Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 10, Running Back

Counting Down the Eagles’ Offseason Needs: No. 10, Running Back

Free agency is right around the corner, and the draft will be here before you know it. With the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason in full swing, we're examining where the roster stands at each position, counting down based on team need. Up first: running back.

 

How does it feel, Eagles fans? How does it feel to have the NFL’s rushing champion in the prime of his career and locked into a contract through the year 2017?

Few running backs were even in a class with LeSean McCoy this season. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson is probably still the best pure ball-carrier in the league, while Jamaal Charles for Kansas City and Matt Forte for Chicago rival Shady for the distinction of top do-it-all back. Then there’s everybody else.

If you go strictly by the numbers, McCoy stood alone in 2013. His 1,607 yards on the ground were 268 more than the runner-up, and but for one week, he was the wall-to-wall leader in rushing. His 2,146 yards from scrimmage also led the league, not to mention was the 33rd-highest total in NFL history.

McCoy now owns the Eagles single-season records for rushing yards and touchdowns. The two-time All-Pro is only 1,065 yards shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. What took Wilbert Montgomery eight seasons to do, Shady could conceivably accomplish in just six.

McCoy turns 26 in July. Needless to say, running back will not be high on the list of the Eagles’ priorities this offseason.

 

Who’s No. 2?

One of the more interesting developments on the depth chart toward the end of 2013 was who Chip Kelly began calling on to spell McCoy. Bryce Brown had served as the definitive No. 2 behind Shady for the first three months of the season, but at most, he shared those duties down the stretch.

After appearing in all of 14 offensive snaps through 12 games, Chris Polk actually registered 33 to Brown’s 30 over the final four weeks. Brown still carried the ball significantly more during that period though (17 to 6), while Polk was utilized more as a receiver (also 17 to 6).

Now, the sample sizes are probably too small to claim those run/pass splits were by design, and Chip would tell us he doesn’t look at it in terms of who’s two, who’s three. However, there was a clear shift in the way both backs were deployed. We can only say one of two things definitively.

Either there was something the offense wasn’t getting from Brown, or the coaching staff really likes Polk.

The head coach was asked about the distribution following the Eagles’ win over the Lions—the first instance there was a measurable difference.

“One thing I know about Chris is in the last couple of weeks specifically, he has really, really practiced very well, and I think, like we said at every position, it's an open competition, and you keep showing us that you deserve time on the field, then that's what it's all about.”

Brown’s final numbers didn’t look too bad (75 CAR, 314 YDS, 4.2 AVG, 2 TD), but he was a bit of a disappointment for much of the season. His 65-yard touchdown against the Bears in Week 16 was a huge lift. Otherwise, he averaged less than three yards per carry in nine games.

Polk only had 11 carries, but made the most of them, averaging 8.9 yards per attempt and finding the end zone three times. He also averaged 15.3 yards on four receptions. That level of production, though not sustainable, is insane.

Could Polk overtake Brown completely for the No. 2 job? It seems plausible. Polk will be a restricted free agent next offseason, so it might be time to have a look anyway while Brown is under contract through 2015.

Then again, all of this sort of a moot point anyway. In the playoff loss to New Orleans, both Brown and Polk were on the field for just one snap each. It’s Shady’s backfield when it matters most.

 

Is Bryce Brown Trade-Bait?

It’s a question fans been asking ever since the 2012 seventh-round pick burst on to the scene with 347 yards and four touchdowns in back-to-back games last year. It’s readily apparent to anybody that Brown—who’s been compared to Bo Jackson—is a gifted runner. What could the Eagles get in a trade?

Perhaps less than you think. There were five trades involving running backs in the last calendar year, two of which could be templates for a deal involving Brown.

The first of the two looks good for the Birds, as the New Orleans sent Chris Ivory to the Jets in exchange for a fourth-round pick in a draft-day deal. Ivory never flashed explosiveness like Brown, but demonstrated he could be a consistently solid NFL back in three seasons with the Saints.

On the other hand, the Bucs could only garner a seventh-round pick and an undrafted back with no NFL experience (Jeff Demps) in return for LeGarrette Blount, who was once considered a first-round talent and has since revived his career in New England. Blount had other issues, but Brown too is something of a question mark.

At this stage, Brown has had more bad games than good. He still has a tendency to bounce every play to the outside. And while he did not fumble at all in ’13, he’s not that far removed from a rookie season in which he put the ball on the carpet at a rate of roughly once per game.

At best, Brown’s trade value probably lies somewhere in between. A team could certainly take a chance on his potential, but for a late-round draft choice, he might be more valuable to Philadelphia right now as a cheap backup who’s under contract and has high upside.

 

Player to Watch: De’Anthony Thomas

With so much invested in McCoy and a pair of promising, young backups already in the fold, the Eagles certainly aren’t going to spend money bringing in any free agents. If Brown is expendable though, it’s not totally improbable the club would draft another back—especially somebody who’s a perfect fit for Kelly’s offense.

De’Anthony Thomas is a name you’re going to be hearing a lot between now and May because he is just that. After all, Thomas played for Chip at Oregon. Eliot Shorr-Parks looked at the possibility of a reunion last week for NJ.com.

It isn't clear how high Thomas will go, but if he falls out of the first round, there is a chance the Eagles could pounce on the 5-foot-9, 169-pound multi-threat back.

Sure, the Eagles aren't exactly thin at running back, with Chris Polk and Bryce Brown proving to be more than capable back ups. Thomas would be an upgrade over both, however, as he much better out of the backfield as a pass catcher than Brown, and is a better pure runner than Polk

Thomas did it at all for the Ducks, finishing third in school history in all-time yards behind LeMichael James and Kenjon Barner. He’s a running back, a wide receiver, a kick returner, punt returner and track star all rolled into one.

