint in Miami only brought him back to the City of Brotherly Love. Whether or not another offseason will enable him to rediscover his once-dominant form is another question entirely, but it is one that his NFL future depends on.
Adrian Killins Jr, Jason Huntley, Elijah Holyfield
Only adding more weight to the shoulders of Jordan Howard is a trio of players on the bubble looking to spring a summer surprise. Fans wanted to see more from Georgia’s Elijah Holyfield last year due to his freakish physique and violent rushing style, but were instead treated to 31 snaps from Jason Huntley, who was mainly used on sweeps and failed passes out of the backfield. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but that oddly sums up how disjointed the Eagles rushing attack truly was last year.
At the very least, both of these backs should be looking to compete for a spot on the practice squad. It will be down to Holyfield to prove that his niche as a short-yardage back who runs like a bull in a china shop is deserving of something more.
The wildcard here is Adrian Killins Jr, who was able to stick around the facility after a strong summer. He has blazing speed with a 4.39 40-yard dash time to his name and stands at 5’6, 163 lbs. In what will be his second season with the team, it will be interesting to see if Nick Sirianni, a coach who prides himself on moulding his offense around the talents of his players, can carve out a role for him.
Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire