The 2018 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Howie Roseman and Doug Pederson will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2017 roster. It’s already time to start figuring out what this team needs to do to repeat as Super Bowl champions next year. We continue this roster outlook series by looking at the running back position.
Regular season stats: 70 carries, 408 rushing yards, 5.8 average, 1 rushing TD, 10 receptions, 91 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown, 2 fumbles
Playoff stats: 42 carries, 184 rushing yards, 4.4 average, 0 rushing TD, 6 receptions, 70 receiving yards, 0 receiving touchdowns, 1 fumble
Review: The Eagles acquired Ajayi prior the 2017 NFL trade deadline in exchange of a 2018 fourth-round pick. That selection, by the way, ended up being from the New England Patriots via the Eric Rowe trade. Ajayi never became the workhorse back that some expected him to be, but he was still a valuable contributor to the Eagles’ offense. 592 total rushing yards on 112 carries (5.28 average) is very efficient. It was nice for Philadelphia to be able to add another weapon to an already loaded offense.
Outlook: Ajayi’s workload increased as the season progressed. He averaged 7.25 carries per game in his first four games. He then averaged 13.8 per game in his final six games. With this in mind, Ajayi figures to be the Eagles’ primary back in 2018. Doug Pederson will still almost certainly use a rotation, but Ajayi is the main man. That’s the simple part. Now here’s where it gets complicated. Ajayi is set to be a free agent after the 2018 season. The Eagles can extend him as soon as this offseason, but it’s hard to imagine they’d do so given concerns about the long-term health of his knees. In other words, the 24-year-old Ajayi is almost certainly the Eagles’ primary running back in 2018, but his reign might not go beyond then. If that’s the case, the Eagles already need to be thinking about the future of the position. On the other hand, Philly might feel comfortable enough with him as a long-term piece. Really hard to tell.
Regular season stats: 173 carries, 766 rushing yards, 4.4 average, 2 rushing TD, 8 receptions, 50 yards, 1 receiving TD, 1 fumble
Playoff stats: 29 carries, 130 rushing yards, 4.5 average, 3 rushing TD, 0 receptions, 0 fumbles
Review: Despite rumors that he might be cut, LG began the season as the Eagles’ primary ball-carrier. His tough-running style was a treat to watch, especially in the Chargers game in Week 4. Blount’s usage expectedly faded a little once the Ajayi trade happened. His efficiency also suffered late in the season. From Week 12 through the NFC Championship Game, a plodding Blount only gained 148 yards on 51 carries (2.9 average). But then the wrecking ball exploded for 90 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries in the Super Bowl. Blount ended up being a pretty good free agent addition, especially considering the Eagles didn’t totally get the running back help they needed from the 2017 NFL Draft. He seemed to be a great locker room presence as well.
Outlook: Blount is set to be a free agent this offseason. Will the Eagles try to bring him back? Given their tight cap situation, it’s hard to imagine they’d be rushing to pay a bruising running back who turns 32 during the 2018 season. Maybe it could work if he was willing to play for cheap, but Blount could potentially find a better offer in free agency. It was a pleasure having Blount in Philly this season but the team probably needs to move on.
Regular season stats: 74 carries, 321 rushing yards, 4.3 average, 4 rushing TD, 10 receptions, 123 receiving yards, 2 receiving TD, 0 fumbles
Playoff stats: 6 carries, 33 rushing yards, 5.5 average, 0 rushing TD, 10 receptions, 139 receiving yards, 1 receiving TD, 0 fumbles
Review: I was wrong to refer to Corey Clement as “Just A Guy.” I didn’t put enough stock into how he lost weight and really transformed his game as he transitioned to the NFL. The Eagles’ undrafted free agent running back did the dirty work to his earn his spot on the team. He played special teams. He became reliable in pass protection. He even showed off previously untapped potential as a pass catcher. Clement had four receptions for 100 yards and one touchdown in the Super Bowl, which was obviously huge.
