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How early should the Eagles draft a running back?

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As rumors persist the Eagles could draft Josh Jacobs with their first round pick, recent history suggests that’s a risky proposition.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles have had a very busy off-season thus far and have improved themselves at a number of different positions.

They got better at wide receiver by trading for DeSean Jackson. They improved at defensive tackle by signing Malik Jackson. They maintained their strength at the edge by re-signing Brandon Graham, improved at safety with the addition of Andrew Sendejo, got some depth at linebacker with L.J. Fort, and brought back Ronald Darby to solidify a young core at cornerback. The Eagles also restructured a number of deals and re-signed veterans like Jason Kelce to contract extensions, too.

It’s been a good off-season, but one area of need they have not addressed is running back. Le’Veon Bell, Tevin Coleman and Mark Ingram are all off the board, and while Spencer Ware is still out there and trades for Duke Johnson or Jordan Howard could still be coming, the fact the team hasn’t signed or traded for a running back yet indicates they could spend a first or second day pick on the position.

Specifically, the Eagles are said to “really like” Alabama tailback Josh Jacobs, and could take him at No. 25. Were the Eagles to do that, would that be a wise move? He’s a polarizing guy.

It perhaps isn’t lost on anyone that the Eagles themselves aren’t hiding the fact he’s a target in the first round.

Should the Eagles take Jacobs with their first round pick, it would be historic. The Birds have not taken a running in the first round since 1986 when they took Keith Byars out of Ohio State with the 10th pick in the draft.

Byars wasn’t much of a runner, which in the ancient days of the mid-1980s, meant that he was largely underrated. But he was the best pass-catching running back in the NFL, a skill that would have made him hugely valuable today. In his seven years with the Eagles he caught 371 passes for 3,352 yards, with his best season coming in 1990 when he hauled in 81 passes for 819 yards with a 10.1 yards per reception average. In 1988 and ‘89, he went over 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

That’s a productive first-round pick, but the Eagles haven’t dipped their toes into that water since. However, they have spent second and third round picks on running backs since then.

Eagles Early Round RB Selections Since 1986

Year Rd Sel# Player
Year Rd Sel# Player
1986 2 37 Anthony Toney
1989 3 76 Robert Drummond
1992 2 48 Siran Stacy
1994 2 42 Charlie Garner
1997 3 71 Duce Staley
2002 3 91 Brian Westbrook
2005 3 77 Ryan Moats
2007 3 90 Tony Hunt
2009 2 53 LeSean McCoy

Taking a running back with a Day 1 or 2 pick has been more miss than hit for the Eagles, and they haven’t done it at all since drafting LeSean McCoy in the second round a decade ago. Of the nine players listed above, just four — Charlie Garner, Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy — were worthy of their selections. Of course, in the case of Westbrook and McCoy, it’s clear in hindsight both should have been first round selections.

But names like Anthony Tony, Siran Stacy and Ryan Moats are enough of a reminder that early-round running backs are huge risks.

But how about over the larger NFL? Here are all the running backs taken in the first round over the last decade.

1st Round RBs Since 2009

Year Sel # Player
Year Sel # Player
2018 2 Saquon Barkley
2018 27 Rashaad Penny
2018 31 Sony Michel
2017 4 Leonard Fournette
2017 8 Christian McCaffrey
2016 4 Ezekiel Elliott
2015 10 Todd Gurley
2015 15 Melvin Gordon
2012 3 Trent Richardson
2012 31 Doug Martin
2012 32 David Wilson
2011 28 Mark Ingram
2010 9 C.J. Spiller
2010 12 Ryan Mathews
2010 30 Jahvid Best
2009 12 Knowshon Moreno
2009 27 Donald Brown
2009 31 Beanie Wells

Although they took him way too early, especially given their needs at QB, Saquon Barkley is a stud and will be a great running back for the Giants for years to come and Michel had a nice rookie season for the Patriots. Penny’s season was more muted, although not totally unproductive, with a 4.9 yards/carry average. Leonard Fournette has failed to live up to expectations at No. 4, but Christian McCaffrey has been highly productive as a No. 8 pick overall.

