In a five-part series from Monday to Friday, Eagles insider Geoff Mosher and columnist Reuben Frank preview five Eagles flying “under the radar” as the team heads into training camp and the 2014 season. These unsung Eagles have a chance to make a bigger impact this season than people may expect. Camp opens July 25.
Position: Running back
Acquired: Rookie free agent (2012)
Polk, signed in 2012 as a rookie free agent out of Washington, turned heads in very limited offensive snaps last year. On just 11 carries, he rushed for three touchdowns, including a 6-yard TD on his first career carry and an impressive 38-yard burst up the gut against the Lions in the infamous snowstorm game. He also caught a 34-yard pass from Nick Foles against the Cowboys. A power runner with some elusive moves, Polk ranks second on the Huskies' career rushing list (4,049 yards) and broke a school record by having 21 100-yard rushing games.
The coaches keep touting Darren Sproles’ running ability and shooting down theories that Sproles is more of a slot receiver, but there’s no question that Polk will be the primary ball carrier behind LeSean McCoy. The team made that statement by dealing backup running back Bryce Brown, who regressed slightly last year but still has tremendous upside, to Buffalo for draft compensation. With Brown out of the picture, Polk can inherit the four to six carries per game that Brown shouldered last season as McCoy’s backup. Polk isn’t as explosive as Brown, but he’s a more decisive runner and has better hands, which makes him a nice fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. Polk has really good vision and makes people miss despite the 222-pound frame he’s carrying. And then he can just bowl over people, too. Polk could easily see more touches than Brown did and catch more passes, and if McCoy were to suffer an injury, Polk would step into the top halfback role and move the chains. You need depth in the NFL, especially at running back.
I really like Polk, and I thought he should have played more last year, especially with Brown unable to approach his record-setting form of 2012. Polk was saddled with shoulder injuries last year, but he had offseason surgery and says he feels significantly better than he has since the Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent after the 2012 draft. Think about this for a moment: Polk last season became the first running back in NFL history to rush for three touchdowns in a season with 11 or fewer carries. That’s production. And this one: Last year he became the first running back to net 159 yards of offense in a season on 15 or fewer touches in 24 years. Nobody wants to take McCoy off the field, and Sproles is certainly going to have a prominent role, at least at the outset, but there is no reason Polk can’t get four to six touches a game in this offense. Throw it to him, hand it to him, let him block, and good things will happen. I have a hunch by the time the season is over Polk will be considered one of the big surprises of the 2014 Eagles' season.