With Jordan Howard’s future with the team up in the air, the Philadelphia Eagles could be looking for someone to fill the role of the offense’s power/short yardage running back. Miles Sanders is set as the starter and lead back, while Boston Scott will be looking to build upon his late-season success as Sanders’ backup going. But both are explosive and elusive runners who aren’t known for their power or strength. If the Eagles prefer to have a powerful runner on the roster to compliment Sanders and Scott, then Elijah Holyfield could be that guy.
Holyfield was signed on December 31, 2019 as an emergency option in case Sanders was unable to suit up against the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. But whereas some may have seen this signing as nothing of significance for the future, I saw it as an intriguing addition that could end up being similar to Boston Scott’s situation.
If you remember, Scott was signed by the Eagles off the New Orleans Saints’ practice squad toward the end of the 2018 season. Most didn’t think he would amount to anything in Philly, but as we all know now that hasn’t been the case. Scott was crucial down the stretch and looked like a clone of Darren Sproles on the field.
Am I guaranteeing that Holyfield will have a similar impact in 2020? No, I’m not. But I’m also not saying that it’s impossible. If you take a close look at what he did at Georgia in 2018 you can start to see why he caught the eye of Howie Roseman and the coaching staff during the pre-draft process.
First, let’s address the most obvious part of Holyfield’s profile: his 40-yard dash time. His official time at the NFL Combine was 4.78, which was the second-slowest time amongst RBs behind only FB Alec Ingold. Any hopes of improving upon that backfired as he reportedly ran slower at his Pro Day.
I need to remind everyone 40-times are one of the most misleading pieces of data in football. How fast a football player runs on a track without pads or a football is not equal to how fast they run on a football field in live game situations. Furthermore, running at full speed in a straight line isn’t something that a RB is required to do as often as other things like reading blocks, making cuts, accelerating, forcing missed tackles with either elusiveness or power, and catching passes. And it’s certainly not as much of a focus for a RB like Holyfield whose calling card is as a short-yardage power runner between the tackles. If anything, a 10-yard split is a more useful form of data because it helps measure a RB’s burst and explosiveness, which is necessary when attacking running lanes.
Now, it’s certainly not ideal that he ran as poorly as he did, and I have no issue with anyone bringing it up when evaluating his game. But the point is to make sure you’re prioritizing it relative to his other more important traits.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the other aspects of Holyfield’s profile outside of his top-end speed.
Grading Scale (from best to worst):
Weight: 215 lbs
Vision: Great. Has a full understanding of spacing and patience behind the line of scrimmage. Post-snap path consistently lures defenders in, setting them up for the proper cut to be executed in unison with his blocks. Doesn’t get to close to his lineman to cause unwanted collisions but doesn’t stay too far where it’s too late to attack a developing running lane. Uses good tempo and understands when to slow his approach and when to hit the hole decisively.
Burst: Adequate. Won’t wow you with standout acceleration, but when paired with his good vision he’s capable of taking advantage of angles and leverage that is created. Fails to hit another gear once he’s in the second and third levels of the defense.
Agility: Good. Uses short, choppy strides that are efficient and deliberate. Able to stay on his toes with each step helps him make sharp cuts and navigate through tight spaces. Lacks lateral explosion in his cuts and isn’t the type to make defenders miss. Isn’t elusive in space but doesn’t try to be.
Power: Elite. Fearless, physical running style. Constantly falls forward on contact. Power is very compact and punishes defenders at the point of attack. Will push single defenders, and sometimes even piles, forward with leverage and leg drive.
Contact Balance: Good. Low center of gravity and leg strength render arm tackles useless. Isn’t much of a tackle breaker as he is a pile pusher.
Receiving: Marginal. Was rarely used as a receiver at Georgia, but that could be due to a lack of necessity rather than a lack of ability. Regardless, need to see more of it.
Pass Blocking: Solid. As is the case with many college prospects, mental processing and the ability to pick up the appropriate blitzers needs work. But the will and technique aren’t much of an issue. Has more than enough strength to stonewall oncoming defenders.
— A2D Radio (@a2dradio_com) February 26, 2020
Eagles fans: “We have to re-sign Jordan Howard! The offense needs a power RB for short-yardage situations!”
Me: “Or… we can save the money, put it towards another position of bigger need, and see what Elijah Holyfield can do in that role.” pic.twitter.com/UrTAJhDhJ8
— Charles “Chux” Maranan (@ChuxMaranan) February 25, 2020
Holyfield would be best used in gap-blocking schemes where his ability to press the LOS, manipulate 2nd level defenders and make efficient cuts will shine. He has little tread on his tires from his college days. I don’t see enough upside in him to where he could one day be a starter or lead back in the NFL. However, he’d be ideal in a complementary role.
When it comes to his situation in Philadelphia going forward and filling in for Jordan Howard, Holyfield may never be the same level of player as him. It’s way too soon to make that determination. But the traits he displays show a player who, like Howard, can pick up positive yards consistently. Being part of a committee with Sanders and Scott is ideal at this current time because they can be the explosive options out of the backfield while Holyfield serves as a change of pace runner. So even though he won’t give you many runs that go for long gains, you wouldn’t have to ask that of him anyways.
I still expect Howie Roseman to add a late-round pick or UDFA RB to compete with Holyfield for the team’s RB3 spot. There’s no guarantee when it comes to him yet, so adding other pieces for depth and competition should be the approach. But regardless of who else they bring in don’t forget to keep your eye out on this kid come training camp and preseason.