The trio of Ezekiel Elliott, Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon were a tremendous top-three in 2015, however, none of those guys was taken anywhere close to where the Eagles will pick at No. 25. In fact, only two backs taken low in the first round, Doug Martin at 31 and Mark Ingram at 28, have proven to be worthy of their selections over the last 10 years at that spot.

It would seem that, with two second round picks, that this would be the round where the Eagles should strike for some backfield help. But recent history demonstrates teams have not had much success here.

2nd Round RBs Since 2009

Year Sel # Player
Year Sel # Player
2018 35 Nick Chubb
2018 38 Ronald Jones
2018 43 Kerryon Johnson
2018 59 Derrius Guice
2017 41 Dalvin Cook
2017 48 Joe Mixon
2016 45 Derrick Henry
2015 36 T.J. Yeldon
2015 54 Ameer Abdullah
2014 54 Bishop Sankey
2014 55 Jeremy Hill
2014 57 Carlos Hyde
2013 37 Giovani Bernard
2013 48 Le'Veon Bell
2013 58 Montee Ball
2013 61 Eddie Lacy
2013 62 Christine Michael
2012 50 Isaih Pead
2012 61 LaMichael James
2011 38 Ryan Williams
2011 56 Shane Vereen
2011 57 Mikel Leshoure
2011 62 Daniel Thomas
2010 51 Toby Gerhard
2010 58 Ben Tate
2010 59 Montario Hardesty
2009 53 LeSean McCoy

There have been 27 running backs taken in the second round over the last 10 years, and only two star runners have been drafted in this round, Le’Veon Bell in 2013 and LeSean McCoy in 2009. There have been some solid selections — Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Giovani Bernard, and Eddie Lacy to name a few, but overall, the second round has been a collection of mediocrity and disaster.

So what about the third round?

3rd Round RBs Since 2009

Year Sel # Player
Year Sel # Player
2018 71 Royce Freeman
2017 67 Alvin Kamara
2017 86 Kareem Hunt
2017 89 D'Onta Foreman
2017 105 James Connor
2016 73 Kenyan Drake
2016 90 C.J. Prosise
2015 73 Tevin Coleman
2015 77 Duke Johnson
2015 86 David Johnson
2015 95 Matt Jones
2014 69 Charles Sims
2014 75 Tre Mason
2014 94 Terrance West
2014 97 Dri Archer
2013 96 Knile Davis
2012 67 Ronnie Hillman
2012 84 Bernard Pierce
2011 71 DeMarco Murray
2011 73 Stevan Ridley
2011 96 Alex Green
2009 65 Shonn Greene
2009 74 Glen Coffee

Interestingly, more talent has come from the 23 running backs taken in the third round since 2009 than in the second.

Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt are both star talents, although Hunt will miss half of this season due to suspension. David Johnson is a stud, when healthy, DeMarco Murray had some Pro Bowl seasons in Dallas, and Kenyan Drake, Tevin Coleman, and Duke Johnson are all highly productive players, too.

Unfortunately, the Eagles don’t have a third round pick this season (see: Golden Tate trade). If they’re going to land a running back, they’ll need to spend their first rounder or one of their two second rounders on a running back, or else wait until Round 4, where Devonta Freeman and Tarik Cohen are among the only backs worth mentioning drafted in that round over the last 10 drafts.

Look, the entire NFL Draft is a risk. There is no position where you’re sure to get a sure thing. Given the relative weakness of this year’s backfield class, the Eagles will likely be able to take Jacobs, the top RB in the class, at No. 25, or wait for a slew of running backs in the second round, where they pick No. 53 and 57.

It’s a crap shoot. Here’s hoping they get themselves another LeSean McCoy and not another Siran Stacy.