While it's not easy to rotate four backs in and out of the lineup, that's the game plan head coach Doug Pederson takes into the week.
"Yeah, I would,'' Pederson said Friday when asked if he would like to see all four backs get work. "It's kind of like the receivers. We're rotating a bunch of guys at that position, too.
"As I mentioned before, Ryan Mathews is the primary. [We are] utilizing Darren Sproles specifically in certain situations, third downs and any time we can give either Ryan a blow. Then Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner are both guys who can give us good energy and good burst when they're in there.
"Wendell is still that type of back that is still learning a little bit, you know. But at the same time we still want to be able to use all four guys if we can.''
The Eagles backfield hasn't made much sense most of the year. Mathews got over 20 carries against the Browns and Smallwood - after Mathews tweaked an ankle - got 17 carries and looked good against the Steelers. Mathews is supposed to be the safest fantasy play, but outside of his 22-carry game, and his two-carry game when he got hurt, he's only averaging about about 9-10 carries in the other three games.
Friday, October 7, 2016, 6:27pm
Eagles RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) took full practice reps all week. He was removed from the injury report so those ankles should be good to go. He’s a low floor RB2 this week. He found the endzone three times in the first two games, but only played 29% of the snaps in Week 2 (when he had nine carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears). HC Doug Pederson said that Mathews’ health is better and that he remains the starter. Wendell Smallwood looked pretty good (17 carries, 79 yards, TD) against Pittsburgh, while Kenjon Barner also found the end zone (eight carries, 42 yards, TD) against the Steelers. Darren Sproles also has 22 touches over the past two games, so this is shaping up to be a full-blown committee with Mathews the most likely to see the most carries.
Thursday, October 6, 2016, 6:05pm
Eagles RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) took full practice reps again Thursday. Mathews experienced soreness in both of his ankles in Week 3, rushing only twice for -5 yards against the Steelers. He found the endzone three times in the first two games, but only played 29% of the snaps in Week 2 (when he had nine carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears). HC Doug Pederson said that Mathews’ health is better and that he remains the starter. Wendell Smallwood looked pretty good (17 carries, 79 yards, TD) against Pittsburgh, while Kenjon Barner also found the end zone (eight carries, 42 yards, TD) against the Steelers. Darren Sproles also has 22 touches over the past two games, so this is shaping up to be a full-blown committee with Mathews the most likely to see the lion’s share of the carries.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016, 6:35pm
Eagles RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) practiced fully Wednesday. Mathews experienced soreness in both of his ankles in Week 3, rushing only twice for -5 yards against the Steelers. He found the endzone three times in the first two games, but only played 29% of the snaps in Week 2 (when he had nine carries for 32 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears). HC Doug Pederson said that Mathews’ health is better and that he remains the starter. Wendell Smallwood looked pretty good (17 carries, 79 yards, TD) against Pittsburgh, while Kenjon Barner also found the end zone (eight carries, 42 yards, TD) against the Steelers. Darren Sproles also has 22 touches over the past two games, so this is shaping up to be a full-blown committee with Mathews the most likely to see the most carries.
Wendell Smallwood 's burst showed up on his college game film, and it has carried over to the pro level. On Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smallwood carried the ball 17 times for 79 yards and a score, and he showed why he had so many carries of 10+ yards in college.
"He’s the same type of runner that we felt he was coming out of college and what we saw in preseason," said Doug Pederson. "He’s a big, powerful guy. He’s a downhill guy. He’s a one-cut runner. He did a great job for us."
Ryan Mathews was very limited due to an ankle injury, and injuries have been his bugaboo throughout his career. Smallwood has been playing behind Kenjon Barner, but in Week 3, Smallwood got two carries (for 12 yards) before Barner got a touch. In deeper leagues, the rookie is an interesting stash that could pay dividends down the line.
Ryan Mathews experienced stiffness in his left ankle early in the Eagles’ 34-3 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that was why Mathews played only eight snaps in the game. Coach Doug Pederson said Mathews will remain the team’s top running back as long as he’s healthy.
