For 8 consecutive weeks this Spring/Summer I will be going division by division and evaluating the RB corps of each team. I’ll be assessing both the overall talent and depth that each team has at the position, while taking into account whether they use a workhorse back as their primary weapon or if they use a committee of backs to get the job done. This week’s featured division will be the NFC East.
The NFC East has the potential to be the top division in the whole league when it comes to RB talent. Everyone already knows about Ezekiell Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys and Saquon Barkley of the New York Giants. Both are bonafide elite talents and are young enough to stay dominant for several years to come. However, the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins have each drafted a young talent of their own in the past 2 drafts in Miles Sanders and Derrius Guice, respectively. If both players live up to their full potential, then no other division will be able to match what the NFC East has at the RB position.
DALLAS COWBOYS: Ezekiell Elliott, Tony Pollard, Mike Weber, Darius Jackson, Jordan Chunn
This is “Zeke” Elliott’s offense; not Dak Prescott’s, not Amari Coopers, but Zeke’s. He is the focal point of what they like to do, and he is their featured guy who leads the way behind one of the top offensive lines in the league. Zeke led the league in rushing in 2018 with 1,434 yards, showing that his drama-filled and inconsistent 2017 was behind him. He’s a complete talent and one of the top-tier RBs in the league.
The depth behind Zeke is where it gets questionable. With Rod Smith leaving in free agency and signing with the New York Giants, the Cowboys’ front office went out and drafted Tony Pollard in the 4th round and Mike Weber in the 7th to fill in as Zeke’s new backups. Pollard is projected to be the change of pace guy to Zeke, providing a receiving weapon out of the backfield as well as a return weapon on special teams. Weber serves as the “insurance policy” to Zeke should he go down with an injury or face another suspension. What’s ironic is that the fellow Ohio State Alum took over as the starting RB for the Buckeyes once Elliott left. He’s a solid RB who has a fairly complete skillset but isn’t particularly special in any one area.
Jackson and Chunn are the two players competing for the 4th RB spot, but there’s a possibility neither of them make the team and the Cowboys roll with 3 guys. Jackson has dealt with several injuries during his short career and has bounced around with a couple of teams before returning to the Cowboys for his third stint. Chunn is an undrafted free agent.
If Zeke stays healthy and out of trouble, the Cowboys will continue to have a dominant running game, likely one of the best in the league, especially if their 2 rookies can prove to be contributors as well.
NEW YORK GIANTS: Saquon Barkley, Wayne Gallman, Paul Perkins, Rod Smith
Is it too early to say that Saquon is already the best RB in the league? So far he’s lived up to the hype that surrounded him in last year’s draft, accumulating the most yards from scrimmage out of any player in the league with 2,028 and winning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Barkley’s athleticism and remarkable skills as a receiver are already well-documented, but he also showed some steady improvement with his vision and decision making as the season went on. And he did all this while running behind a very questionable offensive line, so imagine the type of production he could put up if he ever gets good blocking in front of him.
Gallman will likely be the primary backup for the second straight season, which isn’t a horrible thing, but also not a great thing. He’s a serviceable runner who takes what’s there, has some open field ability, and isn’t a liability in the passing game, but it is easy to see the drop-off in talent once Gallman spells Barkley.
Perkins hasn’t been able to replicate the success he had his rookie season and has been hampered by injuries along the way. It’s possible he finds a way to stick on the roster, but don’t be surprised if he ends up being released before the start of the season.
Former Dallas Cowboy Rod Smith is a power runner and provides a change of pace from Barkley and Gallman. He’ll likely have a role in this offense, but it remains to be seen how much the decline in offensive line talent in front of him will affect him. He wasn’t exactly the most efficient runner in 2018 for the Cowboys, and that’s why they let him walk in free agency.
It’s difficult to like the Giants’ overall running attack because of the unspectacular talent behind Barkley and the still unproven offensive line. However, Barkley is so good that he negates a decent amount of the deficiencies the line has. When he’s on the field there may be no one else in the league that’s as dangerous of a weapon as he is, and that’ll always prevent defenses from completely sleeping on the Giants’ offense.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS: Derrius Guice, Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, Bryce Love, Samaje Perine
Some people forget that the Redskins were leading the division through the first half of the season in 2018, and a big part of it was because of the contributions of Adrian Peterson. The future Hall-of-Famer showed he still had something left in the tank, putting on some impressive performances early in the season. However, as the year went on his age started to kick in. Peterson started to wear down and his production took a dip. Peterson returns for another season in Washington, but it would be ideal for the team to have another runner to split carries with him so that he can stay relatively fresh as the season goes on.
