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Donnel Pumphrey could play a significant role in the Eagles’ passing attack

How will the Eagles use their fourth round rookie?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles-Minicamp Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles seem to like Donnel Pumphrey quite a bit. Philadelphia traded up in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft in order to acquire the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, after all.

But just what kind of role will Pumphrey have on this team? With LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood in the fold, there are only so many carries to go around.

A crowded backfield might not be a problem for Pumphrey, however. Because the Eagles might be using him more as a receiver than a running back. Let’s revisit my practice notes from yesterday’s minicamp session (June 13).

Donnel Pumphrey spent a lot of time with the Eagles first team offense today. Most of his work seemed to come as a receiver. The Eagles were using him out wide, in the slot, and in the backfield at times. Philadelphia has been practicing some two running back formations with Darren Sproles and Pumphrey both on the field. The takeaway here is it seems like the Eagles are going to be creative in getting the ball to Pumphrey.

The fact that Jordan Matthews has been missing from practice certainly gives Pumphrey more opportunities with the first team. Still, even team website writer Dave Spadaro has admitted there’s a plan for Pumphrey to be used in the passing attack.

Donnel Pumphery isn’t a running back here. He’s a “move” player. He lines up in the slot. He moves around the formation. He takes some handoffs. The idea is to get Pumphery in space in this offense. I say his rookie year is a learning season behind Darren Sproles.

Check out the comments from Philadelphia’s coaching staff about Pumphrey as well. First up, Doug Pederson on the idea of employing two-running back sets.

Well, with the amount of running backs that we have and trying to get everybody reps, it's a great way to get two running backs on the field at the same time and get guys reps. It also allows us to see what Donnel can do away from the formation or in a receiver position. And then, again, just how does that fit into the system? And those are all things that we can get on tape here in practice and make those decisions once we get into camp and then on into the regular season when it comes to game planning.

When asked about Pumphrey’s role, Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich specifically praised wide receiver qualities.

He's looked good. Really, you can just tell. Obviously all that productivity he had in college. He came in and it's like, okay, here's a guy, you know, he was a stud in college with all of his productivity. How is he going to fit into a pro system? Can he do it all? He had so much yardage from the backfield – how productive can he be if we move him around and as a pass receiver? And it's early. You don't get too excited about it just yet, but I am excited about his ball skills. I'm excited about his route-running skills. I think he's on the right track.

Lastly, we’ve heard it straight from the horse’s mouth. Pumphrey himself has said the Eagles are using him in the slot “a lot.” Via PhillyVoice:

"So far, that's really where I've been a lot, just catching the ball. They've been working me from the slot a lot, moving me around as a running back out of two-running back sets. I look forward to catching the ball and showing that I can catch the ball."

Pumphrey logged 99 receptions for 1,039 yards (10.5 average) and five receiving touchdowns at San Diego State. The 5-8, 176 pound offensive weapon is certainly capable of contributing in the passing attack.

The difference between the college and pros in Pumphrey’s case, however, is that he won’t be relied on as his team’s main rusher. This means he could be featured as a receiver even more since the Eagles won’t have to be so worried about preserving him for another role in the offense.

It’s still only June so it’s hard to draw any definitive conclusions about the Eagles’ plans for Pumphrey. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how the Eagles use him moving forward. Philadelphia badly needed to surround Carson Wentz with offensive upgrades this offseason. Big names like Alshon Jeffery and LeGarrette Blount have been getting a lot of the hype but one the team’s smallest additions (literally) could end up being a nifty gadget weapon for Wentz.

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