Eagles

NFL draft position preview: Running backs

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NFL draft position preview: Running backs

There was a time when running backs were hot items in the NFL draft. Not any more.

Last year the first running back did not come off the board until the 28th pick when the New Orleans Saints selected Mark Ingram, the Heisman Trophy winner from Alabama. He was the only running back chosen in the first round.

More teams started drafting running backs in the second round (four were selected) and others came off the board in the third (three) and fourth (seven). That is probably how it will go again this year as more NFL teams adopt the interchangeable two (or three) back system and move away from one stud workhorse back.

Also, teams know they dont have to use a first-round pick on a running back. Last season, three of the top four rushers Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars), Ray Rice (Ravens) and LeSean McCoy (Eagles) were second round picks. Frank Gore (49ers) was a fifth round pick. Arian Foster (Texans), who led the league in rushing in 2010, wasnt drafted at all.

It would not be a surprise if this years draft unfolded just like last years, that is, with only one running back being selected in the first round and once again it will be a back from Alabama, Trent Richardson. He is the class of the field and should be a top 20 pick.

The Top Five

1. Trent Richardson, Alabama
Red flags went up when it was reported Richardson underwent minor knee surgery after the season, but it doesnt seem to be that much of a worry. He was injured in practice before the BCS championship game and it didnt slow him down (96 yards rushing vs. LSU), so there is no reason to think it will pose a problem going forward. At 5-11, 225 pounds, Richardson combines power, balance and the speed to run away from defenses. He is a complete back who can play in any offense. He set a school record last season with 1,679 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
2. Doug Martin, Boise State
Improved his stock with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl. Flashed good speed (he runs the 40 in 4.49), hit the hole hard and displayed some shiftiness on kickoff returns. Also impressed with his blocking as he was solid in pass protection and threw a nice downfield block on a touchdown by Gerrell Robinson. At 5-9 and 215 pounds, Martin runs effectively between the tackles, but he is quicker and more elusive than he looks. He averaged more than 100 yards rushing per game (108.3 to be exact) last season. Could sneak into the bottom of the first round, but it is more likely he goes high in the second.

3. David Wilson, Virginia Tech
Named ACC Player of the Year and second-team All-America. Speedy back that rushed for 1,709 yards last season and averaged almost six yards per carry. At 5-10 and 205 pounds, he isnt as physically strong as either Richardson or Martin, but he has more straight-line speed. He rushed for more than 100 yards in seven consecutive games last season, but he was shut down late in losses to Clemson (11 carries for 32 yards) and Michigan (24 carries for 82 yards). Projects as a second round pick.
4. Lamar Miller, Miami
Lots of physical talent, but still a little raw. Good size at 5-11 and 212 pounds and very good speed (4.4). Only played two college seasons and carried the ball just 335 times, so he doesnt have much wear and tear on his body. He has an explosive first step and gets to top end speed in a hurry. He also has good vision and finds the cutback lane. He really impressed with a 26 carry, 184 yard game against Ohio State. He also had a big day against Virginia Tech, rushing for 166 yards and averaging 9.2 yards per carry. Drawbacks? Needs to improve his blocking but thats true of most backs coming to the NFL. Projects as a second round pick

5. LeMichael James, Oregon
Reminds me of Darren Sproles, who has been a super productive player in the NFL for seven years. He is a little bigger (5-9, 185) but with the same kind of quickness and ability to make defenders miss without slowing down. He has good hands and knows how to execute the screen game. He rushed for more than 200 yards four times last year finishing with 1,805 yards and a 7.3 yard per carry average. Most analysts project him as a third round pick, but I wouldnt be surprised if someone grabbed him in the second.

Dont Forget

Bernard Pierce, Temple
Set all kinds of records for the Owls, including most touchdowns (54) and most points (324). He has good size (6-1, 218) and good instincts. The only knock on Pierce is durability. He missed time with injuries throughout his three seasons at Temple, but still finished with 3,570 yards rushing, second only to Paul Palmer in the schools history. Third round pick.

Eagles' Interest
In McCoy, the Eagles have one of the best all-around backs in the game, but they dont have much behind him. Dion Lewis only got a handful of touches last season as a rookie and still is an unknown and a small one (5-8, 195) at that. If the Eagles see a worthwhile prospect on the board they could take him, but not before the middle rounds.

Others to Consider
Chris Polk, Washington; Isiah Pead, Cincinnati; Cyrus Gray, Texas A&M; Ronnie Hillman, San Diego State: Tauren Poole, Tennessee.

E-mail Ray Didinger at viewfromthehall@comcast.net

'The Magic of Carson Wentz' gives Eagles a huge win over Washington

'The Magic of Carson Wentz' gives Eagles a huge win over Washington

Carson Wentz had one of the best passing games of his career on Monday night. 

He completed 68 percent of his passes for 268 yards, four touchdowns and had a passer rating of 126.3 in the Eagles' 34-24 win over Washington at the Linc (see breakdown)

Nobody wanted to talk about that though. 

The biggest question his teammates had in the locker room after the game was this: How the heck did he escape on that 17-yard scramble? 

On 3rd-and-8 at the beginning of the fourth quarter, Wentz was seemingly sacked well behind the line of scrimmage. At least everyone thought. But that's when the 6-5, 237-pound quarterback somehow emerged from the pile and scrambled ahead for 17 yards. 

"Amazing," Nelson Agholor said. "We didn't know how he did that. Three, four plays later we are still on the sideline figuring out how he did that."

It seemed like everyone in the stadium thought Wentz was cooked on that play. The crowd didn't even start cheering until much later. Everyone in the stadium seemed pretty confused. 

