Eagles Camp Countdown: #6 – Running Backs
The Eagles backfield will be an interesting position to watch during training camp, even though LeSean McCoy has the starting job locked up as one of the best running backs in the league.
Shady ran for 1,309 yards on 273 attempts last year, scoring 17 touchdowns on the ground. McCoy also caught 48 passes for 315 yards and three scores. That secured McCoy a five year extension worth $45 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
McCoy’s biggest challenging in matching those numbers might be the absence of Jason Peters at left tackle.
Behind McCoy it’s a battle for both the backup spot and the third-string position between Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. It’s hard to imagine Lewis being left off the roster entirely for a pair of rookies, but the second-year fifth rounder isn’t a lock to be the backup.
With Owen Schmitt’s departure to the Raiders, the Eagles have a three-way battle for the fullback position brewing between Stanley Havili, Emil Igwenagu and Jeremy Stewart.
Havili was with the Eagles last year, spending the season on the practice squad. Igwenagu and Stewart are undrafted free agents, as is Polk. Brown was a seventh round selection in this year’s draft.
The 6-foot-0, 220 pounder out of Kansas State is one of the most interesting stories of the team, as a highly touted high school prospect who never amounted to much in college.
Brown originally orally committed to Miami, then eventually chose Tennessee. It is unclear whether the University of Miami withdrew its offer when Brown flirted with other programs, or Brown simply chose another school, according to various reports.
“He’s had kind of a wild ride here through college football since being the number one running back coming out of high school into college,” Reid said after the draft. “You’re talking about a kid who is an inch under six foot and is 220 pounds who runs a 4.4 forty.”
Brown had 101 carries for 460 yards and three touchdowns, but transferred to Kansas State, originally notifying his coaches of his decision via text message, according to Scouts, Inc.
Brown had just three carries for 16 yards before leaving the Wildcats in September and was a party in three NCAA inquiries in his career, according to ESPN’s Joe Schad.
“He has all the talent in the world but it’s just a matter of tying things down here,” Reid said. “Was his heart all in at Kansas State? I can’t tell you it was. I just have my own feeling there.”
Polk had the talent to go in the top three rounds, but dropped out of the draft due to concerns over past shoulder injuries. Last year, Polk ran for 1,488 yards and 12 touchdowns at Washington, while catching 31 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
The Huskies offense may give Polk a leg up on the typical rookie running back in an Andy Reid offense, which has lots of pass blocking for the running back.
“We ran a pro-style offense that had a lot of pass protection,” Polk said of his alma mater in May. “It was generally the same thing just with different wording, so I have to put the same things to different words.”
Lewis returns after rushing 23 times for 102 yards and a touchdown, including 12 carries for 58 yards and the score in the season finale against Washington.
Lewis should have a big leg up on Brown and Polk due to his advanced knowledge of the playbook. Officially listed at just 5-foot-8 and 195 pounds, however, Lewis gives up more than 25 pounds and a few inches to both rookies.
At fullback, Havili has the same advantage as Lewis – knowledge of the playbook. Both Havili and Stewart come from big-time programs, at least during their time there.
Havili ran 26 times for 166 yards and a touhdown, while catching 32 passes for 396 yards and two scores during his senior year at USC. Stewart carried the ball 55 times for 257 yards and nine touchdowns, and caught seven passes for 79 yards and a score.
Both have similar size, with Havili checking in at 6-foot-0 and 230 pounds and Stewart listed at 6-foot-1, 220 pounds.
Igwenagu is a bit bigger at 6-foot-2, 245. The UMass product played tight end, halfback, fullback and linebacker in college. Still, Igwenagu ran just four times for seven yards during his senior year, but did score a touchdown on the ground.
Igwenagu’s receiving numbers were more impressive, as he caught 38 passes for 375 yards and three touchdowns. The rookie’s versatility will certainly be of interest to the Eagles, but Igwenagu has to show that his talents surpass his college stats.
LeSean McCoy takes the first running back spot, and Dion Lewis has experience and fewer unknowns, so he gets one of the final two roster spots there. Bryce Brown has better measurables and has to come in as the favorite over Polk due to his status as a draftee rather than an undrafted player. If nothing else, the Eagles thought more highly of him based on his college career.
Brown’s issues are also within his control to overcome – he has to find the motivation and show good character. Polk’s is tied into his injury history, which is really out of his control. For those reasons, Brown is more likely to be the Eagles third running back.
Havili should be the favorite at fullback, based on having spent a year on the practice squad. The Eagles seemed pretty fine letting Schmitt go, which should tell you they’re confident in Havili.
Ryan Messick covers the Eagles for 97.3 ESPN FM. Follow him on Twitter.