Eagles

Doug Pederson considers making Darren Sproles Eagles' primary back

Doug Pederson considers making Darren Sproles Eagles' primary back

Doug Pederson said Monday he’s considering replacing Ryan Mathews with 33-year-old Darren Sproles as the Eagles’ primary running back.

Pederson said he's evaluating how to proceed at the running back spot, which has been somewhat muddled for the Eagles this year.

Asked whether Sproles will be the Eagles’ featured back moving forward, Pederson sure sounded like he was leaning that way. Or at least seriously considering it.

“I can't say that 100 percent,” he said. “It's something we'll evaluate in these next couple of days and make that determination. 

“But until then, it's still Ryan Mathews and then Darren in those situations. And then we've got to get Wendell [Smallwood] and Kenjon [Barner] going a little bit, too.”

Mathews, a two-time 1,000-yard rusher and a Pro Bowler in 2011, leads the Eagles with 71 carries and 272 rushing yards but got only four carries on eight snaps in the loss to Dallas on Sunday night. 

Sproles ran for 86 yards on 15 carries — his most carries since 2009 and his most rushing yards since 2011.

Sproles is now averaging 5.0 yards per carry and also has 22 catches for 227 yards.

Mathews has four rushing touchdowns this year but is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry and is the only NFL running back with two fourth-quarter fumbles this year.

Pederson said his decision to elevate Sproles over Mathews was not related to Mathews’ fumbles.

“It wasn't a reaction,” he said. “I just think that Darren had the hot hand [Sunday]. Darren was playing outstanding, and he was doing some great things out there. So, just wanted to keep Darren in the game.”

Sproles is on pace for 105 carries, which would be a career high in his 10th NFL season.

No running back in NFL history has ever reached 100 carries for the first time at 33 or older.

With nine games to go, Sproles’ 81 touches are already the fifth most in Eagles history by a player 33 or older, and his 455 yards from scrimmage are third most.

Sproles is on pace for 1,040 yards from scrimmage this year. Only nine backs 33 or older have been over 1,000.

Pederson said he’s not concerned with overusing Sproles, who has had double-digit carries in only 10 of his 169 career games.

“I definitely think he's capable,” Pederson said. “I think you don't want to give him any more than what he got [Sunday], with his role on special teams and all that, too. 

“If you know Darren like I know Darren, the way he works during the week and the way he prepares himself and prepares his body and mind, he's definitely capable of handling that type of load.”

Smallwood is averaging 3.8 yards on 29 carries but fumbled on his only carry Sunday night. Barner is averaging 5.3 yards per carry on 19 attempts but has only five carries since the bye.

The Eagles and Panthers are the only teams with four backs that have at least 19 carries.

Who are the Eagles' 10 best players under 25 years old?

Who are the Eagles' 10 best players under 25 years old?

There was a piece on NFL.com this week listing the top under-25 players in the NFL by position.

The list was impressive and really makes you realize how much remarkable young talent is in the league.

Among those listed are record-setting Chiefs quarterback Pat Mahomes; Bucs receiver Chris Godwin, who had over 1,300 yards last year; Pro Bowl offensive linemen Quenton Nelson and Orlando Brown; sack machines Nick and Joey Boss; and star defensive backs Marshon Lattimore, Marlon Humphrey, Jamal Adams and Minkah Fitzpatrick.

There were 25 guys in all. 

And no Eagles. 

Not surprisingly.

The story used the scheduled 2020 opening day as its cutoff. Only players who will be 24 or younger as of Sept. 13, 1995, were eligible.

Which got us thinking about the best Eagles under 25.

And it’s a little ominous.

The Eagles haven’t had a player under 25 make a Pro Bowl since kicker Cody Parkey in 2014 and they haven’t had a position player under 25 make a Pro Bowl since Nick Foles in 2013. Their last defensive players under 25 to make a Pro Bowl were Michael Lewis and Lito Sheppard in 2004.

For the sake of comparison, 30 NFL players who began last year under 25 made a Pro Bowl just last year, and 91 different players under 25 have made at least one Pro Bowl since the last Eagle did.

The Cowboys, for the sake of comparison, have had five.

Now, Pro Bowls are just one way of measuring young talent, but the urgency for the Eagles to begin developing younger players is clear. 

Especially when you look at this list of the top 10 Eagles under 25. 

For the record, Dallas Goedert, Cre’Von LeBlanc, Hassan Ridgeway and Will Parks are already 25, and Greg Ward, Rasul Douglas and Joe Ostman turn 25 this summer. And we’re not including rookies just because who knows.

1. RB Miles Sanders
Had one of the finest rookie seasons in Eagles history, with 818 rushing yards, 50 catches and 1,327 scrimmage yards. Led all NFL rookie running backs in scrimmage yards. Turns 25: May 1, 2022.

2. DE Derek Barnett
Barnett has been OK, but a top-15 pick with 14 sacks in three years probably shouldn’t be your second-best under-25 player. Among players who entered the league in 2017, Barnett’s 14 career sacks are only 11th. Turns 25: June 25, 2021.

3. CB Avonte Maddox
Has shown a lot of promise, mainly as a slot and mainly down the stretch in 2018. May have inside track for a starting outside corner spot in 2020. Turns 25: March 31, 2021.

