Donnel Pumphrey

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.”

True.

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.”

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

Don't write off Eagles RB Donnel Pumphrey quite yet

The Eagles don’t hit the practice field as a team for another five weeks, yet each year coaches point to players who distinguish themselves during the months of April and May. These are the players with the most to gain in phases one and two of OTAs.

Before he ever suited up in an Eagles uniform, Donnel Pumphrey had his fair share of doubters. Measuring 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and able to perform just five reps in the bench press at last year’s scouting combine, many questioned whether a running back with such a slight build could survive in the NFL.

Preseason football certainly didn’t convince anybody otherwise. To the contrary, games raised even more concerns.

Despite becoming the all-time NCAA Division I FBS leader in rushing yards at San Diego State, Pumphrey appeared to lack any quickness or burst whatsoever. He was completely ineffective carrying the football for the Eagles, averaging 1.9 yards per attempt, and fared only marginally better as a receiver out of the backfield and return specialist.

The Eagles were undoubtedly tempted to cut their losses and release the fourth-round draft pick out of training camp. Instead, Pumphrey cracked the 53-man roster, then landed on injured reserve with a “torn hamstring” a short time later, resulting in a much-needed redshirt year.

It would be easy to write Pumphrey off after all of that, and many people have. Sure, he had an incredible college career, but the Mountain West Conference and the NFL are two different worlds.

Yet, there’s reason for the Eagles to hold out some hope for Pumphrey, whose redemption tour began Monday at OTAs.

This is the period of the offseason where Pumphrey can show coaches he’s bigger, stronger, faster than when he arrived. All the 23-year-old has been doing since September 2017, besides rehabbing from an injury, we’re told, is working out. Some improvement from a purely physical standpoint should be evident.

If Pumphrey has taken the necessary leaps, his rapid ascent up the Eagles’ depth chart is possible.

Only Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement have their roster spots set in stone, and the former is on the final year of his contract. Wendell Smallwood spent the latter half of last season on the inactive list. Darren Sproles could be re-signed, but is currently a free agent. The Eagles will likely select another running back in the draft next week, but Pumphrey can still carve out a role in 2018 or beyond.

It’s not outrageous to envision Pumphrey filling a Sproles-like role – a running back/receiver hybrid who plays situationally.

Keep in mind, Pumphrey did have a legitimate hamstring injury last summer that caused him to miss time in training camp. Not a lot of work was lost, but it’s unclear how that impacted his preseason performance. It at least might explain the seeming lack of athleticism, and was perhaps related to his IR trip.

Pumphrey’s size is another story, and may always be an issue. Then again, he wouldn't be the first person of small stature to carve out a niche in the NFL, or the last.

That isn’t going away anytime soon. However, if Pumphrey arrived at OTAs with a little more meat on his bones and a little more bounce to his step, he has the potential to turn some heads over the next few weeks.

Then, who knows. Maybe he’ll be in a position to compete for a roster spot come camp.

Eagles Stay or Go — A few underperforming youngsters

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Eagles Stay or Go — A few underperforming youngsters

Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro continue our series examining the future of the world champion Eagles.

Donnel Pumphrey
Roob: Normally, I wouldn't even hesitate to say that a 23-year-old running back who the Eagles had drafted in the fourth round would be back for a second season. But Pumphrey looked so over-matched in training camp and in the preseason games and the Eagles are so deep at running back that I wonder. If the Eagles go with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement and keep Wendell Smallwood as a third running back and Darren Sproles as a punt returner, where does Pumphrey fit in? It would be unusual to give up on him this early, but barring a huge turnaround this summer, Pumphrey faces a tough road.

Verdict: GOES

Dave: You probably forgot all about Pumphrey didn't you? The fourth-round pick just never looked good last spring or summer and then landed (*cough* was stashed) on injured reserve for the 2017 season. The Eagles probably haven't given up on him just yet, but he's going to need to be much, much better this summer. After being an undersized between-the-tackles running back in college, the Eagles asked him to be a receiver out of the backfield. At 176 pounds, that needs to be his role, but he might just not be cut out for the NFL. He has a shot, but based on what we've seen so far, there's no reason to think he makes the team. 

Verdict: GOES

Isaac Seumalo
Roob: 
The Eagles gave Seumalo every opportunity to win the left guard job, but he just wasn't able to put together a consistent enough brand of football to hold off Stefen Wisniewski, who eventually became the starter after a brief Chance Warmack experiment and played exceptionally well. Seumalo is a third-round pick and still only 24 so I would expect him to stick around as a backup. But as long as Wiz and Brandon Brooks are healthy, it's hard to imagine Seumalo getting another chance to start.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: The Eagles really wanted Seumalo to be their starting left guard last season and that didn't work. Seumalo was really bad in that role and became a bench player the rest of the way. He is versatile; he's the only guy on the team who can play all five offensive line spots. But what good is that if he can't play them well? The problem for Seumalo is, his most natural position is center and Jason Kelce is coming off his best professional season. Seumalo might end up being a wasted third-round pick, but the Eagles shouldn't throw in the towel just yet. 

Verdict: STAYS

Wendell Smallwood
Roob:
Smallwood's a tricky one. When he's healthy, he's a generally productive runner who also has a nice knack in the receiving game and is a willing blocker. In fact, despite not even being active the second half of the season, he still led all Eagles backs in the regular season with 13 catches. But he just can't stay healthy. Smallwood is only 24 years old and is an above-average kick returner. I think he's flashed enough that despite the injuries he'll get another year.

Verdict: STAYS

Dave: Smallwood had a great chance of becoming the Eagles' third-down back once Darren Sproles went down, but instead he ended up sitting on the bench after Jay Ajayi was brought in. Smallwood was a fifth-round pick just a couple years ago but has just shown flashes as a running back and a kick returner. He's in an interesting spot now, though, with the futures of LeGarrette Blount and Sproles in question. He'll be brought to camp and have a chance to make the team. I like his chances more than Pumphrey's. 

Verdict: STAYS