Philadelphia Eagles: Breakdown and Depth Chart Analysis at Running Back
After one season as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, Chip Kelly has established his brand of football.
And it's a run-oriented offense.
While Kelly coaxed a record-breaking campaign out of second-year quarterback Nick Foles, it was LeSean McCoy and the ground game that set up the scoring.
As a team, the Eagles ranked among the premier running teams in the game. Philadelphia was fourth in rushing attempts (566) last season, but first overall in total rushing yards (2,566) and yards per carry (5.1). The 19 rushing touchdowns were the second-best mark in the league.
McCoy earned an All-Pro selection for his phenomenal season-long performance, and he’s now a two-time Pro Bowler and two-time AP All-Pro player. He’s firmly entrenched as the team’s go-to running back, and a case could be made that he’s the most talented back in the National Football League.
After McCoy, the depth chart could be up for grabs. The organization currently has six halfbacks on the roster. At the very least, three will make the 53-man roster, and there’s a good chance Kelly will keep four. Here’s what the current top-five depth chart looks like in reverse order.
Running Back No. 5: Henry Josey
Henry Josey was one of two undrafted rookie free agents the Philadelphia Eagles signed at running back, and he should have the edge over David Fluellen due to a similar playing style to current Eagles’ player, Darren Sproles.
Josey put up productive numbers a year ago at Missouri, rushing for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns on a 6.7 yards-per-carry average. He put up an impressive 4.43 time in the 40-yard dash less than two years after suffering a debilitating injury in college that put his prospects of ever playing in the NFL in serious jeopardy.
Josey is just 5’8” and lacks the ideal size to be an every-down back. If he makes the roster, it will be due to his ability to serve as a change-of-pace back. If Josey can contribute on special teams, that will only increase his chances to make the final roster.
Running Back No. 4: Matthew Tucker
Second-year back Matthew Tucker gets the current nod over Henry Josey and David Fluellen because he’s been on the 53-man roster before. Still, the three will battle it out in training camp, likely for the final spot.
Tucker appeared in two games for last season’s Philadelphia Eagles, but he’s never carried the football. Tucker wasn’t even a standout runner in college, never topping 709 rushing yards for TCU. Still, what he offers to the team is size; he’s 6’0” and 220 pounds, which means he will have to play the power-back role to make the roster.
Tucker scored a high number of touchdowns in college, including 12 as a junior in 2011. It’s a long shot that he can serve as the team’s goal-line back, but that would be his best opportunity to make the 53-man roster.
Running Back No. 3: Chris Polk
Former undrafted free agent Chris Polk played well enough last season that the Philadelphia Eagles traded Bryce Brown to the Buffalo Bills. Polk only rushed the ball 11 times, but he averaged 8.9 yards per rush and scored three touchdowns.
Chris Polk neither out of shape nor slow. Still a first rounder
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 26, 2012
He ultimately went undrafted because of injury concerns; a shoulder injury was thought to be what would keep Polk from developing in the National Football League, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Still, he’s played sparingly in his two seasons.
It would be a surprise to see Polk doing something other than being the team's third running back heading into the 2014 campaign.
Running Back No. 2: Darren Sproles
Sproles is already 30 years old, but he plays a unique style of football that should enable him to be a productive player for several more seasons.
He’s coming off career-worst numbers, but he joins a highly prolific offense and will serve a limited role as a part-time player. Sproles will be used as a pass-catcher out of the backfield, even lining up as a slot receiver on occasion. In the NFC Wild Card Game as a member of the New Orleans this past January, Sproles caught four passes against his new team, all coming when lined up as a slot receiver.
Expecting Sproles to return punts and kicks may be unreasonable; his 2013 statistics as a returner were by far the worst numbers he’s put up in years. His impact will be as a receiver, and there’s a good bet he puts up at least 60 catches in 2014 if he stays healthy.
Running Back #1: LeSean McCoy
No one else but LeSean McCoy has a chance to be the No. 1 running back in this offense. In fact, if McCoy gets hurt, the top-notch running backs corps suddenly takes a serious hit.
McCoy led the National Football League in rushing yards (1,607) and total yards from scrimmage (2,146) this past season. He averaged a ridiculous 5.1 yards per carry. He fumbled the ball just once and he started all 16 games for the first time in his career.
There’s no logical reason to expect a decline from McCoy’s performance in 2014. He’s still just 25 years old (26 at the season’s start). He’s a perfect fit for the offense and he will be kept fresh by the utilization of Darren Sproles as a change-of-pace back. Expect another 1,500-plus rushing season from McCoy, who will be gunning for this third Pro Bowl invitation in a six-year career.
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