Mathews snaps did take a hit after carrying 22 times in Week 1. He was out-carried by Darren Sproles in Week 2, despite rushing for two TDs. The story said Mathews had not been on the injury report and practiced fully leading up to the game. With four different options emerging at RB, Mathews - even when healthy - doesn't seem like a lock to lead the team in carries week-to-week right now. The good news is the team has a bye in Week 4 so Mathews should be ready to go for Week 5.
The most promising news under-reported from Sunday’s 34-3 stunner of the Steelers? How about this one: Wendell Smallwood, 17 rushing attempts, 79 yards. Or this one: Kenjon Barner, eight attempts, 42 yards.
With Ryan Mathews limited to two carries because of a bad ankle, their combined effectiveness may have been as important as Carson Wentz’s passing and the four-sack, two-turnover, touchdown-denying Eagles defense.
Related players: Darren Sproles
The Eagles run game approach more resembles the Patriots over the years - varying backs getting the work depending on the opponent. Mathews has 22 carries in Week 1, but it was Sproles who led the way in Week 2. This week, Smallwood. Keep in mind Darren Sproles had a 70-yard TD reception. But, it does seem to indicate something we concluded back in summer: if Mathews isn't 100-percent it's Smallwood who could find himself with a big workload. Until Mathews is back close to 100-percent, this backfield appears to be a full-on committee situation. The Eagles have a bye in Week 4.
In all, Darren Sproles carried 12 times for 40 yards on Monday night, while Ryan Mathews was limited to nine attempts for 32 yards. Mathews also had an attempt erased due to a penalty, but regardless, it was odd seeing the change-of-pace back get more work than the bellcow.
It was even stranger given the circumstances. Chicago's defense is far more stout against the run this season, so it was tough sledding for Eagles rushers. Again, that's where it would seemingly make sense for a bigger back like Mathews to carry the load, because he can fight for the hard yards and wear opponents down.
Mathews is nursing an ankle injury which may have played into the decision. Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood each had two rushes in Week 2 after Barner had an impressive Week 1. The story added the Eagles were trying to spread the Bears out, a strategy that did make some sense. Perhaps the Birds are taking notes from the Patriots use of RBs and we're going to see the snaps for all four backs vary depending on the opponent. Keep in mind Mathews did score two TDs and is still considered the main back of the offense. He had 22 carries in Week 1.
Darren Sproles figures to earn the two-year, $8 million contract extension the Eagles gave him. How can he expand his role, which saw him record 55 catches out of the backfield in 2015? Check out the red-zone creativity, not unlike what first-year Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich did with Danny Woodhead in San Diego. Woodhead had eight catches in 2015 under Reich and was a primary outlet in the red zone for Philip Rivers. Sproles could get similar treatment in Philadelphia with rookie Carson Wentz.
We've been discussing the Sproles/Woodhead comparison since the Eagles said a few weeks ago that they were scheming ways to get Sproles the ball. Last year, under Reich, Woodhead led all running backs in red zone targets (17). Sproles is shaping up as an excellent value in the late rounds, especially in PPR formats.
Expect Darren Sproles to be featured in the passing game this season. Offensive coordinator Frank Reich said that every week during game planning meetings, they will ask, "How can we get this guy the football?"
"Sproles is the original, right?" Reich said. "He's the original guy. He's the prototype. Right from the start, I remember coming in some of the immediate talk was the excitement of how we get to use a guy like Darren Sproles. . . . In Doug's offense, they've done that in the past. We'll continue to mix in some other things that we've all done, that our staff has done to kind of isolate backs and get good matchups."
As the article mentioned, Reich's history with Danny Woodhead shows that he knows how to get a pass-catching back the football. After Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz, the Eagles are looking for playmakers in the passing game, and Sproles can certainly help in that area. He has finished in the top 30 in seven straight seasons in PPR formats.
Eagles beat writer Reuben Frank (CSN Philly):
I don’t care if I write this every week, I really like Kenjon Barner. He just looks like a football player to me. Sometimes you see guys put up big numbers in the preseason but you don’t really expect them to ever carry it over into the regular season. Barner hasn’t done anything since he got here in 2014 to make me think he can’t play in this league. He runs hard, slashes through traffic, has a terrific feel for the defenders around him and is tough enough to run through guys (rushing stats: 7 for 35 vs. the Bucs, 6 for 41 Thursday night). He’s explosive in the return game, picks up the blitz, getting better as a receiver. We all know Ryan Mathews’ injury history. We all know Darren Sproles is a gifted player but not equipped for double-digit carries. We haven’t even seen Wendell Smallwood play yet. It’s pretty clear Barner has to be this team’s No. 2 back. Not only that, he needs to have a role on offense as well.
