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.

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

MLB Notes: Yoenis Cespedes sits vs. Phillies because of quad injury

NEW YORK -- Mets slugger Yoenis Cespedes again has soreness in his right quadriceps and was held out of the lineup for Sunday afternoon's game against Philadelphia.

Cespedes originally suffered the injury on July 8 after chasing Daniel Murphy's RBI double to deep center field in the Mets' 3-1 loss to Washington. He went 1 for 2 with a mammoth home run in the Mets' 12-1 rout of Philadelphia on Saturday. He walked and scored in the seventh inning but was pinch-hit for in his second at-bat in the inning, as New York sent 11 men to the plate. He leads the team with a .295 average and is among the National League leaders in home runs (26).

Second baseman Neil Walker is also out of the lineup with a stiff back. Walker returned to the lineup on Friday after being away from the team for three days following the birth of his daughter, Nora, on Aug. 23.

Orioles: Tommy Hunter signed; McFarland, Borbon cut
NEW YORK-- The Baltimore Orioles have signed right-hander Tommy Hunter, bringing him back for a sixth straight season.

The Orioles announced the move before Sunday's game against the New York Yankees. They also recalled righty Oliver Drake from Triple-A Norfolk and designated lefty T.J. McFarland and outfielder Julio Borbon for assignment.

Hunter was 2-2 with a 3.74 ERA in 21 games for Cleveland this season. He was in the minors rehabbing a recent back injury when the Indians cut him on Thursday.

The 30-year-old Hunter played for Baltimore from 2011-15, going 21-20 with a 4.22 ERA. He said he was thrilled to rejoin the Orioles, adding there were "a lot of smiles, a lot of hugs" when he walked into the clubhouse.

Manager Buck Showalter said Hunter brought a lot of experience, having spent so much time in the AL East.

"Felt fortunate to add him at this time of year," Showalter said.

Drake has pitched four games for Baltimore this year, giving up six earned runs in 5 2/3 innings.

McFarland was 2-2 with a 6.93 ERA in 16 games. Borbon went 4 for 13 in six games.

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

NFL Notes: Falcons sign safety Dashon Goldson

ATLANTA -- The Atlanta Falcons signed veteran free-agent safety Dashon Goldson on Sunday.

The Falcons will be without rookie starting strong safety Keanu Neal, the first-round pick, for at least the first two regular-season games with a right knee injury. He will have arthroscopic surgery on Monday.

Coach Dan Quinn has said that backup Kemal Ishmael would fill in for Neal as the starting strong safety.

Goldson, a 2012 All-Pro with the 49ers, had 110 tackles in 15 starts with the Redskins in 2015. He spent his first six seasons with San Francisco and played with Tampa Bay in 2013-14 (see full story).

Bills: Ryan says standing for anthem pays respect to military
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan believes standing for the national anthem is a way for NFL players and coaches to show respect and give thanks to members of the armed forces.

Ryan says he can appreciate how some players have personal or religious beliefs that lead them to not stand for the anthem. However, he adds people should appreciate the "gift" they have in playing football, which is the result of "the men and women that serve our country."

He was asked about his opinion before practice Sunday, a day after San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he is refusing to stand for the anthem because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Ryan did not specifically reference Kaepernick in his response (see full story).

Dorial Green-Beckham shows why Eagles traded for him against Colts

Dorial Green-Beckham shows why Eagles traded for him against Colts

INDIANAPOLIS — The first time they tried the fade, last week in Pittsburgh, Chase Daniel underthrew it, and Dorial Green-Beckham never had a chance.
 
The second time they tried the fade, in the first quarter at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday night, Green-Beckham got himself turned around on a perfect Sam Bradford pass and the ball sailed over his head.
 
The third time they tried it?
 
We all got our first glimpse of just what this 6-foot-5 kid is capable of.
 
Touchdown Eagles.
 
Green-Beckham, who the Titans gave up on two weeks ago after just one season, soared high over Colts cornerback Tay Glover-Wright near the sideline in the left side of the end zone and brought in a perfectly lobbed Bradford fade for his first touchdown in an Eagles uniform.
 
“It felt natural, me being a big target and having a height difference, going up and making plays like that,” Green-Beckham said.
 
“It is different for me because I know I’ve got to take advantage of those opportunities in the red zone and I feel like for me to go out there and do that, all my teammates see what I’m capable of doing, and that is all I came here to do.”
 
Eventually, the plan is to incorporate Green-Beckham more fully into the offense. But he hasn’t even been here two weeks, and the fade is an easy route to learn, an easy route to perfect and an easy route to build up chemistry with your quarterback.
 
At 6-5, Green-Beckham is the second-tallest receiver in Eagles history.
 
“Yeah, he is a big, physical receiver, the kind of the receiver that comes to mind when you think of fades in the red zone,” Bradford said.
 
“Any time that we can get him matched up, 1-on-1 in the backside, we want to take advantage of that. It’s huge for us. It just gives us another weapon, another play down there. Being able to trust him to go make a play, it is nice to have someone like that down in the red zone.”
 
Most encouraging was the improvement and adjustment DGB made during the game.
 
He got himself awkwardly turned around the wrong way on the first fade attempt in Indy and never had a chance.
 
That’s just a lack of familiarity with his quarterback, he said. Remember, DGB has only had one week of practice with Bradford, and this was their first preseason game together.
 
“Just not knowing where the ball will be placed at,” he said. “We came back and made it happen the second time. Just have to get used to the quarterback, know who is out there throwing balls, and just have to use those opportunities that are given.”
 
The combination of disappointing training camps and preseason performances from Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens combined with the promise Green-Beckham shows has changed the Eagles’ wide receiver outlook behind Jordan Matthews.
 
Green-Beckham in a matter of two weeks has gone from Tennessee Titan castoff to a potential major contributor for the Eagles.
 
He played only eight snaps Saturday night but caught two passes, one for a first down, the other for a touchdown.
 
“I still have to compete,” he said. “I can’t take any steps backwards. I still have to get into the playbook, study more and just use those opportunities that are given to me. With my receiving group having my back for everything and knowing that they will always be there for me.”
 
Remains to be seen just how much of a factor DGB can be once the regular season starts in two weeks.
 
He is still working just in the slot, where Josh Huff also lines up most of the time, and the coaches plan to gradually give him more and more outside receiver work, where the Eagles are really desperate for help.
 
Maybe this won't work out. There has to be a reason the Titans gave up on a promising 23-year-old second-round pick a year after they drafted him. 

But Green-Beckham could wind up being a steal. And all it cost the Eagles was Dennis Kelly.
 
“Just keep getting better each and every day,” he said. “Having that mindset of coming in early, getting extra film in, doing those little things right. … Just try to do better than I did the day before."