Eagles Need to Stop Piecemeal Approach at RB
PHILADELPHIA (973espn.com) - There hasn't been much to dislike about the Doug Pederson era in Philadelphia but if there is one aspect to the team's roster-building approach which has been frustrating, it's the willingness to embrace a piecemeal approach in the offensive backfield.
Since Pederson returned to the NovaCare Complex before the 2016 season the Eagles have gone with a committee approach and a different lead back to start each season, first Ryan Mathews and then LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi. There will almost assuredly be a fourth when the 2019 season kicks off and it's time for the Eagles to find a more well-rounded back to carry the load, whether that comes in free agency or the draft.
To be fair Philadelphia wanted to fix the problem in the spring of 2018 and the organization was hot and heavy on Christian McCaffrey at No. 14 overall but the now Carolina Panthers' star rocketed up many draft boards late and ended up being a top-10 pick. The consolation prize was going to be Dalvin Cook in the second round but Minnesota moved up ahead of the Eagles to snare the former Florida State star, who has been injury prone but the real deal when on the field.
Back in Philly, things hit a new low this season due to extensive injuries affecting Darren Sproles, Ajayi and Corey Clement. By the time the playoffs were approaching the Eagles were relying on an undrafted rookie in Josh Adams as the lead back and once they actually arrived, Pederson was beating Chicago and giving New Orleans the fight of its life with Wendell Smallwood as the bell cow and Sproles finally mixing back in after the persistent hamstring issues that erased most of his season.
Despite that lack of talent many Pederson detractors [amazingly, there are still some] stuck in a 1970s mindset still groused about play selection and run-pass ratios, ironically because of the coach's ability to mask a weakness that has existed since the day he stepped back into South Philadelphia.
The Eagles cobbled together less than 50 yards rushing in both Chicago and New Orleans and still might have been playing on Championship Weekend had Alshon Jeffery not had an uncharacteristic drop which landed in the hands of Marshon Lattimore. With a McCaffrey type, it's not exactly a stretch to say the Eagles offense would be one of the best in football and a far more well-rounded unit with either Carson Wentz or Nick Foles leading it.
There are other needs in Philadelphia of course and Howie Roseman has already called the 2019 draft a historic one for defensive line talent but the first problem solved this offseason needs to be the backfield.
The Eagles haven’t selected a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986 but assuming Roseman is in the camp that the position never carries first-round value ignores the very real interest in McCaffrey less than two years ago.
It's about the player for Roseman, not the position so don't rule out a RB at No. 25 overall.
“We have to look at that, among other positions, and figure out where we are going forward,” the Eagles executive VP of football operations said. “We want to strengthen the roster, make sure we're improving the roster.”
The problem this time is that most scouts have labeled this a RB-deficient draft, at least at the top where only Alabama's Josh Jacobs has a consensus first-round grade and one that will take him off the board far before Philadelphia selects.
Jacobs teammate with the Crimson Tide, Damien Harris, is regarded as a bit of a bridge pick as either a late-first or early second-round selection. From there Iowa State's David Montgomery could be a second-round option.
As far as free agency the sexiest name is undoubtedly Le'Veon Bell, arguably the best three-down back in the business before sitting out the season in Pittsburgh but Bell didn't take drastic measures to take less money for a contender. He's looking for the biggest contract in history at the position and the Eagles aren't in a place financially to get into that conversation.
Two NFC South backs -- Tevin Coleman of Atlanta and Mark Ingram in New Orleans -- are less-expensive models who have the ability to be more than just a committee back and could be viable options.
The wild card is Kareem Hunt, the disgraced former Kansas City back jettisoned after a video surfaced in which he was seen kicking and punching a woman.
From a pure football perspective, Hunt is the perfect fit as a well-rounded back already proven in a similar offensive setup with Andy Redi's Chiefs. Meanwhile, ESPN's Adam Schefter has already reported "multiple teams have expressed interest in Hunt, and it now appears the former Chiefs running back will have a job 'sooner rather than later.'"
Bringing in a player like Hunt, however, isn't about Roseman, Joe Douglas or the coaching staff, that's a decision Jeffrey Lurie would have to greenlight.
-John McMullen covers the Eagles and the NFL for 973espn.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen