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.

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

Best of NHL: Last-place Islanders take down rival Rangers

NEW YORK -- Andrew Ladd scored in the second period and Jaroslav Halak stopped 36 shots to lead the New York Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the crosstown-rival Rangers on Tuesday night.

John Tavares, Jason Chimera and Scott Mayfield also scored at the Barclays Center to help the last-place Islanders improve to 4-0-1 in their last five games.

Jimmy Vesey and Marc Staal scored for the Metropolitan Division-leading Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 28 saves. The Rangers have alternated wins and losses in regulation in their last eight games.

Halak beat Lundqvist for the ninth time in their last 10 matchups. Halak had won eight straight -- including the last five after joining the Islanders before the 2014-15 season -- before Lundqvist ended the streak in the Rangers' 5-3 win in the season opener Oct. 13 at Madison Square Garden. Lundqvist is now 1-6-1 in his last eight against the Islanders (see full recap).

Schwartz lifts Blues over Canadiens in OT
ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz got his second goal of the game in overtime, leading the St. Louis Blues to a 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night.

Paul Stastny also scored for St. Louis, which has won four of five. The Blues rallied from a 2-0 deficit and have a point in their last 13 home games.

Tomas Plekanec and Paul Byron scored for Montreal, which completed a five-game trip 2-3.

Goalie Jake Allen made 28 saves to improve to 13-3-3.

Schwartz lifted a backhander past goalie Al Montoya with 1:22 left in overtime.

Stastny and Schwartz scored in a 2:51 span in the third period to tie it at 2 (see full recap).

Blackhawks blank Coyotes to snap modest skid
CHICAGO -- Marian Hossa had two goals, Scott Darling made 22 saves and the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Arizona Coyotes 4-0 on Tuesday night to snap a two-game slide.

Artem Anisimov and Dennis Rasmussen also scored to help Chicago maintain a three-point lead over St. Louis in the Central Division.

Darling made a handful of tough stops but wasn't heavily tested in his first shutout this season and third of his career. He started his third straight game in place of No. 1 goalie Corey Crawford, who had an appendectomy in Philadelphia on Saturday.

The 37-year-old Hossa scored his team-leading 13th and 14th goals in his 27th game -- surpassing his total of 13 last season in 64 contests (see full recap).

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

Best of NBA: Magic overcome Wall's 52 points to beat Wizards

WASHINGTON -- Elfrid Payton scored 22 of his season-high 25 points in the first half and the Orlando Magic overcame John Wall's 52-point performance to beat the Washington Wizards, 124-116 on Tuesday night.

Wall had the highest-scoring game of his career and kept Washington in it with 33 points in the second half as the Wizards cut the lead below 10 in the fourth quarter. The guard made 18 of 31 from the field and added eight assists.

Payton went 8 for 8 from the field and 3 for 3 from the line off the bench in that first half, nearly matching his previous season best of 23 points in the first two quarters alone. Payton finished 9 for 12 and handed out nine assists.

Orlando won its third straight game and its 124 points were a season high (see full recap).

Spurs trounce Timberwolves to reach 13-0 on the road
MINNEAPOLIS -- Kawhi Leonard scored 31 points and the San Antonio Spurs improved to 13-0 on the road this season with a 105-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night.

Leonard hit 11 of 15 shots after not scoring at all in the first quarter and Patty Mills scored 15 points off the bench for the Spurs (18-4), who played without Tony Parker after he bruised his left knee against Milwaukee on Wednesday night. San Antonio overcame a slow start to shoot 52.7 percent.

The Spurs moved past the 1969-70 New York Knicks to take sole possession of the second-best road start to begin a season in NBA history. The Golden State Warriors started 14-0 last year.

Zach LaVine scored 25 points for the Timberwolves. Karl-Anthony Towns had 11 points and 14 rebounds, but shot just 3 of 16 (see full recap).

Anthony, Knicks blow past depleted Heat
MIAMI -- Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the New York Knicks beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night.

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds (see full recap).