Why are the Eagles loading up on receivers and cutting down on running backs?

NFL: OCT 18 Ravens at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 18: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back Miles Sanders (26) carries the ball in the first half during the game between the Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles on October 18, 2020 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

Warm welcomes, hot takes and, cold criticism: OTA’s are coming to Philly this week, bringing the same buzz as every year – but with fewer running backs and more wide receivers on the Eagles roster. What might this shift in roster-building mean for the coming season? Perhaps a tactical transformation. Maybe a switch of focus. Or has Howie Roseman got another surprise up his sleeve?

“It’s a passing league”

This time last year, the Eagles had eleven wide receivers and eight running backs. Right now, they have 12 WRs and just 5 RBs. That’s a significant shift – especially considering the team led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns last season. This may suggest Nick Sirianni is ready to turn his back on the run game and focus on passing instead.

A.J. Brown and Zach Pascal have boosted the receiver room in recent months, while DeVonta Smith will aim to improve after setting the Eagles’ rookie record for receiving yards in a season. With Watkins, Reagor, Ward, and Hightower filling the gaps, it’s the team’s strongest WR group for many years. If Sirianni wants to sling it, now’s the time.

Jalen Hurts is a big factor too. He had the most rushing yards of any NFL quarterback in 2021. And because the Eagles need to decide whether to stick or twist at QB, this season is his last chance to prove doubters wrong by throwing the ball. In any case, the team may feel they can always go back to the run-heavy approach if passing doesn’t work – as they did in Week 8 last year.

Rock-solid rock-pounders

The decision to gather just five RBs for OTAs could simply mean the Eagles are happy with what they’ve got. In December 2021, Miles Sanders became the first back to rush 100+ yards in consecutive games for Philadelphia since 2014. Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell made a positive impact when asked. The rushing attack ain’t broke. So it doesn’t need fixing.

With such a dominant offensive line, running backs have a fairly sweet life in Philly and it’s easy to see why the team would focus resources on players who have a more difficult job. With 12 wide receivers, this offseason provides a chance to challenge the quarterbacks and cornerbacks. RBs might see a little less on-field practice and a little more boxing-glove-on-a-stick as a result.

Healthy and strong

OTAs are exciting, but they don’t involve live contact. That’s important because the Eagles were extra-careful to protect players in preseason of 2021. Practice was cut short. The 22 projected starters only played 325 snaps. And at the end of the season, the Man Games Lost metric rated the Eagles as one of the three least-injured teams.

When the pads go on in July, additional rushers might arrive to protect Sanders, Scott and Gainwell from too many heavy hits. The team may also want a power back to complement their shifty RBs. Fans are voicing preferences, and Jordan Howard is still a free agent. Howie Roseman has worked magic this offseason. Will he make a couple of running backs appear from thin air this summer?

Wait for it

Right now, the Eagles have almost half the number of running backs that they had twelve months ago. And with a dozen receivers currently fighting for roster spots, something has to change in the coming months. It might be fresh tactics. It might be fresh faces. But it’ll be worth keeping a close eye on the RB group during OTAs and beyond.

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Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire