Eagles

Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

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Wendell Smallwood appears to be odd man out in Eagles' RB rotation

Despite the acquisition of Jay Ajayi, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson insisted on Wednesday he will continue to employ a rotation at running back.

"I think it's kind of the way it's been going," Pederson said. "There's certain things that (LeGarrette Blount) does, and there's certain things that Jay can do, and there's certain things that (Corey Clement) can do.

“We continue to embrace that and design our run game around their strengths.”

But there was one name that was conspicuous by its omission when Pederson went over the rotation — Wendell Smallwood.

Maybe that doesn't mean anything. Maybe Pederson was simply rattling off a few examples and left it at that.

Or maybe it's a sign of things to come. Maybe the Ajayi trade will finally butt Smallwood out of consideration for regular playing time, at least for the time being.

“Nothing changes with Wendell," Pederson said. "We just keep him coming and keep feeding him when we can.”

Smallwood has 38 carries and 10 receptions so far this season. But in the Eagles' last game, the second-year back only touched the ball twice, and it was the third time he finished with fewer than five.

If nothing changes, as Pederson claimed, we can assume Smallwood's role will remain limited, at best. And when pressed further on the issue, the head coach admitted he really wasn't sure how everything would play out.

“I can't tell you until I get to gameday, honestly," Pederson said. "I don't know. I'm not going to speculate until (Ajayi) knows our system how we're going to necessarily use him.”

Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich also tried to make the case that the club “loves” Smallwood.

“We are happy with all the guys that we’ve got in the building,” Reich said. “To get a spot in this building is not easy and when you get a spot in this building, it means we love you and you're ours. You're our family and you get treated like that, with the respect that you've earned your way here.

“Every person, whether it's the top guy or the quote-unquote bottom guy on the roster, every spot is valuable.”

A fifth-round draft pick in 2016, Smallwood did have an opportunity to earn a job as one of the Eagles’ primary backs in training camp. However, a hamstring injury sidelined the second-year player for a portion of the summer.

Smallwood also missed two games this season with a knee injury, and was sidelined multiple times during his rookie season as well.

The 23-year-old’s health has been one issue. Another, the Eagles seem hesitant to rely on him in pass protection, which can often conspire to sideline young backs. Nor has Smallwood seized a bigger role with his performance on the field, averaging a modest 4.0 yards per carry during his brief NFL career.

The bottom line is the Eagles clearly felt Ajayi upgraded the roster, and no matter how they spin it, at least somewhat at Smallwood’s expense.

"The message has never changed," Pederson said. "We're going to constantly look at bringing in competition at every spot.

“Competition makes us better. Competition makes each individual better. This is no different. Whether it's OTAs or Week 9, Week 8, whatever it is in the regular season, it doesn't change."

The Eagles are trying to make the claim nobody’s role has to change after the addition of Ajayi. Both Pederson and Reich also said the meager 13 snaps Smallwood played against the 49ers was simply the way the rotation worked out.

But between the Eagles signing Blount in May, trading for Ajayi on Monday, and Clement’s emergence as a viable option this season, Smallwood continues to lose ground in that competition.

Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

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Carson Wentz was great in 2017, but there's one thing he'd like to improve

He was among the NFL’s best in virtually every category. Fourth in passer rating. First in touchdown percentage. Eighth in interception percentage. Second in TD-to-INT ratio. He was even third in wins despite missing the last three regular-season games.

So what’s Carson Wentz’s approach going into 2018?

“I think we can improve everywhere,” he said. “Overall, I think we can keep making strides and keep our foot on the gas.”

And that starts with completion percentage.

Wentz completed just 60.2 percent of his passes last year, which ranked 23rd of 30 quarterbacks who threw at least 400 passes. 

Ahead of only Blake Bortles, Andy Dalton, Mitch Trubisky, Cam Newton, Trevor Siemian, Jacoby Brissett and DeShone Kizer.

Not the kind of company he wants to keep.

Wentz was so good in every other area he still fashioned a passer rating over 100. In fact, his 101.9 rating was the highest in NFL history by a quarterback completing 60.2 percent of his passes (minimum 400 attempts).

The league average last year was 62 percent. And for the sake of comparison, Nick Foles completed 64.7 percent of his passes if you combine the regular season and postseason.

Wentz dropped from 62.4 percent as a rookie to 60.2 percent last year.

