The Philadelphia Eagles’ rushing attack can still make an impact in a committee system.
We are days removed from the 2017 NFL Draft and many Philadelphia Eagles fans wonder what to make of the Eagles’ current core of running backs. The Eagles’ crowded backfield consists of Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey and Byron Marshall. Terrell Watson is currently listed on the practice squad. The Eagles also signed undrafted free agent Corey Clement as well.
Though there are a plethora of running backs on the roster, one would argue that none of them are capable of being the consistent, every-down back that can take on a 20-25 carry workload. Mathews is too injury prone. Sproles and Pumphrey are versatile, but lack the size necessary to take on a heavy workload. It remains to be seen with Smallwood given his limited amount of touches in 2016. And as far as Marshall goes, he’s just there.
So how do you fix the problem of not having that prototypical every-down back? A smart solution would be implementing a committee system. What the Eagles lack in a true workhorse, they make up for it with depth, versatility and some strength. Luckily for the Eagles, second year head coach Doug Pederson has used this system before.
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When Pederson was the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, the team finished 10th in total rushing in 2013, 10th again in 2014 and 6th in 2015. In 2015, Pederson was without Pro Bowl running back Jamaal Charles for the majority of the season due to an ACL injury. Despite the loss, Pederson was able to use a committee approach that powered the Chiefs to 6th in total rushing. Charcandrick West rushed for 614 yards and four touchdowns on 160 carries while Spencer Ware rushed for 403 yards and six touchdowns on 72 carries. West also had 214 receiving yards. Pederson was able to utilize the versatility of West and the power of Ware to produce a solid running attack.
Given Pederson’s success with using a committee system, there is no reason why he cannot do the same with the Eagles. For starters, despite not having a reliable No. 1 back, the Eagles were a lot more successful running the football in 2016 than people think. The Eagles finished 11th in total rushing last season with 1,813 yards. Now that the Eagles brought in two rookies in Pumphrey and Clement, the production should only increase.
In a perfect world, the Eagles should release Ryan Mathews as soon as possible! The former Pro Bowler cannot stay healthy and has a tendency of fumbling the ball in late game situations. Not to mention, he will be 30 years old come October. Mathews is also set to make $5 million this season. If they were to release him, the Eagles would free up $4 million in cap space. As far as Marshall and Watson go, it’s either practice squad or pink slip.
So that leaves Smallwood, Sproles, Pumphrey and Clement, who should all make the team. For a balance in the running game, Pederson should turn to second-year back Wendell Smallwood to take on that role. In his rookie season, Smallwood amassed 312 yards and one score on only 77 carries. The key with Smallwood is getting carries. Last season, he showed flashes of production in two Eagles victories. In the Week 3 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smallwood rushed for 79 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. He also ran for 70 yards on 13 carries in a win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 10. In essence, when Smallwood gets his touches, the Eagles’ offense is more productive. Giving Smallwood more of a workload will not only help the Eagles be more productive, but they will also get an idea of what he is capable of in the future.
When it comes to utilizing versatile RBs, the Eagles should have some fun with Sproles and Pumphrey. Though his career will most likely come to an end this season, Darren Sproles still has plenty of football left in him. There is no secret how dynamic the 33-year-old is. He can run, catch and take punts to the house. With Father Time undefeated, someone will have to replace Sproles in his role.
In comes Donnell Pumphrey.
Pumphrey, the FBS all-time rusher from San Diego State, was selected with the No. 132 pick in the fourth round. Like Sproles, Pumphrey has proven that size doesn’t matter. He is also reliable in catching the ball out of the backfield, racking up a total of 1,041 receiving yards in his college career. With Pumphrey learning from Sproles, he’ll be learning from the best.
Then there is Corey Clement, a dark horse to not only make the team, but be a valuable asset as well. Clement brings a bruising style of running that the Eagles desperately need. Clement finished off his career at Wisconsin with a total of 3,092 rushing yards and 36 touchdowns on 576 carries. He is coming off a strong senior season where he rushed for 1,375 yards and 15 touchdowns on 314 carries. Given his size at 5’10” and 221 pounds, Clement is certainly capable of taking on a decent bulk of the carries. As a matter of fact, don’t be surprised if he leads the Eagles in attempts in some games. A big back such as Clement could serve valuable late in games as the Eagles try to run out the clock.
It remains to be seen on how Doug Pederson actually utilizes the Eagles’ group of running backs. However, a committee system cannot hurt given Pederson’s experience and the players at his disposal.