The running back position in the NFL is a man’s position. The constant pounding, bottom of the pile fights and the toughness it takes will make the hardest crumble at their knees. However, the Philadelphia Eagles may be in the best position as any team in the league with their rotation of backs. It begins with Ryan Mathews, then Darren Sproles and the X-Factor– Wendell Smallwood.
Last season, through the first 3 games, the Eagles possessed the best run game in the NFL. Then injuries and the suspension of Lane Johnson took away their weapon and forced rookie QB, Carson Wentz to focus on short passes instead of between the tackles runs. How many teams can honestly say they have a three-headed attack and actually mean it?
Last season the Eagles finished with a total of 1813 yards rushing with the top 3 accounting for 1411 on 326 carries. Doesn’t seem like much but we can’t forget they were running behind a makeshift O-Line much of the year. In 16 games the Eagles ground attack failed to reach the century mark only 6 times and 4 of those games they ran for 94 yards or more.
The Eagles have the talent in the backfield and that’s the reason they should be feared.
Mathews, throughout his career, is known as an injury-prone player and Sproles is more of a 3rd down back. The one that defenses should be concerned with is Smallwood. His yardage was nowhere near the production od Ezekiel Elliott or DeMarco Murray but look at his percentage of plays and his production. As the 3rd back in the rotation, he managed 77 carries for 312 yards but was able to do so with a 4 yard per carry average.
What happens with a healthy line, and better receivers in 2017?
For the Eagles to bank on Mathews playing a full 16 games or not being traded this season would be wishful thinking on their part. Sproles is not built to be an every down back, which will place Smallwood into a starting role. To be fair, he should get a shot in Training Camp to replace Mathews. Smallwood reminds me a lot of Duece Staley with his build. He’s faster but he loves the contact just as much. The Eagles love to play Mathews down inside the Goal Line but would be wise to try another tactic this year. Smallwood should see more than 77 carries this season if their offensive plan works.
With the addition of Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery paired with Jordan Matthews, the ground game will no longer have to face a stacked box as they did all of 2016. The Eagles will be explosive on the offense end but dangerous if Smallwood becomes a vital part. He’s young and the Eagles may be focused on the future but if that’s the case they must see what this young runner can do with more reps.
I’m not wishing for a Mathews injury but if it happens the Eagles will be in great shape with Smallwood behind Wentz.