Among 36 active NFL quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 1,000 passes, Wentz’s 61.5 completion percentage ranks 21st.

 “I know I’d like to see my completions go higher,” Wentz said last week. “I think I was right around 60 percent and I expect more out of myself in that area.”

After 2016, Wentz identified red zone and third down as two areas he hoped to improve on. 

And he wound up leading the NFL in both red zone efficiency (NFL-best 116.3 passer rating) and third-down efficiency (NFL-best 123.7 rating).

“Third down, red zone, we were really good,” he said. “That’s something we really focused on from Year 1 to Year 2, but we (still) all feel we can definitely improve in those areas.”

Wentz also committed nine fumbles in 13 games, and only Jameis Winston and Russell Wilson had more.

“I think we had too many fumbles,” he said. “Balls on the ground too many times.”

Wentz, now nearly five months out from his knee injury, said he’s used a lot of his extra time at the NovaCare Complex this offseason focusing on what he can improve on in 2018, and one of those things is his upper-body strength.

“With all the extra rehab and not being able to run and do a lot of things early on you’ve really just got to focus on some different things and I got to do a lot of seated throwing and trying to build my arm strength and really take care of my upper body more than I have in the past,” he said.

“It’s been an interesting process not being able to get that true conditioning and that rehab in, but it’s exciting to start easing into the running and conditioning stuff. … 

“I feel good. I definitely feel working with the strength guys, we had some friendly competition stuff with the other (injured) guys in there rehabbing and I definitely feel like I’m making some strides in there.”

Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

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Forget empty Day 2 of draft, Eagles hoping to find gold in Day 3

The Eagles are scheduled to have a pretty boring Day 2 of the draft this year. Because after they pick at No. 32, they don’t have another selection until the 31st pick of the fourth round. 

That means 98 players will be taken between the Eagles’ first and second picks. And they’ll have to watch other teams pick that entire Friday (Rounds 2-3) without them … unless they make a move. 

“We’re not looking at it like we’re sitting out on Friday,” Eagles de facto GM Howie Roseman said. “We’re going through our draft process looking at every scenario. When we get to Friday, we get to Friday.” 

Even if the Eagles don’t make a move, they’ll be plenty busy Saturday, the final day of the draft. They have two fourth-round picks and one pick in the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds. 

Eagles personnel head Joe Douglas showed up to his media availability with a stat ready to go to illustrate the importance of Day 3. 

“We’re excited that we have five picks on Saturday,” Douglas said. “When you look at the Super Bowl, there’s 22 starters that were third-round picks or lower. Of those 22, 18 of them were fourth-round picks or lower. So 18 starters in the Super Bowl this year were fourth-round picks or lower, including six of them that were undrafted free agents. We choose to keep the glass half full.” 

Douglas is right on all those stats — 22 of 44 starters in the Super Bowl were drafted in the third or lower and 18 of them would be considered Day 3 picks. Not bad. 

Here’s how the Super Bowl starters broke down by round: 1-10, 2-12, 3-4, 4-4, 5-3, 6-3, 7-2, UDFA-6. 

The Eagles accounted for seven of the 18 players who were drafted in the fourth round or later, so the Patriots were the ones who found even more value late in drafts. And of those seven, just three were original Eagles — Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jason Kelce and Jalen Mills. 

Of the six undrafted players who started in the Super Bowl, two were from the Eagles — LeGarrette Blount and Rodney McLeod. Neither was an original Eagle, but the Birds also relied heavily on running back Corey Clement, who was an undrafted rookie last season. 

With a dearth of high draft picks, it would make sense if the Eagles attack the undrafted market following the draft, but Douglas thinks it won’t be as easy as many might think. 

“You would think because we’re coming off a Super Bowl, we don’t have a second or third round pick that it would be a lot easier after the draft,” Douglas said. “But my experience coming off a Super Bowl, it’s sometimes harder to get guys to commit to your roster because agents and players have a perceived notion that it’s going to be that much tougher to make the team. I think that’s going to be a challenge. I think that’s going to be a challenge for us and we know it and we’re going to attack it.”

The Eagles in recent years have shown a willingness to pony up significant money to entice undrafted players to sign with them, and if Douglas is right, they might need to do it again to land some this year. 

Either way, the Eagles know how important Day 3 and beyond can be. So when they’re bored on Day 2, they don’t plan on losing focus.