Weeks before the NFL Trade Deadline, running back Corey Clement approached Philadelphia Eagles Executive Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman and told him that the team didn’t need to add a runner. Roseman replied to him by telling him to prove it.
Entering Week 12, it turns out that Clement was correct after all. Howie didn’t need to add another runner via trade. The twist, however, is that it hasn’t been Clement or Smallwood that has emerged, but rookie undrafted free agent Josh Adams.
The following are Josh Adams’ rushing numbers in Weeks 3, 7, 8, and 10 where he was getting 30% or less of the offensive snaps:
Week 3, vs Colts: 6 carries, 30 yards
Week 7, vs Panthers: 4 carries, 17 yards
Week 8, vs Jaguars: 9 carries, 61 yards
Week 10, vs Cowboys: 7 carries, 47 yards
Adams’ efficient numbers prompted him finally earning more reps in Week 11 against the Saints where he played over half of the offensive snaps for the first time all season (54.9%). He rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown on only 7 carries. This past Sunday against the Giants Adams played 61.5% of the offensive snaps and carried the ball 22 times for 84 yards and a touchdown. It was the first time all season that an Eagles running back had 20 or more carries in one game.
I will probably do a full scouting report on Josh Adams this upcoming offseason, but I still wanted to take a closer look at his skillset and why he’s been able to have the success he’s had this season. What are some of the main strengths and weaknesses to his game, and what is the best way the Eagles can use him to make sure he’s able to maintain this success?
The first thing that jumps out to me about Adams is that he’s strictly a North-South type of runner. He’s best when his shoulders are parallel to the LOS (line of scrimmage) and he’s running in between the tackles. The moment you get him running East-West you might as well chalk up the run play as a failure. What’s driven me nuts about watching Adams has been the numerous times Doug Pederson or Duce Staley (I’m still not sure who’s in charge of the RB rotation) has had him in there and they’ve called some type of outside run play like a pitch or outside zone. Adams doesn’t have the lateral explosion or wiggle to be able to run those types of plays. I know that limits the play calls a little bit, but the Eagles’ offensive line is still one of the best in the league in run blocking and pushing the LOS forward. Pederson’s system uses a lot of wham and split-zone plays which help keep the opposing front 7 off balance, therefore you have to keep Adams going downhill. He has the vision and patience to let the interior blocks develop, and he takes the appropriate angles in his path to set up running lanes.
Shot 1 – The #Eagles got the run game going with rookie UDFA Josh Adams out of #NotreDame. Lot of downhill runs with him square to the LOS. Career highs with 22 rushes for 88 yards and a touchdown. Has worked his way to the top of the ladder in that RB room pic.twitter.com/DHbJBM1Avz
— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) November 26, 2018
One of Adams’ best traits is his top-end speed. He doesn’t have great burst, but once he gets his momentum going and he’s able to build up speed in the open field he’s difficult to catch. We saw it on his touchdown run against the Saints and on his touchdown run against the Giants that ended up getting called back due to a holding penalty. This makes him a legitimate home-run hitter despite being a bigger back.
While Adams might not have great lateral agility, one of the things I’ve seen him improve on at the pro level compared to what I saw from him in college is his ability to sink his hips, plant his foot, and make an effective cut. He does a much better job at weaving through traffic at the LOS and even avoiding penetrating defensive linemen. That being said, he still tends to run upright and fails to open up his hips consistently at the second and third levels. His lack of knee-bend results in him not having much leverage when taking on tackles, which leads to my next observation.
Adams is listed at 6’2” 225 pounds, but he certainly doesn’t run the way his size would make you think. He’s not an overpowering and aggressive type of runner like Marshawn Lynch or Chris Carson are. You’ll rarely see him plow through tackles with strength and aggression. Instead he’ll force miss tackles with his contact balance, pull-away speed, and an occasional stiff arm.
Finally, even though Adams did flash decent receiving ability in college, that hasn’t been the case in the NFL so far. Is it because he hasn’t shown good enough ability in practice, or because the coaches would just rather use Clement or Smallwood in that area? I’m not sure. But he hasn’t been trustworthy in pass protection either, which makes him pretty much a non-factor in the passing game.
Running backs going undrafted but still being able to develop into impact players at the pro level hasn’t been something new recently. Guys like Matt Breida and Philip Lindsay are performing at a very high level for the 49ers and Broncos, respectively, and it makes you wonder how they went undrafted in the first place. Can Josh Adams have similar success as those guys? That remains to be seen. Right now I’d say the role that would probably best suit him is that of a complimentary back or 2nd guy in a duo. His athletic limitations and lack of versatility will probably prevent him from ever being a true featured back, but right now he’s the best option the Eagles have. If they’re going to have any hopes of winning the NFC East, Adams must continue running the way he has, and the team must use him in ways that best suit his skillset. There needs to be some sort of reliability and stability to the Eagles running game, and Adams brings that.