The NFL scouting combine has concluded, free agency is on the horizon, the draft is to follow, and things are getting ready to break loose. Rosters will start to change, and the Eagles have both wants and needs to fill at their running back position.
The Running Backs as of Now
Legendary stalwart Brian Westbrook has spoiled Eagles fans with spectacular highlight after highlight for the better part of his eight year tenure. He has endured much, is now gone, and will be missed on the field and by the fans.
Lesean "Shady" McCoy is an exciting second year running back that the Eagles landed in the second round of the 2009 draft. He is no longer the heir apparent but duly appointed and de-facto starting running back for the Philadelphia Eagles.
McCoy is quick and elusive, but I'd like to see him do a little bit more with his skill in open space and break more big gains with those opportunities rather than trying to stutter step and shoulder fake through tight quarters behind the line of scrimmage.
I also think he ran most effectively out of the I-formation rather than the single back (less tippy-tappy running). He really seemed to work well with Leonard Weaver. I think McCoy generally ran with less deliberation behind the dynamic fullback.
I'm not going to get my hopes up, but I thought that looked good.
McCoy has been in the weight room, and he's bulked up a tad. I definitely look forward to seeing Shady develop as an Eagle.
Many would like to see McCoy hold the ball a little closer to his chest, but his running style reminds me in many ways of Ricky Waters. Coming out of college, I thought McCoy looked like a Westbrook clone. Clearly more modest in stature, I now perceive he has a reminiscent style of body control and ball handling to Waters.
Both are Bishop McDevott H.S. alumni.
Leonard Weaver is a fairly young veteran as well. Before the Eagles signed him last season, I commented that he reminded me of a 250 pound version of Brian Westbrook.
Say what you will.
He was converted from a tight end to a fullback in Seattle, and that's exactly the kind of fullback Andy Reid's offense needs. He's a solid situational running back, receiver out of the backfield, and pass protector as well.
I'd like to see him lead blocking in short yardage instead of Andy hammering him out of a single back set—but I won't get my hopes up.
Weaver is still unsigned, but protected. For a team to steal him away, they would have to give up at least a first round draft pick by tender (I assume a first round tender) and let the Eagles match or better the offer.
Vying for a Job with the Eagles
From here on, it's an open competition with one returning challenger on an Andy Reid roster that typically keeps four running backs. With Shady and Weaver basically locked-in, let the sorting and querying now begin.
Eldra Buckley is a returning veteran signed from the Chargers practice squad in 2009. He's a good football player and an invaluable member of the coverage team. If Andy has little faith in Buckley as a reserve running back, he may expand the running back allocations to retain Buckley's services as a key special teamer.
The Eagles also signed the Canadian Football League's rookie of the year, running back Marcus Mallet. He is an Andy Reid prototype back at 5'11" 200 pounds—a shifty runner/receiver.
I think he will need to dazzle and/or prove he can play a significant role on special teams to be an Eagle in 2010.
New Forthcoming Additions
There is no chance that the Eagles fail to add another running back to the roster by the start of training camp. Either via free agency or the draft, Reid will acquire a play making supplement/complement to Lesean McCoy.
Still, free agency is loaded with soon to be released legacy backs: Ladanian Tomlinson, Thomas Jones, and our own Brian Westbrook. Darren Sproles is also expected to be amongst the released.
Willie Parker and Chester Taylor are the headliners of the contractually expired unrestricted free agency market.
This draft features seven top prospects that could fit the Eagles current system: CJ Spiller, Jahvid Best, Ryan Matthews, Joe McKnight, Dexter McCluster, Ben Tate, and Montario Hardesty.
Power backs Jonathan Dwyer, Toby Gerhart, LeGarrette Blount, and Anthony Dixon don't seem to fit the model and would be a shocking indication of forthcoming change if drafted.
Out of that laundry list of names, I fully expect at least one to be on the Eagles' roster in 2010. It would not be surprising to me to see the Eagles draft a third or fourth round running back and sign a veteran.
It's not that the Eagles don't have faith in Lesean McCoy but rather an interest in a time-share at the position and a desire to push the incumbent towards the full realization of his potential.
Free Agency and Draft Outlook
Despite releasing our own legacy running back, the Eagles may take a gander at a more durable veteran with less wear like Thomas Jones or Chester Taylor, both of whom would likely want more playing time than they will get in Philadelphia.
Ladanian Tomlinson, Willie Parker, and Darren Sproles may be more willing to take a back seat role to Lesean McCoy.
I am more excited about the rookie prospects as I have great confidence in this draft class' talent through the first three rounds at least.
CJ Spiller, Ryan Matthews, and Jahvid Best are first round talents. The Eagles would presumably need to trade up to snag Spiller. There is a perception that running back draft value is dropping by way of draft depth and the dilution of the feature back position. Spiller may not slip to 24th, but he may fall deep enough for the Eagles to make a move up the board ala the Jeremy Maclin pick.
Best or Matthews could slip as deep as the early to mid second round where the Eagles again would assuredly need to bust a move up the board to score one of these studs.
Both Spiller and Best are breathtakingly quick and elusive Andy Reid prototypes. There is an injury knock on Best, but it concerns me very little. Matthews can do it all as well, but with a little more thump as he is a bigger man.
The Eagles do have plenty of trade bait to bundle in a deal that moves them up in the first or second round.
McKnight looks like a second or third round pick depending on how the draft unfolds. He is a play maker, has good speed, and could play the role.
Ben Tate and Montario Hardesty look like third round picks that could slip into the early or mid fourth round. Both are bigger backs with good quickness and speed. Tate reminds me of a quicker Duce Staley, and Hardesty is just a good looking football player.
My expectation is that the Eagles bypass any purposeful free agent running backs and go for a player like Tate or Hardesty in the third. These guys will not likely disappoint, either.
More opportunities will arise that could include more draft picks that alter the logical draft progression. Opinions on talent will change yet in the end, but one thing is for certain: There will be a new look to our offensive backfield in 2010. The suspense is getting to me.
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