Eagles’ combine checklist: Search for difference-making running back

Running backs will be featured during Day 1 of on-field workouts at the 2019 NFL scouting combine Friday. In related news, the Philadelphia Eagles evaluators spent the morning popping popcorn and polishing their binoculars.

The Eagles haven’t drafted a running back higher than the fourth round since executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman first came into power in 2010, but that could change this April thanks to a combination of need and circumstance.

The need: Philly finished 28th in rushing yards last season (1,570) and was second from the bottom in yards per attempt (3.9). The Eagles’ leading individual rusher, rookie Josh Adams, ranked 41st in the NFL in rush yards (511). Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are both free agents.

The circumstance: They have two second-round draft picks this year (Nos. 53 and 57 overall), increasing the chances that the Birds select a running back in the second round for the first time since 2009 when they landed a guy by the name of LeSean McCoy. And there are some potential Day 2 prospects who look like they could fit the bill.

So the Eagles will be watching intently. Two backs on their radar specifically are Devin Singletary (FAU) and David Montgomery (Iowa State). Interestingly enough, each forced 85 missed tackles (evaded or broken) last season, according to ESPN Stats & Information, tied for most in the FBS.

Singletary, who actually looks a bit like McCoy running the ball, with a similar ability to cut on a dime, rushed for a staggering 66 touchdowns in three seasons in college. Montgomery has some moves of his own and posted close to 1,400 yards from scrimmage this past season with 13 scores.

Roseman and coach Doug Pederson rightly pointed out this week that the team has found ways to get by at running back without investing crazy resources in the position. Their trio of backs featured during the 2017 Super Bowl season — LeGarrette Blount, Ajayi and Corey Clement — made a total of $2.3 million that year. Blount was a May signing. Ajayi was acquired at the trade deadline. Clement was an undrafted free agent.

But last season, the position held them back, and there’s no real getting around that. The need to seek help from the outside so frequently is directly related to the team’s recent track record drafting backs.

Here are the running backs the Eagles have selected since 2010:

2010: Charles Scott, LSU, sixth round

2011: Dion Lewis, Pittsburgh, fifth round

2012: Bryce Brown, Kansas State, seventh round

2016: Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia, fifth round

2017: Donnel Pumphrey, San Diego State, fourth round

Lewis is the biggest hit, though the bulk of his NFL production came mostly after he was traded by Philly to the Cleveland Browns in 2013.

As you can see, all of these backs were selected in the fourth round or later. It’s not all that surprising the success rate is not super high.

Roseman said that they are not going to force it at any position because of a perceived need. And they shouldn’t. But this is a year in which the stars might align to pluck a difference-making running back. A search for the right fit continues this weekend.

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