Donnel Pumphrey, once a ballyhooed draft pick, fighting for his NFL life

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Donnel Pumphrey, once a ballyhooed draft pick, fighting for his NFL life

Once the season was over and it was time for Donnel Pumphrey to figure out exactly where it all went wrong, he put on film of his preseason performances and sat there and watched himself.

“I feel like last year I didn’t have that same chip on my shoulder that I had in college,” he said. “And it showed, once I looked back at film.

“I’m just putting that chip back on my shoulder. I’m ready to go. I’m definitely motivated this year.”

He better be.

Pumphrey arrived at training camp last summer as a ballyhooed fourth-round pick out of San Diego State, where he became the all-time leading rusher in NCAA Division 1 history with 6,405 yards. 

But the Eagles never even saw a hint of the speed and elusiveness Pumphrey was known for in college.

He averaged just 1.9 yards per carry in four preseason games — lowest by an Eagle in the preseason in at least 20 years, or as far back as records are available. 

“In the preseason I didn’t show up, whatsoever,” Pumphrey said after a recent OTA practice. “I just have to play better or else my job will not be here.”


Even without LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles have a surplus of backs. Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles have the team made, with Matt Jones, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams and Pumphrey all fighting for jobs. 

“I really honestly am just worried about what I can control,” Pumphrey said. “Just worried about myself right now. And when I get those opportunities got to take advantage of those.”

What happened last year?

Pumphrey was banged up in training camp last year, and he said that affected his ability to perform in the preseason games. He eventually went on injured reserve with what the team said was a torn hamstring suffered in practice.

The reality is that Pumphrey was healthy enough to play a few weeks after he got hurt, but the Eagles knew he wasn’t going to contribute so they stashed him on IR.

“I felt good around October-ish, but we were playing good and all our backs were playing good,” he said. 

“I understood. It was more like a red-shirt year. I learned a lot last year just taking that season off. Plus (recovering from) all those carries I had in college.”

Pumphrey was around the team all year. He was in meetings and film study, he was out watching practice, and he was in Minneapolis for Super Bowl week and on the sidelines for the win over the Patriots.

He did everything but play.

“I attended all the meetings and that made me feel like I was still part of the team,” he said.

“They would still ask me questions in the meeting rooms and I still had to know the gameplay as if I was playing and that helped a lot.” 

Pumphrey played at 175 pounds in college and tried to put on 10 pounds last summer to deal with the rigors of the NFL, but he said he put it on too fast.

He reported this month at 186 pounds but said he gained the weight the right way this time.

“I’m about 186 but more muscle,” he said. “I feel fast. I feel great out there.

“Last year I put on the weight too fast and sometimes the injuries come with that. Last year I reported at about 175-ish but then I got up to 184 fast. I tried to drop to about 180.  

“I really just know what to expect more (this year). I was down in San Diego and got a couple workouts with Sproles and you guys know how he trains, so I just felt a lot better and knew what to expect coming in.”

The odds are not in Pumphrey’s favor. Right now, he’s on the outside looking in.

For him to even be considered for a roster spot, he has to look like a completely different player than a year ago.

“My plan is really just to stay healthy and just try to keep my head down and continue to work,” he said.

“I haven’t been able to play with these guys for a whole year, so I’m just happy to be out there with my teammates.”

The 3 areas where Doug Pederson thinks he's grown most as a coach

The 3 areas where Doug Pederson thinks he's grown most as a coach

In less than five years, Doug Pederson has gone from a mostly unpopular coaching hire to being considered one of the top head coaches in the league. 

Earlier this week, NFL.com ranked Pederson as the fifth-best coach in the league. And after the last two years, that’s hard to argue. 

A big reason folks were so skeptical of the hire back in 2016 was because of Pederson’s relative inexperience. Ten years earlier, he was coaching high school ball, he had been an offensive coordinator for just three seasons and a play-caller for minimal time. But even as he enters Year 4, Pederson still isn’t a finished product. He’d be the first to admit he has more to learn. 

But before his team broke for summer, Pederson was asked about where he’s grown most as a head coach in his first three seasons on the job. 

He named three areas: 

Situational football 

“Situational football, you know, in the last three years has really been a top priority of mine. I think I've learned a lot from in-game decisions and different third-down decisions, fourth-down decisions, when to go for it on two-point conversions, things like that. And listen, I've got help in that area, but I think I've become better educated, I've studied that a little bit more, I've grown in that area, quite a bit.”

My take: If you’ve been paying attention to Pederson’s press conferences, especially during teaching times in minicamps and training camp, you’ll already know how important situational football is to him. We’re talking about third downs, fourth downs, red zone, backed up. Success in these situations is paramount to overall success and Pederson realizes it. This is where experience helps and there’s no expediting the process of acquiring it. Remember, Pederson didn’t have much time as a play-caller in K.C., so he’s been learning on the job and doing it well. 

We all know the Eagles use analytics, but some of it comes down to Pederson’s gut, too. He’s managed to find a real balance of the two over his first three years. What’s been most impressive is that in three years, Pederson managed to find his aggressive style fairly quickly. He knows the type of coach and play-caller he wants to be and backs it up with gutty calls all the time. In his first three seasons, the Eagles have gone for it on fourth down 76 times, the most in the league. The next closest team (Green Bay) has 65 attempts. The average of the other 31 teams during the three-year span is 46. 

