Jonathan Stewart. LeGarrette Blount. LaMichael James. Kenjon Barner. Chip Kelly loves to run the ball, and he loves his running backs. The Eagles’ boasted an explosive backfield in 2012 led by LeSean McCoy, and Kelly should lean on him heavily. The Eagles’ backs will be used differently than they were under Andy Reid. They will get a chance to be the focal point of the offense instead of a change-of-pace. They may translate those increased opportunities into video game statistics, but then again, defenses may load up the box and shut the running game down.
Who makes the team:
Bryce Brown, LeSean McCoy, Chris Polk
McCoy and Brown are locks for the roster as young and established playmakers. Competition for the third-string job will be fierce. Chris Polk is the tentative leader in the clubhouse. Chip Kelly spoke glowingly of him when he was at Washington and showed confidence in him by trading Dion Lewis and deciding against drafting a runner in April. Rookie free agents Miguel Maysonet and Matthew Tucker could be serious challengers for his job, though. Maysonet is smaller than Polk, but has better burst and was extremely productive at Stony Brook. Tucker is similar to Polk physically, but has his work cut out for him in training camp. The Eagles could very well keep both Polk and Maysonet, but in my projections, the Eagles will only keep three backs. Remember, Chip Kelly does not use fullbacks and already traded Stanley Havili to the Colts.
Who starts week 1:
This one’s a no-brainer. McCoy has been the clear-cut starter for three seasons now, and that won’t change in 2013. He’s clearly a top-10 back in the league, and he has the stats to back it up (over 4.6 yards per carry in his career, 25 TDs in his last 27 games).
How the position stacks up:
The Eagles have a great situation at tailback, starting with LeSean McCoy. It’s hard to find established runners who are still young and healthy. Not only has McCoy been durable, but he’s locked up on a long-term contract and has already made the Pro Bowl. Behind him, Bryce Brown has also proven to be an explosive player, but must nip his fumbling issues in the bud. Neither McCoy nor Brown has the top-end speed that Kenjon Barner or LaMichael James flashed at Oregon, but they are both superb in the open field. Chip Kelly’s spread attack aims to get the ball to his best players in space, and McCoy and Brown should thrive in that capacity. In the NFL, injuries are always the X-factor, especially for running backs. In order for the Eagles to field a dominant running game, McCoy and his offensive linemen must stay healthy.