If you’re of the mindset, as most fans are, that Carson Wentz needs weapons around him, in as much abundance and speed as possible, then you (and Carson) are in luck. The 2017 NFL draft is awash in talent at running back through all three days.
With the distinct possibility that Ryan Mathews is on the outs, it may soon be hard to see much resemblance between the current backfield and the one that was seemingly overburdened with Pro Bowl runners after the Eagles acquired Mathews, DeMarco Murray and Darren Sproles.
Starting at the top of the draft and top of the class, it seems unlikely LSU’s Leonard Fournette will be available when the Eagles pick. Running backs are back in vogue after the rookie success of top 10 picks Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott. But just exactly when the Eagles pick may be critical in determining whether Florida State’s Dalvin Cook is still on the board.
Whether the Eagles have the 14th or 15th pick is dependant on the results of an upcoming (at the combine) coin flip with the Indianapolis Colts — winner take 14. If you start looking for teams that need to improve their running game, your search could easily start and end in Indianapolis.
Dalvin Cook, Florida State
Last seen dropping 207 total yards on Michigan in a Capital One Bowl victory, Cook racked up 4,464 rushing and 5,399 total yards in just three years in college. Add in 48 touchdowns and a career 6.5 yards per carry, and there aren’t any production issues here. With speed to burn and no worries about whether or not he can handle a full workload, he would come to the Eagles expected to take over the starting role on day one, but cost no less than their first round pick.
If you’re unwilling to prioritize a running back over wide receiver or corner, or just completely unable to believe a coin toss will go in the Eagles favor, there are still plenty of options to look at long after the opening night of the draft winds down.
Alvin Kamara, Tennessee
One of the most intriguing isKamara. He doesn’t let the fact that he could outrun almost all defenders keep him from bowling over a few, or more accurately, as many as he can get his shoulder pads to.
Kamara is likely available day two because he only carried the ball 210 times in his college career. He did add 74 receptions onto that and manage to score 23 times in that limited play. But he also had his share of fumbles. You can look at this limited use as a positive or a negative. Kamara could be distinctly un-damaged goods in an era where running back use has become closely monitored, or he could be unable to handle the lead back role expected of a high draft pick.
Or, you could check out Kamara’s opposite …
Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State
With 1,059 carries, he broke Ron Dayne’s career rushing yardage college record during this year’s Las Vegas Bowl. If that sounds like it must be a lot of yards, you’re right: 6,405 to be exact. Add in another 1,158 receiving yards for good measure. (It should be noted, if Dayne’s bowl stats were counted, as every current players are, and as they should be, the record would still be his.)
So why isn’t Pumphrey going off the board ahead of Cook and Fournette? Either because he’s just 5-foot-8, 169 pounds, or because winning the Mountain West Conference just doesn’t garner the same respect it did when Utah and TCU were still in the fold, take your pick.
The obvious comparison to make is Darren Sproles (listed a good 20 pounds heavier, mind you) and drafting an eventual replacement for a player the Eagles still have on the roster next year rather than a complement might not be the most obvious choice. But Pumphrey has the vision, burst and agility to succeed on a team capable of creating lanes for him to find, and might still be available on day three if the Eagles wanted to, say, double dip at running back in the draft.
James Connor, Pittsburgh
Other late round possibilities include in-stateproduct Connor, one of the best stories of the draft. Connor was the 2014 ACC Player of the Year before injuring his MCL in the first game of 2015 and then discovering he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma during his rehab.
After a recovery that included meeting Eric Berry, the Chiefs’ All-Pro safety who also beat the disease, Connor returned in 2016 to First-Team All-Conference honors, a 1,000-yard season, 16 touchdowns and 100-yard performances in upsets of Penn State and Clemson.
Connor is a bruising power rusher whose combine will be closely watched by teams curious about his second gear.
De’Veon Smith, Michigan
Smith has been using the postseason All-Star games to his benefit. A good week at the East-West Shrine game saw him added to the Senior Bowl, where he had a chance to play while underclassmen were sitting at home. Smith’s Senior Bowl week didn’t match his earlier one, but this is a late-round option who is likely on the Eagles’ radar. Running backs coach Duce Staley was the offensive coordinator for Smith’s East team in the Shrine game.
At Michigan, Smith became the lead back under Jim Harbaugh, and followed 753 yards rushing in 2015 with 846 while running to the Orange Bowl this season.
The Eagles’ options are myriad at this position, and while the thought of Cook or Fournette dropping to the Birds in the first might make fans drool, they can also rest assured missing out on one of those two won’t make the draft a bust at running back.