In the days leading up to the start of the 2015 NFL Draft, what are the biggest questions that need to be answered at each position? In our #EaglesDraft Position Preview series, we will explore how each position changed since the start of free agency and how the draft could impact the shape of the roster. Today, we continue with the running back position ...
The Look Before Free Agency: Before the start of the 2015 league year, the Eagles were in great shape at the running back position. They had the versatile Darren Sproles returning for his second season with the team. They had young depth in Matthew Tucker, Kenjon Barner and Chris Polk – though Polk was scheduled to become a restricted free agent. And, of course, they had the leading rusher in franchise history, LeSean McCoy, primed for what would surely be his third straight productive year under Chip Kelly. Perhaps the team would be interested in adding a young rusher in what is considered a deep draft at the position, but for the most part, the Eagles were set at running back. Or so we thought.
After Free Agency: It took less than an hour into the new league year for the shape of the Eagles' running backs to change completely as the team announced that it had dealt McCoy to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for Kiko Alonso, the young standout linebacker. The move surely improved the middle of the defense, but all of a sudden, the Eagles needed to replace McCoy and his 1,474 yards of 2014 production.
Early, reports indicated that the Eagles were interested in signing veteran free agent running back Frank Gore as part of the group to fill in for McCoy. But Gore chose instead to sign with the Indianapolis Colts. Undeterred, the Eagles pressed on in free agency, where they would land not one, but two Pro Bowl running backs.
Ryan Mathews, the former first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers, signed with the Eagles. In Mathews, the Eagles acquired a decisive, downhill runner who, at 6-0, 220, has the size and physicality to punish opposing defenses. His 4.4 career yards per carry and the pair of 1,000-yard seasons on his docket don't hurt either.
Of course, Mathews is not the only new running back in Philadelphia. In one of the biggest surprise moves of free agency, the Eagles snatched away the biggest piece in the Dallas Cowboys' 2014 offense, signing All-Pro DeMarco Murray to a five-year contract. Murray's 1,845 rushing yards paced the league by a wide margin in 2014, as did his 392 carries. That abundance of carries is why it was so important for the Eagles to surround Murray with capable backfield-mates like Mathews and Sproles.
"… Our goal in this offseason, if we moved LeSean, was that we wanted to bring two guys in and we wanted to have some depth at the running back spot and possibly carry four guys during the season.," head coach Chip Kelly said during the NFL's Annual Meeting "There's a lot factored into that, but I think obviously in year two we have a lot more familiarity in what we're doing and in getting acclimated more we need to get (Sproles) on the field more."
As for the rest of the roster, Polk remains a restricted free agent, while Tucker and Barner are set to return. The incoming draft class is still said to deep at the position, so the Eagles may retain some interest in the mid rounds.
As we approach the NFL Draft, here's a look at the running backs on the Eagles' roster ...