Friday, May 13, 2016

Can Wendell Smallwood Reinvigorate the Eagles' Running Game ?

Everyone knew that the Eagles needed to draft a running back given the recent departure of DeMarco Murray and the tenuous future of Ryan Matthews as the current lead runner given his injury-filled past. I was hoping that they would draft Ezekiel Elliott, but we all know how that whole situation played out. Team vice president and de facto director of player personnel Howie Roseman finally pulled the trigger in the fifth round by selecting Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia.

There have been quite a few success stories in the NFL at the running back position when it comes to players selected in the later rounds of the draft or even as an undrafted free agent. From what I have read, Smallwood has the skills to succeed at the next level, but my question is can he help an Eagles' running game right out of the gate after it took a major step backwards in 2015?

I was a big LeSean McCoy fan when the Eagles drafted him out of Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2009 draft. He went on to make an impact his rookie year with 637 rushing yards on 155 carries while adding another 308 yards receiving on 40 catches. Shady's best season with the team was in 2013 when he led the NFL in rushing with 1,607 yards while adding 539 yards through the air. Despite running for more than 1000 yards in four of his last five seasons with the team, then head coach Chip Kelly viewed the Eagles all-time leading rusher as expendable and decided to trade him to Buffalo before the start of the 2015 season for a player that is no longer with team (LB Kiko Alonzo).

Getting back to Smallwood, at 5-foot-11 and 201 lbs he is not thought of as every down back, but the last time I looked at the tale of the tape on McCoy he comes in at 5-foot-11 and 208 lbs. The most exciting aspect of Smallwood besides some respectable speed is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In 2014, he caught 31 balls for 326 yards while rushing for 722 yards on the ground. His production as a receiver went down last season, but in his final college campaign for the Mountaineers he rushed for 1,519 yards on 238 carries which seems pretty durable to me.

As mentioned, Matthews is still penciled-in as the starter and Darren Sproles is still on the roster entering his 12th season in the league. All three of these backs offer many of the same attributes as far as their playing style so there may be a bit of redundancy at the running back position. That being said, I am still hoping that Smallwood can break through the pack as the heir apparent to McCoy's legacy as the best Eagles' running back since Wilbert Montgomery was tearing up the shoddy turf at Veterans Stadium in the late 70's and early 80's.

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