Eagles: Who will be the odd man out in the backfield?

As it stands now, the Eagles have five running backs contending for playing time this year. Miles Sanders is the lead back, followed by Boston Scott, Kerryon Johnson, Jordan Howard, and rookie Kenneth Gainwell.

There’s no way the team keeps all five guys, meaning at least one of them will be the odd man out once the regular season rolls around. The question is, who will that be? It could go in a few different directions.

Scott and Gainwell feel like write-ins to make the final roster. Scott has been with the team over the past few seasons and has done a fine job as Sanders’ backup. The Eagles spent a fifth round pick on Gainwell in this year’s draft, and while fifth round picks aren’t always guarantees to make the roster, the organization opted to go with Gainwell over other obvious needs facing the team, so they clearly like his skill set.

That leaves us with Johnson and Howard, two proven backs with differing skill sets.

Johnson is a versatile back who can do a number of different things out of the backfield. During his three years in Detroit, Johnson totaled 61 receptions for 527 yards and 3 touchdowns. He’s not exactly a prolific receiving threat out of the backfield, but he’s certainly serviceable in that regard.

Johnson is also one of the best pass blocking backs in the league, making him a great candidate to take third down snaps. His 84.8 career pass blocking grade on Pro Football Focus ranks sixth among all active running backs.

Howard, on the other hand, is much more of a power back who can be utilized in short yardage situations. He’s a limited pass catcher who doesn’t really provide much explosion in the running game. Even putting Howard in the ‘power back’ category feels like a bit of a stretch, with his pedestrian 1.3 yards after contact per rushing attempt last season.

If Howard was more in line with someone like LeGarrette Blount, a true power back, then keeping him would make a ton of sense for the Eagles. They don’t really have someone who they can go to in short yardage situations. But since Howard is just a middle of the road running back without much upside or versatility, he feels like a camp body. Johnson provides a lot more to the offense, and at only 24 years old heading into the year, he has a ton left in the tank.

Regardless of who makes the final cut for the Eagles backfield, they have a lot of young talent to work with back there. It’ll be exciting to see how they each complement each other during the 2021 season.

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