From the moment he was signed as an undrafted free agent immediately following the 2017 NFL Draft, running back Corey Clement has become a topic of discussion among Eagles fans. Prior to the signing of LeGarrette Blount, his name was being thrown around as someone who could assume a significant number of carries in the 2017 Eagles offense. This was met with skepticism by many fans primarily because he was an undrafted free agent (UDFA). Many thought that the Clement supporters were just getting overexcited similar to how many did with Paul Turner, Rasheed Bailey or Henry Josey before those players were ultimately cut. Here is why the situation could turn out differently for Clement.
Clement is not the next Philadelphia pre-season folk hero. Primarily because pre-season hasn’t even started yet and Clement has yet to play a down in an Eagles uniform. The situations are completely different. The excitement, if you can call it that, around Clement is more about the one thing that he does well matching up perfectly with a role the Eagles need to fill for the 2017 season.
Clement is not a dynamic athlete for the running back position. He won’t be breaking ankles like LeSean McCoy, he won’t hit the hole and outrun the defense like Dalvin Cook and he won’t just run over everyone in his way like Leonard Fournette. He is not a big receiving threat out of the backfield like Christian McCaffrey. There are many things he does not do, but if you ask him to take the hand-off, sacrifice his body and stick the ball up in the hole for four yards on first down, he most certainly can do that.
Now, I’d like to give everyone a minute to gather themselves and contain their excitement over the last sentence.
Seriously, everyone please calm down.
All kidding aside, though, that is a very important role. A running game literally cannot exist without it. In addition, having someone to eat up carries between the tackles is exactly what the Eagles currently need and, as Jonny Page pointed out, Clement is actually pretty good at it. Even with Blount on the roster, there will still be additional carries to go around . What if Blount goes down with an injury? Darren Sproles and Donnel Pumphrey technically play the same position, but they definitely don’t play the same role. Is Wendell Smallwood ready to step into that primary running back role? Doug Pederson, who has, even to a fault, been effusive in his praise for almost every player on the roster, has been oddly hesitant to give any praise to Smallwood. Despite being somewhat effective at times in 2016, Smallwood was a virtual non-factor in all but two games in his rookie season. And in those two games, versus Pittsburgh and Atlanta, the Eagles’ run game was dominant across the board and Smallwood had the advantage of running up against tired defenses when he got his chances. Additionally, while Smallwood probably provides a little more versatility and ability in the passing game than Clement, with Sproles and Pumphrey on the roster, there is little to no need for Smallwood to be anything more than a between the tackles runner. Although he may go into camp with a slight advantage, it’s fair to say that Smallwood’s role is definitely not locked down.
The Myth About UDFA’s
Clement’s skill set did not implore any of the 32 teams to spend any draft capital on him. That means he must not have been that good of a player, right? Maybe, but that is not always the case. Don’t worry, I am not going to point out the various UDFAs from the past that have found success in the NFL. There have certainly been success stories but, in large part, the NFL tends to get it mostly right. For every success story, there are hundreds of UDFAs that do not make it in the league. What I will point out, though, is that a player’s value on draft weekend does not necessarily reflect the value they can have for a team.
The NFL draft is a market. It can equated to the market we enter when making a large purchase, a new laptop for example. When purchasing a laptop, there is a delicate balance between obtaining all the features you want within a price range you are comfortable with. You might decide to save some money and sacrifice some features, as long as you don’t need those features for your daily use. For example, I will never pay top dollar for crazy amounts of memory and processing speed because I have an external hard drive and don’t use my laptop for gaming.
The NFL draft is very similar to the purchasing process for a laptop. Players are valued based on how many roles they can fill for a team and how well they can fill those roles. A player like Ezekiel Elliot is a top of the line laptop. He fills a wide variety of roles and fills them really well and is therefore a highly valued player. Then there are middle of the road laptops, players like Jamaal Williams or Wayne Gallman. They fill many of the same roles that Elliot does but don’t execute in those roles nearly as well and are therefore, a lesser value. Clement is the bargain laptop. He doesn’t have many of the new, exciting features but his memory and processing speed is perfect for the average laptop user. Clement may be able to run between the tackles just as well as Williams or Gallman. In fact, it is not a stretch to say he might be even better than either of them in that area. But, it is the versatility and all of the other things that Williams and Gallman can do that make them the better overall prospects in the NFL draft market.
A player’s draft value, however, does not equal the value they can provide to their team. For the Philadelphia Eagles, who have Sproles and Pumphrey to eat up the passing down work, they don’t need that extra versatility that Gallman or Williams provide. They need someone who can sacrifice his body and stick the ball up in the hole for four yards on first down which, coincidentally, is what got us all “excited” about Clement.
Corey Clement will not be a franchise changing player who will lead the Eagles to the promised land, he may not even make it out of training camp. The Eagles most certainly will not retain five running backs. Maybe Clement struggles to pick up the playbook or adjust to the speed of the game. Maybe Smallwood takes a leap heading into his second year and keeps his spot on the roster. Regardless of the outcome, however, there is a role that needs to be filled in the Eagles backfield, even with Blount on the roster. Someone needs to step up and fill that role and, despite not being worthy of anyone’s draft capital, Clement has as much a chance as anyone to do it.