Is it a team need? Not exactly, but then again Thomas has tools that Brown and Polk and even McCoy do not possess. It would be difficult not to get excited about that type of versatile addition to the offense.

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

Sixers-Wizards 5 things: Refresh and reset after trade deadline

The Sixers (21-35) return from the All-Star break against the Washington Wizards (34-21) at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday (7 p.m./CSN, CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports app).

Let’s take a closer look at the matchup:

1. Refresh and reset
The dust from the NBA trade deadline has settled and, as expected, the Sixers look a bit different. Perhaps what wasn’t expected: the pieces of the Sixers that changed.

Out are Ersan Ilyasova and Nerlens Noel. In are Justin Anderson, Tiago Splitter (injured all season, so not really), Andrew Bogut (buyout coming in …) and an array of draft picks.

You can argue for days about the long-term implications of the Sixers’ trades, but let’s focus on the here and now. The team lost a scoring punch in Ilyasova (14.8 points per game). However, Ilyasova’s offense has dipped drastically in recent games, which coincided with a strong push on that end by rookie Dario Saric (see story).

In Noel, the Sixers parted with a defensive presence and finisher at the rim. They’ll regain the defense in a different form with Anderson’s ability to lock down on swingmen (see story).

We’ve got 26 games to see how it plays out, starting with tonight against the Wizards.

2. Just kidding, Jah
It’s been an eventful few weeks for Jahlil Okafor to say the least.

The big man went from multiple DNP-CDs to back in the starting lineup to a reserve role and even sent home amid trade rumors. Okafor eventually rejoined the team as potential deals fizzled, but was still expected to be shipped at the deadline.

Then the deadline came and went with Okafor still on the roster.

With Noel traded and Joel Embiid still sidelined because of an injured knee (see story), Okafor should be in the starting lineup. That will give the second-year center the opportunity to improve on his 11.4 points and 4.8 rebounds averages and perhaps improve on that once-high trade stock.

3. Can you Beal it?
John Wall gets the attention when it comes to the Wizards and rightfully so. The guard is a four-time All-Star and one of the best floor generals in the entire league.

However, the reason the Wiz have been able to rise to No. 3 in the Eastern Conference at this point is the play of Bradley Beal.

Beal has been on an absolute tear this season. The two-guard is averaging a career-high 22.2 points per game on 47.3 percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent from three-point range. He’s also putting up 3.7 assists, 2.9 rebounds and 1.0 steal per game.

Any hope the Sixers have of knocking off the Wizards will have to start with an attempt to at least slow down Beal and Wall.

4. Injuries
Embiid (knee), Splitter (calf), Ben Simmons (foot) and Jerryd Bayless (wrist) are out for the Sixers.

The Wizards have no players listed on the injury report.

5. This and that
• The Sixers have lost seven of the their last eight games against the Wizards.

• The Sixers weren’t the only team to pull off a deadline trade. The Wizards acquired Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough from the Brooklyn Nets.

• Okafor scored a season-high 26 points with nine rebounds in the Sixers’ last meeting with the Wizards, a 109-93 loss on Jan. 14.

• Wall has averaged 19.3 points, 9.0 assists and 5.2 rebounds agains the Sixers during his career.

Mike Budenholzer: Hawks 'feel really good' about addition of Ersan Ilyasova

Mike Budenholzer: Hawks 'feel really good' about addition of Ersan Ilyasova

ATLANTA -- Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer says newly acquired power forward Ersan Ilyasova was targeted as a player he saw as a good fit on Atlanta's front line.

The 6-foot-10 Ilyasova gives Atlanta a "stretch forward" who can make 3-pointers while playing behind All-Star Paul Millsap.

"To get somebody that we really targeted and wanted, we feel really good about that," Budenholzer said Thursday.

Budenholzer said matching center Dwight Howard's inside game with Ilyasova "who can stretch and hit the 3s, that is a good pairing."

Ilyasova is expected to join the team before the team plays Miami on Friday night.

Ilyasova was acquired from the Sixers on Wednesday night. The Sixers obtained injured center Tiago Splitter and a protected second-round draft pick from Atlanta, and have the right to swap another 2017 second-round pick with the Hawks.

Ilyasova, from Eskisehir, Turkey, has averaged 14.8 points while starting in 40 of 53 games this season.

"He's somebody that for some time all of us in the front office ... we all kind of watched and wanted him to be a part of the team," Budenholzer said. "I think he's a smart player, a competitive guy. He does a lot of little things. He has an edge to him. Obviously he can shoot."

The Hawks hope Ilyasova, 29, adds scoring punch as they attempt to improve their playoff position. They are fifth in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind Toronto.

"He can help our team a lot," Millsap said. "We can help ourselves a lot too. With both of those, I think we can move up to 2. I think we've got a chance. We've got enough games to do it."

Hawks guard Kent Bazemore said Ilyasova is "one of the best shooters in the game, I think, as far as playing the stretch 4 position."

"If there's one thing this team needs, I think, is a little more shooting and he can bring just that," Bazemore said.

The Hawks cleared a roster spot before Thursday's trade deadline by sending forward Mike Scott, the rights to Turkish guard Cenk Akyol and cash considerations to the Phoenix Suns for a top-55 protected 2017 second-round pick.

Scott averaged 7.1 points over five seasons with Atlanta but had seen a diminished role this season. He was averaging a career-low 2.5 points in only 18 games this season and was sent to the NBA Development League on three assignments.