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August 19, 2020

Could Miles Sanders injury lead to Eagles finally bringing in a veteran backup at running back?

Eagles NFL

On Tuesday, some news came down that sent Eagles fans into a panic. 

Second-year running back Miles Sanders, who has been touted as the team's first true lead back in some time after years of going running-back-by-committee, suffered a lower-body injury and is listed as week-to-week. With just over four weeks until the start of the season, that could easily mean that Sanders is sidelined until the season opener against Washington.

But the news that has trickled out since has been more positive, with the ESPN's Tim McManus reporting the following: 

The early indication is that the injury is not serious and that the team is trying to be smart and cautious, with the priority of having Sanders ready for the season.

"He will be ready to play," a source said.  []

That's great news for the Eagles, who expect big things from the Penn State product this year. 

So, why the headline about bringing in a veteran running back, something the Eagles have been rumored to be interested in all offseason but have yet to pull the trigger on?

Well, it's actually quite simple. For the first time this offseason — and for an extended period, at that — the Eagles will get a look at what life will be like should their star running back go down and be forced out multiple weeks.

And, to be honest, it isn't pretty.

Behind Sanders, the Eagles have Boston Scott, a practice-squad-player-turned-late-season-hero; Corey Clement, who was huge in the Super Bowl win but has struggled to stay healthy since; another former practice squad player in Elijah Holyfield; and Michael Warren and Adrian Killins, a pair of undrafted free agent rookies.

Here's a look at the career rushing numbers of the Eagles current running backs...


There is some talent there, to be sure, as we've seen from Scott and Clement in the past. But there's also very little experience and a lack of consistency you'd like to see from your running game. They can solve all that by adding a veteran, someone who can backup Sanders when he's healthy and take over for him in his absence, allowing guys like Clement and Scott — talented rushers, but certainly not feature backs at this point — to remain in their ancillary roles where the Eagles can use them in ways most suited to their talents. 

Prior to Sanders' injury being announced on Wednesday, assistant head coach and running back coach Duce Staley was asked about his stable of running backs, he sung their praises (as one would expect), but it was clear not only who the top dog is, but also how much the former Eagles running back plans to use him. 

"I think we have good backs," Staley said. "I think that Miles can do it all, and when you have a guy like Miles that can make people miss, that can lower his shoulder and also run you over, you want to put the ball in his hands as much as possible and you trust him. I think that's what we are. 

"We have [RB] Corey [Clement], we have [RB] Boston [Scott], we have a cast of younger guys, also, and we'll see what they can do here shortly. But as much as I can give the ball to Miles and let him create and go out there and just kind of just trust him to do the right thing, I think do you it as much as possible."

As you can see from that quote, Sanders figures to be a huge part of this offense, meaning any extended absence could have a trickle down affect that hamstrings the entire offense, not all that different to when they lost DeSean Jackson last season and lost any legitimate deep threat. 

When it comes to Eagles running backs, Sanders is a bit of an anomaly because he can do it all — running inside, running outside, catching passes out of the backfield, and even lining up as a wide receiver. In addition to his 818 rushing yards in 2019, Sanders caught 50 passes for 509 yards and three touchdowns. That's why there's talk about him being the next Brian Westbrook

Having a weapon as versatile as that is a huge advantage to an offense, and should he go missing without a capable backup, the Eagles could be in trouble. For much of Westbrook's career, the Eagles also had another veteran back to share the load. That's not the case for Philly this season, and why, now that they're getting a taste of what exactly they have behind Sanders, they could take another look at the free agent market.

So, what's out there? A lot more than you might think, actually.

The big name, and one that has been linked to the Eagles throughout the offseason is former Falcons rusher Devonta Freeman. He's got the experience and versatility to fit the what the Eagles need. And, when Sanders is healthy, his strengths tend line up with where Sanders might need the most help — absorbing the blows that come with running between the tackles. 

He's hardly the only option. Here's a look at some of the free agent running backs currently on the market and their career numbers.

Devonta Freeman285951.64.226.243
Isaiah Crowell277749.24.312.028
Bilal Powell3110933.74.314.720
Theo Riddick298412.23.626.619

As you can see, there's a clear winner there in Freeman. He makes a ton of sense for this team, especially if they want to ensure a backup plan in case Sanders goes down. They got lucky that this injury happened now and not in Week 1. Otherwise they might have even fewer options to bring it.

Now, if they want to act, it comes down to cost and fitting another running back within their already precarious salary cap structure. But given that Sanders is arguably the second most important player on the team, especially on the offensive side of the ball, they may want to make sure they have a solid backup plan that won't force them to alter their approach dramatically. 

If that's the case, Freeman seems like a no-brainer. As long as the price is right.

As our own Jimmy Kempski pointed out on Wednesday in his practice notes, the Eagles could look for a cheaper option on the trade market, not unlike they've done in the past.

The Eagles do not want to spend much money on a backup running back (nor should they), but Howie Roseman could still be monitoring the running back trade market (think Day 3 pick), as he found good value there in the past with guys like Jay Ajayi and Jordan Howard.

Just last week, Jimmy took a look at three trades the Eagles could make during camp and, unsurprisingly, the first one involved a trade for a running back. 

Clearly, the Birds could use the insurance. It just depends on how much the premiums cost. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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