NFC Championship 2023 Comparisons: Running Backs

Eric Hartline, USA TODAY Sports

Leading up to the Eagles match-up with the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will compare the personnel of the two teams each day until gameday is here.

In this edition of our week-long comparison, we will look at the running backs that the Eagles and 49ers will field on Sunday.


Philadelphia RBs | Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, Trey Sermon

Former Penn State running back Miles Sanders, in his fourth season in the league, has been the Eagles “workhorse” back this season. Although there are times where the run game is seemingly non-existent because the team will go entire halves without calling a play to their running backs, Sanders still carried the ball 259 times this season and became the Birds’ first 1000-yard rusher since 2014 by throwing up 1269 yards this season – good for a 4.9 yards per carry average. He added 11 touchdowns despite being rotated more often than a back used like a workhorse normally is and playing with a quarterback who had 13 rushing touchdowns of his own.

Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott have both spelled Sanders throughout games this season with each making over 50 rushing attempts on the year. Gainwell (53 carries, 240 yards, four touchdowns) is the player that adds the most out of the backfield, with 23 receptions for 169 yards. Boston Scott has been the least efficient of the Eagles running backs on the ground this year, but his 54 carries for 217 yards is still over four yards per carry.

In the Divisional Round, Gainwell essentially took over the game when the Eagles began pulling back in order to stay healthy for the Conference Championship game. The back put up 112 yards on just 12 carries (9.3 yards per carry) and a touchdown. He made the Giants defenders look foolish by not only running by them but then stacking up multiple defenders at a time and continuing to push forward through them.

The final back, Trey Sermon, was claimed off waivers at the start of the season and has been a regular on the game day inactive list unless the Eagles have an injury at the position. He has just two rushes for 19 yards this season.


49er RBs | Christian McCaffrey, Elijah Mitchell, Jordan Mason, Tyrion Davis-Price

In 2019, McCaffrey was an All-Pro player who appeared set to be his team’s top player for a third straight season in 2020. Instead, he spent two season hardly playing due to injury. He returned without an injury for the 2022 season with the Panthers but was traded to San Francisco prior to week seven. Since that time, he has put up 900 yards on the ground and 503 more receiving. He has seven rushing touchdowns and five receiving in that same period (which includes the playoffs).

Mitchell and Mason are the backs that the 49ers rotate into games as needed, though Mitchell would figure to be the clear favorite of the two if he’s available. Mitchell is in his second season with the team, having just missed 1000 yards rushing in 2021 (963 yards). His injury (MCL sprain in week one) was a major factor in the 49ers trading so much to acquire McCaffrey midseason. He had returned later in the season, but tore his MCL in that game. When he hasn’t been hobbled by knee injuries, he’s been fairly effective, however. He has 330 yards across parts of just seven games. If you exclude the Seahawks game where he had nine carries for just two yards, his average is at 5.6 yards per carry.

Mason would figure as more of a special teams player, but has seen 43 rushing attempts this season as a result of Mitchell’s injury. He has taken those for 270 yards and one touchdown.

A rookie, Davis-Price has really only seen snaps recently in mop up duty when the 49ers are looking to keep their lead backs healthy. He has 34 total attempts on the season for 99 yards.


Edge

This would probably be a slam dunk if there wasn’t such a thing as injuries. McCaffrey was a top three back in the league and Mitchell could be a 1000-yard rusher on his own.

Miles Sanders has the edge on any of the 49ers options with his productivity on the ground, but the Eagles have not used backs as receivers much as all and the 49ers have two options that are likely better in that regard than the Eagles do.

The Eagles have more effective reserves in place than the Niners, but the 49ers are top heavy at the position.

Ultimately, the receiving ability of McCaffrey combined with the depth they 49ers have with essentially two starting-caliber running backs (assuming both McCaffrey and Mitchell are healthy) gives San Francisco the edge here.


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