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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