Battle of the Eagles Undrafted Running Backs

What do Corey Clement, Elijah Holyfield, Michael Warren II, and Adrian Killins Jr all have in common? They all went undrafted and are currently battling for a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles roster. Miles Sanders, who was drafted in the 2nd round of the 2019 NFL Draft, is entrenched as the featured RB and is poised to have a breakout year. Boston Scott, who was drafted in the 6th round of the 2018 NFL Draft, was a late-season surprise in 2019 and will continue to play a complementary role similar to what Darren Sproles has provided for the past several years. But after them, there is a real opportunity in this backfield for Clement, Holyfield, Warren, and Killins.

Despite rumors and reports over the past several months of the Eagles signing a veteran free agent RB to be Sanders’ primary backup, the team has ultimately chosen to pass on overpaying for guys like Carlos Hyde (signed with the Seattle Seahawks) and Devonta Freeman (still unsigned due to high asking price). Instead, they’ve elected to go with the young talent they’ve brought in. One can argue that Corey Clement could be looked at as their veteran free agent signing since he was released by the team months ago, which is a valid point. However, semantics aside, the Eagles don’t feel the need to sign another proven talent because of their faith and confidence in the guys they have now, Clement included.

If you ask me, that’s the right decision to make. I, too, am a big fan of the RB corps the team has assembled this year. And the RB position is one that players don’t always need a lot of time to transition to the pro level for. That’s why we see so many rookie or sophomore running backs have success.

Let’s start with Clement. Despite being one of the heroes of Super Bowl LII he hasn’t been able to parlay his 2017 success into any type of true breakout season. That’s largely due to his inability to stay healthy. However, the hope is that this season will be different for him. The hype around Clement was always a bit excessive and overboard as a good number of fans and media projected him to be a future superstar player. But even though he may never be that Clement is still a solid RB when healthy.

I’ve always appreciated how, with the help of Duce Staley, Clement was able to transform his game from being a pure power runner at Wisconsin to being more of a slasher & receiver with the Eagles. He still needs to run with more patience and needs to be better at forcing missed tackles, but his vision is good, and I like his usage of angles when he’s at the 2nd level of the defense. The Eagles want to be able to count on him this season as a key special teamer and as someone who can help carry the workload with Scott if (knock on wood) something were to happen to Sanders. If Clement stays healthy throughout training camp, which has been the case so far, the RB3 spot on the depth chart is his.

With Sanders and Scott sitting out some practices Holyfield has been getting some 1st team reps in their absence and has done well. The fact that he was signed late in the 2019 season and was able to start learning the system way before Warren could gives him a legitimate advantage, especially with no preseason games to play.

As I mentioned in my Holyfield article I wrote back in February, you can try pointing out Holyfield’s bad 40-yard dash time as a reason to doubt him, but that’s something I wouldn’t be too concerned about. A player’s 40-time can be deceiving and inaccurate to a player’s actual play speed, and that’s something many coaches including Duce Staley say over and over. And besides, Holyfield’s game isn’t about speed; it’s about running between the tackles with power, and Holyfield certainly brings a lot of power and physicality as a runner.

Even though Holyfield has the inside track to that RB4 spot, Warren is still a very intriguing long-term prospect that shouldn’t be brushed aside. I actually like his skillset a bit more than Holyfield’s. Warren has such a thick and stocky build and he knows how to use it well. He’s a difficult runner to bring down because of his strength and contact balance. But Warren isn’t just a bowling ball out there; he has surprisingly quick feet for a player of his size, and he’s a good receiver as well. Warren will likely be stashed on the practice squad where he can continue to learn and develop. My expectations are that he’ll eventually find a role on the Eagles roster either later this season or next. He has the potential to be a good rotational RB at the pro level.

That brings us to Killins. “AK”, as Head Coach Doug Pederson refers to him, is already sort of a fan favorite amongst some of the Eagles fan base because of his blazing speed. He is fast, and adding speedy weapons to the offense seems to be the appropriate theme for the Eagles this offseason. He’s been getting reps at practice as a slot receiver as well, which makes sense because you want a player like him to get the ball in space as much as possible. However, because of his size (and I’m not referring to him being short, rather to his lack of muscle mass), it’s going to be difficult for him to beat out Holyfield or Warren who are more nuanced runners than Killins and provide that power element to the running attack that the offense needs. The key for Killins to make this roster is as a returner, which is still going to be a difficult task since there are no preseason games. It’s likely that he gets stashed on the practice squad as well.

Anything can happen still from now until Week 1, and that doesn’t even account for what will happen over the course of the actual season. The Eagles could even sign a veteran RB still who ends up getting released by another team at roster cutdowns. Regardless, I feel good about where our RB corps is at right now, which is a far cry from where it was 2 seasons ago when the offense was leaning on guys like Wendell Smallwood and Josh Adams (another undrafted free agent) to lead the way. Sanders is the lead guy, and the sky is the limit for him. But it’s great to have young talent behind him providing depth. I have full confidence that if called upon during the season all of them will be able to step up and contribute. Battling with each other now in August is only going to make them more battle-tested come December and January. And one thing is for sure when it comes to undrafted free agents: they know what it means to work hard and fight for that opportunity to prove themselves.