This year’s running back class’ depth may be working against it.
Not unlike most years, the group of prospects will have to exercise some patience early in the draft, but don’t let the absence of an undisputed blue-chip prospect trick you into thinking it’s a down year for ballcarriers.
“I love this running back group,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said last month. “Again, I don’t think there’s going to be one that goes in the first round. I think this is a really deep group. I was talking with a personnel director the other day and said, ‘Let’s just circle the fourth round. You’re going to get a great back in the fourth round, especially if you want a bigger back.’”
Even though the Eagles drafted Kenneth Gainwell in the fifth round last year, they could use another complementary back to pair with the 23-year-old and Miles Sanders, who has one year left on his rookie deal. Considering how many teams avoid giving big extensions to running backs, it’s fair to say Sanders’ standing with the team beyond 2022 is uncertain.
Even if Sanders does sign an extension, the team still is missing a power back. Jordan Howard was successful when he occupied that role last season when given the chance; he averaged 4.7 yards per carry on 86 attempts, but the 27-year-old is an unrestricted free agent.
Here’s a breakdown of the running back class:
The top guys
Breece Hall, Iowa State
Hall is a patient and explosive runner who is vying to become the first running back off the board because of his combination of speed, contact balance, and vision. The 5-foot-11, 217-pounder also has shown a capability to be a weapon in the passing game, making a handful of impressive catches in college and recording 82 catches over his three-year college career.
Hall also tested extremely well. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash and put together a spider chart that would suggest he’s got elite explosiveness to pair with that speed. Like the rest of the guys in this class, Hall isn’t a surefire first-rounder and may not project as a future All-Pro player, but he figures to be an every-down back, a Day 1 starter, and a potential impact player.
Kenneth Walker III, Michigan State
Like Hall, some of Walker’s most impressive runs come from his ability to stay patient around the line of scrimmage before breaking free. He’s dynamic in space and has home-run speed, which was confirmed by him running a 4.38 in the 40. At 5-9, 211 pounds, Walker has also displayed the capability to lower his shoulder and win with strength. He’s a remarkably well-rounded runner who had 1,636 rushing yards last season.
Unlike Hall, Walker wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game during his college career. Those who have him as the No. 1 running back in the class have him there because of his ability to be a featured running back in the NFL.
Isaiah Spiller, Texas A&M
Spiller doesn’t have elite speed, but his footwork, patience, and vision make him another potential three-down running back. His ability to stick a foot in the ground and change direction jumps out when you watch him, and at 6-foot, 217 pounds, he’s got some pop through contact.
He didn’t test at the scouting combine because of a lingering hip injury and was reportedly battling a hamstring injury when he ran a 4.6 40-yard dash at Texas A&M’s pro day a few weeks later.
Tyler Allgeier, BYU
If the Eagles are looking for a true power back to replace Howard on Day 3, Allgeier would be the best option.
The 5-foot-11, 227-pound bruiser makes up for what he lacks in top-end speed with legitimate strength at the point of contact. He ran through tackles with regularity in college and showed just enough footwork to sidestep tacklers who drop their eyes in anticipation of contact.
Allgeier was a featured back at BYU, rushing for 1,601 yards last season on 276 attempts, but he’d be an ideal fit as a power back in a rotation at least as a rookie.
Dameon Pierce, Florida
Pierce helped his stock a good amount at the Senior Bowl. He showed his burst should translate against elevated competition while making plays as a receiver out of the backfield and as a traditional runner. He also had some bright moments in pass protection.
Pierce was a part of a rotation at Florida, so he hasn’t gotten the workload many of the other backs on this list have gotten. Still, Pierce is another good option if the Eagles are looking for a power back. The 5-10, 218-pounder runs with an edge and is already accustomed to making his carries count since he was in a platoon in college.
James Cook, Georgia
It’s hard to call Dalvin Cook’s younger brother a sleeper, but there’s real value coming for whichever team targets him in the third or fourth round.
He doesn’t have the ability to power through contact like his brother, but the 5-11, 199-pound back should be dangerous in space. His ability to be an impact player in the passing game compares to Gainwell, but Eagles coach Nick Sirianni has shown an affinity for receiving backs since his years with the Indianapolis Colts coaching Nyheim Hines. Cook fits that bill.
“James Cook is just the ultimate toy,” Jeremiah said. “He jet sweeps, screens, draws, split him out wide, let him run away from corners. He’s a fun weapon. I think you probably see somebody do that probably in the third round, but he’s a fun one.”
Hassan Haskins, Michigan
He’s 6-2, 228 pounds and projects nicely as the power back in a rotation. He doesn’t have the upside to be a bellcow like some of these other prospects, but he’ll be a contributor in a limited role and has some special teams potential.
If the Eagles miss out on the “early” run of backs going in the third and fourth round, Haskins would be a value addition a round or two later.