After the Eagles placed Jay Ajayi on Injured Reserve with an ACL tear on Monday evening, the conversation naturally shifted to Le’Veon Bell.
Even before Ajayi got injured, there were rumors about the Eagles’ possibly trading for Bell. Those rumors are about to go crazy again (see story). Even if they don’t get Bell, Howie Roseman could work his magic and bring somebody else in.
But for now, the Eagles play a game in three days and the Ajayi injury leaves the Eagles with four running backs on the roster: Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams.
Let’s take a closer look:
After an impressive rookie campaign when he went from an undrafted player to a Super Bowl hero, there were high expectations for Clement in Year 2. Clement played in the first three games of the year before missing the last two with a quad injury. While he was technically active on Sunday against the Vikings, Clement wasn’t fully healthy and was active for emergency purposes only. At least it appears he’s getting closer to a return. But now that they’re going to need to rely on him this season, the Eagles have to be extra careful not to rush him back.
In those first three games of the season, Clement had 27 carries for 112 yards (4.1 per attempt) and one touchdown. He also caught eight passes for 74 yards.
As long as Clement can get healthy, he has the best chance of anyone on the roster to really fill the void left by Ajayi. Clement might not be a speed demon, but he’s shown ability as a runner and a receiver in this league and he’s not a liability as a pass protector in the backfield. Barring a trade, the Eagles will probably make Clement their first option when he’s healthy.
In the first game of the season, Sproles hurt his hamstring and has now missed the last four games. A shifty, 35-year-old running back with a hamstring injury is a problem. The Eagles have missed Sproles on special teams, but also on third downs. He’s the best pass protector and blitz picker-upper the Eagles have on the roster.
If Sproles can stay healthy, he’ll definitely have a role with this team. But that health is obviously a huge question mark at this point in his career.
Remember when Smallwood was in serious danger of not making the Eagles’ initial 53-man roster? Well, depending on Clement’s health, Smallwood might be the Eagles’ feature back on Thursday night against the Giants. No, Smallwood isn’t great in pass pro, but he’s a ferocious runner and hits the hole harder than anyone on the roster. His vision isn’t great either, but he might be the best of a bad situation.
Through five games, Smallwood had 25 carries for 150 yards (6.0 per carry) and a touchdown. That 6.0 average is the third best average in Eagles history through five games (with a minimum of 25 carries). The two running backs ahead of him were Sproles in 2014 and Brian Westbrook in 2003. He also has 10 catches for 96 yards.
We haven’t seen the undrafted rookie from Notre Dame play much this season. Adams has played just 10 snaps this season and has carried the ball on seven of them. He had 30 yards on six carries in the opener and his only rush and snap in the loss to Minnesota came on that misdirection pitch on 3rd-and-1 where he lost a yard. I don’t know what kind of player he is yet, but the Eagles might be forced to find out.