With training camp now just days away, I wanted to do a series of what I see as relevant position previews. Not that there isn't value at taking a close look at every position on the field, but exactly how many times have you read "Is Kevin Kolb ready to take the reigns?" this offseason? There isn't much to say about the QB position that we don't already know. So this is the first in our installment of relevant position previews and will focus on the running backs.
While there probably isn't a ton of mystery as to who will make up the RB corps, there's a few new faces and still a lot to figure as far as what roles they'll have and how successful they can be. The biggest threat to the Eagles' running game next year is not London Fletcher, or Keith Brooking, or whatever guy the Giants dig up to play LB this year... It is and has always been Andy Reid. According to the Football Outsiders Almanac, the Eagles ran a league low 301 times last year. However, that was around 50 or so less run calls than in previous years and now the Eagles are switching to a new QB in Kevin Kolb. So there's good reason to believe that Reid will rely more on the running game this year. In every recent example of a team switching to a new young starting QB, they've upped their run calls by around 100. While that won't happen here, there could be some comparisons to Green Bay who called 30 extra runs when Aaron Rodgers took over for Brett Favre. Tommy Lawlor explored the likelihood of the Eagles running the ball more next year over at SB Nation Philly.
Starter - It's LeSean McCoy's time to shine. Last year, McCoy was the youngest(if not the youngest than close to it) player in the NFL. He came out of college after the minimum amount of time. However, it was a decision that made sense for McCoy because he started very early at Pitt and amassed a ton of carries pretty quickly as the focal point of the offense. Considering that a RB probably only has so many carries in him over a career, leaving school early was probably a shrewd decision for McCoy. He ended up being pressed into NFL service earlier than expected when Brian Westbrook went down with a concussion(and then another) last year. McCoy was generally up to the task finishing 3rd among rookie RBs in yardage, while also having the third most carries.
There's some things to really like about McCoy, namely his ability to break tackles. He finished among the top 20 players in the NFL in broken tackles last year. He broke more tackles than guys like Ahmad Bradshaw, Felix Jones, and Frank Gore despite touching the ball less much less than Gore specifically. His broken tackle rate was 15th best in the NFL, the highest percentage of any rookie RB.
Football Outsiders projects him at 167 carries, 723 yds, 4.3 ypc, 6 rushing TDs, 48 catches for 441 yds and 2 receiving TDs.
A concern for McCoy going forward will be ball security, which Jimmy K examined earlier this year.
New Faces - The Eagles brought in two backs this year, neither of which really fit the typical Eagles mold for RBs. Mike Bell is a decent sized, one cut/hit the hole kind of back. A real North/South runner who handled short yardage duty last year in New Orleans. Don't mistake him for simply a short yardage back however, as he actually led New Orleans in carries last season. Bell will serve as McCoy's primary backup and rather than being a "like for like" substitution, Bell and McCoy's skills compliment each other. McCoy being the shiftier, speedy type with Bell being a more traditional between the tackles runner. According to FO, Bell had a 63% success rate in the red zone last year and scored 4 TDs on 11 goal line handoffs, so Bell should provide value there for the Eagles this season.
The Eagles also drafted the 233-pound bruiser Charles Scott from LSU, who is the owner of my favorite stat of any draftee this year... He never fumbled in college. For a running back, that's astounding. He also rushed for 18 TDs in 2008, which could project him as a valuable red zone/goal line back. I'll refer you to Scott's scouting report.
Scott is a big, powerful back that is more of a raw power back that can move piles than an explosive punishing type of ball carrier. He is a no-nonsense ball carrier that does not dance around in the backfield and is not apt to have many negative plays in the course of a game. He missed the last three games of his senior year with a broken collarbone but it should not affect his draft status. Scott can be a punishing blocker but needs a lot of technique work for the next level. He is an adequate receiver out of the backfield but won’t be much of a factor in the downfield passing game.
Leonard Weaver - I feel like I have to put Weaver in his own category because he really is a unique figure. While serving as the team's primary fullback, he ended up second on the team in carries. It's safe to say we've never seen a guy in his role do what he did during the Andy Reid era. He broke off big plays running the ball and catching it. I would expect his carries to go down this year with Shady and Bell carrying the load, but he's still going to have opportunities and he's still going to be a factor in the passing game. The "Church Van" as he was called in Seattle got himself a nice new contract this offseason and the Eagles surely aren't going to use him to just block...
Final Word - I'll end this preview the same way I started it. The biggest barrier to success for this Eagles running attack isn't the offensive line or the opposition. It's internal. Andy/Marty have to want to run the ball. When they actually did so last year, the Eagles running attack graded out as the 5th most efficient in the NFL last year. Maybe had they run more that number would have regressed, but it still proves that the team can run the ball. Jason Peters was inconsistent in pass blocking last year, but the numbers show that he was a clear upgrade in the run game on the left side. The numbers also bear out that Winston Justice was a lot more solid in run blocking than people give him credit for. If Stacy Andrews gets back on track as the player he was becoming with the Bengals, the Eagles line should be well equipped to run the ball. If they commit to it, Marty/Andy could take tremendous pressure off Kevin Kolb.
Further, Kolb himself could could cause an uptick in runs called. If he's more efficient with the short passing game like we all think he will be, it will likely to less 2nd and 10s as as 3rd and longs. That's going to open up the playbook to more running plays.
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