Philadelphia Eagles News

Where Does Smallwood Fit In RB Picture?

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There were a lot of positives from running back Wendell Smallwood's rookie season.

He gained 312 yards on the ground playing in just 16 percent of the team's offensive snaps as the No. 3 back behind Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles.

Two of his best performances came in signature wins for the Eagles. In the blowout win over the Steelers to cap off a perfect September, Smallwood had a season-best 79 rushing yards and his first NFL touchdown. He gained 70 ground yards on 13 carries (5.4 yards per carry) in the come-from-behind win over the eventual NFC champion Atlanta Falcons.

Smallwood is a versatile back who lined up all over the formation. His vision allows him to thrive in the Eagles' multiple run scheme whether it's getting to the edge on an outside zone run or going north-south on a counter opportunity.

On special teams, he ranked fourth in the league averaging 29.0 yards per kickoff return through Week 14 of the season. Smallwood scored his second touchdown of the year on an 86-yard kickoff return at Washington.

There are certainly some areas of Smallwood's game that he needed to address after his rookie season. The fifth-round pick out of West Virginia was sidelined for significant time twice due to injury. He missed most of the preseason with a quad injury, and then ended the season on Injured Reserve with a knee sprain. The silver lining to the injury is that the Wilmington, Delaware native spent the offseason in Philadelphia reviewing his tape from 2016.

He also must improve as a pass catcher (six catches, 55 yards) and in pass protection so that he can be trusted to be on the field for all three downs like Darren Sproles.

At the conclusion of the draft, it appeared as if Smallwood was one of the biggest winners of the Eagles' offseason. No additions at running back in free agency. One draft pick was used on the position, but Donnel Pumphrey does not project to be a feature back in this league at 5-9, 180 pounds.

However, all of that changed on May 18 when LeGarrette Blount was signed to a one-year deal. The Eagles now have the former Patriot, Ryan Mathews, Sproles, Smallwood, Pumphrey, Byron Marshall, and rookie Corey Clement on the roster.

Blount is coming off a career-high 299 rushing attempts. In fact, the only other time he had more than 200 was as a rookie in 2010 with Tampa Bay when he had 201. Mathews is recovering from a season-ending neck injury. Sproles had a career-high 94 carries in 2016.

The Eagles had a total of 438 rushing attempts in 2016. That's right on par with what the Kansas City Chiefs averaged in three years with Doug Pederson as the offensive coordinator (432.7).

Smallwood may not be in line to be the top running back on the depth chart, but he showed enough promise as a rookie that there's opportunity for an expanded role in 2017.

As the calendar rolled into June, the Eagles hit the field for another day of OTAs.

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