Back to Basics: How the revamped RB room sets the 2021 Eagles offense up for success
The 2017 Eagles won the Super Bowl because they embodied the “next man up” mentality, but they also had a a loaded RB room that allowed them to deploy versatile and fresh legged RB’s all season long. However, since that season, the Eagles have gotten away from that successful formula and the negative results are apparent.
In 2018, the Eagles leading rusher was rookie RB, Josh Adams, who totaled 511 rushing yards.
In 2019, the Eagles leading rusher was rookie RB, Miles Sanders, who totaled 818 rushing yards.
In 2020, The Eagles leading rusher was sophomore RB, Miles Sanders, who totaled 867 rushing yards.
Miles Sanders has been a crucial part of the Eagles offensive attack the last two seasons; however, injuries have kept Sanders out of several offensive series and even some games. Injuries are most certainly apart of the game and Sanders looks to have a healthy year three and cement himself as the lead back.
Sanders accolades are extremely impressive. The recently released 2021 Eagles Media Guide displays that Miles set a franchise rookie record in all-purpose yards (1,641) in 2019. Additionally, he has tallied the most 60+ yard rushing plays in the league with a total of four. Lastly, since 2019, number 26 ranks 4th in the NFL in rushing average at 4.9 yards per carry only behind, Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, and Aaron Jones. Hopefully Miles can stay healthy and keep building upon an impressive two year start.
In Sanders absences in 2019 and 2020, a committee of Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, and Jason Huntley have been tasked to pick up the slack. Although Howard and Scott have had their moments, the rushing attack has been quite lackluster without Sanders.
Additionally, Sanders has regressed as a pass catcher overall, but a lot of that can be contributed to Wentz’s erratic throws and lack of timing in 2020. Another major issue was the Eagles bizarre mismanagement of the running backs. Maybe they were trying to save Sanders from himself and avoid injury, or maybe they were just trying to throw 40+ times a game. Who knows… The Eagles front office and new coaching staff has definitely taken notice of this issue because they made it a point this offseason to load up the RB room.
The Eagles front office emphasized the importance of having a stable of versatile and talented RBs and that is something we all should be excited for.
Primarily, the read-option game is only strong when the QB and RB are both legitimate threats out of the backfield. With Hurts and Sanders that is absolutely going cause defensive coordinators to stay up all night game planning for them.
Unlike the last few years, now the Eagles have plenty of firepower behind Miles. We’ll see how the depth chart shakes up after camp, but it’s a good problem to have when you wish you could keep all of the potential running backs on the current roster.
Behind Sanders, the Eagles added former Lions RB, Kerryon Johnson.
Kerryon is entering his fourth year in the NFL. He has spent all three years in a committee but as a whole, he has 283 rushing attempts, 1,225 rushing yards, and 8 total rushing touchdowns on a 4.3 yard for carry average. His best career game was in 2018 against the Miami Dolphins as he racked up 158 rushing yards that day. Johnson looks to be the first man up when Sanders needs a breather.
The other vet the Eagles brought back to battle it out or split carries with Kerryon is Jordan Howard. Neither Johnson or Howard are great out of the backfield but they are bruising backs and have tons of experience.
Howard is entering his sixth NFL season and is still only 26 years old. He is a former Pro-Bowler and as reliable as they come. He has compiled 3,955 rushing yards and 34 touchdowns on 932 carries. Kerryon and Howard are similar in many ways and look to be reliable on and more importantly off the field helping the rookies and younger players.
Here is where things get very competitive. Boston Scott has been a useful swiss army knife type of RB for the Eagles the last two seasons; however, the Eagles just drafted Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round and he is looking to obtain the 3rd down back role.
Scott has been crowned the “Giant Killer” by the Philly faithful as he always seems to come up huge against New York. In 2019, Scott earned NFL Offensive Player of the Week after totaling 138 scrimmage yards and scoring 3 touchdowns. He is only 26 years old, is on a favorable contract and should more than likely be a lock to make the roster even if Gainwell outplays him in the preseason because of his versatility, experience, and ability as a returner.
Now here comes the rookie. This kid could seriously be one of the biggest steals of the draft. Many projected the Memphis product to go early in the 3rd round but he was there for the taking in the 5th round.
Memphis has been pumping out NFL ready RBs for years. Now the Eagles have their very own in Gainwell. Gainwell had a magical 2019 season with 2069 all purpose yards, and 16 total touchdowns. In 2020 he opted out due to Covid-19 and looks to pick up where he left up at Memphis but now wearing midnight green. Kenny G is a phenomenal pass catcher and is going to be a bullet out of the backfield disappearing behind the likes of Brooks and Lane but reappearing 60 yards in the end zone.
Honorable mentions are Jason Huntley, Adrian Killins, and Elijah Holyfield. These three are longshots to make the team this year. They have some promise but were unable to contribute last year and now they have Johnson and Gainwell ahead of them. However, it is going to be a very versatile and interesting group to keep an eye on.
The importance of a balanced offense and effective run game cannot be stressed enough. In 2017, the Eagles offense hit its turning point after the loss to Kansas City after they started to utilize Blount and dominate the play action game. Hurts is the best QB rushing threat we have had since Vick and that second of hesitation he’ll cause is what can lead to massive plays if executed properly.
We obviously do not want Jalen running all over the place and putting himself in harms way but having that element to his game is crucial and it causes teams to have to game plan that much more. Jalen and the offensive weapons have been working to create chemistry all offseason and very soon we’ll see that extra time pay dividends.
For the first time in a few years, you wish you could keep all of the RBs and that is a great problem to have. There is a ton of potential across the board. The battles in the RB and WR rooms will be incredible this offseason but iron sharpens iron and we’ll see who is left standing by September and ready to run out of that tunnel week 1. As Always, Fly Eagles Fly!
Photo Credit: Lori M. Nichols (NJ Advance Media)