Handicapping competition for Eagles fourth running back spot

Wendell Smallwood Philadelphia Eagles

We have officially made it to the Eagles final preseason game, which means the start of the 2018 NFL regular season is right around the corner. It also means that all 32 teams must cut down their rosters to 53 players by Sept. 1.

For the Eagles, they will have more than a few tough cuts in the coming days, starting with the running back position. This summer, the Eagles brought seven running backs to camp to essentially compete for four spots on the depth chart. 

We already knew that Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, and Darren Sproles were virtual locks to make the team, leaving Josh Adams, Matt Jones, Donnel Pumphrey, and Wendell Smallwood to fight for one spot.

Throughout three preseason games, each of these four running backs has had their fair share of good and bad moments. But none of them have pulled away and staked their claim as the lead back in this race.

Here at the Metro, we created a power ranking list of who is in the lead for the fourth spot, heading into Thursday’s preseason finale against the New York Jets.

1. Josh Adams – The undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame has made the most out of his opportunities through the first three weeks of the preseason. In two preseason games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, Adams rushed for 63 yards on 10 carries, which is a yards per carry (ypc) average of 6.3.

Despite not reaching the end zone in either game, Adams has displayed a great deal of burst with his initial carries. Coming out of college, the knock on Adams was his lack of speed, however that has not been a problem with the Eagles.

What has also helped the 6-foot-2 running back in this competition is his abilities to a competent blocker in pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield.

Those two things, in particular, are what the Eagles love to see in their running backs and could be the difference in Adams making the team or not.

2. Wendell Smallwood – Smallwood easily could’ve been 1B behind Adams because he is having a solid preseason. After a disappointing last season, where he was passed over by another undrafted free agent running back Corey Clement, this was a make or break summer for the former fifth-round pick.

Against the Browns, Smallwood got the start with the first-team and had 53 rushing yards on 12 carries, his best outing in the preseason. The former West Virginia product had a few good runs in the first half that displayed his vision, speed, and toughness.

Through three preseason games, Smallwood has 75 rushing yards on 22 carries.

3. Matt Jones – Unlike Adams and Smallwood, Jones has struggled this preseason. The veteran running back signed a two-year deal with the Eagles in the offseason to possibly fill the void left by LeGarrette Blount.

In last Thursday’s game against the Browns, Jones had a costly fumble in the second quarter that was punched out by a defender.

He also struggled running the ball with only 12 rushing yards on three carries, but did well in the receiving game. Jones was second behind wide receiver DeAndre Carter in receiving yards against Cleveland, racking up 30 yards on six catches.

If he did not have those costly turnovers in the last two preseason games, Jones would have a legit shot to win the fourth running back job. But as it stands now, he needs to have a breakout performance against the Jets.

4. Donnel Pumphrey – There is not much to say about Pumphrey, who has dealt with a nagging hamstring injury for the last three weeks. He, along with Smallwood needed to have a good summer to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster this season.

The 2017 fourth-round pick is finally healthy, however, and will be looking to put on a good show on Thursday night. But will it be enough with the top-two leading candidates sort of separating themselves from the pack?

We will see as it ultimately depends on how his hamstring responds. Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh told reporters on Monday that Pumphrey will be a game-time decision. 

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