Kareem Hunt’s success against the New England Patriots on Thursday night literally caused me to lose sleep.
I stayed up late after the game texting some fellow Eagles fan friends about how unbelievable it is that the Birds botched their running back situation.
Clearly this is healthy behavior.
Look, I don’t really like to be the “should of kept!” (sic) or “should of drafted!” (sic) guy. No one likes that guy. It’s very easy to be Captain Hindsight.
But in this case, I just can’t help myself. Especially because it’s not just hindsight that motivates this frustration.
For what feels like a long time now, I’ve been advocating the Eagles need to upgrade their running back position. I feel like a broken record when I talk/write about it. There are a lot of benefits to running the ball efficiently. It’s easier to move the chains. It takes pressure off the defense. It takes pressure off the quarterback from having to rely on their arm.
These are some issues that the Eagles had last year. The Eagles constantly faced third-and-longs because they couldn’t establish good position on first and second. Carson Wentz attempted the second most rookie pass attempts in NFL history while throwing to the league’s worst groups of receivers.
It seemed like the Eagles had a real good chance to upgrade their weakness in the 2017 NFL Draft. Howie Roseman said this year could be “an historic draft” at running back. Joe Douglas also listed RB as one of the deepest positions this year.
But then the NFL Draft came and the Eagles only selected one running back ... after trading up for him: Donnel Pumphrey. They also signed Corey Clement as an undrafted free agent.
Pumphrey did virtually nothing to stand out this summer. He didn’t deserve to make the team; the rookie even admitted he was surprised he survived final cuts down to the 53-man roster. Out of the six running backs currently with the team (five on the 53 and one on the practice squad), Pumphrey is clearly the sixth best.
As for Clement, he’s fine for what he is: a fourth string running back. He’ll run hard and contribute on special teams. He’s a dime a dozen player in the sense he doesn’t do anything especially well. He’s JAG — Just A Guy.
It’s incredibly frustrating that these are the only two players the Eagles ended up with out of this year’s draft class. Hunt’s historical success on Thursday evening only makes it worse. The Chiefs’ rookie running back finished with 17 carries for 148 yards and one touchdown on the ground. He also had five receptions for 98 yards and two receiving touchdowns. That’s 246 yards from scrimmage on 22 touches (11.2 yards per touch) and three scores combined.
Sure, it’s just one game, but Hunt has looked good all preseason. He was also getting a lot of buzz before the NFL Draft, especially from writers here at Bleeding Green Nation. Ben Natan wrote a post titled: “Kareem Hunt will outperform his draft spot.” Jonny Page had Hunt as his fifth running back and thought he was worth of a second-round selection.
Those who say the Eagles didn’t have a shot at drafting Hunt are wrong. The Chiefs traded up to No. 86 to take him by trading No. 104, No. 132, and No. 245. The Eagles easily could have given up No. 99, No. 139, and No. 230 to move up. Note that Rasul Douglas was selected at No. 99 while the Eagles packaged No. 139 and No. 230 to move up for Pumphrey.
When I pointed this out on Twitter last night, a lot of people fired back “but then the Eagles wouldn’t have had Douglas!” It’s a fair point because corner was still a need at that point in the NFL Draft despite drafting Sidney Jones. But running back was also a huge need. And now Douglas is projected to be a third or fourth corner at best moving forward with Jones, Ronald Darby (who wasn’t with the team during the draft), and Jalen Mills ahead of him for now.
Alright, so now I’m really getting into messy hypotheticals -- the good ol’ woulda, coulda, shoulda. The point here isn’t that Hunt is the only running back the Eagles missed the boat on, though. They also could have moved up for Dalvin Cook but sat tight and watched him go to the Vikings instead.
Then there are some running backs who were taken after Pumphrey that already look a lot better than him. Take Marlon Mack of the Colts. Or Chris Carson of the Seahawks ... who was not only selected after Pumphrey, but also after the seventh-round pick that the Eagles traded to get Pumphrey.
That’s where a lot of this frustration comes back to: Pumphrey. I’ve heard a lot of people say the Eagles couldn’t address all their needs in one year. That’s bullshit. The Eagles could very well have not wasted both a fourth and a seventh round pick on a player who doesn’t even look like he belongs in the NFL.
It’s not reasonable to expect the Eagles to nail every pick. Drafting is hard. But when the Eagles trade up for a player, it signals they really like that guy and didn’t want to miss out on him. And it’s just hard to see the appeal with Pumphrey. As the NCAA’s all-time leading rusher, he had a ton of college production, sure. That’s nice and all ... but it does nothing to change the fact he’s very slight at only 5-8, 174 pounds and had poor athletic testing numbers. There’s really no prototype of a successful player in the NFL with Pumphrey’s size/athleticism combination. In a historically good running back class, the Eagles made an incredibly risky decision to bet against history.
So now here we are with just a few days to go before the season. The Eagles are counting on a stable of backs that don’t inspire a lot of confidence. LeGarrette Blount had 18 touchdowns and over 1,000 yards last year, yes, but he turns 31 this December and he didn’t look so spry in the preseason. Wendell Smallwood is talented but has had availability issues in the past. Darren Sproles is awesome but he’s not a full-time player.
Maybe the Eagles will be OK at running back. Maybe I’ll look silly for going on this rant. But until I see it first, I’m skeptical. I also don’t think a decent year from Blount, who is likely only a stop-gap solution, makes me feel a ton better about the Eagles passing up on talented, young long-term running back options.
And don’t even get me started on “well, the 2018 NFL Draft looks good for running backs.” That may be true. But c’mon. I don’t want to hear that. That doesn’t help for this season. And even if you wanna say that this year doesn’t matter because the Eagles aren’t truly competing (which I think is BS to some extent, because the NFL is highly unpredictable), I think we can at least agree the priority this season is important for Wentz’s development. That’s why the Eagles focused on improving his supporting cast this offseason.
But when it came to running back, they half-assed the position. They traded up for a player in the fourth round who, at best, projects to be a part-time player.
I don’t know about you, but seeing the success of all these rookie running backs, such as Hunt, is going to drive me insane this season. Especially when Pumphrey remains a healthy scratch as the Eagles’ fifth string running back all year long.