The Eagles figure to head into this season with a four-headed attack out of the backfield comprised of Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Darren Sproles and Corey Clement most likely. During the Doug Pederson era, only one running back has played over 40% of the offensive snaps in a season (Sproles in Pederson’s first year).
The running-back-by-committee approach should lend itself well to our talented backfield this season. Howard and Sanders will likely get the bulk of the snaps on first and second down, while Sproles and Clement will be used on third as receiving options.
Some may believe that Pederson’s system is built on the pass, but in reality, when the running game is ineffective the Birds’ O has trouble finding any kind of rhythm. This was evident last season when Ajayi, Sproles and Clement missed huge portions of the year, forcing the team to rely on Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood.
Last season, Smallwood led the backfield in snap percentage with 29.67% followed by Adams with 23.08% and Clement with 21.79%. They lacked a feature back who could lead the committee after Ajayi tore his ACL in week 2. In 2017, LeGarrette Blount was that guy, and it appears that Howard will be used in a similar fashion this year.
Howard’s running style is very comparable to Blount’s: both are at their best between the tackles, both are north/south runners and both can take on the bulk of the carries for their offenses. Barring an injury, Howard will likely end up leading the team in carries this year just like Blount did in 2017.
Sanders should slot in as this year’s version of Jay Ajayi as well, just with more upside and big play potential. Ajayi was never a speed burner, nor was he able to make moves in the open field to gain extra yardage. He was essentially another power back behind Blount. Sanders, on the other hand, is known for his elusiveness. He should complement Howard’s bruising running style well.
Then we have Clement and Sproles. Bringing Sproles back this offseason was a bit of a surprise to fans, but it just goes to show how much this offensive coaching staff loves his versatility. He’s a swiss army knife out of the backfield, and will likely see more snaps this season than Clement.
I expect Pederson to put a huge emphasis on the running game this year. Not only because his offense runs smoother when it’s balanced, but also because Carson Wentz is at his best when he doesn’t have to sling the ball 40+ times.
Last season, the Birds offense had the seventh highest percentage of pass plays in the NFL at 61.77%, and we all saw the effect it had on Wentz. That percentage raised approximately 6% from the previous season where the Eagles won the Super Bowl.
If Douggie P and Co. want to get back to the big game this year, prioritizing the run game will be imperative for his offense.