Managing personalities

“I think just overall managing the football team with a lot of the different personalities that kind of come and go with your team and, you know, being able to handle the LeGarrette Blounts and Jay Ajayis and now DeSean Jackson back on your team and guys that are unique personality types and profiles, I mean, just being able to manage all that and listen to the team. I think I've had a pretty good handle on just listening to the guys and understanding where they are.”

My take: You’ve heard the cliche, but it’s true. The locker room really is a melting pot. This is where we get back to Jeff Lurie’s “emotional intelligence” comment during the coaching search of 2016. Pederson has emotional intelligence and his time as a player in the league has informed his knowledge about the variance of personalities in a locker room. He holds his players accountable, but he doesn’t treat them all the same; they’re not. Treating players the same is a high school/college mentality that doesn’t seem to fly when you’re coaching professional athletes who are making a ton of money and are at varying stages of their careers and lives. This is something Chip Kelly never seemed to understand. 

One of the most important things Pederson has done was when he set up his veteran council to report back to him with concerns of the whole team. Pederson immediately understood the more players are listened to, the more invested they’ll be, which can never be a bad thing. 

Building a staff

“And then I just think building a staff each year, because coaches are going to come and go, and being able to replace them with quality guys and teachers. And I think that's another area where I've gotten better in the last four years.”

My take: This is important for a team that’s having success because coaches will leave for promotions. I think it’s fair to question some of these decisions — promoting Mike Groh, hiring Gunter Brewer — but overall, the Eagles have so far been able to remain successful from a coaching standpoint. Promoting from within is something always stressed by Andy Reid and Pederson seems to feel the same way. Pederson got off to a good start in 2016 by bringing on Jim Schwartz and then having the humility to keep a bunch of good coaches from Kelly’s staff. Pederson thinks he’s grown in this area, but it’s hard for us to judge this just yet. We’ll learn more about this skill in the coming years. But Pederson’s willingness to listen to his coaches makes finding quality coaches to surround him even more important.  

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Will DeSean Jackson be a Hall of Famer?

Will DeSean Jackson be a Hall of Famer?

DeSean Jackson is the latest in a series of stories looking at the Hall of Fame chances of current or recent Eagles who are still active in the NFL.

Friday, July 19: Fletcher Cox
Saturday, July 20: Zach Ertz
Today: DeSean Jackson
Monday, July 22: Jason Kelce
Tuesday, July 23: LeSean McCoy
Wednesday, July 24: Jason Peters
Thursday, July 25: Darren Sproles

Numbers: 589 catches, 10,261 yards, 17.4 average, 53 receiving touchdowns, 4 rushing touchdowns, 4 punt return touchdowns.

Postseason numbers: Has 21 catches for 338 yards and two touchdowns in seven career playoff games, all but one with the Eagles between 2008 and 2013.

Honors: Three-time Pro Bowl pick (2009, 2010, 2013).

Favorite stat: With 1,156 yards and an 18.6 average in 2009 with the Eagles and then 774 yards and an 18.9 average last year with the Buccaneers, Jackson is the only player in NFL history with seasons of 750 yards and an 18.5 average at least nine years apart.

Records and rankings

• Jackson’s 17.4 yards per catch career average is highest in the NFL over the last 35 years.

• Jackson's 24 career touchdowns of 60 yards or more are most in NFL history (Jerry Rice had 23). He has 24 TD catches of at least 50 yards, fifth most in NFL history.

• He’s the only player in history to lead the NFL in yards per catch four times and the only one to do it for more than one team (he did it for three).

• Jackson is 45th in NFL history in receiving yards, but he’s one of only six guys ever with at least 10,000 receiving yards and a 17.0 average. Three of the five others are Hall of Famers.

• Jackson has had four seasons with 1,000 yards and a 17.5 average. Only Lance Alworth and Don Maynard — both Hall of Famers — have had more.

• Jackson has 29 total career TDs of at least 50 yards, which is one every five games over his entire career.

• D-Jack’s 6.4 career rushing average is seventh highest in NFL history by non-quarterbacks with at least 70 attempts.


With 1,739 more yards and assuming he keeps his career average over 17.0 — and it will be hard for him not to at this point — D-Jack will join James Lofton as only the second player in history with 12,000 receiving yards and an average over 17 yards per catch.

He truly is one of the greatest deep threats in the history of the game, and his return to the Eagles and an opportunity to finish his career playing with Carson Wentz should give Jackson a chance to continue being productive late in his career.

When you ask yourself whether someone is a Hall of Famer, you ask if there’s anything he did better than anyone else in the game, and there’s never been anybody quite like Jackson.

I do think he needs two more seasons to even get himself into the mix, and I think even then he’ll always be a long shot, just because he’s not going to be one of those 15,000-yard career guys.

But he’s such a unique player and such a consistently explosive one, he definitely will deserve consideration five years after he does retire.

Verdict: Will not be a Hall of Famer. 

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