With training camp right around the corner, it’s time to start dissecting the Philadelphia Eagles roster.
For the most part, the starting depth chart on both sides of the ball is set in stone. There could be a few changes here and there once camp starts, but for all intents and purposes, we know who the starting 11 will be for both units.
In regards to the running back position, we know who the top-three backs will be. Miles Sanders will be the primary starter, Kenneth Gainwell will be the primary third down back, and Boston Scott will serve as the change of pace back. The fourth and final spot is still up for grabs.
There are a few factors to consider when debating which of these backs are better suited for the RB4 slot. First, which one has a unique skill set at the position group? On this one, the nod would go to Brooks.
Standing at 5-foot-11 and weighing in at 215 pounds, Brooks is a north-south running power back. He doesn’t lollygag when he gets the handoff. It’s one cut and up the field.
With Jordan Howard no longer on the team, the Eagles running back room lacks a thumper. Sanders, Gainwell, and Scott are all shifty runners who would rather make a man miss than initiate contact themselves. They’ll bounce of tacklers from time to time, but it’s far from their calling cards.
The Eagles rushing renaissance last season coincided with the emergence of Jordan Howard. His ability to punish would-be tacklers right after they had to deal with the speed and elusiveness of Sanders/Gainwell/Scott really took its toll. Defenses just got worn down when they played the Eagles, due in large part to Howard’s success.
During his time at Oklahoma, Brooks was very productive. His fourth and final season as a Sooner was his best. He totaled 1,253 yards rushing on 198 carries (6.3 YPC) while finding the end zone 13 times. Brooks leaves a lot to be desired on the receiving end of things, but it’s not like the Eagles will ever need to rely on him as a receiver.
Although Huntley doesn’t come close to providing the same type of power with his running style, he may be the fastest/quickest back on the roster. Over the past few years, the Eagles have made a concerted effort to add more speed on both sides of the ball. Huntley certainly fits that criteria.
He’s spent most of his time with the Eagles as a member of their practice squad, but he did see extensive playing time in their meaningless Week 18 game against Dallas last season. With a backup offensive line blocking for him against the starting Cowboys defense, Huntley accumulated 51 rushing yards on 13 carries (3.92 YPC).
Huntley also handled kick return duties during that contest and he did a pretty decent job at it. The Eagles haven’t had a great special teams unit in some time now and they haven’t found anyone who can consistently return kicks/punts at a high rate.
In the grand scheme of things, special teams are always overlooked. But starting a possession at the 35 yard line as opposed to the 20-25 is a huge luxury. It’s 10 less yards the offense has to drive to score a touchdown. Every yard counts.
So, which back will make the final cut?
Obviously, we’ll need to see how both players fare during training camp before we can make an accurate decision. Given everything we up to this point, Huntley is likely in the driver’s seat for the fourth spot right now.
He’s entering his third year with the team. He understands the offense. And, above all else, he has rare traits that can’t be plucked from the free agency pool at a moment’s notice. Howie Roseman has talked about rare traits in players a lot this offseason. It’s kind of been the theme of this year so far.
Brooks may have a fine NFL career, and if there’s even one injury to the Eagles running back corps, he’ll likely get the call up to the gameday roster. Huntley just provides more flexibility at the position. If Nick Sirianni can manufacture touches for Huntley and get him in open space, he could be a legitimate weapon for the Eagles offense.
Plus, he’s a solid return man, something the Eagles desperately need. If I have to sit through one more boring return from Greg Ward, or even worse, play russian roulette with Jalen Reagor as a returner, I might jump into oncoming traffic.
Having Brooks on the practice squad for insurance purposes is a no brainer. Give Huntley the opportunity to make an impact from day one and play it by ear from there.
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