The case for and against running back with Eagles first draft pick

The case for and against running back with Eagles first draft pick

The debate over who the Eagles should take with the 14th-overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is completely circumstantial. The selection will be based on any number of factors, from who's available, to need, and – to a certain degree – Howie Roseman's vision.

Even still, a running back in particular would be a somewhat controversial choice by the Eagles at No. 14. It would energize some fans while simultaneously flying in the face of beliefs held by others. Whether we’re talking about Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook or Christian McCaffery, the position has been "devalued" in many minds. There's a line of thinking that backs aren't worth such an investment because a) their careers are generally shorter and b) the perception they are easily replaced.

Those aren't the only rationales against, either. A high percentage of the top backs in the league weren't first-round picks, like Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, LeSean McCoy and Devonta Freeman, for example. This 2017 draft class is said to have "historic" potential, so the odds of finding a player like that in the second or third round are as good as they will ever be. With or without that knowledge, the argument could be made the Eagles have more pressing needs to address at 14.

Quite honestly, these are all valid points to a degree. The case has been made against taking running backs early for years, and people are conditioned to treat it as a rule.

In 2017, the Eagles might be able to make an exception.

This is not necessarily to say the Eagles should go running back in the first round. It's impossible to predict what options the front office will be presented with on draft day, let alone over the course of the next five weeks, so it's not black and white. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt for the anti-running back crowd to keep an open mind, because there are a number of reasons that direction might make sense.
 

Maximize Carson Wentz

The Eagles just signed Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, who – along with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz – have the potential to form one of the most dynamic collections of targets in the league. The club also retained Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, plus beefed up the interior of the offensive line, all of which should go a long way toward providing the best possible pass protection available.

Clearly, the goal of this offseason has been to build around Carson Wentz, except there is still one area of the offense the Eagles have yet to address. Nothing was done at running back in free agency, and while there are a number of explanations as to why that would be, it would be ridiculous to come this far and not go all the way.

Wentz has more than enough in terms of both weapons and supporting cast to take the next step in his second season at the helm for the Eagles. Even at running back, there's the venerable Darren Sproles, if you can rely on no one else. Yet, this franchise traded a lot of picks for the opportunity to go get Wentz, and is spending a lot of money to surround him with talent in 2017. Why would there be any less attention paid to who joins him in the backfield?

Can the Eagles get by without spending a first on a back? Sure. Maybe the club strikes gold on day two, and assuming not, a committee approach isn’t uncommon around the NFL. Yet, if the goal is to get the absolute most out of Wentz, there’s no reason to skimp when it comes to the guy taking handoffs. Put the best possible player there and watch how much better off a 24-year-old quarterback will be for it.

Need

The simple answer here is the Eagles need a running back. Best case scenario, Ryan Mathews is a free agent in 2018, anyway – who knows if he's healthy and on the roster come September – and Sproles talks as if retirement is a strong possibility. Wendell Smallwood showed promise as a rookie, but 83 total touches for a fifth-round pick isn't nearly enough to start making any long-term plans.

Is running back a greater need for the Eagles than cornerback? Defensive line? Even wide receiver? The answer is subjective, and ultimately irrelevant. If Roseman is on the clock at No. 14, the best player available is a running back and there are no trades on the table, then there really isn't any room for bias against a particular position.

If there's a tie, fine, take the cornerback. But whether it's the first round or the seventh, the Eagles have to prepare for the possibility they won’t have any proven ball carriers on the roster come this time next year. At a certain point, it's kind of hard to complain about filling a glaring hole with a tremendous talent, even if it is at odds with your philosophy on team building.

The missing piece?

We don't want to fall into the trap of thinking every top running back prospect is Ezekiel Elliott, but it is hard to ignore how a dominant running back brought everything together for the Cowboys in 2016.

Elliott led the NFL in rushing as a rookie, finishing over 300 yards ahead of the runner-up, and the Cowboys wound up finishing as NFC East champions with a 13-3 record. Yes, a lot of the pieces were already in place before the back’s arrival, including weapons in the passing game, a dominant run-blocking offensive line and an impressive, young quarterback. Elliott was the cherry on top.

The Cowboys weren't the only team to lean on their running back in '16. The Steelers rode Le'Veon Bell into the playoffs. The Patriots handed the football to LeGarrette Blount almost 300 times and led the league with 18 touchdowns on the ground. For all the talk of the NFL being a passing league where everybody has highly specialized, committee backfields, the feature back made something of a return last season.

In each case, the running back alone wasn't the reason for the success – Todd Gurley carried the ball a lot, too, but you didn't see the Rams in the playoffs. The Cowboys, Steelers and Patriots all have a quarterback, first and foremost, along with a decent supporting cast.

However, those situations are great examples of how a strong running back can complement a quarterback and an offense. When the game was on the line, it didn’t always fall on Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger or Tom Brady to make something happen. Oftentimes, they could hand it off.

Wentz is going to make a leap in his second season regardless. He's surrounded by weapons and has a deep offensive line in front of him. But if the Eagles intend to reach the next level as a team in 2017, the best thing they could do is bring somebody in who will reduce Wentz's workload and take some of the pressure off of the quarterback to do everything.

Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Offensive line

Eagles Better or Worse 2017: Offensive line

The Eagles didn’t change much about their offensive line from last season. In fact, they retained pretty much everybody, even handed out a few contract extensions, while also going out and signing Chance Warmack in free agency.

The question is whether that was good enough. There are plenty of question marks among a nucleus of Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson, and standing still didn’t necessarily provide many answers.

