Reuben Frank

Where will Eagles turn to fill desperate need at running back?

Where will Eagles turn to fill desperate need at running back?

The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first three rounds since LeSean McCoy a decade ago.

This year it caught up to them.

The Eagles managed to hide their issues at running back for much of the regular season, getting by with a rotating committee that included Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Darren Sproles after Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement were lost for the season.

In the playoffs, the absence of an authoritative running attack was glaring.

With 42 rushing yards against the Bears and 49 against the Saints, the Eagles became only the fourth team in NFL history to rush for fewer than 50 yards in back-to-back playoff games (the same year).

Smallwood, Clement and Sproles have all had their moments, but they don’t project as a lead back, and we don’t even know if Sproles wants to keep playing. Ajayi is a free agent and coming off an ACL. Josh Adams went from averaging 14 1/2 carries the last six weeks of the season to getting one snap in the playoffs. Donnel Pumphrey is back after being released by the Lions but hardly looks like a prospect.

So you can make a pretty compelling case that running back is the Eagles’ biggest need this offseason.

The question is where do they get one.

The Eagles have two second-round picks, and this is a draft that should have terrific running back value in the second round.

With the Senior Bowl and Combine still to come, guys like the two Alabama backs — Josh Jacobs and Damien Harris — plus Iowa State’s David Montgomery, Kentucky’s Benny Snell, Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill and Georgia’s Elijah Holyfield are all intriguing prospects, and several of them will be on the board when the Eagles pick at No. 53 and 57.

The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986 and that’s unlikely to change. But the second and third rounds— where they found Duce Staley, LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook — make sense, and the way Howie Roseman likes to wheel and deal, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if the Eagles find their way back into the third round.

If the Eagles decide to go the free agent route, there’s Le’Veon Bell, who is as talented as anybody and a great fit in this offense because of his tremendous receiving and blocking ability. But it’s hard to imagine the Eagles finding cap space to sign him, and his exhaustive workload with the Steelers — more than 1,500 touches before his 26th birthday — could be a red flag.

Tevin Coleman of the Falcons and Mark Ingram of the Saints are less-expensive options who are both effective runners and solid receivers.

Coleman is younger and has less wear and tear. Ingram has more of a proven body of work and for a 29-year-old two-time Pro Bowl back doesn’t have a ton of touches (14.6 per game over his eight-year career).

There’s also Ajayi, who is still only 25 and has been productive when healthy, but he’s coming off ACL surgery as free agency approaches, and the long-term state of his knees is a concern.

The Eagles have been unsettled at running back since Chip Kelly jettisoned McCoy. They’ve had a different leading rusher five straight years — McCoy in 2014, DeMarco Murray in 2015, Ryan Mathews in 2016, LeGarrette Blount in 2017 and Adams in 2018.

Roseman doesn’t say much, but he did come as close as he ever will to acknowledging that the Eagles have to be better at running back.

“We have to look at that, among other positions, and figure out where we are going forward,” he said. “We want to strengthen the roster, make sure we're improving the roster, we're not standing pat.”

The Eagles were able to make things work last year with Blount, Ajayi and Clement, but they need an elite receiving back to give Carson Wentz a consistent dump-off option, provide consistent production on the ground and help take the offense to the next level.

Someone they can count on when they face a top defense in the playoffs.

I like Ingram, but I prefer the idea of going running back in the second round and building around a prospect like Snell or Hill.

The Eagles have to get younger, faster and more consistent at running back, and they will definitely get that chance in April.

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Carson Wentz determined to shed injury-prone tag

Carson Wentz determined to shed injury-prone tag

Carson Wentz isn’t oblivious. He isn’t stupid. He knows what people are saying. He knows that until he proves otherwise he’s going to carry that injury-prone tag.

He’s proven beyond a shadow of a doubt he can play quarterback at a high level.

He hasn’t proven he can do it without getting hurt.

I realize that’s other peoples’ opinions on things. I first and foremost am looking forward to hopefully putting that to rest over the next couple years. At the end of the day you play this game you can’t control injuries, things happen, and I’m going to do everything I can to avoid those. My hope and goal is to put those doubts to rest.

It’s happened two years in a row now, and it’s fair to ask if Wentz is going to be one of those guys who’s always hurt.

Consider this: Wentz has already missed more games in just three seasons than Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees or Tom Brady have missed in the last 10 years.

