If any team knows the importance of depth at the running back position, the Philadelphia Eagles might be first on that list.
Their 7,414 regular season rushing yards in the three-season Nick Sirianni era rank third to only the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears, while the Birds rode that wave into Super Bowl LVII with a league-leading 531 rushing yards that playoff.
With that being said, the Eagles are now in a predicament that could leave them without their lead back in D’Andre Swift and third- and fourth-stringers Boston Scott and Rashaad Penny — all three of them being unrestricted free agents.
In addition, potentially losing Jason Kelce to retirement is a crushing blow, even at his 36-year-old age.
The Eagles’ bread-and-butter rushing offense could take a massive hit in the 2024 season if they aren’t careful.
With some good money to spare and high-end draft picks at their disposal, there should be no reason why they avoid the running back market; this time, it’s a necessity.
A Somewhat Regressing Rushing Attack
In 2023, the Eagles’ rushing attack ranked eighth with 2,190 overall yards and tied for eighth at 4.3 yards per attempt. Those are still solid numbers, but for how fantastic their offensive line is, it’s not good enough. While Swift became just the tenth back in team history to reach the illustrious 1,000-yard total in his first season with the Birds, he did so with -65 rushing yards above expected (RYOE), suggesting he was one of the less effective high-end rushers in the NFL.
Among backs with 100 or more carries, he ranked 40th of 49 in the category — just the 18th percentile. When adjusting for RYOE per attempt, he was not much better at the 24th percentile. This is not a point to rip on Swift but to highlight some of the inefficiencies in Philadelphia’s backfield as a whole. With how good their offensive line is, they could have been better.
Even Jalen Hurts saw his worst season as a rusher, with 3.9 yards per carry despite having a career average of 4.8. Hopefully, getting a new offensive mind will start to fix this, but whether Kliff Kingsbury, Kellen Moore, or anyone else gets the job, they will need some help.
The Eagles have issues all over the field that they will need to address, but an offense that scored just nine points in their early-playoff exit to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has to become more explosive on the offensive side of the ball. If anything, it was their defense that kept them in that game, though the 32-9 final would suggest otherwise.
All season long, the Eagles have struggled to truly incorporate their rushing attack like they have in years past under Sirianni. The last time it truly felt as though they did this properly was in Week 2 against the Minnesota Vikings, way back on Sept. 14. In fact, that feeling is backed up by the stats. From Oct. 1 until the end of the season on Jan. 15 — a 15-game span — the Birds did not have a single player reach 100 rushing yards in a single game.
Having 100 rushing yards is no small feat, as the Eagles only had a player reach this total four times in 2022, but their passing attack was also one of the best in the league. They didn’t have the duel threat in 2023, with Hurts regressing a bit stats-wise from his 2022 campaign, making it something they arguably should have leaned on more. At times, it felt as though they were not a threat at all on offense despite their elite talent on that front.
What a Move Could Entail
Whether or not General Manager (GM) Howie Roseman can land — or even afford — a game-altering back this offseason, it should be something he pushes for. It’s not always the best use of assets, but he and the Eagles know all too well what Christian McCaffrey has done for the San Francisco 49ers. Leading the NFL with 349 RYOE, it’s no surprise that he has made the NFC Championship with his new squad in each of his first two campaigns.
It’s very rare for a younger, talented back like McCaffrey to be on the market, but it’s not like the Eagles won’t have options. The Pittsburgh Steelers had two positive RYOE, 100-attempt backs in Jaylen Warren and Najee Harris. Meanwhile, the lowly 6-11 Tennessee Titans could be shopping Derrick Henry, who finished with 84 RYOE and 0.31 RYOE per attempt. There are options that should be available, but sacrifices will have to be made.
If Swift doesn’t re-sign to become the lead back and the Eagles can’t land one of the top available players, they might be in some trouble. While Kenny Gainwell is still under contract and got a decent workload with 84 carries in the regular season and 4.3 yards per attempt, he really isn’t in a place to see a massive uptick in his involvement in the offense. Between Hurts and him, there will need to be another body mixed in there, if not multiple, that can be heavily involved in the rushing attack.
In his Jan. 24 end-of-season press conference, Sirianni preached “fresh ideas.” While this might not have been referring to his back, it’s very clear that a shakeup is necessary.
If the Birds can put more faith in them and have it be a staple of their offense, it might be the first step in returning to the Super Bowl. They have a few months to figure out how they want to attack this dilemma.
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