BETTER

Depth

The Eagles haven’t been this deep up front in years. First and foremost, 2016 draft picks Isaac Seumalo and Halapoulivaati Vaitai both got significant, meaningful experience in their rookie seasons, and should only be better for it going forward. Vaitai gives the club a capable backup at right tackle, while Seumalo will compete to start at left guard, but can play pretty much anywhere in a pinch.

Chance Warmack bolsters a strong interior. Formerly the 10th-overall choice by the Titans in 2013, Warmack hasn’t really panned out in the NFL, plus missed all but two games last season with a hand injury. However, he has 48 career starts under his belt, only turns 26 in September, and is reunited with Eagles offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland from his college days at Alabama. It’s a great situation.

Veteran Stefen Wisniewski was retained after his one-year trial, and can fill in at guard or center, giving the Eagles quality backups at all three positions.

Trades could change the outlook here, as Allen Barbre and Jason Kelce have both been rumored on the block. Even if both were to go – which seems unlikely – the Eagles’ depth looks improved based on the increased experience alone.

Lane Johnson

Theoretically, Johnson could test positive for performance-enhancing drugs and wind up being suspended for the entire 2017 season. However, we’re going to assume he’s learned his lesson.

Johnson was slapped with a 10-game ban last season after his second positive test, and it turned out to be a crushing blow for the Eagles. Case in point: the team had a 5-1 record with Johnson, but went 1-9 without him. As long as he can put that stuff behind him once and for all, the arrow is still pointing up. Johnson is only 27, and there’s absolutely no debate about his importance to the offense now.

WORSE

Getting older

Between Johnson, Seumalo, Vaitai and Warmack, the Eagles have no shortage of young talent along the offensive line. Evan Wisniewski and Brandon Brooks are only 28 this year. That being said, two of the most vital members of the unit are going to be on the wrong side of 30 – and their performance has already shown some signs of decline.

Jason Peters rebounded after a dismal 2015 campaign that left doubts about his viability at left tackle, earning his ninth invitation to the Pro Bowl last season. He’s no longer the dominant force who was once considered the best O-lineman in the league, but was still one of the more dependable players blindside players out there. Nonetheless, Peters is 35, and despite being rewarded with a contract extension two weeks ago, there naturally is concern that the age- and injury-related decline could be sudden.

Meanwhile, Jason Kelce has already been drawing criticism for the past two seasons, and the fact that he turns 30 in November isn’t likely to help. Though still one of the NFL’s top centers in space, people still have hang-up about his size, and the fact that he doesn’t appear to be getting any stronger with age. Kelce is a better player than he is often credited for at the local level, but that 30th birthday is something to watch.

If the Eagles’ line takes a step back in 2017, it will likely be because one or both of these guys isn’t hacking it anymore.

THE SAME

Brandon Brooks

Brooks was as advertised last season at right guard after signing as a free agent from the Texans. At 6-foot-5, 335 pounds, Brooks is capable of engulfing defenders in the ground attack, particularly at the second level, and he was perfectly solid in pass protection as well. He has the tools to go from good to great, and seeing as he only turns 28 in August, reason to think he may still have that leap in him.

Even if Brooks is what he is, that’s a plus-blocker in both phases. The only concern here really is he wound being a late scratch two times in three weeks with an illness in 2016, and was later diagnosed with anxiety as the apparent cause the symptoms. Brooks addressed the issue, so his unexpectedly winding up on the inactive list two hours before a game should be a thing of the past.

THE UNKNOWN

Left guard

The unknown isn’t always a bad thing, and the Eagles’ competition at left guard is a perfect example. Allen Barbre and Isaac Seumalo are going head-to-head for the job, and whoever wins, the offensive line should be fine.

Barbre started 28 games at left guard over the past two seasons, and was surprisingly better than serviceable, even when everything around him was falling apart in 2015. A third-round pick out of Oregon State in 2016, Seumalo appeared in nine games for the Eagles as a rookie and started four, and did not look out of place.

For obvious reasons, it would be better for the Eagles’ long-term outlook if Seumalo wins the battle, as is sort of expected. Should that come to pass, it could allow the Eagles to move Barbre, in which case, Warmack is right there to back him up. Or, if Kelce is traded, and Seumalo moves to center, Warmack is there to push Barbre. Wisniewski can play left guard, too! In other words, we don’t know precisely how it will shake out, but the Eagles have plenty of options.

BETTER OR WORSE?

Barring a sudden drop-off from Peters, the Eagles appear to be in good shape up front. Even if something happens to Peters, Johnson can play left tackle, and Vaitai takes over on the right. There is no shortage of moves along the interior, so consider that group vastly improved before any trades are made. The only question is depth behind Vaitai at tackle, though Seumalo can play outside as well. Everything points to an already solid group staying that way, and in many cases, continuing to develop. Better

 

Previously:

Quarterbacks
Running backs
Wide receivers
Tight ends
Offensive line
Defensive line
Linebackers
Defensive backs

Even on honeymoon, Jon Dorenbos performs wild magic trick with coin

Even on honeymoon, Jon Dorenbos performs wild magic trick with coin

Magic never stops.

Not even on Jon Dorenbos' honeymoon.

The Eagles' long snapper and magic enthusiast is enjoying picturesque Bora Bora with his wife Annalise.

Still, fresh off his wedding and surrounded by water way too blue, Dorenbos wasn't about to stop entertaining us as he posted this crazy coin trick on his Instagram account.

Bora Bora Magic - I love this move. @apollorobbins showed me this 15 years ago. #honeymoon

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Pretty darn cool — and, seriously, how does he do it?

And don't worry, Dorenbos is clearly having a great time on the honeymoon, not just blowing our minds with cool magic.

Amazing. #honeymoon #paradise

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