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July 03, 2024

Eagles 2024 training camp preview: Running back

Will the Eagles' free agency splash on Saquon Barkley pay off?

Eagles NFL
060224SaquonBarkley Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Saquon Barkley

Over the next three or so weeks (basically whenever there isn't other news to cover), we'll take a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team heading into training camp. Today we'll look at the running backs.

Previous training camp previews


First, the depth chart:

Saquon Barkley Kenny Gainwell Will Shipley Kendall Milton Tyrion Davis-Price Lew Nichols 

There's a good chance that the Eagles will only keep three running backs on their initial 53-man roster, barring surprise exceptional preseason performances by Milton, Davis-Price, or Nichols.

Saquon Barkley

The Eagles' biggest financial investment in free agency was on edge rusher Bryce Huff, but Barkley was easily the biggest splash from a recognizable name perspective.

He was a rookie phenom after the Giants (insanely) made him the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, racking up 2028 yards from scrimmage and 15 TDs, taking home NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. In 2020, however, he tore an ACL, missing 14 games, and he had a down year in 2021 coming off of that injury. 

In 2022, Barkley had a comeback season, gaining 1650 yards from scrimmage and 10 rushing touchdowns while serving as the best offensive weapon on a Giants team that surprisingly went to the playoffs.

In 2023, the Giants franchise tagged Barkley to his dismay. He still showed up for training camp anyway and played the good soldier. During the season, the Giants cycled through three ineffective quarterbacks, and there were times when the Giants' offense was so bad that they simply gave the ball to Barkley over and over against stacked boxes. In 14 games, he carried 247 times for 962 yards and 6 TDs, with a yards per carry average of 3.89. While 3.89 yards per carry certainly isn't good, it was a hell of a lot better than all the other Giants' backs, none of whom rushed for better than 2.82 yards per carry.

2023 Non-Barkley Giants RBs Rush Yards YPC TD 
 Matt Breida55 151 2.7 
 Eric Gray17 48 2.8 
 Gary Brightwell19 2.1 
 Deon Jackson2.0 
 Jashaun Corbin1.0 
TOTAL 83 221 2.7 

Barkley's career rushing stats: 

Saquon Barkley Rush Yards YPC TD 
2018 261 1307 5.0 11 
2019 217 1003 4.6 
2020 19 34 1.8 
2021 162 593 3.7 
2022 295 1312 4.4 10 
2023 247 962 3.9 
TOTAL 1201 5211 4.3 35 

And as a receiver: 

Saquon Barkley Rec Yards YPC TD 
2018 91 721 7.9 
2019 52 438 8.4 
2020 60 10.0 
2021 41 263 6.4 
2022 57 338 5.9 
2023 41 280 6.8 
TOTAL 288 2100 7.3 12 

While not as explosive as he was earlier in his career, Barkley is still a complete back who can run inside, run outside, catch passes out of the backfield, and pass protect. Given the out-of-character money they spent on a running back, the Eagles no doubt view Barkley as a threat both as a runner and as a receiver. Receiving production from running backs was missing almost entirely from the Eagles' offense in 2023. 

In Philadelphia, Barkley will have a chance to run behind a good offensive line for the first time in his career. The 2023 Giants gave up 85 sacks, the second most in NFL history, and they weren't much better blocking in the run game.

Kenny Gainwell

The coaching staff seems to like Gainwell more than the media and fans, seeing as he began the 2023 season as the RB1. He lost that role after D'Andre Swift had two early-season monster performances against the Vikings and Buccaneers.

Gainwell then resumed his role as the third down / two-minute offense guy, and was otherwise also sprinkled in on occasion. His career rushing numbers are actually quite respectable.

Kenny Gainwell Rec Yards YPC TD 
2021 68 291 4.3 
2022 53 240 4.5 
2023 84 364 4.3 
TOTAL 205 895 4.4 11 

Some fans have grown distasteful of Gainwell through no fault of his own because the offensive staff has overrated him, often giving him the ball in odd, out-of-place situations. For example, Gainwell somehow got 23 red zone carries in 2023. He had just 53 yards on those carries, for 2.3 YPC.

However, if properly used, Gainwell is fine as a second back. He is in the final year of his rookie contract.

