With uncertainty at position, is Wendell Smallwood ready to be Eagles' lead back?

With uncertainty at position, is Wendell Smallwood ready to be Eagles' lead back?

Once again the Eagles didn't select a running back early in the draft, and for the first time in probably a quarter of a century, they don't have a de facto starting running back on the roster.

The Eagles haven't drafted a running back in the first three rounds since LeSean McCoy in the second round back in 2009.

And it's left the position without a proven back for the first time in a generation.

Ryan Mathews, a former Pro Bowler and two-time 1,000-yard rusher, remains on the roster but suffered a serious neck injury late last year and is unlikely to be with the Eagles moving forward.

Asked after the draft about Jason Kelce and Mychal Kendricks, Howie Roseman said, "We fully anticipate that they're going to be here moving forward."

But asked about Mathews, Roseman said, "Can I tell you anyone who's going to be on this team in September?"

See what he did there?

The Eagles can't release Mathews until he passes a physical, but if they do — when they do — they would save $4 million in cap space. If the injury-plagued Mathews spends the 2017 season on the roster, he'll count $5 million against the Eagles' cap. If they release him, they'll carry only $1 million in dead cap money.

So we'll operate under the assumption Mathews will be gone.

That leaves Wendell Smallwood, a fifth-round pick last year; 33-year-old Darren Sproles; and rookie fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey, who is the all-time FBS rushing leader but stands just 5-foot-8, 175 pounds.

Also on the roster are 2016 undrafted free agents Byron Marshall and Terrell Watson.

The Eagles haven't officially announced the signing of Corey Clement, but Clement tweeted out that he had agreed to terms here, and Roseman — without referring to him by name — said the Eagles had a draftable grade on the 5-foot-10, 220-pounder.

Clement, a graduate of Glassboro High School, ran for over 3,000 yards at Wisconsin with a 5.4 average and 38 touchdowns.

This collection of unproven backs is a real departure for an organization that from 1994 through 2014 brought you an uninterrupted running back lineage that went from Charlie Garner to Ricky Watters to Duce Staley to Brian Westbrook to Shady.

Watters was a free agent, but Garner, Staley, Westbrook and McCoy were all second- or third-round draft picks. All those backs were among the most productive receiving backs in the NFL over the last 20 years, although Garner's best years came with Oakland.

Before Watters, Herschel Walker was the regular starter for a few years, and the last couple years, we all knew DeMarco Murray and Mathews would be the lead backs.


As of now, your choices are a 5-foot-8 rookie fourth-round pick, a second-year fifth-round pick and a 33-year-old veteran who has averaged fewer than four carries per game in his career and has already said he plans to retire after the season.

The Eagles could conceivably sign a veteran, but so far they haven't shown any sign of being interested in taking that route. They certainly weren't involved with Jamaal Charles, who head coach Doug Pederson coached in Kansas City.

And knowing the way Roseman thinks, he'd certainly rather go young than haul in a high-priced 30-year-old veteran like LeGarrette Blount.

Can the Eagles go into the season with Smallwood, Pumphrey, Clement and Sproles?

If they do, Smallwood becomes the odds-on favorite to be the lead back.

There's no question the Eagles are high on Smallwood. He averaged a respectable 4.1 yards per carry last year, but in the three games he got double-digit carries — the Steelers, Falcons and Seahawks — he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

It's certainly not lost on the Eagles' brass that in the team's two biggest wins last year — Atlanta and Pittsburgh — Smallwood ran a combined 30 times for 149 yards.

Smallwood did finish last year injured. He suffered a small tear in his MCL during a late-season game against the Redskins, but he's expected to be 100 percent for the start of the season.

The jury is still out whether Smallwood can handle a regular workload of 12 to 15 carries. He only had one year at West Virginia where he was the lead back, and he averaged over 20 touches per game in 2015, when he ran for 1,519 yards and caught 26 passes.

"Wendell is obviously coming off injury, so that's No. 1," Pederson said. "We've got to make sure he's 100 percent physically and ready to go there.

"I think Wendell has a role on this football team. It's something that we saw glimpses of last season when he had a chance to play."

Pumphrey, despite his size, emerged as a true workhorse at San Diego State. He had more than 200 more touches than any player in FBS over the last four years and averaged close to 22 touches over the last four years.

Last year, Mathews had 155 carries, Sproles 94, Smallwood 77, Kenjon Barner 27, Marshall 19 and Watson nine.

That's 381 carries, or about 24 per game.

How will it break down this year? The Eagles believe Smallwood can handle 12 to 15 carries, and if Pumphrey and Sproles get five or six each, that could be a workable system.

