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February 22, 2017

NFL Combine preview: Running back prospects who could interest the Eagles

Eagles NFL

The NFL Combine will kick off in Indianapolis next week, so we'll begin taking a look at some participants at each positional group every day. Yesterday we started with the quarterbacks. Today we'll tackle the running backs.

Is running back a need?

Duh, yes it is. The Birds need to add to their stable at running back, which will almost certainly be without Ryan Mathews in 2017, and Darren Sproles in 2018.

The Eagles haven't drafted a running back in the first round since they took Keith Byars 10th overall in 1986. Meanwhile, teams that employed Joe Douglas, the guy who will be setting the Eagles' draft board, haven't drafted one in the first round in more than 15 years, when the Ravens took Jamal Lewis in 2000.

In other words, if you came here expecting to see Dalvin Cook, my apologies, but he's not listed below. A week ago, we went a looooong way to explain why Cook (or any other running back for that matter) is unlikely to be the Eagles' choice in the first round.

It is our belief that the Eagles will target running backs who can not only, you know, run, but who can be weapons in the passing game. Here are five who I believe fit the profile of the type of back the Eagles will target.

Curtis Samuel, Ohio State (5'11, 200)

Samuel led NCAA running backs with 865 receiving yards on 74 receptions in 2016. He also had 7 touchdown receptions. Samuel was such a weapon as a pass catcher at OSU that some project him as a receiver at the pro level. Here, we'll project him as a running back with stellar receiving ability. As a runner, Samuel rushed 97 times for 771 yards (a lofty 7.9 YPC) and 8 TDs last season.

Samuel is a very skilled route runner, which would enable the Eagles to move him around the formation, creating mismatches against opposing linebackers, similarly to the way the Eagles use Sproles.

Kareem Hunt, Toledo (5'10, 208)

Over his four-year career at Toledo, Hunt racked up almost 5,000 rushing yards:

 Kareem HuntRush Yards YPC TD 
 2013137 866 6.3 
 2014205 1631 8.0 16 
 2015178 973 5.5 12 
 2016262 1475 5.6 10 
 TOTAL782 4945 6.3 44 

On those 782 career carries, Hunt has a grand total of one fumble, which was in 2013. That's amazing.

Through his first three seasons at Toledo, Hunt wasn't much of a threat as a receiver, but as a senior, he caught 41 passes for 403 yards and a TD. At 5'10, 208, Hunt is a shorter back with OK speed and ability to break tackles. However, what really stands out when watching him is his balance.

Wayne Gallman, Clemson (6'0, 215)

Gallman was the running complement to Deshaun Watson and Clemson's passing attack. He's a little leaner than preferred, and thus he's not much of a pile-pusher, but I love the way he runs. He is a physical, determined runner who breaks a lot of tackles in space, and looks to dish out punishment to would-be tacklers. His career numbers:

Wayne Gallman Rush Yards YPC TD 
 2014161 769 4.8 
 2015283 1527 5.4 13 
 2016232 1133 4.9 17 
 TOTAL623 3239 5.1 34 

Gallman's yards per carry are low, but somewhat forgivable considering the level of competition Clemson saw. 

With 65 career receptions, Gallman also has some receiving ability. He does a nice job catching the ball with his hands and then immediately transitioning as a runner. That has to be a skill set that will intrigue the Eagles in the screen game. 

Jeremy McNichols, Boise State (5'9, 212)

McNichols is in the second year as the lead back at Boise State. His numbers the last two years are better than Doug Martin's last two years at Boise when he was a first-round pick coming out of college.

 PlayerRushes Yards YPC TD 
 Doug Martin (2010-11)464 2559 5.5 28 
 Jeremy McNichols (2015-16)554 3046 5.5 43 

And as receivers out of the backfield:

 PlayerRec Yards YPC TD 
 Doug Martin (2010-11)56 593 10.9 
 Jeremy McNichols (2015-16)88 934 10.6 10 

McNichols and Martin also happen to have short statures, at 5'9. While Martin was a first-round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, McNichols can probably be had in the fourth. 

Elijah McGuire, Louisiana Lafayette (5'9, 212)

Like Hunt above, McGuire produced all four years of his college career, although it's somewhat interesting that his yards per carry declined every year:

Elijah McGuire Rush Yards YPC TD 
 2013103 863 8.4 
 2014166 1264 7.6 14 
 2015210 1058 5.0 13 
 2016187 918 4.9 
 TOTAL666 4103 6.2 41 

Where McGuire stands out, at least in terms of his appeal to the Eagles, is his ability as a receiver out of the backfield, in case I haven't hammered that home enough:

 Elijah McGuireRec Yards YPC TD 
 201322 384 17.5 
 201445 468 10.4 
 201533 293 8.9 
 201627 231 8.6 
 TOTAL127 1376 10.8 10 

McGuire wasn't just catching screen passes. Like Samuel above, he caught passes deep down the field like a receiver, meaning that the Eagles could move him around the formation and try to force mismatches. He has a little Shady in his game with his athletic cutting ability, and occasional penchant for losing yardage while dancing behind the line of scrimmage trying to make too much happen.

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