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July 14, 2018

Eagles training camp preview: Running back

Eagles NFL
Carroll - Eagles Stock Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Donnel Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey and Jay Ajayi during OTAs at the NovaCare Complex.

Leading up to training camp, we'll take a look at every player on the Philadelphia Eagles' roster, and how they fit with the team. On Friday, we started with the quarterbacks. Today, we'll continue on with the running backs.

  1
 RB Jay AjayiCorey Clement Darren Sproles Matt Jones 
 RB (cont.)Donnel Pumphrey Wendell Smallwood Josh Adams  

Jay Ajayi

Ajayi joined the team in 2017 at the trade deadline, and gave the Eagles added punch in their running game. The previous season, Ajayi was fourth in the NFL in rushing, when he the carried the ball 260 times for 1272 yards (4.9 YPC) and 8 TDs. 

2017 was a tale of two seasons for Ajayi, as his numbers improved drastically after he got out of Miami:

Jay Ajayi Rush Yards YPC TD 
 With Miami 138465 3.4 
 With Philly 70408 5.8 


With one year left on his rookie contract, Ajayi will be looking to make good money in free agency next offseason, so this could be his final year with the team. As such, there's a good chance the Eagles will look to get their money's worth out of him this season, giving him a much higher workload than he had a year ago. That should be fine with Ajayi, who will want his stats to look good heading into a contract year.

Corey Clement

Clement was a major success story as an undrafted free agent last offseason, as he filled the role vacated by Darren Sproles after Sproles tore his ACL. Clement had an outstanding showing in the Super Bowl, catching four passes for 100 yards and a TD.

During the 2017 regular season, Clement carried 74 times for 321 yards (4.3 YPA) and 4 TDs. He also chipped in 10 receptions for 123 yards and 2 TDs. Expect his role to increase in 2018.

Darren Sproles

During his time with the Eagles, Sproles has always been the Eagles' most well-rounded running back, as he can run inside, run outside, be a weapon in the passing game, and he has easily always been the team's best back in pass protection. Obviously, because of his small size, however, Sproles has been never been used as a 'workhorse' type of back, as he never topped 100 carries in any season in his entire career. Still, he was typically on the field in the Eagles' most crucial situations.

That could change in 2018 with the emergence of Clement. Sproles will have a role in the Eagles offense, but I would expect his snaps (per game) to decrease in 2018, as most of his contributions will likely come as a returner on special teams.

Matt Jones

Back in May, the Eagles signed Jones, formerly with the Colts and Redskins, to a two-year deal worth a hair over $1.5 million, none of which is guaranteed.

Jones was a third round pick in 2015 who is still only 25 years old who has had some decent moments in the NFL. In 2016, in seven games, he had 99 carries for 460 yards (4.6 YPC) and 3 TDs, showing some promising traits in the process. All 99 carries can be seen in the video below. 


Unfortunately, fumbles have been Jones’ biggest issue so far in the pros. In 275 career touches, he has 8 fumbles. That’s one fumble for every 34 touches. Obviously, that’s terrible.

But it’s actually even worse than those 8 fumbles in the stat sheet would indicate. 

In a 2016 game against the Detroit Lions, Jones was involved in three plays where the ball hit the ground. One was a fumble near the goal line that the Lions recovered for a touchback. The other two were bad handoff exchanges. One looked like Jones’ fault, while the other was because Kirk Cousins got his foot stepped on by one of his linemen. Both of those fumbles were charged to Cousins.

After that Lions game, which came in Week 7, Jones never stepped foot on the field again for the Redskins in the regular season. They released him at final 53-man cutdowns in 2017, and he was promptly scooped up by the Colts, where he mostly rode the bench all year.

One thing to note is that Jones generally has had more success late in games. As you can see below (granted, small sample size), there's a steady progression of improvement in each quarter:

ATTYDSYPATD
1st27953.50
2nd21783.72
3rd19814.30
4th322066.41


There's logic that Jones' best role is as a late-game closer, who is a difficult player to tackle when opposing defenses are fatigued. He would, in theory, be more of an asset to a projected Super Bowl-contending team like the Eagles, who could have their share of fourth quarter leads, than teams like the crappy 2017 Colts or the mediocre 2015-2016 Redskins.

If he can stop fumbling, Jones could be a player who steps into the LeGarrette Blount role.

Donnel Pumphrey

Pumphrey was a fourth round pick of the team in 2017, and the Eagles gave him a lot of reps in OTAs and minicamp, lining him up all over the field as a running back and receiver. However, Pumphrey had a disappointing training camp and preseason, and his roster spot on the 53-man roster was in question at final cutdowns. Ultimately, Pumphrey made the team, but was inactive Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, and then landed on IR with a "torn hamstring."

At 5'9, 176, Pumphrey falls well short of ideal size in the NFL, and he doesn't have eye-popping explosiveness as a runner to make up for his slight build. He will have a chance to make the roster this season, but it will be in a crowded backfield. He's going to have to show that he can double as a slot receiver, which is something the other backs (mostly) cannot do.

Wendell Smallwood

After Sproles tore his ACL, Smallwood was poised to take over his role as the third down back, which he did for a short time before injuring his knee. He lost his job to Clement, and never got it back.

On the season, Smallwood had 47 carries for 147 yards (3.7 YPC) and 1 TD. He also chipped in 13 catches for 103 yards and 0 TDs. Most view Smallwood as a long shot to make the roster this season, as he has not done enough to capitalize on his opportunities in his two years with the team. Smallwood is a good candidate for a player-for-player back of the roster trade.

Josh Adams

Adams was a priority free agent signing for the Eagles who received a signing bonus of $25,000.

As we saw last season, the Eagles scored in a major way with the signing of Clement after the draft, and they hope Adams can be a contributor as well. Adams will begin training camp well behind where Clement was a season ago, as Adams was sidelined for the entirety of spring practices with a foot injury.

After a pair of productive seasons as a freshman and sophomore, Adams was having a monster junior season in 2017, as he worked himself into the Heisman discussion, before falling off. His college numbers:

 Josh AdamsRush Yards YPC TD 
 2015117 835 7.1 
 2016158 933 5.9 
 2017191 1386 7.3 
 TOTAL466 3154 6.8 20 


Those numbers are obviously good, however, Adams had the advantage of running behind a pair of offensive linemen in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, who got drafted sixth and ninth overall, respectively, in the 2018 NFL Draft. A highlight reel:


Adams offers very little in the passing game, both as a receiver and as a blocker, and he explosion as a runner isn't on par with many of the other backs in the 2017 draft, which is why he didn't get drafted. However, he'll have a chance to make the roster as a big, powerful back.


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