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May 19, 2017

Mailbag: How will the Eagles divvy up carries for their running backs?

In our weekly Eagles chat on Wednesday, there were a lot of good unanswered questions that I was not able to get to, so we'll cover them here in an Eagles mailbag.

Question from Steph: How do you see the carries being divided among the running backs with the addition of LeGarrette Blount?
I think that as long as the Eagles stay in games, they are going to feed Blount similarly to the way they fed Ryan Mathews. He'll be more than just a short-yardage back, as we explained in greater detail on Thursday.

The Eagles are going to have different game plans for different teams, which is something Doug Pederson explained at the Annual Meetings in March.

"Every run game plan every week changes," he said. "Sometimes you’re going to be more inside the tackles, and then the next week you might be outside the tackles, so you have to have the versatility to do that."

The Eagles don't have a "three-down back" who has the versatility to run inside, run outside, be a weapon in the passing game, and pass protect. What they have is a group of backs who can do all those things collectively, but no one back can do it all effectively. Therefore, Pederson is going to have to be creative with his running back committee.

Last year, the Eagles gave the ball to their backs 381 times. Here's how those carries were distributed:

Player Rushing attempts 
 Ryan Mathews155 
 Darren Sproles94 
 Wendell Smallwood77 
 Kenjon Barner27 
 Byron Marshall19 
 Terrell Watson

Using just the backs currently on the roster, I'd set the rushing attempt over/unders like so:

  1. LeGarrette Blount: 170
  2. Darren Sproles: 80
  3. Wendell Smallwood: 80
  4. Donnel Pumphrey: 50
The lesson to be learned here? Stay away from Eagles running backs in your fantasy football drafts.

Question from Joe: I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions on Torrey Smith. Some say he’ll be the second most targeted receiver and have good stats. Some say he won’t make the roster at all like Reuben Randle last year. What say you?

Torrey Smith is going to make the roster. Yes, he had a rough season last year as we pointed out a couple months ago, but this isn't Chris Givens (who stunk) or Rueben Randle (who gave embarrassing effort).

Smith signed the day before free agency began, and the team gave him his own press conference after doing so. Guys like Randle and Givens were afterthought signings. Randle, for example, signed 14 days into free agency, while Givens' deal was for the veteran minimum salary and only $100,000 in guarantees. They didn't sign Smith and subsequently market him just to cut him.

Is Smith going to get the second-most targets among the Eagles' receivers? That's unlikely. If Jordan Matthews doesn't get traded, both he and Alshon Jeffery will easily have more targets, assuming they stay healthy. If Matthews gets shipped off for some other asset, then maybe Smith will be the second-most targeted receiver.

In other words, as usual, the outcome will probably fall somewhere in the middle. 

Demand from Wayne Obx: If you think the Birds’ offense is middle-of-the-road, name 14 ahead of them.

During the chat, I said that the Eagles are still just sort of an average, middle-of-the-road offense. Did they make improvements to their offense this offseason? Emphatically, yes. Are they now among the league’s best after those upgrades? Emphatically, no.

While the Eagles no longer have any positions on offense you would point to and say, “Oh my God, that’s gross,” they also don’t have any truly dominant skill players.

Anyway, to answer this demand for 14 teams with better offenses…

Patriots, Steelers, Cowboys, Packers, Falcons, Seahawks, Saints, Cardinals, Colts, Titans, Chargers, Panthers, Chiefs, Buccaneers.


Question from Abe: Isn’t Wisniewski already better at center for the Eagles than Kelce based off of last year’s production? Or was I watching games incorrectly?

Kelce had a bad start to the season, but he was much better in the second half. The idea that he is some sort of scrub is hyperbole. Yes, he struggles against bigger defensive tackles, as he has for the entirety of his career. This is not new. Some fans can't get past that, and just completely dismiss the positives. Kelce also does things in the screen game and in the outside run game that no other center in the league can do. 

He has become "that player" who only gets noticed for the bad, and never praised for the good. Is it alright to prefer a different style of center? Of course. Is it alright to hope the Eagles move on from him? Sure. But the notion that he sucks and is totally useless is ridiculous. I think the extreme criticism is unfair.

As for Wisniewski, to me, he's just a guy, no matter where you put him. At guard, I thought he was below average last year. At center, I wouldn't know what he can do without looking at past seasons, because Kelce didn't miss a snap in 2016. In my view, Kelce is better. Wisniewski doesn't anchor all that well either, and he gives you nothing remotely close to what Kelce does athletically.

If all the Eagles beat writers were entered into a Hunger Games competition except you - who wins? If you are entered in - who do you ally with an ultimately betray?

I would go with Aaron Kasinitz, who writes for He's very quiet, but very good. I feel like he'd just sneak up on people and they wouldn't know what hit them. If you're on Twitter, give him a follow.

As for who I'd ally with, that's a tough question. Are we including Matt Mullin and Rich Hofmann as beat writers? If so, them. A lot of the other outlets have multiple beat writers, so I'd be at a huge disadvantage. If we're not including Matt or Rich, I'd probably have to find one of the other beats who is also a lone wolf for his media outlet. I'd probably go with Martin Frank. He's skinny, so I assume he doesn't have to eat much, and I know he runs, which is more than most of the beats can claim in terms of staying in shape.

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