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.
#Alabama RB Josh Jacobs one of the most interesting draft-slot test cases in this year's class. Avg workout metrics & limited production sample, but best tape of any running back in the draft. Hyper physical & natural between tackles, smooth receiver & a chin checker in pass pro.— Evan Silva (@evansilva) March 20, 2019
When we first debuted the Mock Draft Machine, we quickly discovered something: it's hard to find a Round 1 spot for Josh Jacobs.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) March 15, 2019
After the bulk of free agency...well, it hasn't gotten any easier.https://t.co/0N2kj4Xgxf
It perhaps isn’t lost on anyone that the Eagles themselves aren’t hiding the fact he’s a target in the first round.
Meet the Prospect is back with a breakdown of versatile RB Josh Jacobs. pic.twitter.com/xYgOAkC7r3— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) March 18, 2019
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
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
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
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
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.