Super frustrating. You want to play postseason football, I still have zero games of postseason football under my belt and realize I have a lot to prove in that regard, but I’m confident that I will get the chance to do that and without a doubt the human side of it is frustrating. You want to be out there with the guys and help the team win, and to be on the sideline two years in a row, it’s tough.

You can’t question Wentz’s ability.

Over the last two years, he’s 16-8, he’s completed 65 percent of his passes and he’s got 54 TDs and 14 INTs. His 102.0 passer rating is fifth-highest in the NFL during that span.

Wentz missed eight games as a college senior with a broken wrist but returned in time to lead North Dakota State to the national championship. He missed the preseason his rookie year with a small rib fracture but played the entire regular season. Then there was the ACL last year and the back fracture this year.

It’s frustrating. Injuries happen, they’re frustrating, you can’t control all of them. There’s some things you can learn how to protect yourself (from) and those types of things and I’m going to do everything I can to take those preventative measures and get my body right and really just explore all options to stay healthy, but at the end of the day you can’t control them and God-willing I’m looking forward to a long career where I can kind of silence those doubts.

Wentz spoke this week for the first time since Dec. 9 in Dallas after the Eagles lost to the Cowboys in overtime, the last time he played.

The Eagles announced the next day that his back injury would shelve him indefinitely, and Foles wound up winning four straight games before the playoff loss in New Orleans Sunday.

Wentz said he could have played at a functional level but he would have put himself at risk if he did — and his play would have suffered.

We decided as we discovered exactly what it was — did my due diligence, got other opinions — that it wasn’t the best idea to play with the risks involved. I wanted to be out there, no doubt, but the risks involved and the ways it was ultimately hindering me, it wasn’t worth it. Maybe physically I might have felt like I could have gone out there but the risks weren’t worth it.

Wentz said he can’t pinpoint exactly when his back pain started. He first appeared on the Eagles’ injury report on Oct. 17.

He also said he expects to be fully healed in time to participate in spring minicamps.

And he indicated — and this was interesting — that the next few months will give him a chance not just for his back to heal but for his knee to get stronger as well.

Wentz did play 16 games in 2016, so we know he can do it. Now he just needs to do it a bunch of years in a row.

“We have a lot of confidence in Carson and his ability to be our quarterback and to be hopefully a 19-game starter,” Howie Roseman said Tuesday.

Wentz has to stay healthy. Because Nick Foles won’t be here anymore to save the day.

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Brett Favre says Eagles should go with Nick Foles over Carson Wentz

Brett Favre says Eagles should go with Nick Foles over Carson Wentz

Brett Favre thinks the Eagles should hitch their wagon to Nick Foles, which is interesting on one level because Favre is a Hall of Famer who knows a little bit about quarterback play.

And it’s interesting on another level because Favre and Doug Pederson are former teammates, best friends and hunting buddies.

Pederson said Tuesday that Wentz is the Eagles’ quarterback moving forward (see story), which means Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, will almost certainly be moving on.

But if it were up to Favre?

No disrespect at all to Carson Wentz. I think he’s already proven that he’s a great quarterback. Totally different than Nick Foles. Nick Foles, to me, is more of a (Tom) Brady-esque type quarterback. Very limited in what he can do but very, very good in what he does. He’s a pure pocket passer and he’s great at dishing it out and he’s proven that he’s clutch. He did it this past week, he did it last year, he’s done it time and time again, and he’s proven that he can win the big games. That, I think, is what we have to look at, or the Eagles, or anyone in a similar situation — it’s about winning, it’s about being clutch, doing really what you expect your players to do. And he does it as well as anyone.

Favre spoke on his radio show on SiriusXM NFL Radio, co-hosted by Bruce Murray.

Pederson backed up Favre in Green Bay from 1995 through 1998 and again from 2001 through 2004.

Pederson’s first NFL coaching job came under Andy Reid, who was Favre’s position coach in Green Bay when the Packers won the Super Bowl.

You know the old saying, ‘Dance with the one who brung you?’ They’re both young and can you keep going with both of them? I don’t think so, so you’re going to have to make a decision but I think it is a difficult decision.

Again, I don’t want to come across as knocking Carson Wentz at all because I’m not. I think a lot of him. But I would go with Nick Foles, I really would. … They are both good. I just, I really like what I’ve seen from both guys but in particular Nick Foles, especially considering the circumstances in which he has come in.

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