Eagles

Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at running back?

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Are 2019 Eagles better or worse at running back?

The Eagles replaced their oft-injured one-two punch in the backfield, but will a brand new running back tandem prove to be better or worse in 2019?

Key additions: Jordan Howard (trade, Bears), Miles Sanders (draft, second round) 

Key departures: Jay Ajayi (free agent), Darren Sproles (free agent)

Why they could be better: Health

Josh Adams led the Eagles in rushing with 511 yards as an undrafted rookie in 2018. That should tell you all you need to know about the state of the running backs last year. Ajayi wasn’t healthy when the season started and had to tap out with a torn ACL after four games. Sproles missed Weeks 2 through 11 with a hamstring injury. And Corey Clement was lost to a horrific-looking lower body injury right about the time Sproles was finally returning.

Injuries can conspire to decimate a team or unit at any time, though the Eagles appear to be in a better place now. Ajayi always had a wonky knee, but in Jordan Howard, the offense has a workhorse who’s missed one game in three seasons. And while Miles Sanders just sat out OTAs, he’s 22 and less likely to break down than a 36-year-old Sproles who suited up for just nine games the last two years. Plus, Clement is expected back. Whether a Howard-Sanders tandem is an upgrade is unclear, but at least they should play.

Why they could be worse: No standouts

Worse might be a stretch – after all, the Eagles probably wound up with one of the worst backfields in the league in ’18. But before it devolved to that point, the unit looked pretty good on paper. Ajayi averaged almost 5.3 yards per carry after joining the club in 2017. Sproles averaged 4.9 plus another 8.8 yards per reception over a 14-year career. These were explosive, star-caliber players.

Howard averaged 5.2 yards per carry as a rookie, but in the two seasons since, a very mediocre only 3.9. And Sanders’ NFL.com scouting report says things like, “Lacks explosiveness,” “Average access to burst,” and “No home-run speed,” – not to mention “Doesn’t separate from linebackers on wheel routes,” a Sproles staple. Is their production going to vastly exceed that of an Adams-Wendell Smallwood combination? Maybe, but not exactly a given.

The X-factor: Will Sproles return?

If the season started today, Boston Scott potentially would be in line for snaps, at least as a receiver out of the backfield. Does that say more for Scott, a 2018 sixth-round pick the Eagles scooped off the Saints practice squad in December, or is it a commentary on the other options? Considering he has yet to register a catch or carry in the NFL, maybe the latter.

The Eagles don’t have a true third-down back right now, not somebody with meaningful experience anyway, so one can’t help but wonder if Sproles is still a fit for this team. Yes, the injuries are a concern, yet it looked like there was some gas in the tank when he returned last season with three touchdowns and 280 yards from scrimmage over the final five regular season games. Don’t be shocked if Sproles re-signs at some point in the next two months. That kind of production is the definition of an X-factor.

Are the Eagles’ running backs better or worse?

The bottom line is the Eagles added a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a second-round talent, and the guys they are replacing are still on the street. Howard and Sanders both come with question marks attached, but Ajayi and Sproles barely played in ’18 – and Sproles isn’t necessarily out of the mix. As long as the new duo can out-rush Adams and Smallwood, they’re fine. 

BETTER

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More Better or Worse 

Erase Jay Gruden's name from your Eagles coaching wish list

Erase Jay Gruden's name from your Eagles coaching wish list

Another of the most qualified remaining candidates for the Eagles’ offensive coordinator vacancy is off the board.

Jay Gruden, recently fired after six mediocre years as the Redskins’ head coach, is close to joining the Jaguars to fill their offensive coordinator vacancy, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Assuming the deal is completed, Gruden will become the Jaguars’ third offensive coordinator in three years. He replaces former Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, fired last week after just one year in Jacksonville. DeFilippo replaced Nathaniel Hackett, who was fired and spent this past year in the same position with the Packers. DeFilippo was recently hired by Matt Nagy as QBs coach of the Bears.

Ten teams were in the market for an offensive coordinator when the regular season ended.

Of those 10, the Eagles are one of only two still hanging a "Help Wanted" sign on their front door. 

The other is the Vikings, whose offensive coordinator this past year, Kevin Stefanski, was named last week as head coach of the Browns.

Gruden, whose older brother John was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator under Ray Rhodes from 1995 through 1997 and is now head coach of the Raiders, spent 2011 through 2013 as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator before replacing Mike Shanahan as head coach of the Redskins in 2014.

His teams went 38-57 in six years and reached the playoffs only once, losing a wild-card game to the Packers in 2015.

In Jacksonville, Gruden will presumably be working with 2017 Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles, who was the Jaguars’ opening-day quarterback this past year but was hurt much of the season and then benched later in the year for rookie Gardner Minshew.

It’s not known whether the Eagles had any formal interest in Gruden, but he was certainly one of the most intriguing remaining candidates for the opening.

The Eagles fired Mike Groh 12 days ago after two years as offensive coordinator one day after head coach Doug Pederson said both would remain on his staff.

Among the candidates the Eagles have been linked with who are now expected to remain in their current position are Chiefs quarterbacks coach Mike Kafka, Ravens QBs coach James Urban (who spent three years as Bengals WRs coach under Jay Gruden) and USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell.

Other qualified candidates who are off the board include Chan Gailey, hired as Dolphins offensive coordinator; LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady, who was hired by the Panthers; Joe Moorhead, who was hired Tuesday as Oregon’s offensive coordinator; and former Eagles offensive coordinator and recently fired Giants head coach Pat Shurmur, who was hired as OC of the Broncos.

Earlier Tuesday, we outlined some of the top remaining candidates, including current Eagles position coaches Duce Staley and Press Taylor.

The Eagles also remain without a wide receivers coach, a secondary coach and a defensive line coach. The team fired receivers coach Carson Walch and d-line coach Phillip Daniels, and secondary coach Cory Undlin accepted the defensive coordinator position with the Lions.

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More on the Eagles

Here's a sneak peak of the 2020 NFL Draft venue ... and it's 100% Las Vegas

Here's a sneak peak of the 2020 NFL Draft venue ... and it's 100% Las Vegas

The blueprint for the 2020 NFL Draft venue has been revealed and it's just what you would expect it to be in Las Vegas.

The draft has become quite a production in recent years, but this has to top all previous attempts if it's executed the way they're saying.

Reportedly, players will be transported to the stage by a boat. Which could be an epic moment for the draftees ... but could also add a significant amount of time to the already long night of events.

The red carpet stage has a more traditional look when it comes to a draft setting, but since it's Vegas, it's go big or go home.

There are currently mixed opinions about it all, but here are some of the funniest:

 

 

 


The draft will be held from April 23-25 where the Eagles currently hold the 21st overall pick.

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More on the Eagles