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Projecting how the Eagles will split their running back carries in 2017

Eagles mailbag Q&A.

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

Welcome to the latest edition of the Bleeding Green Nation mailbag! Each week I'll be taking some of your Philadelphia Eagles questions and answering them here in this post. As always, thanks to everyone who sent in a question. We already answered some of your questions during the BGN Facebook Live session I hosted. (Shameless plug: please like on the BGN Facebook page and the BGN Radio Facebook page.) Watch the Q&A below or click here if you can’t see the video.

Eagles Q&A with BLG!

Posted by Bleeding Green Nation: For Philadelphia Eagles Fans on Sunday, June 25, 2017

Now it's time for some of the questions I didn’t get a chance to answer (contact me: @BrandonGowton). Let's get started.

@KJSpringer23 asks: Rank the four running backs (Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, Donnel Pumphrey, LeGarrette Blount) from most carries to least?

Before we look ahead to 2017, let’s take a look back to how the Eagles split up carries in 2016.

Ryan Mathews - 155
Darren Sproles - 94
Wendell Smallwood - 77
Kenjon Barner - 27
Byron Marshall - 19
Terrell Watson - 9

Injuries played a significant factor into how the carries were divided last season. For example, Sproles posted a career high in rushing attempts at age 33 due to Mathews missing games. I wouldn’t think the Eagles will have the veteran take on that kind of workload again.

Blount will likely handle the bulk of Philadelphia’s carries moving forward. He figures to be the replacement for Mathews’ role as the lead back in the Eagles’ committee approach. The question is how will the carries be split up between the next three backs: Sproles, Pumphrey, and Smallwood.

Here’s how ESPN fantasy football writer Mike Clay projects Eagles running back touches in 2017.

LeGarrette Blount - 191
Darren Sproles - 89
Wendell Smallwood - 53
Donnel Pumphrey - 41

This projection has Blount averaging 12 carries per game while Sproles gets 5.5, Smallwood gets 3.3, and Pumphrey gets 2.5. I think that looks about right.

But it’s also important to consider how often these players will be used in the passing attack. The Eagles often lined up Pumphrey as a receiver during spring practices. Here’s how ESPN projects Eagles running back targets.

Darren Sproles - 64
Donnel Pumphrey - 35
LeGarrette Blount - 12
Wendell Smallwood - 6

Factoring in targets, Pumphrey is expected to receive more overall touches than Smallwood this season. That might very well be how it plays out.

So to sum up the Eagles backfield: Blount is the lead guy who will also be featured in short-yardage and goal line situations. Sproles will continue to have his Sproles role. Pumphrey is a player the Eagles will get creative with in order to get him touches. Smallwood is a change of pace runner whose playing time depends on Blount’s effectiveness.

@mattywils asks: Can we count on a Teddy Bridgewater-esque type of situation in regards to a wide receiver going down and a team looking to trade for Jordan Matthews?

Well, I’m certainly not wishing injury on anyone. But yes, that would be the ideal situation for the Eagles. If a team gets desperate and is willing to offer a second or third round selection for Matthews, making that trade should be an easy call. That’s really good value for a player who is about to become a free agent after this season.

Never say never, but I don’t think it’s likely to happen. I can’t imagine a team will get that desperate at wide receiver. I think the Eagles have been getting low-ball offers for Matthews so the team (correctly) figures they get more value by keeping him than shipping him out for a low pick.

The thing with the Sam Bradford trade is that it was a unique situation. The Bridgewater injury was so significant and happened so close to the beginning of a season where the Vikings felt their Super Bowl window was open and didn’t want it to close. Quarterback is obviously the most important position in the game so there was a big desperation factor there.

@zcondit asks: Is Jalen Mills really ready for a jump? How have other rookie corners fared with his background?

The truth is: I don’t know. Real insightful answer for you.

Mills has his positives. There are some days in practice, for example, where he really stands out. He’s capable of flying around the field and making plays on the ball. But then there are other times where he gets beat deep on numerous occasions. His lack of long speed is a clear weakness for him.

Mills struggled as a rookie in 2016. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus even graded him out as the worst cornerback in the league. There’s a lot of room for improvement.

I do like that Mills plays with energy and confidence. At the very least, a lack of effort won’t be the problem with him. It’s an encouraging sign that the team has faith in him, too. Go back to what Malcolm Jenkins had to say about the Green Goblin.

I’m more impressed by his mentality and approach to the game. I think that’s, at the corner position, probably 90% of what it is. And he also has the athletic gifts, but his competitiveness and willingness to work and get better day in and day out is something that has been impressive since he got here. It hasn’t changed. I think as we push a little bit more load onto him, I think he’s built to handle it.


I know we’ve got a lot of faith in Jalen Mills. I’m excited to watch him really mature into a starting cornerback because I think he’s going to have a breakout season.


We’re excited about Jalen Mills.

While I’m not fully sold on Mills as a starter, I’m interested to see what he can do with the opportunity this year. Maybe he seizes the opportunity and runs with it. Or maybe he’s just a placeholder in this secondary until Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones are ready to take over as the full time starters on the outside by next season.

@jrob3168 asks: As the roster currently sits, how many wins are you projecting? And how many of the losses could easily be wins if the chips fall correctly?

Shortly after the Eagles’ 2017 schedule came out, I released my game-by-game record prediction. I had the Eagles going 9-7.

As I’ve written many times before, the Eagles were better in 2016 than their 7-9 record indicated. Philadelphia finished tied for the ninth best point differential and tied for the seventh best point differential. Historically speaking, teams that underperform their record in one season tend to improve the next year. With that in mind, I expect the Eagles to take a step forward.

But there no guarantees. For better or worse, this 2017 squad isn’t the same unit from last year. The Eagles lost multiple defensive starters. Then again, they added some actual NFL receivers to the roster, so that’s nice.

The real needle-mover, if you will, as far as the Eagles’ success is concerned is the development of Wentz. If he takes that next step forward, the Eagles definitely have the potential to improve in 2017. If he continues to struggle, well, things might not be so pretty.

For now I’ll split the difference and project Wentz to be average. Factoring in Wentz, the play of an Eagles defense that showed positive flashes last year, and an elite special teams unit ... I think that’s enough to be at least a .500 team in 2017. I’ll predict 9-7 with a ceiling of 10-6.

I feel comfortable sticking with that prediction.

@TMyman asks: What is the worst case scenario for the Birds. And then what?

One could assume Wentz being a total bust is the worst case scenario for the Eagles. Philadelphia has invested so much in him. If he proves to be terrible, this regime is doomed.

But maybe that wouldn’t be the worst because Wentz’s failure would signal it’s finally time to clean house and move on from Howie Roseman. A fresh start could be good.

The worst case scenario is that the Eagles get mired in mediocrity. Instead of Wentz being great or terrible, he’s just kinda average and the Eagles are stuck in quarterback purgatory. The Eagles are consistently good enough to not be in position for a top draft pick but not good enough to advance farther than the first round.

At that point, we’d just be waiting for them to either take the next step and become a legitimately good team or bottom out and start over.

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