The Eagles' defensive players even started getting ready to head back into the game. Malcolm Jenkins grabbed his helmet, but then looked at the video screen to see that Wentz was still going. 

"That's the magic of Carson Wentz," Jenkins said. 

Former long snapper and magician Jon Dorenbos was in the building on Monday night — and got a big ovation as he recovers from a serious health issue — but it was Wentz who pulled a rabbit out of his hat. 

"I couldn't believe he got out of that little jam," Brandon Graham said. "He just popped out of nowhere. There's something special going on right now and I'm just happy to be a part of it."

After that Wentz scramble, the Eagles went down the rest of the way and he capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Agholor. That score put them up 31-17 and put the game out of reach for Washington. The Eagles improved to 6-1 and have the best record in the NFL. 

His teammates called it magic, ridiculous and awesome. So how did Wentz escape on that play? 

He didn't know either. 

"I'm not really sure," he said. 

When Wentz wasn't scrambling all over the field — he finished the game with a career-high 64 rushing yards — he was making plays with his arm. 

Before the Arizona game, Wentz had never thrown three touchdowns in a game. He has now done that three games in a row. Before the Arizona game, Wentz had just three games with a passer rating over 100. He now has six. 

Through seven games this season, he has 17 touchdown passes, already surpassing his total from his entire rookie season. He has thrown just four interceptions. 

Before Monday, Wentz was already the Vegas favorite to win MVP. 

He showed why against Washington. 

"That's the type of guy he is, he gets out of trouble, he breaks tackles and he throws dimes," Washington safety D.J. Swearinger said. "He's a great quarterback and he'll be one of the greats for a long time."  

While Wentz's 17-yard scramble was the most-talked-about play after the game, there was a close second. 

The other question was this: How the heck did he see Corey Clement in the end zone?

In the third quarter, with two defenders barreling down on him, Wentz found Clement on the right side of the end zone. Clement was about his third read on the play. 

"He's amazing," Alshon Jeffery said. "On that touchdown to Corey, I'm like, I don't know how he saw him. He must have Spiderman vision. He's great. He does a great job just making plays and seeing guys." 

Head coach Doug Pederson called the touchdown pass "one of the best plays I've seen in a long time." 

Over the last month, Wentz's elevated play has thrust the Eagles into Super Bowl discussions. If he continues like this, that's not a far-fetched scenario. 

It seems like Wentz is just in a zone right now (see Roob's observations)

Does he feel it?

"I feel good," Wentz said. "I do feel good." 

Eagles' rookie class puts on a show in Monday Night Football win

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Eagles' rookie class puts on a show in Monday Night Football win

The Eagles' 2017 rookie class was out in force Monday night, and in a huge division showdown on national TV, Derek Barnett, Mack Hollins and Corey Clement helped the best team in football improve to 6-1.

Barnett recorded two sacks and Hollins and Clement both had dramatic touchdown catches in the Eagles' 34-24 win over the Redskins at the Linc (see observations).

Barnett, the first-round pick from Tennessee, became the first Eagle rookie with a two-sack game since Trent Cole in 2005. Hollins' 64-yard TD catch was the longest by an Eagles rookie in 11 years. And Clement's circus TD catch made him the first undrafted Eagles running back in 64 years with two TD catches in a season.

The Eagles have plenty of big-time veteran stars. But this rookie class is looking awfully good right now.

Factor in third-round corner Rasul Douglas, who has played well, and record-setting kicker Jake Elliott, and that's quite a rookie class.

"We just always have a big chip on our shoulder," said Clement, who went undrafted out of Wisconsin. "When we come out here, we are always overlooked by somebody just because we are rookies, but that doesn't mean we can't make a play.

"When we're out there, we try to think and play as veterans. When we walk out there with those guys, like (Brent) Celek and all those other veterans, we want to prove that we belong.

"I don't want anybody second-guessing why we're out there on the field."

Clement was on the receiving end of a miraculous Carson Wentz effort, where he seemed to be swallowed up by the Redskins’ pass rush before floating a TD pass to Clement on a scramble drill. Clement looked like a wide receiver, sticking both feet in the right side of the end zone (see breakdown).

The catch made Clement the first undrafted Eagles rookie running back with two TD catches in a season since Hal Giancanelli in 1953.

Clement had just two touchdown catches in college, but seven games into his NFL career, he's already matched that.

How did he get tagged with the reputation that he can't catch?

"I wish I could tell you," he said. "But everybody's going to say something about somebody. So it's whether you're going to back it up or complain about it, and I chose to back it up."

Hollins and Clement became the first pair of Eagles rookies with TD catches in the same game since Jason Avant and Hank Baskett against the Falcons in 2006. Hollins' 64-yard TD is the longest by an Eagles rookie since Baskett's 89-yarder in that same game.

Hollins, a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina, has been targeted six times this year and has six catches for 134 yards and five first downs.

And then there's Barnett, who had just half a sack in his first six games but broke through with two Monday against a Redskins team that had allowed only eight in its first six games.

Barnett became the first rookie with a two-sack game against the Redskins since Ziggy Ansah of the Lions in 2013.

"Everybody's been telling me just keep grinding and they're going to come," Barnett said. "They all just say keep working and eventually it's going to break. It was a fun night."

Barnett's 2½ sacks are the most by an Eagles rookie defensive end since Brandon Graham had three back in 2010.

"We have a lot of guys who've been playing in the league for a while, and they give me a lot of tips and stuff, and it helps me pick up my game," Barnett said. "I'm very lucky to have those guys in the room to help me."