Clement is an interesting wild card, although undrafted running backs have rarely made a significant contribution to the Eagles.

The only undrafted running back to gain more than 20 yards in a season for the Eagles in the last 50 years is Vaughn Hebron in 1993.

"We're really excited to make sure that we got Pumphrey, and then we like the players that are in the building," Roseman said. "We've got some talent at that position, and we're excited to see them."

Andy Dalton helps AFC hold on to beat NFC in Pro Bowl

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Andy Dalton helps AFC hold on to beat NFC in Pro Bowl

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Andy Dalton completed 10 of 12 passes for 100 yards and engineered two scoring drives to help lead the AFC to a 20-13 victory over the NFC in the Pro Bowl on Sunday night.

The Cincinnati Bengals quarterback threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Travis Kelce late in the first half and then guided the offense down the field to set up Justin Tucker's 38-yard field to put the AFC ahead 17-7 midway through the third quarter.

In an NFL all-star game that lacked spectacular play on either side, the AFC put together just enough scoring drives and then held on to preserve a win.

It marked the return to the AFC vs. NFC matchup after the NFL used a format the last three years in which teams were drafted among the Pro Bowl players by designated captains.

The NFC had a chance to tie or take the lead in the waning moments, but Kirk Cousins pass to Jimmy Graham went off the Seattle tight end's hands and was intercepted at the AFC 2-yard line by Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, who lateralled the ball to Denver's Aqib Talib on the return that ended at the NFC 12 to end the threat.

This was the first time the Pro Bowl was played in Orlando, and the ending certainly didn't disappoint the 60,834 fans who packed Camping World Stadium.

New Orleans' Drew Brees completed 10 of 19 passes for 112 yards and one touchdown to lead the NFC. Kansas City's Alex Smith, the starter for the AFC, completed six of eight passes for 74 yards and one touchdown.

In a first half defined by big plays and key interceptions, the AFC was able to come up with one more play to take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

The NFC should have had 17 points in the first half, but a decision to not a kick a chip-shot field goal and an interception in the end zone denied the squad of points during the first two quarters.

Dalton's scoring strike to Kelce put the AFC ahead 14-7 with 1:40 remaining in the second quarter. The touchdown was set up by a 36-yard punt return by the Chiefs' Tyreek Hill to the NFC 38.

Brees had a 47-yard pass to Doug Baldwin earlier in the second quarter that had tied the game at 7, making up for being intercepted by Buffalo's Stephon Gilmore in the back of the end zone a possession earlier.

Smith put the AFC on the board first when he found Tennessee's Delanie Walker for a 26-yard touchdown strike early in the second quarter.

Jason Kelce, Darren Sproles to replace 2 Falcons in Pro Bowl

Jason Kelce, Darren Sproles to replace 2 Falcons in Pro Bowl

Jason Kelce, one of the Eagles who could potentially be a salary cap casualty next season after an up-and-down year, is headed to the Pro Bowl. 

Kelce and Darren Sproles were each named to the Pro Bowl Monday as replacements for center Alex Mack and running back Devonta Freeman, who will be in the Super Bowl for the Falcons.

Kelce didn't miss a snap this season for the Eagles and hasn't missed one in 39 straight games dating back to Week 10 of the 2014 season. 

Despite the Pro Bowl nod, Kelce gave an honest, harsh assessment of his season in November.

"I think that I quite frankly need to do a better job. That's what it comes down to," he said. "I love playing in this city, I love playing in this organization, and if I'm going to keep doing that, I have to do a better job."

Sproles, meanwhile, has now made the Pro Bowl in each of his three seasons with the Eagles, all of them after his 30th birthday. Sproles had 438 rushing yards, 427 receiving yards, four TDs and a punt return average of 13.2 yards this season. His 94 carries were a career high.

Kelce and Sproles join Jason Peters and Fletcher Cox, giving the Eagles four Pro Bowlers after a 7-9 season.

Eagles sign DT Justin Hamilton to futures contract
The Eagles on Monday signed defensive tackle Justin Hamilton to a futures contract. 

Hamilton, 23, went undrafted in 2015 but spent time with both the Bills and Packers. This past season, he spent six different stints on the Seahawks' practice squad, constantly being waived then re-signed. 

He has never played in an NFL game.

Hamilton played collegiately at Louisiana-Lafayette, where he totaled 14 sacks and 29 tackles for loss in four years. He was First Team All-Sun Belt as a senior. 

The Eagles have signed 15 players to reserves/futures contracts this month.