September 01, 2017
The biggest roster battle of the summer for the Eagles turned out to be the one at running back, one that not everyone was expecting to be so heated at the outset.
When the Eagles submit their initial 53-man roster to the league by 4 p.m. on Saturday, there's a chance that either rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey or undrafted free agent Corey Clement is not on there.
Pumphrey, who broke the FBS career rushing record at San Diego State, has been underwhelming, to say the least this preseason, both on offense – where he averaged 1.9 yards per carry – and on special teams – where he failed to break off even a decent punt return but did manage to muff a few. He did, however, finish the preseason tied for the team high in receptions with 13, albeit for just 72 yards (5.5 yards/catch).
Meanwhile Clement, a Glassboro native who went undrafted out of Wisconsin, was the Eagles most consistent ball carrier through their four preseason games, carrying the ball 28 times for 105 yards (3.8 yards/carry) and two touchdowns. He also caught seven passes for 46 yards (6.6 yards/catch).
And he thinks that should be enough.
"Yes, I do," Clement said, when if he expects to make the 53-man roster. "You always have to show confidence. If I said 'no,' then I'm in the wrong sport. You have to have confidence within yourself. I look forward to some great news, a smile from my parents, the town of Glassboro, and Philadelphia, as well.
"I think I left just enough to keep their eyes focused on what's at stake in keeping me here. I'm just very thankful to even get an opportunity with this great organization. Come tomorrow, I want to spread the great news, hopefully I made the 53-man roster. This training camp has been great, fun, and I think I did everything in my power to make it." [nj.com]
But given his status as an UDFA – even if the local angle makes you want to pull for the kid – he was already facing a steep, uphill climb to a roster spot.
Earlier in the week, head coach Doug Pederson talked about whether or not the Eagles would lean towards keeping a guy like Pumphrey (over an UDFA like Clement) because they used a fourth-round pick on him. He suggested that his decisions are based on the which player gives the team the best chance to win.
"At the end of the day you pick the best 53," Pederson said prior to Thursday night's preseason finale against the Jets, a 13-6 loss at MetLife Stadium. "Obviously, I think you do consider where a guy was picked and if there are resources invested, if there's guarantees, all that stuff, which I leave that to Howie [Roseman] and those guys. I'm sure that plays a little bit into the decisions.
"But from my standpoint, we pick the best 53 football players for this roster."
And after four games and a whole summer worth of evaluation, that race may still be too close to call for Pederson, who suggested in his postgame conference that the Eagles could ultimately keep five running backs.
"Is it realistic? I don’t know," he said when asked about the idea of carrying that many at the RB position. "Again, that’s something we’ll evaluate. It could be based on other positions, but it’s not out of the question."
One of those positions the Eagles could use to free up some space for a running back would be at wide receiver, especially given Pumphrey's pass-catching ability and the fact that they had him lined up in the slot throughout camp. Of course, that could come at the expense of a guy like Marcus Johnson, who had a nice preseason that was capped off by a touchdown against the Jets, his second of the summer.
Another option for the Birds could be placing Pumphrey on injured reserve – it's just a little convenient that Pumphrey left last night's game with a head injury, no? That way, he wouldn't count against their 53-man roster but unlike practice squad players wouldn't have to clear waivers (and couldn't be later plucked away by another team). The catch here is that in order to avoid him hitting waivers, the Eagles must wait until after final cuts – meaning he will initially count against their 53 – before doing so.
So what will Pederson and Roseman decide? We likely won't know until tomorrow, but in the meantime, there's no shortage of roster projections trying to figure out the Eagles running back situation before the coach and GM.
Here's a look at what they're saying:
Jimmy Kempski, PhillyVoice
My apologies, Corey Clement fans. Yes, Clement outplayed Donnel Pumphrey in training camp and the preseason. Unfortunately, he is a not-that-fast running back who struggles catching the football. Those guys are a dime a dozen. He's practice squad material all the way.
