Mike Mayock had some bad news for the Eagles last week when he pointed out how the 2015 NFL Draft is weak at two of Philadelphia's biggest positions of need: safety and quarterback. The NFL draft analyst did note, however, that this year's draft is really deep at running back. And believe it or not, that could be really good for the Eagles.
Now, it's not as if the Eagles have to draft a running back. There is no immediate need at the position. LeSean McCoy is still under contract after finishing third overall in rushing yards in 2014. Darren Sproles proved to be a great trade acquisition as he earned Pro Bowl honors. Third string running back Chris Polk dealt with some injury issues but also managed to provide some touchdowns as a goal-line back. The Eagles will also be returning practice squad running backs Matthew Tucker and Kenjon Barner.
The future of the position is less clear. For as good as McCoy's volume stats were last season, his efficiency was less ideal. His 4.1 yards per carry ranked tied for 24th, among the likes of Alfred Morris, Boobie Dixon, Shane Vereen, and Giovani Bernard. McCoy averaged a career-low 2.09 yards after first contact in 2014.
There's no denying the myriad of injuries to Philadelphia's offensive line didn't help the Eagles starting running back. McCoy led the NFL in rushing in 2013 when all five offensive line starters started all 16 games. But blocking wasn't the only reason his efficiency was down. He wasn't making people miss like he had in the past. McCoy finished 15th out of 18 running backs that played at least 50% snaps in Pro Football Focus's "Elusive Rating", which boils down a runner's success beyond the point of being helped by his blockers. McCoy finished much higher in this rating in past years: sixth in 2013, sixth in 2012, seventh in 2011.
McCoy's touchdowns also took a dip due to the increased presence of Polk's goal-line carries. Speaking of, it's possible, but not necessarily proven, that Kelly prefers a more physical runner than McCoy. The idea of needing to have a power back seems a little silly to me, especially given McCoy's 2013 success, but perhaps there's some merit to the idea. Look at the majority of the 2015 playoff running backs: Marshawn Lynch (215 lbs), Eddie Lacy (229 lbs), DeMarco Murray (227 lbs), Joique Bell (220 lbs), C.J. Anderson (224 lbs), Le'Veon Bell (225 lbs), LeGarrette Blount (250 lbs), Jonathan Stewart (235 lbs), and Jeremy Hill (238 lbs). Compare those numbers to the weight McCoy played at in 2014: 208 lbs. The majority of those playoff running backs obviously feature a much more physical running style.
Then there's the contract issue. McCoy is due nearly $12 million in 2015. Only $3.4 million of that is guaranteed. In 2016, McCoy is due $8.9 million and only $1.7 million is guaranteed. In 2017, McCoy's $7.9 million can be cut from the payroll with no dead money whatsoever. If McCoy keeps playing well, the team won't be in a rush to get rid of him. But the Eagles can easily decide to move on if McCoy's production isn't meeting his salary. Keep in mind that running backs tend to fall off after age 27.
This all may come off as more anti-McCoy than I'm intending it to be. Allow me to say he will likely be the starter in 2015 and possibly beyond. He should see a resurgence in efficiency if his blocking is better. Still, the Eagles need to start thinking about the future now. The run game is so critical to Chip Kelly's offense. Plus Sproles will be 32 in June and this could be Polk's last season with the Eagles. With a draft class loaded with talent, this is the time to take advantage. Mayock gave an idea of how he sees this class playing out:
"As far as running backs, I mentioned at the top, really deep class. I mean, it depends on where you want to try to grab one. I think Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley are both first round backs. I've got second round grades on Abdullah, Duke Johnson, Tevin Coleman and [Jay Ajayi]. Third round grades on David Johnson, T.J. Yeldon. So you can even go into the fourth round with David Cobb, Mike Davis, little bit of an underachiever from South Carolina who is a gifted kid. So there are a bunch of running backs."
Yeldon (6-1, 226) has already drawn some level of interest from Philadelphia. The Birds were one of four teams that he met with at the 2015 NFL Combine. Plus he already has Ed Marynowitz's Alabama Bias going for him.
The Eagles showed a lot of interest in running backs heading up to the 2014 NFL Draft (second most out of any position) but they did not end up drafting one. Expect that to change this year. And I'm not talking about a late round flyer here, either. Don't rule out the team making a (somewhat) high investment in the position. It wouldn't be surprising to see the Eagles address the position within the first three rounds.