The Eagles run game led the NFL in rushing last year.
They did so with an average group of running backs. They did so because their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was the team’s leading rusher.
Hurts is a valuable asset in the Eagles’ running game. But you don’t want him carrying the ball 139 times as he did last season. That’s very bad.
- You want him running when there is a gaping hole in the defense and he can scamper for yards in relative safety.
- You don’t want him diving head-first into a pile of angry defenders on a third-and-one.
If Hurts gets hurt, there goes the season.
MORE PASSING, LESS RUNNING
Hurts is a talented quarterback who also is a gifted athlete. The Eagles would prefer he lead the team behind the strength of his right arm.
They want him picking his spots with the running — grab a key first down here and there, but don’t make his running a major part of the game plan.
Hurts gained 784 yards on the ground with 10 rushing touchdowns. The Eagles would prefer he show patience in the pocket when scanning the field looking for receivers. Run when necessary, not frequently.
Hurts also picked up 56 first downs on his 139 attempts. Valuable yards, yes, and some huge touchdowns.
But there are running backs to do that dirty work.
ANOTHER RUNNING BACK NEEDED?
That’s where the Eagles might fall short. There are five running backs on the roster — Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenneth Gainwell, Jason Huntley and rookie Kennedy Brooks.
And … and …
That’s the point. I’m not an NFL personnel director but the Eagles’ running back room seems a little thin. It might sound strange that the team that led the NFL in rushing last year needs a boost to its running back group.
Do the Eagles have that guy who can get them a tough yard or two — who isn’t named Jalen Hurts? Theoretically, any running back can get that yard — especially behind an all-world offensive line — but do they have a reliable specialist to do the job?
Last year, they had Jordan Howard, who gained 406 yards on 86 carries over seven games. Howard had a nose for the first-down marker and gained yards after an initial hit. He also scored seven touchdowns.
Howard is a free agent — so, he’s available. In 2020, he played five games with Miami before coming to Philly for two games. Maybe the Eagles plan to add him after training camp begins.
One bad sign: Howard’s uniform number, 24, has been given to new defensive back James Bradberry.
SANDERS COULD BE A STAR
Sanders could be a top running back in the league, if he can stay on the field. He’s only been on the injured reserve once (October 2021) but he has missed games because of injuries (ankle, hamstring, knee, knee again, ankle, hand). He’s missed eight games in the last two years.
When he’s on the field, Sanders has some astounding numbers. He already is the 14th leading rusher in Eagles’ history with 2,439 yards after only three seasons.
He has averaged 5.1 yards per carry, the highest in Eagles history by a running back. He also has fumbled seven times in 40 games. That kills drives and momentum.
Sanders is a receiving threat out of the backfield. He has 104 catches for 864 yards and three touchdowns.
If the Eagles had a healthy, fumble-free Sanders in the backfield, their offense would have another dimension … and not put Hurts in jeopardy as much.
Of course, Sanders made news this offseason with comments to CBS Sports.
“We all feel like we’re on an all-star team,” Sanders said. “We feel unstoppable, I’m not gonna lie. The vibes are great, always have been …
“Nick Sirianni is doing a great job just keeping the vibes right, the chemistry good. We compete a lot in practice. But we’ve gotta see. It’s gonna come down to camp, taking it day by day, putting everything together.”
Yikes. Make room on the bulletin board, Eagles 2022 opponents.
Wide receiver A.J. Brown tried to put out the fire with these comments on Twitter:
“He’s excited about what this team could be. We all are. But we’re not an All-Star team. We definitely could be with years to come. We have to strap up our pads and prove it every year and that’s what we plan to do!”
A LOOK AT THE OTHER BACKS
Gainwell impressed us as a rookie last year. The Eagles envision him as an elusive, third-down back who can catch clutch passes. He caught 33 passes for 253 yards last season. He rushed 68 times for 291 yards. The Eagles see Gainwell growing into his role with his year’s experience.
Scott is undersized but scampered for 373 yards on 87 carries. He scored seven touchdowns. He only started four games but played in 16 games.
Huntley is in his third year with the Eagles but has only played six games. He is speedy and has been used on punt returns and kickoff returns. Not sure how much help he will provide in a regular role out of the backfield.
COULD UNDRAFTED BROOKS MAKE NOISE?
That brings us to undrafted free agent Brooks. He was an absolute star at Oklahoma, gaining 3,316 yards in three years. He also scored 31 touchdowns.
Brooks ran a decent time at the Combine, just not enough to get drafted. He’s only 5-11, 213 pounds.
The All Sooners blog said this about Brooks:
“Brooks’ patient running style is in the mold of a Le’Veon Bell, with an emphasis on vision, anticipation and exploding through a developing hole. His versatility as a runner, a pass catcher and a blocker will land him a job on the next level.”
Brooks might have landed in the right place, especially if he can block. The Eagles might have a roster spot available, along with potential playing time, the opportunity to carry the ball and a talented line leading the way.