Pumphrey is a fourth-round pick that the team traded up for. They're not cutting him. [phillyvoice.com]
Dave Zangaro, CSNPhilly.com
I left Corey Clement off the list, which is going to make a lot of people mad. The undrafted running back did everything he could have this preseason to make the roster. But he wasn't drafted in the fourth round like Donnel Pumphrey. And he wasn't the running back they traded up in the fourth round to get like Donnel Pumphrey. So it might be unfair, but I think Clement is the odd man out. [csnphilly.com]
Turron Davenport, The Eagles Wire
Smallwood is the best back on the team. His skills set is a mixture of the rest of the group. The tough decision will come down to Pumphrey or Corey Clement. In the end, Pumphrey’s versatility trumps Clement. [theeagleswire.usatoday.com]
Aaron Kasinitz, PennLive
Pumphrey’s struggled to find his footing this preseason, but I’ll bet the Eagles give the fourth-round rookie a year to learn before they consider cutting him. That leaves undrafted rookie Corey Clement without a roster spot, but the Birds would love to keep him on the practice squad in this scenario (and if he doesn’t sign elsewhere.) [pennlive.com]
*Indicates writer believes Pumphrey will head to IR
Tim McManus, ESPN*
The Eagles haven't cut a fourth-round pick out of training camp since releasing safety Damien Robinson in 1997. History is on Donnel Pumphrey's side, then. Clement is an undrafted rookie but has had the better summer and is moving up the depth chart on special teams. The house is divided on this one. We'll give the edge to Clement with the thought that the Eagles will successfully find a way to stash Pumphrey. [espn.com]
Reuben Frank, CSNPhilly.com
I said all preseason no way they cut a fourth-round rookie, but Donnel Pumphrey didn’t show one single flash the entire preseason. I know he’s supposed to be a long-term project, but do you keep him over a promising player at another position just because he’s a fourth-round pick? I say no. [csnphilly.com]
Matt Lombardo, NJ.com*
The Eagles would strongly prefer not to keep fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey on the 53-man roster, given that he has yet to show an ability to consistently make plays in space, finishing the season averaging a paltry 1.88 yards per carry. [nj.com]
Nick Fierro, Allentown Morning Call
Clement would be the slight surprise here, making it as an undrafted rookie ahead of fourth-round draft pick Donnel Pumphrey. Clement is sturdier and had a better preseason. However, executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman could well drop Clement as well in favor of another back they see on the waiver wire. [mcall.com]
Brandon Lee Gowton, Bleeding Green Nation
I’d be surprised if the Eagles kept this many running backs, but according to Howard Eskin that’s what they’re likely going to do. Something to keep in mind here ... is that the original 53-man roster is NOT the final one in the sense that more cuts can always happen once the Eagles see who else becomes available around the league. I could see the Eagles adding another running back if a quality player shakes loose. [bleedinggreennation.com]
Zach Berman, The Philadelphia Inquirer
My attempt at the Eagles' (first) 53-man roster. This is what I think they'd do, not what I'd do. Also, think it looks different come Mon.: pic.twitter.com/WmOaaf3ROq— Zach Berman (@ZBerm) September 1, 2017
Eliot Shorr-Parks, NJ.com
The fact there is even a debate here speaks to just how well Clement has played and how worrisome the play of Pumphrey has been. Pumphrey has not looked good, and doesn't seem ready to contribute to the team this season.
Clement, on the other hand, has played well in short yardage situations and done a nice job catching the ball out of the backfield. [nj.com]
Adrian Fedkiw, PhillyInfluencer.com
I certainly wouldn’t be shocked if the Eagles kept five running backs, but I would think the phantom IR situation will pop up for Pumphrey eventually. [phillyinfluencer.com]
The biggest takeaway from all this?
Despite all the talk of the running back battle, only two of the 12 writers listed above believe that Pumphrey will be outright cut. Most, however, are of the opinion that Pumphrey makes it, whether that means he starts out on IR or not.
And I tend to agree.
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