Philadelphia Eagles: Examining the Run Game Heading Into Week 1

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Super Bowl champions. Life is good in Philadelphia, where the Eagles ceremoniously destroyed their city. Eventually, it became time to get back to work, and with that, comes the question marks of the NFL season. One question staring the Eagles in the face is their run game. It is not yet known how much Carson Wentz we will see this year, but as long as Nick Foles is starting, a healthy group of backs will be necessary. If they are going to compete this year, the run game will have to improve, and it looks to be an uphill battle.

At the moment, no clear frontrunner has emerged to be a bell-cow back, so a heavy committee is a near guarantee. One conflict here is exactly who would be in on that group of running backs. Currently, seven names look to gain a spot on the roster: Jay Ajayi, Wendell Smallwood, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Matt Jones, and Josh Adams. Recently, Adams was placed on the practice squad, and both Pumphrey and Jones were cut, narrowing down the competition. Another way to take players off the 53-man roster is by placing them on the practice squad. Smallwood, Pumphrey, and Adams were all options to look at in that direction, and they went with Adams. Obviously, the Eagles are dealing with players with different strengths and weaknesses, so optimizing their potential is the main goal.

The Offensive Line

One optimistic part of the situation is that the floor is relatively high. With an excellent offensive line, any group of backs should get them out of the cellar, in terms of rushing ranks across the league. Lane Johnson is the best right tackle in football, but he is not the lone star in this unit. Brandon Brooks is an elite right guard. To compliment him is the best run-blocking center in the NFL, Jason Kelce. Starting at left guard is Stefen Wisniewski, the weakest link on the offensive line, but still a solid starter. Lastly, at left tackle is Jason Peters, the veteran presence going into his ninth year as an Eagle. This is a stellar group, to say the least, and their aid to the run game will be unprecedented.

Jay Ajayi: Top Dog?

Currently, Jay Ajayi is supposed to take in the most carries this year. He peaked in Miami, where he hit 1,272 yards during his sophomore season. Not to say that cannot be reached again, but health issues have limited his upside. This will contain his workload to a more conservative count, giving way to younger backs on the roster. Right now, Ajayi is probably the best back on the roster, and he will lead the way in terms of rushing production. If he returns to his near-elite form, you can book an Eagles repeat as NFC champions.

Stop Sleeping on Josh Adams

The name people have not been talking enough about is Josh Adams. The Notre Dame product was not consistent but flashed across our screens on highlight tapes repeatedly. This is subsequent to his elite athleticism that helps him break off such breathtaking runs. The holes in his game are what is keeping him from being a true NFL back, poor decision making, a lack of patience, and the ability to run between the tackles with any sort of consistency. However, these flaws in his game are relatively fixable for an NFL running back. The potential is there, but putting everything together will be a challenge for the undrafted free agent. Currently, he resides on the Eagles’ practice squad, but we can see him on Sundays sometime soon. Improvement in his game can lead to increased carries on Sunday and an effective sleeper for your fantasy team.

Third Down Backs

Philadelphia is a pass-first offense and that is exemplified through their hoarding of third-down backs. Donnel Pumphrey, Darren Sproles, and Corey Clement all are exciting receivers out of the backfield but lack the size and strength to come in on all downs. Out of the three, only Sproles and Clement made the roster, but expect them to be utilized in the slot and out of the backfield. There is some special teams upside as well and that will unequivocally be taken into consideration when evaluating them going forward. They may not be conventional, but their value has never been higher.

Traditional Depth

If the Eagles are looking for an ordinary backup running back that can be productive in a more traditional role, they will have to look at Smallwood and Jones. Smallwood also performs on special teams, so I would give him an advantage within the roster bubble. That special teams advantage eventual got him the roster spot. Jones and Smallwood both lack the true talent to be starting-caliber players, but in a limited role, they could shine. Both know how to attack in between the tackles and are more well-rounded products in general. It may seem boring, but depth is a mainstay for winning teams, and one of the two players here fit the bill. Once again, Smallwood had the advantage, and now that he’s made the roster, he’ll surely have a positive impact on the run game.