by Jeb Kush
The Eagles need a running back like Jonah Hill needs a scale. I swear that guy gains and loses 40 pounds every month. Anyways, the upcoming draft class is the best shot the Eagles have of solving their running back conundrum. The Eagles have not had a dominant, consistent, three down back since Lesean McCoy. Darren Sproles is a situational player, and Ryan Matthews cannot stay healthy and does not have the pass protection or catching ability that would deem him a third down back. Eagles fans should keep their eye on the top five running backs in this year’s draft, all of which have the potential to be workhorse running backs. Leonard Fournette, Dalvin Cook, Chirstian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and James Connor are all running back in this draft that the Eagles could get at their #14 spot in the first round or possibly in later rounds. The only team ahead of them in round 1 who might take a running back is the Browns. The Eagles have no excuse for not drafting one of these backs in April, and if they don’t, then so help me Roseman is getting the boot and Sam Hinkie will take this franchise to the promise land (after 4 or 5 years or so).
If you follow college football then you have heard of Leonard Fournette by now. The bruising back out of LSU has made a name for himself by bowling over tacklers each and every game. He will definitely be drafted in the first round. Dalvin Cook out of Florida State is the other running back who will likely be taken in the first round. While Cook is has received less attention than Fournette, me may end up being the better NFL back. Fournette has excellent acceleration, speed, and power. However, his catching ability is average at best, his route running is below average, and his pass protection lacks ability and effort. Half the time when Fournette is in pass protection all he is willing to do is throw a half-hearted shoulder at an oncoming defender before letting the defender run by. Dalvin Cook on the other
hand, while he occasionally has drops coming out of the backfield he is a better route-runner than Fournette, and shows better effort in pass protection. Dalvin Cook also has less power and is two inches shorter and 20 pounds lighter; however, this also means he is more explosive and many scouts project he will have one of the fastest 40 yard dash times at the combine. His only real issues are that he has some ball-security concerns (13 career fumbles), and he has been arrested a few times. Once was for supposedly punching a woman in the face at a bar, although he was found not-guilty. Another time was for animal abuse when he allegedly chained 3 puppies together. So yeah, maybe he’s a sociopath, but maybe he’s also the explosive 3 down workhorse back the Eagles need.
Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, and James Connor round out the rest of the top 5 backs. Christian McCaffrey out of Stanford is an intriguing prospect for the Eagles because he runs the best routes and has the best hands out of any running back in the draft, making him an ideal 3 down back (seemingly). His quickness is also a mismatch for linebackers and he can contribute on special teams as a kick and punt returner. Despite all of this, McCaffrey weighs less than 200 pounds, and may not have the power necessary for running between the tackles in the NFL. Also, he’s white. Name me a good white NFL running back besides Danny Woodhead, I dare ya. Alvin Kamara out of Tennessee is competing with McCaffrey to be the third running back off the board in April. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally he is a similar player to McCaffrey. He too is great pass catcher and route runner. He can play on all three downs. Kamara is apparently better at pass protection than McCaffrey and has more power and explosiveness than McCaffrey does (averaged 6.5 yards per carry and weighs in at 215 compared to McCaffrey’s 197). The only real knocks on Kamara are that he has some knee injuries in his background, and his vision as a ball carrier is inconsistent. Finally, the last and most intriguing top 5 running back prospect is James Connor out of Pittsburgh. He was diagnosed with cancer but was able to return to the field and have a stellar season. Connor has the size necessary to be an NFL running back, weighing in at 235 pounds. He is a team leader who is known for his resilience, and is the kind of personality the Eagles need in their locker room. In addition to overcoming his cancer diagnosis, he overcame a torn MCL that caused him to miss all of the 2015 season. He shows tenacity and effort as a pass protector, good hands coming out of the backfield on swing passes and wheel routes, and is an absolute battering-ram as a ball carrier. The only knock on Connor is he is all power with zero finesse. He might not be able to bowl over NFL linebackers the way he did in college and does not have great top-end speed.
The Eagles have plenty of prospect to pick from that are capable of solving their running back problem. If you get a chance next week, keep an eye on these five intriguing prospects. And by “get a chance” I mean if you are so mind-numbingly bored that you actually watch the NFL combine.