You knew if the Eagles took a running back in last week's NFL draft that he was surely going to admire Darren Sproles, one of the best little men in league history. You just did not expect him to also look up to the 5-foot-6 Sproles.
OK, according to the measurements from the scouting combine, Eagles fourth-round pick Donnel Pumphrey is actually two inches taller than Sproles. The San Diego State phenom who broke Ron Dayne's FBS career record by rushing for 6,290 yards does, however, weigh five pounds less than the diminutive Sproles, and it's fair to wonder if Pumphrey's 176-pound frame is enough to carry the load for the Eagles at running back.
The cheap joke is that the Eagles still appear to be short at running back. The serious assessment is that they whiffed when they did not move up and select Florida State's Dalvin Cook. Time will tell, of course, but there's plenty of historic evidence to support the idea that the Eagles will be just fine at running back this season.
Sure it would be great to have a guy like Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, but other recent early-round picks at running back have not worked out nearly that well. Go back to 2012, when Cleveland took Trent Richardson third overall. He sure looked good in college and how could you not love his Alabama pedigree? Richardson was a bust of Ryan Leaf proportions.
Doug Martin went to Tampa Bay in the first round of that 2012 draft, and he's Exhibit A of how a running back's value depreciates faster than a new car coming off the lot. He looked nice and shiny two years ago but has lots of dents now. The New York Giants took David Wilson with the final first-round pick of the 2012 draft, and he has been out of the league for three years.
Examine the top 10 rushers from last season, and you'll find that five of them were drafted in the fourth round or later or were not drafted at all.
The Chicago Bears hit big with the fifth-round pick of Jordan Howard, who finished second to Elliott in rushing yards as a rookie. Miami's Jay Ajayi, a fifth-round pick in 2015, finished fourth in rushing last season after playing very little in his rookie season.
That's a significant detail because the Eagles have a 2016 fifth-round pick who saw only spot duty last season but could be asked to do a lot more this season. Is Wilmington's Wendell Smallwood capable of being the Eagles' featured running back? His credentials coming out of West Virginia were every bit as impressive as what Howard had done in his junior season at Indiana.
Pumphrey, in many minds, will be pigeonholed into being a specialist in the NFL because of his size. Maybe he can return kicks and punts or catch a third-down pass in open space.
He's always done considerably more than that, and he deserves a chance to be that guy in the NFL, too.
He is good at catching the football, as evidenced by his 99 receptions for five touchdowns and 1,039 yards during his career at San Diego State. He even threw for a touchdown as a junior.
If there's a legitimate concern other than Pumphrey's small frame, it is the tread on his tires. Add the 4,152 yards he gained during his high school days in Las Vegas, and Pumphrey has run for 10,442 yards over the last eight years. That's more than 5.9 miles.
It was a crime that Pumphrey was not in New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist in December.
The Eagles added another option at running back when they moved quickly to sign Wisconsin's Corey Clement as an undrafted free agent. The former Glassboro High School star is 5-11 and 227 pounds, the kind of size preferred in a featured back. History tells us lots of undrafted free agents have emerged as stars and featured running backs in the NFL.
In fact, since the turn of the century five of the 17 teams to win the Super Bowl did so with a running back who was undrafted, which is the same number of teams to win with first-round picks as their featured guy. The most recent was last year's New England team, which rode the legs of LeGarrette Blount to the title. Blount, who by the way is still a free agent, was also the Pats' featured back in 2014-15, when they beat Seattle in the Super Bowl.
Sure, New England is a unique situation because the offense runs through Tom Brady, but that's where the Eagles are hoping to get with Carson Wentz.
Anyway, undrafted Willie Parker was the featured back for Pittsburgh's last two Super Bowl titles, and New Orleans' undrafted Pierre Thomas was the top back when the Saints beat Indianapolis.
A final point: Darren Sproles will be around for at least one more year, and if any of the Eagles' running backs come close to duplicating his career, the team will have found a treasure.