The Eagles’ running backs and wide receivers won’t be near any lists for the top groups in the NFL, but their offensive hopes go beyond those skill positions. Look for the tight ends to fill a major role in the offense, with Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton all a part of the passing game.
“Tight end is a strength of this roster, this offensive unit,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “If you look at Doug’s [Pederson] system and what they did in Kansas City with their tight ends and how we’ll utilize them here, it’ll be very consistent with that, and we’ve got the players to do it. We can mix it up. They’re all real good, smart route runners – every one of them. So, we expect really good production from that unit.”
Ertz will be the biggest contributor of the group. Ertz caught 75 passes last season for 854 yards and two touchdowns. The receiving yards and touchdowns could see a jump this season. There were five tight ends who led their teams in receiving yards last season. Ertz might join that group that season. Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, and Darren Sproles will all be big parts of the passing offense, but the best mismatch could come from Ertz.
We had a story Sunday on the Eagles looking to involve Trey Burton in the offense, someone who has been a relative unknown with only two years in the league and three career catches. Expect him to split out wide and/or come out of the backfield. Celek is more than a capable receiver, but the safe fantasy bet seems to be Ertz here, and the story talked a lot about his skills.
Eagles running back Ryan Mathews was a limited participant in Friday's full contact practice but returned to a full workload during Saturday's 10-10-10 session, much to the delight of offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
Mathews has been consistently working with the second team offense since Darren Sproles first reported to Mandatory minicamp this spring, but that doesn't mean he won't have a significant impact on the offense this season.
"Having Ryan back today, and I know it's only 10-10-10," Reich said following Saturday's practice at the NovaCare Complex. "You guys saw it too, he looks explosive out there. He just looked explosive. He was quick. He was seeing things."
A good sign for Mathews and potential owners. Mathews would be a perfect guy to wait on using the Zero-RB strategy, however his injury history is a real concern. He looks like the back who will get a majority of carries for the Birds as long as he can stay on the field. He's ranked 21st on our list with an ADP of the fifth round. In the 24 games over the past three seasons where Mathews has at least 10 carries, he has averaged 87 total yards and 0.50 TD, or 13.4 PPR points per game. Those are solid RB1 numbers.
Now, the question is can a 33-year-old running back who is listed at 5-6, 190 pounds be a team's featured back?
"I just think he's a freakish athlete. Going into it right now, I'm not going to limit him. I want to see how much I can give him and see how much he can handle. Then we'll kind of go from there,'' HC Doug Pederson said.
While the Eagles seem to think he can carry the load, at least publicly, the story went on to produce some numbers that show he probably can't. Over his career, the more carries he got, the lower his YPC average was. He had the most carries in his career in 2009 for the Chargers (93) and averaged just 3.7 YPC. Last season he carried 83 times (third most) and had a 3.8 YPC. In 2014 he carried just 57 times with a YPC of 5.8, second best of his career. Those around the team seem to think rookie Wendell Smallwood would get more carries should Mathews be forced to miss extended time.
The Eagles signed Darren Sproles to a one-year contract extension, the team announced Friday morning. Ian Rapoport first reported the deal is worth $4.5 million, and that the two sides have been working on it since he reported for mandatory minicamp in June.
“Being one of the oldest guys on the team, to know you’re going to be here a little bit longer, that’s a pretty good feeling,” Sproles, who is now under contract through 2017, told the Eagles’ website.
When Sproles skipped OTAs during May, there were rumors about the Eagles potentially trading the running back.
Sproles' role as a RB probably won't have a major fantasy impact outside of deeper PPR leagues, however that remains to be seen as the team doesn't really have an accomplished back behind Ryan Mathews. Sproles has provided a spark in the punt return game, including two TDs last year, so he's likely to remain in that role.
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