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There’s reason to be excited about the Eagles’ running back situation heading into 2018

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Eagles training camp position preview: Running backs.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Philadelphia Eagles Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles training camp 2018 is almost here. Players report to the NovaCare Complex on Wednesday, July 25. The Eagles’ summer schedule, including information on practices open to the public, can be found by clicking here. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles roster. We continue today by taking a look at the running back position.


The Players

Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Mike Jones, Donnel Pumphrey, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams

For the first time in a few years, the Eagles are entering a season with a player who projects to be a legitimate lead back. The Eagles have even labeled Jay Ajayi as much.

If true, this would be a change from last year. After being acquired by Philadelphia in a trade last Halloween, Ajayi only averaged 11.2 carries per game (including playoffs). He also averaged a mere 1.6 receptions per game.

There’s more of an opportunity for Ajayi in the carries department with LeGarrette Blount having left in free agency. Ajayi was very efficient behind Philly’s offensive line last season, averaging 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. A full offseason in the Eagles’ system should only help the 25-year-old back.

Something that could limit Ajayi’s playing time is the return of Darren Sproles and the emergence of Corey Clement. Both of those players figure to be superior to Ajayi in the passing game. For you fantasy footballers out there, you have to wonder what Ajayi’s role in the red zone will be. I noticed Clement having a large presence there during OTAs and minicamp this spring.

In terms of workload, the Eagles have every reason to ride Ajayi hard this year. His contract is up after this season and it seems likely he won’t be returning to Philly. The combination of Philly’s tight cap situation, the devaluation of the running back position, and the long-term concern about Ajayi’s knee makes it a risky bet. Not to mention that the Eagles have employed heavy running back rotations under Doug Pederson and Duce Staley.

Speaking of rotation, the Eagles’ backfield is getting a boost with the return of Darren Sproles. The 35-year-old looked spry during minicamp despite coming off a torn ACL.

We all know what Sproles can bring to this offense. He’s averaged 6.1 carries per game for 4.6 yards per rush attempt during the Pederson era. He’s also had 3.3 receptions per game for 8.5 yards per reception. He’s a great role-player and chess piece for the Eagles’ offensive coaching staff to work with. His value as one of the league’s best punt returners should help as well.

When the Eagles traded up to draft Donnel Pumphrey last year, many thought he was selected to be Sproles’ replacement. Well, the Eagles did acquire a potential Sproles replacement last year, but it wasn’t Pump. It was the guy they signed in undrafted free agency: Corey Clement.

Clement did not project to be a big factor coming out of Wisconsin. But Staley challenged Clement to lose weight and reinvent himself. The hard work paid off. Clement emerged as a weapon in the passing game with 10 receptions for 139 yards and one touchdown in the playoffs. I’m sure you’ll remember that 100 of those yards came in the Super Bowl alone.

The buzz is that the Eagles are high on Clement’s potential. At the very least, he projects to be a nice rotation back. It’s very possible he could be even more. For now, though, Clement will have to share playing time with Ajayi and Sproles.

It would be prudent for the Eagles to keep a fourth running back this season. Ajayi could be gone after this year and Sproles is likely to finally retire.

So who will it be? The four competitors for the fourth spot include: Jones, Pumphrey, Smallwood, and Adams. It’s interesting because these players bring different skill sets.

Jones could be the front-runner for that job right now. Bleeding Green Nation has heard that Staley fancies the 2015 third-round pick. Jones still needs to reward that faith by having a good summer and proving he can hold on to the ball.

It’s difficult to be optimistic about Pump’s outlook one year after he looked totally useless in the preseason. I do feel like Pump showed a little flash in spring practices. But he still has a lot to prove. A strong showing on offseason and special teams could make the Eagles happy to keep their 2017 fourth-round pick.

Smallwood is the forgotten man of the group. He was looking good in camp last year before sustaining another nagging injury. Smallwood’s not going to be able to make the club if he’s in the tub. Time is running out on the solid-but-unspectacular rusher.

Adams seems like the longest long shot from this group despite receiving one of the biggest undrafted free agent signing bonuses this year. Adams missed the entirety of spring practices during a stress fracture in his foot. It’s unclear when he’ll be able to return. Adams is behind the 8-ball and has a lot of catching up to do. He seems destined to be stashed away on injured reserve … or the practice squad.

How will it play out?

Ajayi will receive a bulk of the Eagles’ carries, especially early on in the season. He might never get to a 20-carry game given the Eagles’ penchant for rotating their backs. But he will see some significant playing time.

Sproles and Clement will be worked into the mix as ball carriers. They’ll also be big factors in the passing attack.

The fourth running back likely won’t even be active on game day unless they’re making special teams contributions in some form.

Who could be a surprise cut?

It’s hard too say Pump would be a “surprise” cut considering he ended up being the fifth string running back to start last season. It would be notable, though.

It’s looking like this summer will be Smallwood’s last with the team, barring some kind of unexpected emergence.

Poll

On a scale of 1-10, what’s your confidence level in the Eagles’ running backs? (10 being the most.)

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    10
    (348 votes)
  • 22%
    9
    (495 votes)
  • 39%
    8
    (889 votes)
  • 16%
    7
    (377 votes)
  • 3%
    6
    (75 votes)
  • 0%
    5
    (19 votes)
  • 0%
    4
    (8 votes)
  • 0%
    3
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    2
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    1
    (8 votes)
2225 votes total Vote Now