Howie Roseman was asked last week about the popular belief that the Eagles don’t place a high value on running backs.
He responded with what is known in the journalism business as a non-denial denial.
“I started my career [with the Eagles] with Duce Staley," said Roseman, “We transitioned from Duce to Brian Westbrook, and then from Brian to LeSean McCoy. So, we won a lot of games having a good back. We’ve also had a lot of success with a running back by committee.
“There’s different ways to do it. The most important thing is that we stick to our evaluation of players and our board and not force anything.
“Certainly, at some point, you get this itch. You go into a draft and say, ‘Hey, we think this is a really strong draft at this position. And then you look up at some point and [realize you] haven’t addressed it. We have to make sure we stick to our process and stick to our board."
They are expected to get that itch again Friday night when a number of talented running backs are expected to be available in the second and third rounds of the draft. This time, they may scratch that itch.
Since the Eagles took McCoy in the second round of the 2009 draft, they have drafted just six running backs. None were taken higher than the fourth round. That was Donnell Pumphrey two years ago. He was released last year and spent much of the season on the team’s practice squad.
Last season, their top three running backs were 2016 fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement and Josh Adams, who both were undrafted free agents.
They managed to go 10-6 and come within a whisker of making it to the NFC championship game despite finishing 28th in rushing (98.1 yards per game) and 30th in rush average (3.9 yards per carry). They finished 25th in first-down rush average (4.1).
Late last month, they acquired running back Jordan Howard in a trade with the Chicago Bears. They’re hoping the 6-foot, 224-pound, north-south-running Howard can revitalize their first- and second-down ground game, much like LeGarrette Blount did two years ago during their Super Bowl run.
But what the Eagles’ offense still is missing, still needs, is a Brian Westbrook clone; a versatile difference-making running back who can impact the offense both as a runner and a receiver.
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Which brings us to Friday night. The Eagles have two picks in the second round -- the 53rd and 57th overall selections. They don’t have a third-round pick, trading it to Detroit last year for Golden Tate. But there’s a good chance they could use one of those second-round picks on a running back.
The second and third rounds “are kind of a sweet spot" for running backs, NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “I think you’ll see several running backs go in the second and third rounds."
The list of potential Day 2 running backs, according to Jeremiah, includes Damien Harris of Alabama, Miles Sanders of Penn State, David Montgomery of Iowa State, Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M, Justice Hill of Oklahoma State, Darrell Henderson of Memphis, Devin Singletary of Florida Atlantic, and Rodney Anderson of Oklahoma.
The 5-9, 198-pound Hill is an explosive runner who ran a 4.40 40-yard dash and had a 40-inch vertical jump at the scouting combine in late February.
“They brought in Jordan Howard, who is kind of a power guy," Jeremiah said. “But they have to find a way to get more explosive. Hill would make a lot of sense for them with one of those second-round picks."
“If you’re looking for a comp for Hill, he’s Jamaal Charles, he’s Tevin Coleman," Jeremiah’s NFL Network colleague Brian Baldinger, said.
“He’s an exceptional player. He was the fastest back at the combine. He’s 200 pounds. He’s been a guy who can carry the load."
Hill had 632 carries in three years at Oklahoma State, but only had 158 rushing attempts last season.
The guy the Eagles are very high on is Penn State’s Sanders. But he is expected to be long gone by the 53rd pick. They would have to trade up to get him, and without a third-round pick, that could be difficult.
Last season, Eagles running backs had a total of just 77 receptions, including 31 receiving first downs and only seven third-down receptions that produced first downs.
The Saints’ Alvin Kamara had 81 catches, 32 receiving first downs and 11 third-down receptions for first downs by himself.
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey had 107 catches, 41 receiving first downs and 12 third-down catches for first downs. The year before, as a rookie, he had 15.
Patriots running back James White had 87 catches, including 38 receiving first downs and 13 third-down catches for first downs. That’s what the Eagles are lacking.
“Everybody is trying to find another Kamara," NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger said. “The things you can do with him -- the term ‘matchup nightmare’ is overused. But there’s some truth to it. I mean who can cover Kamara? Nobody, really.
“When you have a guy like Kamara, who understands spacing, understands passing lanes, understands all of the underneath routes, it’s huge."
The Eagles have had mixed results on Day 2 of the draft. They’ve selected 14 players in the second and third rounds in the last eight drafts.
They’ve had hits -- Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Bennie Logan, Jordan Matthews -- and they’ve had misses -- Jaiquawn Jarrett, Curtis Marsh, Josh Huff, Eric Rowe.