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Is this the year the Eagles finally invest in the running back position?

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Looking ahead to the 2019 NFL Draft.

NCAA Football: Stanford at UCLA Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles’ season is unfortunately at a downturn. After a heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys, the NFC East is virtually out of reach and the Eagles seem miles away from a competitive team after winning the Super Bowl last year.

Injuries, aging and outright regression has plagued the roster this year, with holes being exposed all over. Naturally, the instinct at this point in the year is to turn attention to the draft. The Eagles will have a first round pick and two picks in the second; giving the team an opportunity to really reload the roster this offseason. Over the next few weeks, I will go through and look the depth chart, position by position, to see if and how the Eagles should address holes through the 2018 NFL Draft.

Quarterback seems like an unnecessary exercise because Carson Wentz is clearly the franchise quarterback. We will start, instead, with the position I seemingly clamor for every offseason…

Running Back.

The Eagles Super Bowl season could be attributed to a lot of things, but there is no doubt that the three headed monster of Legarrette Blount, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement played a huge role down the stretch in keeping the offense balanced and humming. Blount walked in the offseason and the team expected Jay Ajayi to step in as a full time bell-cow while Corey Clement would have his role expanded as the change-up back. The Eagles added no running backs through the draft, besides signing Josh Adams in undrafted free agency. The Eagles calculus on running back failed disastrously, mostly by bad luck. Jay Ajayi was lost early in the season to injury, Corey Clement looked nothing like his rookie self and it took the team weeks to realize Josh Adams could shoulder the load better than anyone else on the roster.

With Ajayi set to be a free agent this spring, the running back depth going into next year is… bleak to say the least. Josh Adams could be the lead guy and behind him is an always underwhelming Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement and possibly the ancient Darren Sproles. That’s two undrafted free agents, one day three pick and a guy who is far past his last legs, unfortunately.

While the team could hold out and hope Josh Adams really is *the guy*, this has to be the offseason where the team dedicates some draft capital to the running back position. Not necessarily a first round pick, partly because I am not sure there is a surefire first round back in this class a la Saquon Barkley, Todd Gurley or Ezekiel Elliott. However, this is a class chock full of day two guys who can contribute from day one.

Heading into the draft season, here are some names to keep an eye on:

  • Damien Harris, Alabama: Harris has been producing at Alabama consistently for the last three years. Despite only 452 career carries over four seasons, the 215 pound back has scored 21 touchdowns and averages over 6.5 yards a carry. He is a hard running and athletic player with upside as a pass catcher.
  • Bryce Love, Stanford: A year after putting up 2,100 rushing yards and 19 touchdowns, Bryce Love fell back down to earth with a quiet 166 carry season where he only averaged 4.5 yards a pop. Love did not look healthy every week and often faced stacked boxes, but he clearly regressed. However, Love still flashed that special talent that made him such a superstar in 2017. Love is a home run hitter who can turn any crease into an 80 yard touchdown. Health will be something to monitor this offseason, but his legitimate speed will be a welcome presence on a seemingly slow Eagles offense.
  • Darrell Henderson, Memphis: Darrell Henderson is almost the Bryce Love of 2018. The smaller back will probably eclipse the 2,000 yard mark during his bowl and has been a touchdown machine this year. He is agile, hard running and has great vision. While his size might be of concern for teams, henderson looks like a legit NFL playmaker.
  • Benny Snell, Kentucky: Snell is maybe my favorite back this year. While he doesn’t have Bryce Love’s speed or the receiving ability you’d want in a modern back, he is an old school badass at the position. Snell is strong, with great vision and never gives up on a run. Snell was the catalyst of Kentucky’s surprise season and he should bring that hard running style to the NFL. It would not shock to see him be the most productive rookie off the bat.
  • David Montgomery, Iowa State: David Montgomery is another guy where stats don’t tell his whole story. The 220 pound junior has not surpassed 4.8 yards per carry in either of his thousand yard seasons, which is usually worrying inefficiency at the college level. However, few players have to break tackles behind the line of scrimmage the way that Montgomery has in the last two years. I don’t have the numbers, but his yards after contact averages have to be close to his yards per carry. Montgomery is an angry runner who never gives up on a carry. He is a great athlete with surprising speed. Factor in his polish as a pass catcher, and he could be one of the steals of the draft this year.

While more names will emerge during draft season, these are the guys I will have my main focus on. Each one has bellcow upside and has shown amazing levels of play at the college level. I expect some other names like Trayveon Williams and LJ Scott to rise over the next few months, but they should go later than any of the players mentioned above. This has to be the year the Eagles invest premium capital into the running back position. Betting on UDFAs every season is going to bite them in the ass. Hell, it already has.