When Chip Kelly traded away LeSean McCoy nearly four years ago, he sent the Eagles down a road of complete instability at that position. In the four seasons since that move, the Eagles have had four different leading rushers.
This offseason, it’s time for the Eagles to find a new featured back.
There are options, of course. They can try to pick one up in free agency, they can make a trade or they can try to draft the next guy, which is probably the way I’d lean.
I know what you’re going to say: Well, the Eagles won a Super Bowl with a running back by committee. Doug Pederson seems to prefer it.
I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. This past season, the Eagles seemed eager to find out if Josh Adams could be the lead guy. They want someone to be the starter and at least be the primary runner of the group. That guy needs to be a three-down back who can catch the ball too.
Think about this: Before Chipper traded away McCoy, Shady led the Eagles in rushing for six straight seasons. Before then, Brian Westbrook led the team in rushing for six straight seasons. So that was 12 straight years (2003-2014) with two of the best running backs in franchise history. Before then, Duce did it in four of five seasons and, before that, Ricky Watters did it for three straight. The Eagles haven’t had this type of instability at running back since the '80s.
Since Shady’s last season in Philly, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, LeGarrette Blount and Adams have all had their turn as the Eagles’ leading rusher.
And in 2014, his last season with the Eagles, McCoy rushed for 1,319 yards. In the four years since, the Eagles’ top two rushers in each season added together haven’t reached that total. The closest they came was when Murray and Mathews combined for 1,241 in 2015.
Take a look at the last four years:
Josh Adams: 120 carries, 511 yards, 3 TDs
Wendell Smallwood: 87 carries, 364 yards, 3 TDs
Corey Clement: 68 carries, 259 yards, 2 TDs
Jay Ajayi: 45 carries, 184 yards, 3 TDs
Darren Sproles: 29 carries, 120 yards, 1 TD
LeGarrette Blount: 173 carries, 766 yards, 2 TDs
Corey Clement: 74 carries, 321 yards, 4 TDs
Jay Ajayi: 70 carries, 408 yards, 1 TD
Wendell Smallwood: 47 carries, 174 yards, 1 TD
Kenjon Barner: 16 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD
Darren Sproles: 15 carries, 61 yards
Ryan Mathews: 155 carries, 661 yards, 8 TDs
Darren Sproles: 94 carries, 438 yards, 2 TDs
Wendell Smallwood: 77 carries, 312 yards, 1 TD
Kenjon Barner: 27 carries, 129 yards, 2 TDs
Byron Marshall: 19 carries, 64 yards
Terrell Watson: 9 carries, 28 yards, 1 TD
DeMarco Murray: 193 carries, 702 yards, 6 TDs
Ryan Matthews: 106 carries, 539 yards, 6 TDs
Darren Sproles: 83 carries, 317 yards, 3 TDs
Kenjon Barner: 28 carries, 124 yards
In the four years since Shady has been gone, the Eagles have drafted just two running backs. They took Smallwood in the fifth round of the 2016 draft and took Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round of the 2017 draft. Smallwood has at least developed into a serviceable backup/rotational player, but Pumphrey hasn’t played a single snap in the NFL.
Looking at the position now, there are obvious question marks just with the guys who were on the team last year. Ajayi is coming off a torn ACL, already had knee problems and is a pending free agent. Darren Sproles is a 35-year-old pending free agent who might retire. Clement is under contract but is coming back from a season-ending knee injury of his own. Adams was the leading rusher in 2018 but was benched in the playoffs. And Smallwood is under contract but clearly isn’t going to be the No. 1.
The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back in the first two rounds since they took Shady back in 2009, but with two second-round picks this year, maybe that changes. Either way, it’s time to finally find some stability that hasn’t been there for the last four seasons.
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