For as many different combinations the Philadelphia Eagles have had at running back, they’ve had success getting production from their stable regardless of the shapes and sizes.
From LeGarrette Blount , Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Howard to lesser talents like Josh Adams, Corey Clement, and Wendell Smallwood have had their moments in the sun. Now they’re tasked with adding to a backfield already consisting of Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and potentially Elijah Holyfield.
Sanders predictably struggled early in his rookie campaign, but his contributions in the running game came along with more consistent play down the stretch and his plus projection as a receiver proved fruitful throughout. Scott received increased usage in the final month of the season and was one of the unsung heroes of the late run with two games of over 100 scrimmage yards. Holyfield is more known for his last name and 4.78 40-yard dash, so his status is on the shakiest ground of the trio.
The Eagles haven’t had to spend much to find production from their backs, which is a testament to the job Duce Staley has done. For instance, Jordan Howard was had for a late round selection and experienced a return to form with the Eagles until a mysterious shoulder injury cut his season short.
The aforementioned Scott was a former sixth-round pick stolen from the New Orleans Saints practice squad. Blount and Ajayi were also low capital investments, coming at a bargain and giving a solid return on investment.
Key in all of this is run game coordinator/offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and the talent at his disposal, which is the ultimate factor in finding success for running backs. The Eagles athletic offensive line allows for both gap and zone schemes, and as a result they can cater their concepts to the back being utilized.
All that said, not every late round pick will pan out, but this is one area where the Eagles have a track record of at the very least making it work (let that Donnel Pumphrey hate go). With Sanders as the lead back, they also have less uncertainty at the position than they’ve had recently at this stage in the process.
If they’re looking for a type, my guess would be more of a short-yardage bruiser. That doesn’t mean they won’t or can’t select a dual threat, as those are more valuable anyway. With that in mind I tried to find a healthy mix of different types that the Eagles could be targeting in the later portions of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Note: Analytics & testing percentiles cited are courtesy of the 2020 PFF Draft Guide
ZACK MOSS – Utah (5’9”, 223)
Moss’ calling card is melting contact like butter on a cast iron pan. His .33 broken tackles per rush attempt was 3rd in the nation, his 89 forced missed tackles ranked 2nd, and he accumulated 1,042 yards after contact. In 2019, the extremely productive Moss racked up 1,416 rushing yards on 235 carries for a robust 6.0ypc and 15 touchdowns.
Moss ran a rather pedestrian 40-yard dash (4.65), but it’s his 1.54 10-yard split that makes me confident that he has the requisite juice to run through smoke. A testament to that are his 103 explosive plays on 626 carries, ranking 5th in the FBS since 2017.
Moss has also shown improvement as a receiver during his time with the Utes. In 2019 he hauled in 28 receptions for 388 yards and 2 touchdowns with an impressive 13.9 yards per catch. His 2.36 yards per route run rank 10th in the nation with most of those yards coming after the catch as a screen target and safety valve that can eat up yards in space. Equally encouraging is his tally of only 1 drop on his 31 targets.
There are plenty of other backs with more exciting testing, which could lead to Moss slipping into Day 3. At that value, you’re less concerned with the tread (778 career touches) and knee (which recently checked out well, per report) and more excited about the steady production the scheme-agnostic bruiser can bring.
Moss is an ideal compliment to Sanders and the perfect replacement for Howard.
Notable Testing: 1.54 10-yard split (90th percentile)
AJ DILLON – Boston College (6’0”, 247)
Dillon is here to chew bubblegum and grind out tough yards, and he’s all out of bubblegum. There’s no mistaking that Dillon will have a very narrow role in the NFL, which is that of a big bodied, short-yardage, box buster.
A perfect example of how he excels in that role is his performance against Clemson. He had some of his toughest sledding of the season against his best competition of the year, but he came through with conversions on multiple occasions.
To be clear, I’m not touching this limited of a player until we get deep into the hundreds, but if the Eagles are looking to bring in competition for Holyfield, they could do a lot worse than this tank. Despite the lack of change-of-direction ability, Dillon has enough burst to survive and could make a living as a fantasy vulture people come to despise.
Notable Testing: 1.53 10-yard split (93rd percentile), 41” vertical jump (97th)
ANTONIO GIBSON – Memphis (6’0”, 228)
I’ve already written about Gibson, so I’ll keep this short. He could be viewed as either a running back or wide receiver, or both, or neither. What I’m saying is, he’s a weapon, and would make a really interesting add to an offense that has been on a constant search for a play-maker that can create on his own.
DARRYNTON EVANS – Appalachian State (5’10”, 203)
We’ve covered some bigger backs, so here’s a different flavor. What Evans lacks in size, he more than makes up for with speed. His 28 runs of 20+ yards ranks 3rd over the last two years.
Evans’ best home is in a zone scheme, which suits his knack for picking his lane in a hurry. More patience and experience is needed for him to be effective in man schemes, but as I noted earlier, the Eagles run both at a high level. Point being, Evans is much more comfortable in space than he is in a phone booth.
When he has the necessary room, Evans is a home run hitter unlike any others on this list. Get him in a stable, have him compete for a return job, and let Duce Staley work his magic.
Notable Testing: 1.50 10-yard split (97th percentile), 4.41 40-yard dash (95th), 37” vertical jump (80th), 10’5” broad jump (88th)
ENO BENJAMIN - Arizona State (5’9”, 207)
On the surface, Benjamin’s production over the last two years (2,709 yards, 26 touchdowns) doesn’t suggest a running back needing polish. Look closer and one area where he can be coached up is his unwillingness to take the small gains. If he can clean that up, Benjamin will be just dandy, as his mental processing and decision-making are the main factors that are holding him back.
That’s no small concern, but the rest of traits are all there for Benjamin. He’s got all the wiggle, burst, and contact balance required to be a productive back. He also projects well as a receiving threat with a career stat line of 82-625-4 in the pass game, with the lion share of that coming in the last two seasons.
Notable Testing: 1.53 10-yard split (93rd percentile), 37.5” vertical jump (84th)