Enter: Derrius Guice. The talented runner from LSU tore his ACL in the preseason of 2018, taking away what some believed could have been a great rookie season for him. Guice will finally get his chance to prove what he can do, as he is expected to be fully recovered from the injury. Easing him back into playing time by splitting carries with Peterson is the perfect situation for him as well, and don’t be surprised if he really picks up his production later in the year. He’s an angry type of runner who reminds many people of Marshawn Lynch.
Started with a smooth cutback.
Then the dirty spin move.
Followed by the nasty stiff-arm.
— Chad Ryan (@ChadwikoRCC) August 10, 2018
Chris Thompson resumes his role as the passing down back and should remain one of the better receivers at the RB position. The only concern about him is his durability and he’s going to have to prove he can stay healthy with him entering the final year of his contract. If not, his potential replacement could already be on the team.
Bryce Love tore his ACL in his last college game and will probably miss a good portion of the 2019 season, if not the whole thing. A big question mark surrounding him is if he has the same game-breaking speed and explosiveness as he did in 2017. There’s concern that his plethora of injuries might have taken its toll on his athleticism, but if he can prove that he still has it then the Redskins might have gotten good value for him in the 4th round.
As for Samaje Perine, I’ve never been a big fan of his. He’s had his opportunity to be the lead guy for the Redskins but was never able to take advantage of it. He has a good chance at being the 4th RB in the rotation, offering depth should either Peterson or Guice get injured.
The Redskins will likely be a run-heavy team in 2019 and will lean on their group of RBs to carry them. If they can stay healthy, they’re undoubtedly one of the more impressive units you’ll see.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES: Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams, Boston Scott
If anyone tells you that all RBs are replaceable and that great or elite talent at the position doesn’t matter, refer them to the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles. Once the team lost their lead back in Jay Ajayi and were without Darren Sproles for most of the season, the remaining RBs struggled mightily, even behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. But Howie Roseman wasn’t going to let the team go into 2019 without addressing this need.
I’ve already written in one of my previous articles about the type of talent that Miles Sanders can potentially be. I saw him as the player with the most upside out of any other RB in the whole draft class. He has a complete skillset with great athletic ability, good power and contact balance, and natural receiving skills. He is raw when it comes to pass protection and he’ll need to show he can take better care of the football, but those are things that can be fixed by Duce Staley and the coaching staff. Sanders may not be the starter in Week 1, but I do believe he will be by the end of the season.
— GMFB (@gmfb) May 21, 2019
I’ve never believed that Jordan Howard was as good as the numbers he put up in previous years, but that’s not to say he’s a terrible RB. When he was acquired via trade from the Chicago Bears he automatically became the best RB on the team and upgraded the Eagles’ RB corps drastically. Despite his limited athleticism and abilities as a receiver, he’s a great power runner with good vision and is one of the best at his position in pass protection.
Corey Clement was one of the better surprises on the team in 2017 but he failed to show any improvement in his game in 2018. He continued to struggle with patience behind the line of scrimmage and forcing missed tackles in the open field. He’s not a starting caliber RB, but he doesn’t have to be. The ideal spot for him is as the 3rd option in a rotation, just like he was in 2017 when he made a number of big plays.
The 4th RB spot is once again up for grabs, with Smallwood, Adams, and Scott all competing for it. Smallwood was the most consistent RB for the Eagles last season, while Adams turned out to be the team’s leading rusher. Smallwood’s versatility might give him an edge over Adams, but it’s no sure thing. Scott is considered to be the long shot out of the 3, but he did provide some good return ability late last season and he has a similar type of skillset to that of Darren Sproles. I wouldn’t rule him out by any means.
If this Eagles RB corps can stay healthy, they can be the most improved unit in the league this season. Howard and Sanders complement each other well and can be a really good tandem for this Eagles offense, and it will be very interesting to see how Head Coach Doug Pederson uses his new weapons.