Eagles Wake-Up Call: RB Depth Chart Analysis
Projected depth chart (in order): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner
Projected cuts: Byron Marshall, Cedric O’Neal
By pretty much any metric, Mathews had an outstanding season last year — when he was on the field. He ranked second among running backs in yards per carry (5.1), and he was tied for 12th in rushing touchdowns even though he ranked 44th in carries. Mathews ranked eighth in the NFL last season in rushing DYAR, Football Outsiders’ metric that values performance compared to the replacement level, adjusting for situation and opponent.
In his six NFL seasons, Mathews has played all 16 regular season games just once, averaging 12 contests per year. That means the Eagles will likely have to rely on at least a couple of other running backs, which is where the depth chart gets messy. Mathews is the clear-cut No. 1 back, but Sproles, Smallwood and Barner could reasonably be arranged in any order after him.
Sproles is still an electrifying punt returner and he’s a viable receiving threat on offense, but even last season when he recorded the third-most carries of his career, he ran the ball just five times per game. It seems unlikely you’ll get much more out of him, which is why Smallwood, Barner or a surprise training camp stud may have to carry part of the load this season.
What I think will happen
If history is any indicator, I expect Mathews to give the Eagles around 15 good carries per game for about 75 percent of the season. Where the projection gets tricky is down the depth chart. Barner showed some talent during his limited play last year, but he had a very untimely fumble against the Patriots and the 27-year-old has only had 34 career carries. Doug Pederson said during OTAs that he’s “really been excited” about Barner, but I’ll say for now that he makes the roster as a fourth running back and doesn’t get much playing time.
Between Smallwood and Sproles, it’s tough to say with certainty the veteran will have a bigger role than the fifth-round pick because of all of the praise Pederson has heaped upon the rookie. The first-year head coach has repeatedly said Smallwood has natural hands and excels as a receiver, so it’s not hard to see him carving a niche in some third-down situations.
Then you have the two undrafted free agent running backs, both of whom seem to be long shots to make the roster. Cedric O’Neal finished his career at Division II’s Valdosta State as the school’s all-time leader in rushing yards (4,115) and rushing touchdowns (49). Byron Marshall, who was hurt by the graduation rule, is a versatile weapon who recorded more than 1,000 receiving yards at Oregon the year after he accumulated more than 1,000 rushing yards. It will be interesting to get a look at Marshall during training camp and to see how Pederson uses him during the preseason, as we haven’t had the chance to see much of him so far.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Nelson Agholor will reportedly not be charged with sexual assault.
Our depth chart analysis continues with the cornerbacks.
The Eagles, along with the other 31 teams, did not take anyone in yesterday’s Supplemental Draft. Here were some of the eligible players.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Some roster news:
#Eagles waive DT Derrick Lott, who originally signed with the team in May.
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) July 14, 2016
Fletcher Cox was ranked the No. 1 current athlete in Philadelphia by Rich Hofmann and Matt Mullin of PhillyVoice.
1. Fletcher Cox: Defensive Tackle – Eagles
This has been quite an offseason for Cox, who received $60 million guaranteed last month. Obviously more importantly, the 25-year-old from Yazoo City, Mississippi now takes home the inaugural #PhillyRank crown. Very impressively, Cox put up All-Pro numbers last season despite playing in a two-gap system that is simply not designed for interior defensive linemen to make plays. He found a way to be a rock star while being tasked with the work of a roadie.
Now that Cox is moving over to a natural three-technique that should allow him to get up the field quite a bit more in a 4-3 scheme, the sky is the limit. Playing under Jim Schwartz, we think that Cox is the best player in Philadelphia at the moment. He better continue to play at a high level, though, because there are players both on and off this list that are coming for the top spot.
Dave Zangaro of CSNPhilly.com continues his training camp battle series with the wide receivers.
I think these four players are on the roster for now: Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff, Rueben Randle and Chris Givens. If the team elects to take six wideouts, T.J. Graham is likely the next on the list. But it’s unclear how all of the receivers will fit into the rotation.
Agholor and Huff are pretty talented guys, but haven’t lived up to their potential. Huff is entering his third season and has shown glimpses. He’s been good with the ball in his hands; now it’s up to head coach Doug Pederson to find a way to get it there. And Agholor had a disappointing rookie year. High ankle sprain or not, 23 catches in 13 games isn’t getting it done, especially for a starter. The Eagles desperately need more out of him in 2016.
Then there’s Randle and Givens, two veteran free-agent signings. Both came to the Eagles on cheap one-year deals. There’s a reason they were both so inexpensive, but there’s something to be said for low-risk, high-reward moves. Both of these fall into that category.
Chris breaks down the data to determine realistic expectations for Carson Wentz at various points in his career.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.