The common refrain heard every year by the time the NFL draft reaches the seventh round is that sometimes it's better not to be selected at all than among the final picks.

If you're a prospect that's good enough to be chosen at that stage, you'll likely be one of the more sought-after rookies once the free-agency spree for undrafted players begins at the conclusion of the draft. So rather than be earmarked to one team - that may not be of your preference - you now have multiple teams from which to chose.

Byron Marshall was one such player.

The former Oregon running back received about a dozen offers, but he chose the Eagles. There wasn't much science to it. He signed here because he thought the Eagles gave him the best opportunity to make the team and, possibly, play as a rookie.

"The running back position was a little slim," Marshall said during Eagles rookie camp last week. "And they were talking to me about being able to play [wide receiver] in the slot and a little bit at running back - to do what I did in college. I liked that role."

It's no secret that the Eagles are suspect at running back. They traded DeMarco Murray before free agency and didn't add to an already-thin stable until the fifth round of the draft, when they took West Virginia's Wendell Smallwood.

Incumbents Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, and Kenjon Barner are, on paper, a solid core, but each has potential liabilities. Mathews can't seem to stay healthy. Sproles turns 33 in June after a season in which his numbers declined across the board. And Barner, despite glimpses of promise, has a near-bare NFL resumé.

Sproles, it should also be noted, hasn't attended workouts all offseason. There was a report that he was staying away from the NovaCare Complex in case he was traded, and there was another report that he was staying away because he wanted a new contract. But Sproles went on Twitter to dispute the latter claim, and Eagles coach Doug Pederson denied the running back was going anywhere.

"I want Darren Sproles on this football team," Pederson said Tuesday.

No Sproles has meant more opportunities for Marshall, Smallwood, and Cedric O'Neal - another undrafted rookie - to get practice repetitions. The 5-foot-9, 201-pound Marshall, of course, is also getting a look at receiver, which isn't a position brimming with talent, either.

While there is a chance to make the roster as a running back - the Eagles will likely carry three or four, depending on whether they keep a fullback (right now, there isn't one on the roster) - Marshall's best course is the multipurpose one.

He displayed his versatility in college by becoming the first Pac-12 player to rush and receive for more than 1,000 yards in a season. Marshall did so in different seasons, running for 1,038 yards in 2013 and catching 74 passes for 1,003 yards in 2014.

The last player the Eagles drafted who eclipsed a grand in rushing and receiving was Brian Westbrook, who did so in the same season at Villanova. It wouldn't be fair to compare Marshall to one of the franchise's all-time greats, but he has similar traits. He's shifty like Westbrook, which makes him dangerous in space, both on offense and on special teams as a returner.

The same comparison could also be made to Sproles.

"That's probably the easiest guy to compare me to, just because we're both a returner-running back-receiver," Marshall said. "But I don't know [about comparisons]. I don't really watch too much of the NFL, to be honest with you. I just try to play like myself."

Westbrook was a very good rusher, but what made him ideally suited to the West Coast offense were his ball-catching skills out of the backfield. Marshall caught plenty of passes as a running back his sophomore season, but the Ducks moved him to slot receiver before his junior year.

More apt comparisons may be made to Lions running back Theo Riddick and Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry - who log their catches lining up from various spots.

Smallwood had more of a traditional running back role in college, but he did catch 68 passes for 618 yards in three seasons.

"I really like the fact how he catches the football out of the backfield," Pederson said of the 5-foot-10, 208-pound Smallwood. "I think that is something that is just a gift that he has. He's a natural pass catcher."

Both Smallwood and Marshall come from spread offenses, though. There will be adjustments - a larger playbook, different terminology, and more blocking on passing downs, among other things.

"We didn't block like that at Oregon," said Marshall, who played one year under former Eagles coach Chip Kelly. "But I'm a dog when I get out to the field. You won't have to question my heart. Teach me how to do it, and I'll get it done."

Smallwood, naturally, will initially get more reps than Marshall, a result of one's being drafted and the other not. Had he not injured his ankle as a senior and spent most of the predraft process at less than 100 percent, Marshall likely would have been chosen.

He tore ligaments in his ankle during a kick return last year and played in only four games. Recovery kept him out of the Senior Bowl, and even though he was invited to the combine, he sat out every drill except for the bench press.

"I still wasn't healthy by [Oregon's] pro day," Marshall said. "I did stuff, but I wasn't myself."

A month later, in April, he held his own private workout for NFL scouts. He improved all of his numbers from the pro day, including in the 40-yard dash (4.52 seconds vs. 4.57), the 20-yard shuttle (4.13 seconds vs. 4.28), and the broad jump (9-11 vs. 9-3).

He still seems to be working his way back.

"I feel good. I'm running, cutting, jumping - doing everything like that," Marshall said. "My speed's back."

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane