The Eagles 2016 season was one to forget for multiple reasons. The performances from the running backs was one of those reasons. The backfield was mostly led by veterans Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. Rookie Wendell Smallwood also saw ample playing time.
Mathews drew eight starts and had 155 attempts, ran for 661 yards and eight touchdowns, all leading the team. Sproles had 94 attempts, 438 yards and only two touchdowns but his greatest effectiveness came through the air, which was significantly down compared to previous years. However, Sproles was one of the top punt and kick returners in the NFL and made the Pro Bowl as a special teamer. Smallwood only started three games and was largely ineffective, rushing for 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 attempts.
With a rookie quarterback under center, the running backs did little to relieve pressure on Carson Wentz or ramp up the offense. As the 2017 season approaches, the team made some offseason transactions that should give the running back situation a new look.
The State of the Philadelphia Eagles Running Backs
2017 Current Philadelphia Eagles Running Backs
Donnel Pumphrey (2017 fourth round pick)
Corey Clement (2017 undrafted free agent)
The Eagles running back count has only gotten bigger since last season. Mathews, Sproles, Smallwood and Marshall all took snaps and played last season, but the team has added two very different running backs since the draft. Pumphrey is a quick, elusive back who has great pass catching abilities like Sproles. He finished his college career at San Diego State as the all-time leader in rushing yards in NCAA Division I FBS history with 6,290 yards. Clement was also extremely productive at Wisconsin in four years, but was known for his brute, hard hitting style of running. Pumphrey can add spark and electricity in the backfield, while Clement can hopefully establish himself on the team and become the power back, goal line, tough yardage rusher.
2017 Projected Depth Chart
- Darren Sproles
- Wendell Smallwood
- Donnel Pumphrey
- Corey Clement
The Eagles should not be adding any new running backs, but the position is too crowded to begin the season. The general expectation is that Ryan Mathews will be released from his contract, due to his large cap hit and the franchise looking for a fresh start. Mathews was too inconsistent when he did play, while continuing his longstanding injury history. Byron Marshall only got playing time when Smallwood and Mathews were out at the end of last season. The additions of two talented rookie backs should push him aside, potentially to the practice squad.
To the surprise of many, I predict Clement to be the most effective running back in Philly next season. Sproles has one year left before he most likely retires and he is most effective on passing downs. Sproles should be a nice teacher and mentor to Pumphrey. Smallwood is undersized and does not have great power. He did not play great when he was called upon and the new rookies could make this a make or break year for him.
That leaves Clement, who could fill a much-needed gap in the depth chart. The other backs are all small sized, but the 220 pound Clement can become an every down back with brute force ability. I predict him to shine in the preseason, make the roster to start the season and by the halfway point become the starting running back. Sproles should start as the third down, passing down back and continue to shine on special teams in the return game. Pumphrey is the wild card, who had exquisite running ability in college and can learn new skills in the passing game. The late round draft pick should get an increased role as the season goes on and potentially steal playing time away from Sproles.
Overall, this position is a work in progress, especially with two rookies who are primed to see the field often. The production should be much better than in 2016, especially if these players can stay healthy and learn the playbook quickly. Carson Wentz in year two will already have a firmer grip on the offense and if the running backs can give ANYTHING more consistent than last season, Wentz and the offense should significantly improve from last season.