Friday, May 12, 2017

Eagles' Running Back Situation Still Needs an Upgrade

For the second year in a row under the Howie Roseman & Doug Pederson regime, the Eagles waited until the fourth round of the draft to address the team's pressing need at running back. They missed out on Christian McCaffrey in the first round and were unable to trade up in the second round to land Dalvin Cook. Instead, Philly used its second pick in the fourth round to select San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey.

Last year the Eagles added Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia in the fourth round and with what now appears to be a running back-by-committee approach to their ground game , you have to question what the overall plan is to bolster a rushing attack that has now become the team's biggest hole to fill on offense.

It appears that the Birds are going to part ways with last year's rushing leader Ryan Mathews (661 yards) given his current salary and his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. That would leave 13-year veteran Darren Sproles as the team's top rusher after gaining 438 yards on 94 carries last year. Sproles was never a lead back in the NFL even when he was tearing things up for San Diego early in his career and given that he will be 34 by the time the 2017 regular season gets underway, you have to wonder when Father Time will finally catch up with him.

I was really high on Smallwood coming into the 2016 season and he has demonstrated the ability to take another step forward this year after gaining 312 yards on 77 attempts in his rookie campaign. The jury is still out on Pumphrey making a significant contribution in his first season at this level and the only other player on the roster that you can work into this mix would be rookie Corey Clement out of Wisconsin, who was recently added as an undrafted free agent.

In light of current situation at this position, I cannot help but think that Philly should continue to scan the free agent market for a veteran player that can come in and fill that role of an every down back. Trade rumors heated up with New Orleans about the prospect of adding Mark Ingram to the mix, but I do not think that the Saints are ready to go all-in on newly acquired running back Adrian Peterson as their full-time starter. Other possible candidates that have supposedly drawn attention via a trade are San Francisco's Carlos Hyde and Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill, but coming up with a workable deal for either one would be a longshot at best.

The one running back that would make the most sense is LaGarrette Blount, who is currently a free agent after his current contract with New England expired at the end of the 2016 season. Due to the Patriots employing a tender offer to try and resign him, Blount would now come at a price including a compensatory pick in next year's draft. DeAngelo Williams is still out there, but much like Sproles at 34-years old, he would only fill a specialty role in this offense. Some of the other available running backs include Rashad Jennings and Karlos Williams, but there are plenty of issues with both of these players to keep them off Philly's short list of options.

Short of an unknown trade or another free agent signing of a player not on the list above, I believe that Blount is the Eagles' best option to plug this hole. The guy ran for 1,161 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last season and at 30-years old he should still have enough gas in the tank to anchor the Eagles' running game for the 2017 season.

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