Outlook: Can Clement take the next step and be productive with even more playing time? He’s earned the right to answer that question in 2018. I don’t know if he’ll overtake Ajayi as as the primary running back but he should get a good amount of touches next season. Especially if Blount doesn’t return.
Regular season stats: 15 carries, 61 rushing yards, 4.1 average, 0 rushing TD, 7 receptions, 73 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD, 1 fumble
Review: Sproles had 24 combined offensive touches in his only two full games with the Eagles in 2017. The veteran scatback figured would’ve had a significant role in the offense all season long if he didn’t suffer both an ACL tear and a broken arm in Week 3.
Outlook: Sproles seems to be doing well in his recovery, which is nice to see. Will he be back with the Eagles in 2018, though? Sproles is set to be a free agent and he turns 35 years old in June. I’d be surprised if the Eagles don’t at least try to keep him around. They have tremendous respect for Sproles. The complication, once again, is that the Eagles are tight on cap space. They can’t just keep everyone, unfortunately.
Regular season stats: 16 carries, 57 rushing yards, 4.4 average, 1 rushing TD, 5 receptions, 56 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD, 3 fumbles
Review: The Eagles didn’t bother tendering Barner as a restricted free agent last offseason. He then became unrestricted and signed with the Chargers, but they waived him in final cuts. The Eagles brought Barner back after Sproles got hurt since they needed a punt returner. He gave the Eagles exactly what you’d expect out of a fourth-string running back.
Outlook: Barner is a free agent and probably won’t be back.
Regular season stats: 47 carries, 174 yards, 3.7 average, 1 rushing TD, 13 receptions, 103 receiving yards, 0 receiving TD, 0 fumbles
Review: Smallwood showed some nice flashes in training camp but then he missed a good amount of time with a nagging injury, which isn’t uncommon for him. The team was high on the second-year player’s potential coming into the season (Dave Spadaro predicted he’d lead the team in rushing!) but that optimism never really manifested into results. Smallwood was phased out of the running back rotation and became a healthy scratch on game day.
Outlook: The 2016 fifth-round pick will need to impress this offseason in order to earn a spot on the 2018 roster. He also needs to prove he’s reliable. Can’t be unavailable due to nagging injuries all the time.
Regular season stats: N/A
Review: Pumphrey started the season as the Eagles’ fifth string running back despite the fact Philadelphia traded up in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft to select him. Then he tore his hamstring in practice and landed on injured reserve for the entire season. Not a great rookie year for him.
Outlook: Pumphrey really failed to stand out in training camp and preseason last summer. He said he was playing through a hamstring injury that hampered him. We’ll see if he can show anything this offseason. If Sproles isn’t retained, there will be a punt returning job open for Pumphrey to win. The 5-9, 176 pound player has a lot to prove in order to make the 2018 team.
WHO COULD SIGN
The Eagles won’t be active in the free agent running back market. The only question is if they’ll re-sign Blount and/or Sproles. It’s a tough call. Both players are older, so conventional wisdom says to move on and not invest already-limited spending resources on them. But they’re also very well-respected in the locker room for a reason. These players have defied age so far; especially Sproles. The Eagles can’t afford to break the bank for either player, but there has to be a price that’s right for them to return. It’s just a matter of the two sides agreeing to that number.
Until we see what happens with Blount and Sproles, it seems like Ajayi and Clement are the only two locks to be on the 2018 53-man roster. Maybe Pumphrey or Smallwood steps up. Maybe a rookie enters the mix. Maybe one of Blount or Sproles is back. Hard to say. Lots of questions to be answered.
Another thing to look out for: the possibility of adding a fullback. With Trey Burton likely moving on, the Eagles could look to sign a fullback, even if he’s just a vet minimum or camp body type guy.
NFL Draft Options
With so much uncertainty at running back, it might not be a bad idea to add a potential long-term solution. Earlier on Tuesday, BGN’s Ben Natan took a look at running back options in the 2018 NFL Draft. [Check that out by clicking here.]