2014 NFL Draft: What is Going On With the Eagles and Running Backs?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles have LeSean McCoy, arguably the best RB in the NFL, but they have closely looked at some RB prospects, including at least one that could be a 2nd or 3rd round pick. Why? And what is up with Bryce Brown and Chris Polk?

Chip Kelly wants to run the ball. That is the foundation of his offense. He needs running backs that can keep the chains moving and mix in some big plays here and there. "Good enough" isn't good enough when it comes to Kelly's running backs. He needs excellent production from that position.

Andy Reid believed in the passing game. He could afford to have one stud starter and then serviceable players behind him. If the starter went down, that gave Reid all the more reason to throw the ball even more. Kelly will run the ball. If the starter goes down, the backup needs to be a really talented player. Again, that's the foundation of the offense.

Kelly obviously liked what he saw in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk based on 2012 tape or what he knew of them to that point. Kelly didn't add any key running backs to last year's roster. Now that he has worked with Brown and Polk, he seems to have some questions about them.

I say that because the Eagles have checked out some running back prospects this spring. Duce Staley flew down to Auburn to workout Tre Mason, who will go in the second or third round of the upcoming draft. You don't go workout a player of that caliber without having serious interest.

Chip Kelly went to several pro days. He saw Carlos Hyde of Ohio State and Jeremy Hill of LSU up close. He was at those pro days to look at a variety of players, but don't be naive and think a coach who loves the running game like Kelly does wasn't checking out those gifted running bakcs.

All of us that lived through the Reid era just have to understand that life will be different with Kelly in charge. Running the ball during games is a good thing. Spending early to mid-round picks on running backs when the team already has talent there? That's just not something we've seen in a long time.

LeSean McCoy is a phenomenal talent, but he is a running back. Those guys wear down and then they break down. He's at the top of his game right now, but when will he start to decline? Running backs can go quickly. I hope McCoy has several good years left, but you have to understand that he's been used pretty regularly.

Brian Westbook played nine years. He finished with 1,385 carries. McCoy has five seasons under his belt. He's already got 1,149 carries. Barring an injury, McCoy will finish this season with more career carries than Westbrook. That's hard to comprehend since it seemed like Westbrook played so long and McCoy still seems so young.

Brown and Polk have each had some really impressive moments for the Eagles, but neither guy is anything close to a sure thing. Brown has immense talent, but it took a while last year for he and Kelly to figure each other out. The Eagles used Brown to the outside a lot and he started to bounce all his runs that way. Later in the year he began to run more north-south and was more effective. I think he'll be much better in 2014, but you sure can't count on that.

Polk has 11 career carries in the NFL. He's had some injury issues, in college and in the pros. You can't really count on him if you are a running team. Polk seems like more of a complementary back than a workhorse runner, even though that's what he did in college. Being a workhorse in the NFL is brutally hard and not everyone can handle that job physically.

I would prefer the Eagles look for a running back in the later rounds, but if Kelly falls in love with a back in the early rounds, I guess I can't exactly complain too much. Part of being a running team means you need good runners. We don't know who the Eagles do like or how early they would go for a back. Carlos Hyde is the top runner and should go in the second round. I don't expect the Eagles would move back from 22 to target him, but he is the kind of athletic power back that Kelly could love. Never say never.

Mason should be a third round pick. He has smaller hands than Kelly would prefer, but is a tough, physical runner with a bit of wiggle. He could thrive in the spread attack. Auburn ran some spread stuff and Mason was good enough to carry that offense on his back and get them within seconds of winning the national title.

It is possible the Eagles won't draft a runner. This is an odd class. I don't like many of them. Kelly might feel different, but you never know. At the very least, running back will be a priority undrafted free agent position. And if the Eagles pass on drafting a back, maybe they could call the Niners about LaMichael James and what it would cost to get him. James starred for Kelly at Oregon. That doesn't mean Kelly wants him in the NFL, but it is another possibility to at least consider.

Don't give up on Bryce Brown just yet. If he can find his groove in the Kelly offense, he could still end up being the guy the Eagles turn to if anything does happen to McCoy. The Eagles could trade him, but I don't think they would get much in return. Brown still has excellent potential, but the compensation would be based on performance, not potential. I'd rather keep Brown and see if he pans out than dealing him for a late pick.

It will be interesting to see what moves the Eagles make with running backs in the next few days.

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