The Eagles have had a rotating door in their backfield for the better part of the last two seasons. Jay Ajayi was brought in last season and was thought to be the lead back that they desired with one big ‘IF’. That being IF he can stay healthy and that seems to be an issue. Ajayi first suffered a fracture in his back that he attempted to play through this season before unfortunately tearing his ACL. Behind Ajayi to start the season, the Eagles had the veteran running back Darren Sproles, along with Wendell Smallwood and Super Bowl 52 standout Corey Clement. Sproles injured his hamstring in practice after Week 1 and has been sidelined ever since. This left the Eagles with Smallwood, Clement, and UDFA Josh Adams. Which guy can run away with the job over the last 8 games?
Smallwood’s Running Straight
Wendell Smallwood entered training camp this year as an afterthought. Many counted him out as even making the roster, assuming either second-year RB Donnel Pumphrey or UDFA Josh Adams would unseat him for a roster spot. Smallwood has had his ups and downs this season. While he has run strong and fights for the extra yard each time, he has seemed to miss wide open holes. Smallwood has been hot and cold in the passing game as well. A few drops throughout the season has caused him to lose some confidence from QB Carson Wentz. Wentz has tended to look away from Smallwood on a few occasions. Smallwood has also struggled in pass protection. The struggles in pass protection is what will hurt Smallwood the most and open the door for Clement and Adams.
Clement Has the Ability
Once Jay Ajayi was lost for the year, many expected second-year running back Corey Clement to step up as the Eagles lead back. Clement has struggled to gain any ground so far this season. Clement had a stellar end to the 2017-18 campaign which included 4 catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl (pictured to the left). After this strong finish, many thought he would carry that momentum into this season and even challenge Ajayi for playing time. That has not been the case. Clement injured his hamstring early in the season and has not been the same since. This bye week should have helped Clement the most and if he was still struggling with that hamstring, it has hopefully healed up over the bye.
Josh Adams – Wildcard
Josh Adams quickly become a fan favorite. Similar to Clement last season, as a UDFA, Adams is a local product who had a successful college career. Adams looked serviceable in the preseason but did not do anything to overly standout in his limited usage. Combine his average preseason with a history of injuries and the Eagles cut Adams at the end of training camp. Adams returned on the practice squad and was quickly signed to the 53-man roster after the Sproles injury. Adams is a tall, 6′-2″, downhill runner who takes just one quick cut to hit a hole and get upfield. The Eagles have lacked that type of power since LeGarrette Blount left a season ago. Adams could fill that void left by Blount’s departure but it is a tall (pun-intended) task from the UDFA.
The “lead back” will not be decided in one game it will be a committee for a large part of this final stretch of eight games. The Eagles can not count out the return of Darren Sproles. Doug Pederson has been aggressive with his use of Sproles as a lead back. If healthy, Sproles will likely lead this team in carries if/when he plays. Sproles isn’t your typical workhorse, but the undersized veteran may be the most competent runner on the roster.