Philadelphia Eagles: Chris Polk or Vet RB and the Extinction of the FB Position
The NFL draft has come and gone, some undrafted free agents (UDFAs) have been signed and we're almost two months into free agency; do the Philadelphia Eagles have LeSean McCoy's primary backup on the roster yet?
And what is going on with the fullback position? Owen Schmitt seems to be the forgotten man! Let's talk about both subjects and see where the Eagles stand currently, and in what direction they may head.
Since the Eagles said thanks for nothing to Ronnie Brown, some folks thought they might select a running back relatively early during the NFL draft. However, that didn't happen as the Eagles didn't select one until the seventh round, and that player, Bryce Brown, is an extreme long shot to make the roster in 2012.
They did, however, add an intriguing prospect after the draft was over. The Eagles signed RB Chris Polk, a 5'10", 224-lb power runner out of Washington. Evidently, Andy Reid gave Polk a fourth-round grade heading into the draft, so to get him as an UDFA is a steal in their eyes.
After a productive college career, and a senior season in which he rushed for 1,488 yards, 12 TDs, averaged over five yards per carry, then tacked on 31 receptions for 332 yards and four more TDs, some draftniks had Polk rated as a third-round pick.
The reason Polk's draft stock slipped is still somewhat of a mystery. There have been rumblings over injury concerns with his shoulder and a possible degenerative hip condition, something which Polk says is not true.
Here's a scouting report on Polk, courtesy of CBSSports.com:
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Inside: Strong interior runner. Quickly presses the line of scrimmage and has the burst to get through the line of scrimmage and into the second level quickly. A classic North/South runner who doesn't waste time moving laterally. Good vision to set up cutback lanes as he gets to the open field. Doesn't possess elite breakaway speed, but is fast enough to gain yardage in chunks when he finds a seam. Fights for extra yardage and is a reliable short-yardage runner.
Breaking tackles: Unquestionably his best attribute. Very physical runner who keeps his legs churning on contact. Rarely goes down with the first hit. Lowers his shoulder into defenders and shows a variety of natural running skills to break free, including a stiff-arm, spin move and pure determination. Runs low to the ground and with good forward lean to generate the tough yards. Keeps his arms wrapped securely around the ball. Blocking: An underrated component of his game. Cognizant pass defender who is willing to take on the hard-charging linebacker head on.
Polk sounds like the ideal backup to LeSean McCoy and someone who could be the true power back that they've been searching for.
Besides Polk, the other running backs on the roster behind McCoy are Bryce Brown, Dion Lewis, Graig Cooper and Stanley Havili (he's listed as a running back on the Eagles' web site). That's two rookies and three second-year players, none of which they have much invested in as far as money or draft status.
In a season with championship aspirations, is relying on a few of these players to backup McCoy a good idea?
Fortunately for the Eagles, McCoy has remained healthy during his first three seasons. But there is always the chance that he could go down and miss some time. Furthermore, Andy Reid seems to think he overworked McCoy a little bit last year and could be looking to lighten his workload.
That little tidbit could mean Reid is looking to rely more on a second running back in 2012, which would lean him towards acquiring a veteran rather than relying on the young guys.
The Eagles have several other weapons on offense, but losing LeSean McCoy would be just about as devastating as it was when they lost Brian Westbrook to injury. He is a key weapon and his presence on the field is something opposing defenses have to account for.
Given all of this, I find it hard to believe the Eagles won't add a veteran running back at some point. Howie Roseman left the window open for such a possibility when he recently stated the following when asked about the running back situation:
"We feel really good about that spot," Roseman said. "That doesn't mean that if something was there that made sense we still wouldn't look to add there, but we feel really good about them."
The first half of the second sentence is the key there. That is Eagle-speak for "we're still thinking about it."
If you recall, the Eagles were rumored to be interested in Marion Barber III after he was released by Chicago. Though that was before the draft, it shows that the Eagles were, and maybe still are, interested in obtaining a veteran running back.
There are still a few running backs on the free agent market who could be of interest to the team. The main three players who would fit the bill nicely are Joseph Addai, Justin Forsett and Ryan Grant.
The main question with all three of them is whether or not they'd be willing to play second fiddle to McCoy. Plus, everybody knows that the backup running back in Philadelphia doesn't see the ball too much so they'd have to be okay with minimal playing time.
Will the Eagles add a veteran RB?
However, perhaps Reid's comment about lightening McCoy's workload was purposeful as a way to advertise to one of those guys that they'll get more of an opportunity than they might think.
Addai could be the top choice since he ran behind Howard Mudd's offensive line in his time with Indy. Grant could be the next option because of his familiarity with the west coast offense. Forsett seems like the least likely choice but he would be used to playing a lesser role.
For the most part, Andy Reid has always tried to have at least two quality running backs on the roster. From the Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Westbrook days to bringing in players like Leonard Weaver (RB/FB combo) and Ronnie Brown, Reid likes quality depth at this position.
All of this means to me that the Eagles will be looking to sign a veteran player to be McCoy's main backup. The only reason it wouldn't happen is if none of the top guys available want to join Philly due to a perceived lack of opportunity, or if they get a better offer elsewhere.
Since we're talking about opportunities in the Eagles' offense, fullbacks who play in Philly seem to be on the verge of an extinction-level event.
Long gone are the days of Kevin Turner and Jon Ritchie. The last dynamic player the Eagles had at fullback was Leonard Weaver, whose career unfortunately ended far too early in September of 2010.
However, Weaver was viewed more like a fullback/running back and not as a true "lead blocker" that has always defined the position.
When Weaver went down, the Eagles brought in Owen Schmitt to replace him and has been the starting fullback ever since. He is more of a true fullback in the sense that he is not a gifted athlete and was supposed to play the role of lead blocker.
However, at the current time, Schmitt remains unemployed as his contract expired at the end of the 2011 season and the Eagles have not re-signed him. That leaves 2011 seventh-round pick Stanley Havili and 2012 UDFA rookies Emil Igwenagu and Jeremy Stewart as the only fullbacks on the roster.
As stated earlier, Havili is listed on the Eagles' roster as a running back but is considered to only be in the mix as a fullback.
The main question I have regarding this position is whether or not the Eagles will retain a fullback this season. They seem to have been phasing them out over the past two seasons.
Consider this (per Pro Football Focus): In 2010, Owen Schmitt played in 33 percent of the team's offensive snaps. In 2011, that number dwindled down to just 16 percent. Not coincidentally, 2011 was the first year of implementing the offensive line scheme of Howard Mudd.
During most of Mudd's time in Indianapolis, the Colts did not utilize a fullback. It's just a guess here on my part, but I'd imagine the reason would be due to the way he runs the ball.
The Eagles started using Mudd's slant running or "stretch" scheme, just the way they did it in Indy when he was there. That puts more emphasis on the zone blocking by the offensive line and the vision of the running back to find the right lane rather than rely on lead blocking by a fullback.
I have to wonder if the Eagles will designate a roster spot for this position in 2012.
In fact, if they decide not to, it will give them an extra roster spot they could use somewhere else. The offensive and defensive lines would be candidates to benefit from an extra spot, but they could also just keep an extra running back as well.
The Eagles usually keep three running backs and one fullback on the 53-man roster. If they signed a veteran to back up McCoy, they would only have room for one more player. That means it would be unlikely that both Dion Lewis and Chris Polk would make the roster.
However, if they decide not to keep a fullback, they could keep both of those players.
This will be an interesting situation to watch. Do they keep a fullback, whose only value might be in goal line and short yardage situations, or do they sacrifice that roster spot for a player at another position?
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