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What Will The Eagles Do With Their Crowded Backfield?

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By Matt Szczypiorski, Sports Talk Philly Contributing Writer

Ah yes, Eagles mini-camp and OTA’s, the yearly reminder that it is almost, sort of, close to football season. There’s nothing quite like quarterbacks wearing red jerseys, wide receivers running routes on air, offensive lineman blocking sleds and defenders tackling bags. Okay maybe that doesn’t get the juices flowing quite like week one at the Linc will, but Eagles football is getting closer.

Before the Eagles take the field for the aforementioned week one showdown with the Washington Redskins, the coaching staff has a pretty important part of the team to figure out: running back. Duce Staley and Doug Pederson have some new toys to play with in the backfield. However, there are some familiar faces to make decisions on at the back end of the running back depth chart as well.

One of the newly acquired running backs, which may end up being the Eagles biggest acquisition of the off-season, is former Bear Jordan Howard. The Birds acquired Howard from Chicago for a sixth-round pick in the 2020 draft (Howie Roseman, I don’t know how you do it). Since being drafted in the fifth-round of the 2016 draft, Howard has been one of the most productive backs in the NFL. The Indiana product has rushed for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns across three seasons. He figures to be the main workhorse of this backfield and should start week one, as his downfield running style fits perfectly with Doug Pederson’s offense.

Another fresh face that will be lining up behind Carson Wentz in the backfield will be second-round pick Miles Sanders. The ex-Nittany Lion has the nickname “Boobie Miles”, inspired by the running back from the movie Friday Night Lights. Much like the movie version of Boobie Miles, Sanders does a little bit of everything. The former five-star high school recruit can run over defenders or shake them out of their cleats. He can run right up the gut or accelerate around the edge. Not to mention, he can catch the ball out of the backfield or provide extra protection for Wentz in the pocket. In Coach Pederson’s dynamic offense, Sanders should see a significant role behind Jordan Howard. Whether that will be coming in on third downs or giving Howard a break, I expect Sanders to shine when given the opportunity.

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Howard and Sander’s spots on the roster seem to be pretty set in stone, barring any unforeseen occurrences. The issue for the Eagles will be filling the last two spots on the running back depth chart using five potential candidates. As a reminder, for the first time since 2014, one of those candidates is not Darren Sproles. At least not yet.

The front-runner for one of the two spots is Corey Clement, the undrafted rookie turned Super Bowl hero. I fully expect Clement to claim the first of the two remaining spots on the Eagles running back depth chart because of what he has proven he can do when given the opportunity. The only way that Clement could lose his roster spot is if he has not recovered fully from his knee injury suffered in week 14 at Dallas, a game that all Eagles fans have attempted to block from their memory.

So, that leaves one roster spot for four running back candidates. Those candidates consist of the Eagles leading rusher from a year ago in Josh Adams, the always-lingering Wendell Smallwood, 2018 mid-season acquisition Boston Scott, who made a name for himself returning kicks and, of course, 2017 fourth-round pick Donnell Pumphrey.

It’s safe to say that Pumphrey is going to have to really blow the coaching staff away in order to even have a chance at making the roster. I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if he fumbled the opportunity, pun intended. Adams had a good start to last season, but saw his carries diminish toward the end of the season because of poor play. He could stick around on the practice squad.

I think that the last spot will come down to Wendell Smallwood and Boston Scott. Both players have been used extensively on special teams, as both players have even returned kicks and played on other special teams units. However, Scott didn’t have many opportunities in the backfield last season, whereas Smallwood saw a decent amount of time in the backfield after the injury to Jay Ajayi. He didn’t play terribly, either.

With Smallwood’s experience playing both running back and special teams, I think he gets the inside edge over Scott. With that being said, don’t be surprised if Scott sticks around on the practice squad and even sneaks his way onto the active roster at some point this season.

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