One of the most inconsistent position groups on the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles were the running backs. Whether it was Ryan Matthews and his late game fumbling issues, or Wendall Smallwood and is inability to improve during much of the year before getting hurt, the running back group did very little to help rookie QB Carson Wentz. While the running back position is not considered as important as it once was, teams like the Dallas Cowboys showed last season that if you get an explosive RB it can really help out a young quarterback. While Darren Sproles and his explosiveness are still in midnight green, he is 34 and has taken a beating the past few seasons. If the Eagles are going to succeed in 2017 on the ground it is going to be by committee.
The Eagles added to the RB group by adding two new guys this off season who they believe can improve the position instantly in 2017. The first one the team brought in was former San Diego State star Donnel Pumphrey, when the Birds drafted him in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Last season with the Aztecs, Pumphrey broke the NCAA record for most rushing yards in an FBS career with 6,405 yards. Just in his senior season, the 5’9, 170 pound RB tallied 349 carries, for 2,133 yards, and 17 touchdowns while also adding 27 receptions for 231 yards. Despite those very impressive numbers Pumphrey fell to the Eagles in the fifth round because of his size. The Eagles may look to use him similar to the way they use Darren Sproles, as where he can take snaps lined up as a slot receiver or try to catch passes out of the backfield. Like Sproles, Pumphrey is very explosive when the ball is in his hands, so Doug Pederson will be tasked to design plays where he can get him the ball in space as many times as possible. Pumphrey has a strong chance to be the Eagles most productive rookie on offense.
The other running back that the Eagles added this past off season was two-time Super Bowl champion Legarrette Blount. Blount is a very different type of runner then Pumphrey as he is 6’0, 250 pounds. The former New England Patriot is coming off a year where he carried the ball 299 times, totaling 1,161 yards, and 18 touchdowns. One area that Blount will help instantly is short yardage. Last season according to csnphilly.com on 3rd and 4th downs with 3-or-fewer yards to go, the Eagles ranked 21st in the NFL with 2.7 yards per carry and 26th with 57.1 percent of attempts going for first downs. The offense also ranked dead last in the league with 9 rushes for negative yards in these situations. The Eagles would love for Blount to get even at least half of his 18 touchdowns in 2017 as they know how much of a force he can be by the goal line.
Another guy that was already in the Eagles running back room last year is Wendell Smallwood. At this point no one is really sure what type of role Smallwood will play for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles. Last season he showed definite signs of explosiveness, but there was also other moments where he looked lost. In 2016, Smallwood had 77 carries for 312 yards, while adding one touchdown. He also returned a kickoff for a touchdown against the Redskins at Fedex Field. Running back coach Duce Staley is very high on the potential of Smallwood, as he will work with him everyday during training camp to ensue he can make a bigger impact in 2017. Smallwood will hope to build on an average rookie season running the ball, while also adding to the kick off return unit.
The uncertainty still stands with this Eagles running back group because there is no clear cut number one back. While Ryan Matthews may have been a little more explosive then Legarrette Blount is, the ability to convert short third downs will help the team immensely. Wendell Smallwood will look to take big strides in year two, as his rookie year was cut short due to injury. Also adding a guy like Donnel Pumphrey, will cause match up nightmares for linebackers and slot corner backs everywhere. If Doug Pederson can find a way to get Sproles and Pumphrey on the field at the same time, defensive coordinators will have their heads spinning. Even with no stars in the backfield, this Eagles running back group is very versatile which will make things very interesting to watch come September.