UDFAs Who Can Make Roster II

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Jan 3, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Missouri Tigers running back Henry Josey (20) dives in to the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Oklahoma State Cowboys at the 2014 Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium. Missouri beat Oklahoma State 41-31. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Running Back Henry Josey

Another area of the Eagles offense that needs competition for its reserves is the running back position.   There is no secret that the Philadelphia Eagles star running back LeSean McCoy is the starter for the foreseeable future, and that newly signed free agent running back Darren Sproles gives head coach and offensive mastermind Chip Kelly a new weapon to confound opposing defenses.   But in the NFL Draft of 2014, the Philadelphia Eagles traded away running back Bryce Brown and must now rely upon third year runner Chris Polk.  But despite three running backs on the roster, each offers a different style of running game.  And in that group, there is room for more.

In running back Henry Josey, more is what you get.  At 5’8″ and 195 pounds, more is certainly NOT the first thing that comes to mind.  But in the words of Jedi Master Yoda: “Judge me by my size, do you?  And well you should not!”   Henry Josey had a widely acclaimed career as a University of Missouri Tiger, both due to his production (he was fifth all time yard gainer despite missing 2012) and due to a devastating injury (tearing his patellar tendon, ACL, MCL and both the lateral and medial menisci — requiring three operations and 22 months to recover).   So what makes this kid so worthwhile?  At the NFL combine, Josey won $10,000 from Adidas for clocking the fastest 40-yard dash (4.43 seconds) among players wearing the company’s shoes. Only two running backs ran faster times. This is from a young man who was once told he would never player football again.

So yeah.. he’s fast, so what?  Well his speed translates into production, and plenty of it.   After recovering from his injury, he returned on fire to the Tigers offense, eventually running up 1,166 yards on just 174 carries in his final year, as well as another 65 yards on 10 passes.   In fact, his 7.4 yards per carry in his last two years is something that immediately catches the eye.   On a team that just lost a speedster in wide receiver DeSean Jackson, and signed on speedster running back Darren Sproles, the blurring speed and huge gains of Josey follow suit.

Worried about that knee?  Well, medical staff who worked on his knee aren’t.   How big was this to Josey?

"“It’s big, because that’s the main thing most people and teams were worried about. For that to be cleared, it’s just like, ‘All right, let’s just worry about who’s going to pick you up now.’ That takes a lot of pressure off of a lot of people’s shoulders, not just mine. I know I’m strong. I’ve got a big heart. Adversity is my friend, and I can persevere through anything because of what I’ve been through. Relying on faith in God is the main thing that’s pushed me so far. I just have to take things day by day. It’s also knowing I have the patience to deal with things. Nothing just worries me to the point where I can’t take it anymore.”"

Josey played big in big games, and had a good combine. Despite injury concerns, he’s got the right attitude and can make things happen. With Darren Sproles now on the roster, Josey has a good mentor. There is something special about him, and you’ll likely see it this preseason.

Running Back David Fluellen

University of Toledo running back David Fluellen was a monster in the Mid Atlantic Conference (MAC). At 5’11” and 224 pounds, Fluellen was a projected 5th round draft pick. While the draft did not play out that way, Fluellen has an incredible opportunity to learn the Chip Kelly offense and contribute to one of the most productive offenses in the NFL today.

Despite struggling with nagging injuries, Fluellen is a hard runner who does a nice job running downhill and finding the crease. Not only does he run, but he does a nice job catching a pass as well. Against Josey’s Tigers, he was the first Toledo running back to run and catch for 100 yards or greater. He is a solid runner with good production and good bio stats. So why did he fall in the draft? His last two seasons he missed part or full games nice times. Undiagnosed injuries were the culprit, but his style of running through tackles and his big body stature work against him.

So why would the Eagles bother with an oft injured young man? First of all, Fluellen has the right build for a running back, and he was a hard runner throughout his college career despite nagging injuries. Secondly, he is a gifted pass receiver, catching 80 passes in his career. And finally, the Birds have gone after good running backs with injuries in their past. LeSean McCoy was one such running back, Chris Polk is the more recent. So far, the experiences from that strategy have been encouraging.

With an injured college career, David explained that he wished he had one more year to show his skills:

"“You wish you had one more season to leave on a better note. But it is in the past and you are really just looking forward to moving on with the next step in your life.”"

And how did he feel about his combine and pro days?

"“Watching the combine when you are little and growing up and then finally getting to be there is just really like a shock to you. Being there with the best of the best from all around the country and all the different conferences, it just really brings out the competitive edge in you.”"

Small college running backs can be a gamble worth taking in the NFL. In fact, that’s one more area the Eagles have enjoyed success. But don’t just take my word for it. Ask Wilbert Montgomery for his thoughts on the matter?

So the 2014 off-season will be very competitive one for both offensive linemen and running backs.   The process is already well underway.   Early expectations are that David Fluellen is one of the best UDFA signings by any NFL team this year.   While I’m not one to anoint before the pads go on and players prove their worth on an NFL preseason field, it’s enough to encourage fans that the Eagles brass know what they are doing.

And they should.   The Philadelphia Eagles signed a very capable Tom Gamble from the San Francisco 49ers to head up our player scouting.   General manager Howie Roseman does a nice job managing our cap and creating team friendly clauses.  But most of all, Head Coach Chip Kelly has a definitive advantage as he has had years of college experience of recruiting, playing with, or playing against these young men.   Knowing their strengths, weaknesses, and first hand production gives these Eagles the edge in assessing  to whom they want  to extend offers.  Multiply that by the number of college coaches who joined Chip on the Eagles coaching staff and its a safe bet that the team has a comfort zone about these young me.

So now the rest is up to them.   The Eagles will help their nutrition, sleep, physical training, and football knowledge and skills.  But what is in the heart of each young man – desire and perseverance in the face of adversity – defines how well they will do on the team.
Judging by the candidates we’ve looked at so far, this will be a helluva tough decision when the team tries to get down to the 53 man roster.

But that’s a good problem to have.