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May 18, 2017

LeGarrette Blount may be more than just a short-yardage back for the Eagles

When the Philadelphia Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract on Wednesday, they added a 250-pound sledgehammer to an otherwise abnormally small backfield rotation.

In 2016, including the playoffs, Blount scored 19 TDs, from the following distances (in chronological order): 8, 9, 1, 41, 1, 1, 3, 5, 1, 1, 1, 13, 43, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, and 1. That would be 12 one-yard plunges.

Blount's short-yardage prowess is obvious, as he does not go down from arm tackles, and will typically fall forward once he gets his girthy body moving with forward momentum. He will instantly become the Eagles' best short-yardage back. 

Below is a chart comparing Blount's third- and fourth-and-short numbers in 2016 vs. those of the Eagles' backs last season. The "percentage" in the column to the far right shows how frequently each runner gained a first down or scored a touchdown in those situations (the first down total includes touchdowns).

Player Rush Yards YPC TD-1D Pct 
 LeGarrette Blount19 107 5.6 5-1368.2% 
 Darren Sproles36 4.5 0-5 62.5% 
 Wendell Smallwood13 3.3 0-3 75% 
 Ryan Mathews12 10 0.8 2-5 41.7% 

Not factoring in offensive line play, Blount's numbers in those situations last season were excellent, as the chart above shows.

However, Blount will probably be more than just a short-yardage back in the Eagles' system. In many ways, his style of play is similar to that of Ryan Mathews', in that they are both physical backs who lack receiving ability. While Mathews only had 155 carries last season, the Eagles fed him when he was healthy and they managed to keep games close.

In 2016, Mathews played in 13 games. In seven of those games, Mathews carried the ball at least 10 times. 

• Four of those games were wins. 

• One was a game they had under control (vs. the Lions) before he fumbled it away. 

• Two were close throughout (vs. the Ravens, and the second matchup against the Redskins). 

In other words, as long the Eagles were in games, they fed their bigger back, giving him an average of 17 carries in those games.

In the other six games, Mathews had single-digit carries, but with good reason:

• Bears: The Eagles came out in that game with the intent of spreading out the Bears' defense, often going shotgun with an empty backfield. Mathews' lack of heavy carry numbers was mostly gameplan-related, though he did score twice.

• Steelers: He got hurt on his second carry of the game and did not return.

• First Redskins matchup: This was that weird game where the Eagles were playing from behind and went about a quarter and a half without having the ball on offense.

• Cowboys/Giants: These two games followed the Vikings game, in which Mathews had an egregiously bad fumble for the second time in a clock-killing situation, and got quasi-benched.

• Seahawks: The Eagles were mostly playing from behind, and had to throw a lot.

Blount carried the ball 299 times for the Super Bowl winning Patriots a year ago. Certainly, he got extra usage because the Pats were often protecting leads, but that was still the second-highest number of carries in the NFL, behind only Ezekiel Elliott.

In my initial review of Blount's running style, he's more elusive than you would think. His feet are quick in the hole for a man of his size, and he moves laterally to hit the open hole very effectively. Here's a highlight reel from 2016 that shows off the athletic side of his game.

I'm of the belief that Blount will simply assume Mathews' 2016 role in 2017, and as long as the Eagles remain in games, they'll feed him.

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