Eagles training camp position preview: Running back.
Philadelphia Eagles training camp is right around the corner! Players are scheduled to report to the NovaCare Complex on July 27. As we count down the days together, Bleeding Green Nation will be previewing every position on the Eagles’ roster. We continue today by taking a look at the running back position. Previously: Quarterback.
In a recent BGN post about the Eagles’ most overrated players, Sanders was the pick for offense:
By no means am I “out” on the Eagles’ third-year running back. I just think the perception of him tends to be greater than the reality. Sanders was an explosive runner last season with 5.6 yards per carry. But his struggles as a pass catcher and pass protector were troubling. Sanders’ fumble rate (1 for every 48 touches) was the worst in the league among qualified running backs. Sanders admitted his struggles after the season so there’s reason to believe the 24-year-old will be working hard to bounce back.
Sanders has had an interesting career thus far. He entered the NFL with questions about his receiving ability, pass protection skills, and ball security. He seemingly answered those as a rookie, though he left meat on the bone as a runner by dancing too much at times. He then improved as a runner in 2020 only to see his third down back skills backslide. So, the question is: who is the real Miles Sanders? 2021 should give us a better read on exactly who he is as a player.
There’s a belief that Sanders might see more carries than ever as the Eagles transition away from a pass-happy Doug Pederson offense. Such a notion, of course, belies Jeffrey Lurie’s desire for a team identity built on throwing the football. In other words, I’ll believe Sanders is set for a bell-cow workload when I actually see it happen. Though maybe the Eagles will truly run the ball more than ever with Nick Sirianni building an offense (temporarily, at least) around Jalen Hurts’ strengths.
Regardless of the workload adjustment, we can reasonably expect Sanders to be an efficient runner. We just need to figure out what he contributes as a third down back. And that’s not just a bonus skill set. Those contributions could be key in him earning a long-term contract from the Eagles down the line, which is far from guaranteed given how this organization devalues running backs.
One would hope to see Sanders effectively involved in the passing attack in training camp practices before translating it to the real games. The potential is there for him to be a very dangerous weapon.
Scott was a respectable No. 2 running back last year. Will a player (or two) leapfrog him on this year’s depth chart? It’s possible. It currently feels like he’s bound to make some kind of contributions as a role player. The obvious thought is that he could be used in some of the ways that the Colts used Nyheim Hines.
The Eagles claiming Johnson off waivers was an intriguing pickup. The 2018 second-round pick only turned 24 years old a couple of weeks ago. Assuming he can avoid the injury issues that plagued him earlier in his career, Johnson could prove to be a real nice addition. He has RB2 potential and will be in the mix for some third down back responsibilities. Nothing will be merely handed to Johnson, though. He must earn his roster spot with a strong summer.
Fans were excited to see Gainwell’s name come up when the Eagles selected him in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Memphis running back boasted efficiency as both a runner and receiver in college. Now wearing a traditional wide receiver number in the NFL (thanks to relaxed jersey rules), Gainwell was certainly being used as a pass-catcher during our very limited look at the team in OTAs. He has the potential to earn playing time with a good camp but he might be stuck behind veterans early in his career.
Howard admitted he thought his NFL career was over after last season when he logged a paltry mark of just 1.7 yards per rushing attempt. This could very well be his last summer to prove he can stick in the league. He’ll have to earn his roster spot.
This will be Huntley’s first training camp with the Eagles. It’ll be interesting to get a look at him in practice. He’s fighting an uphill battle against a numbers crunch but his returning ability could give him a shot.
Killins lines up with the wide receivers in position drills but is still officially listed at running back. Fans were intrigued with his speed when the Eagles first signed him as a UDFA last year. Though fast, the 5’8”, 177 pound Killins has yet to prove he belongs on an NFL roster. It’ll at least be interesting to see what he can do during the preseason.
Holyfield arguably deserved to be the Eagles’ fourth running back last year but they rostered Huntley instead. Holyfield will be punching up at his competition as he tries to make the team as a long shot.
HOW WILL IT PLAY OUT?
Sanders is the starter and will take a bulk of the touches. This much is set in stone. Scott and Johnson are the favorites for the most touches behind him. Gainwell is a good bet to make the team with Philly likely keeping four running backs.
WHO COULD BE A SURPRISE CUT?
Though I’d currently project them to make the roster, I wouldn’t say Scott, Johnson, nor Gainwell are 100% locks to make the 53. If they falter while others step up, they could find themselves on the outside looking in.
Howard wouldn’t be a surprise cut but he would be a notable one. Johnson should have the edge on Howard if it’s a close call. The former is a few years younger and has more tread on the tires with about 700 fewer career touches.
(Note: After voting in the poll below, CLICK HERE and vote in the QB confidence poll that I forgot to originally include on Monday. D’oh.)