4. OT Andre Dillard 
His three decent starts at left tackle last year earn Dillard the No. 4 spot. His awful start at right tackle is why he’s no higher. Turns 25: Oct. 3, 2020.

5. DE Josh Sweat
OK, now it gets tricky. Sweat had 4.0 sacks in 352 snaps last year, which isn't a great ratio. But at least he played and contributed. Turns 25: March 29, 2022.

6. LB T.J. Edwards 
Didn’t play a lot as an undrafted rookie — 112 defensive snaps all year — but looks like a solid inside linebacker prospect. Turns 25: Aug. 12, 2021.

7. CB Sidney Jones 
Obviously, Jones has been a huge disappointment since the Eagles drafted him in the second round in 2017, but at least he showed a couple brief flashes last year that give us hope. Turns 25: April 29, 2021.

8. DT Anthony Rush 
Came off the practice squad to give the Eagles a late-season lift with 152 snaps over the last nine games. Turns 25: Sept. 1, 2021

9. CB Craig James 
We’re at the point where we’re going with a special teamer here. James played nearly 250 special teams snaps last season. Turns 25: April 29, 2021.

10. WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside 
I know, I know, but somebody has to be No. 10, and at least JJAW had seven 1st-down receptions last year. That’s 70 percent of his career catches! Turns 25: Dec. 31, 2021.

The rest: Here are the remaining players on the current roster (not including rookies) who will be under 25 on opening day: Marcus Epps, Marcus Green, Deaontay Burnett, Nate Herbig, Elijah Holyfield, Albert Huggins, Jordan Mailata, Shareef Miller, Sua Opeta, Keegan Render, Tremon Smith.

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Doug Pederson compares Andre Dillard to another former 1st-round pick

Doug Pederson compares Andre Dillard to another former 1st-round pick

Doug Pederson last week gave left tackle Andre Dillard the strongest vote of confidence we’ve heard from the Eagles thus far this offseason, saying he has “a ton of confidence” in Dillard’s ability to hold down the left tackle position. 

The day after that vote of confidence, Pederson was on WIP and was asked if Dillard is mentally tough enough to take control of that spot. That’s when he brought up an interesting name. 

I have no doubts about that. Listen, I was with Kansas City when we drafted Eric Fisher. He was the first overall pick that year. It comes with the territory. People are looking at you and people want to see what type of player you are. And anytime you give up a sack or you miss your run block, you’re going to be crucified, that’s just the nature of the business. 

“You go back and look at last season and the four games [Dillard] played and the preseason. He’s got tremendous upside. He’s got a great skillset. He’s working on his strength, getting stronger this offseason, even through virtual workouts. But he is doing that, getting reports on him on a daily basis. I have no doubt that he can step in Day 1, fill in, he’s smart enough, very talented, obviously, to assume that role.

This has been a big topic all offseason as we wait to see whether the Eagles bring back Jason Peters for another season or turn over the position to their 2019 first-round pick. 

The similarities between Dillard and Fisher are worth exploring. 

As a reminder, when Andy Reid took over in Kansas City (and brought Pederson with him) in 2013, they used the No. 1 overall pick on Fisher out of Central Michigan. 

Fisher started 13 games at right tackle as a rookie but struggled and fans took notice. It took him a few years to remove the bust label from his name but in 2018 he was named a Pro Bowler and in 2019 he was the starting left tackle in Super Bowl LIV. 

There are plenty of similarities between Fisher and Dillard: 

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As you can see, both players were known for their athletic profiles when they came out of college. But both also needed to work on their strength. 

After the 2013 season, then-Chiefs GM John Dorsey said this about Fisher: “He understands that he’s got an offseason to get bigger and stronger. Size will help him a little bit.” 

Sound familiar? 

It should. Getting stronger was the No. 1 thing Dillard needed to do this offseason. It was even the first thing he mentioned the day after the 2019 season ended. He said he already weighed around 320 pounds but he needed to change the composition of that weight. 

“I just want to get stronger and keep studying up and learning different tips and tricks,” Dillard said on locker cleanout day. 

And earlier this month, All-Pro center Jason Kelce also admitted that building strength is the main thing Dillard needed to work on. The good news, Kelce said, was that Dillard had all the things that can’t be added later like his quick twitch, athleticism and intelligence. 

Fisher played his entire rookie season as a right tackle before moving to left tackle in 2014. Dillard played minimally overall in 2019 but was much better in his three starts at left tackle than he was in his one disastrous half at right tackle. 

It’s not like Fisher has really grown into a superstar and he still probably hasn’t lived up to his No. 1 draft pick status. Remember, Lane Johnson was taken at No. 4 that season (Luke Joeckel was No. 2). But Fisher has improved a lot since he entered the league and has started nearly 100 games in the NFL for one of the best teams in the league. 

Fisher was mentally strong enough to get over his early-career struggles and the Eagles have to hope that Dillard is able to do what he needs to do to be successful too. And unlike Fisher in 2013, we didn’t really see Dillard on the field very much as a rookie. 

Still, Dillard said he made his biggest jump as a player in his one NFL season and learned a lot from the few games he did play. 

“I’m really glad that I got those chances because that’s what I was brought in to do for the future,” Dillard said in January. “It helped me get my feet wet a little bit and really helped me kind of gauge what it’s like being out there on the big stage in live situations.”

The Eagles are counting on Dillard to return with more physical and mental strength, ready to take over as their starting left tackle. 

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