MORE: 10 reasons the Eagles can win the Super Bowl

Will Shipley

The Eagles drafted Shipley in the fourth round of the 2024 draft. 

In college, he was an immediate contributor in Clemson's offense as a freshman, and he had a big sophomore season when he rushed for 1182 yards and 15 TDs. His junior season was somewhat disappointing on a Clemson team that was no longer the powerhouse it once was. His career numbers as a runner:

Will Shipley Rush Yards YPC TD 
2021 149 739 5.0 11 
2022 210 1182 5.6 15 
2023 167 827 5.0 

And as a receiver: 

Will Shipley Rec Yards YPC TD 
2021 16 116 7.3 
2022 38 242 6.4 
2023 31 244 7.9 

He also returned 34 kicks for 904 yards (26.6 avg) and 0 TDs during his college career.

Shipley has some versatility as a runner, receiver, and returner, and he ran a 4.39 40 at his pro day. He makes sense as an eventual RB2, especially with Gainwell in the final year of his contract in 2024, as noted above. A highlight reel:

Shipley got a ton of reps throughout the spring and was often used out of the slot as a receiver. Barkley is the top running back, of course, but Shipley could compete for some of Gainwell's snaps, especially if he can prove to be effective as a receiver who can line up all over the formation. At a minimum, the coaching staff was giving Shipley plenty of opportunities to show what he could do as a receiver.

Kendall Milton

Milton was an undrafted rookie free agency addition after the draft.

In college, he was a big, one-cut-and-go sledgehammer-type back who ran through contact and usually fell forward.

His career rushing stats:

Kendall Milton Rush Yards YPC TD 
 202035 193 5.5 
 202156 264 4.7 
 202285 592 7.0 
 2023121 790 6.5 14 

One out of every 8.6 of Milton's carries in 2023 resulted in a touchdown. He also finished off his college career on a hot streak, rushing 64 times for 495 yards (7.7 YPC) and 9 TDs in Georgia's final five games in 2023. He wasn't much of a threat as a receiver out of the backfield at Georgia, as he had just 12 career receptions, however, he was active as a receiver (usually just in the flat) during Eagles spring practices. 

Milton probably has the best chance of being the RB4 should the Eagles keep four backs.

Tyrion Davis-Price

Davis-Price was a 49ers third-round pick out of LSU in 2022. He's a bigger back at 6'1, 219, who did not have great college stats.

Tyrion Davis-Price Rush Yards YPC TD 
2019 64 295 4.6 
2020 104 446 4.3 
2021 211 1003 4.8 
TOTAL 379 1744 4.6 15 

A yards-per-carry average of 4.6 is good in the NFL, not so impressive on a dominant LSU offense. He was a Day 3 prospect who got picked on Day 2. He probably got a little over-drafted because he ran a 4.48 at the Combine, a good time for his size. And, certainly, he had his explosive moments at LSU:

A scouting report, via Lance Zierlein of NFL Network

Big, athletic back offering an enticing blend of size and explosiveness to go with an SEC pedigree. Davis-Price's early season tape was listless and lacking pro quality, but that changed over the second half of the year. He's an enigmatic back featuring urgency, indecisiveness, physicality and finesse on any given carry. He got much better as the season progressed and clearly finds a rhythm when given volume carries. Scouts say that staying motivated will be a major factor in future success. Davis-Price's athletic ability and hammerhead finishes will help him create yardage. He has the size and upside worthy of consideration in the middle rounds.

The "motivation" nugget is interesting. In his first two seasons in the pros in San Francisco, Davis-Price rode the bench. He had 34 carries for 99 yards (2.9 YPC) in 2022, and 6 carries for 21 yards (3.5 YPC) in 2023. They waived him in December and he finished out the season on the Niners' practice squad. The Eagles evidently gave Davis-Price more pay than the typical player signing a futures contract: 

"Don't mind him, just writing history," lol.

Lew Nichols

Nichols carried 614 times for 3060 yards (5.0 YPC) and 26 TDs during his college career at Central Michigan. He had 341 (!) carries for 1848 yards and 16 TDs during the 2021 season. 5'10, 220-pound "bowling ball" type. Longshot.

MORE: The defense will be fas and more random Eagles notes

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