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July 09, 2019

Eagles training camp preview: Running back

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 Monday, we started with the quarterbacks. Today, we'll continue on with the running backs.

 RB Jordan HowardMiles Sanders Corey Clement Wendell Smallwood 
 RB (cont.)Josh Adams Boston Scott Donnel Pumphrey  

Jordan Howard

The Eagles had a committee approach at running back in their Super Bowl season, and they'll employ one once again in 2019. Howard will likely be the starter to start the season, and he'll be sort of the physical "meat and potatoes" guy who will (a) get you the yards that are blocked up for him, (b) handle the lion's share of the short yardage situations, and (c) grind out carries in the second half if the team is able to get comfortable leads on their opponents.

He'll be an upgrade in all three of those departments over what the team finished with a year ago, though that's a low bar. Howard's pro career got off to a fast start in 2016, as he had 5.1 yards per carry as a rookie, but those numbers have fallen off in each of the last two seasons. He averaged 4.1 yards per carry in 2017, and 3.7 yards per carry in 2018. In Philly, he'll be playing behind a better offensive line than what he had in Chicago.

Where he isn't expected to be much of a factor is in the passing game. To note, the team has praised his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, and is adamant that he can contribute as a receiver. We'll see. 

Miles Sanders

The Eagles unanimously liked Sanders as a prospect, from the coaching staff, to the front office, to the "football guys," to the "analytics nerds." At Penn State, he put up better yards per carry numbers (6.0 vs. 5.7) than his predecessor, Saquon Barkley, though obviously, Barkley got more attention from opposing defenses.

Sanders isn't the biggest back, but he has good athleticism, runs with some wiggle, and finishes his runs with some pop, as he usually falls forward when tackled.

Heading into his rookie season, Sanders has three issues to clean up:

  1. Ball security
  2. Pass protection
  3. Receiving ability

He is behind in his development, having missed all of spring practices with a nagging hamstring injury, and will need to make fast strides in training camp in concern areas No. 1 and No. 2 above to get on the field early in the season.

Corey Clement

In 2017, Clement was a useful contributor both in the run game and as a receiver out of the backfield. In the Super Bowl, he was huge, as he had 100 receiving yards and a touchdown reception. It was expected that Clement would pick up in 2018 where he left off in 2017, but that didn't happen due to an assortment of injuries.

In 2019, Clement spent some of spring practices running on a side field, but he has not yet practiced with the team. Realistically, Clement is the only running back on the team the offensive staff can count on to be a contributor in the passing game, and is the clear "passing down" back with Darren Sproles not on the roster. The Eagles need him to be healthy for the regular season.

To note, this is where the locks to make the team end.

Wendell Smallwood

Smallwood just continues to survive on the roster, despite three years of a lack of receiving production and questionable pass protection. As a runner, he doesn't offer much in the way of explosion or big play ability.

And yet, the Eagles have needed him at times in each of the last three seasons. He'll have to hold off the contenders below looking to take his job. 

Josh Adams

Adams led the team in rushing last season. He's a big back, but he's a bit of an oddity, skill set-wise. In short yardage situations, he was dreadful as a rookie, but he showed that he can gobble up yards in chunks when he gets some space and can get his long strides going.

Adams did not make the initial 53-man roster last year, and no teams claimed him off of waivers. I suspect he'll be able to clear waivers this year as well, and would ideally serve as a practice squad player ready to be called up if/when injuries occur.

Boston Scott

Scott (5'6, 203) got some hype this spring when Doug Pederson said he was filling Sproles' role in the spring. If Scott is going to crack the roster, it will have to be because he's a significant contributor on special teams, most importantly as a returner.

Donnel Pumphrey

Yes, Donnel Pumphrey is back on the roster.

2019 outlook

The 2019 backs will undoubtedly be better than the 2018 backs, though as noted above, that's not a high bar to clear. Howard is a solid back, Sanders provides some upside, and the Eagles hope Clement can return to form whenever he's fully healed from a serious knee injury. There's some room for optimism, but there are also still plenty of question marks. 

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