If the fourth preseason game was to be the deciding factor in whether Josh Adams won the Eagles' fourth running back spot, he might be in trouble.
The undrafted rookie gained just 27 yards on 13 carries and caught just two passes for 2 yards in the Eagles' 10-9 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night. But Adams couldn't block for himself and, ultimately, when the team's brass makes decisions before Saturday's deadline, the Jets game will be just one piece of the equation.
Adams seemingly fit the roster puzzle heading into the finale.
"He's really done a nice job for a young player," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "We've asked a lot of him, really. And without really making an evaluation without watching the tape, watching the full of body of work because he's also played some special teams and we've got to factor that in, and see … where he is now."
Pederson had said Tuesday that he wanted to see more of Adams, which was one reason veteran Wendell Smallwood got the night off.
Donnel Pumphrey was afforded no such luxury. The second-year tailback missed the first three preseason games with a hamstring injury and needed to have an explosive night to have any shot of making the 53-man roster.
He did not. Pumphrey, in the third-down role, caught three passes for 39 yards and rushed once for 3 yards.
"I felt like I was able to showcase third-down ability," Pumphrey said, "but that's pretty much how I was primarily used."
Journeyman Matt Jones had more success, but he didn't play until the fourth quarter – a sure sign that his chances of surviving cut-down day were slim.
Adams had put up solid numbers in two of the three previous games. The Notre Dame product rushed six times for 30 yards and caught two passes for 11 yards against the Steelers, and after sitting out the Patriots game, he gained 33 yards on four carries at the Browns.
Smallwood suited up Thursday night, but he never left the sideline. It would be misguided to interpret his night off as a sign that he's on the team. The Eagles know what they have in the third-year tailback, and last week's performance – 12 carries for 53 yards – only verified that appraisal.
Smallwood is a serviceable reserve. He'll pick up the yards and hit the holes that are available. He'll run with effort. And he can return kicks, if necessary. But there isn't much upside at this point in his career.
Adams, on the other hand, has greater potential. He's a novelty and he's younger, but the natural tools are there. It wasn't as evident against the Jets, but the Eagles' blocking was inconsistent. He had little room to maneuver.
On his first carry, Adams slipped a lineman and picked up 3 yards. Two plays later, on third down, quarterback Joe Callahan handed off on a run-pass option and Adams was gang-tackled in the backfield.
>> GALLERY: Photos from the Eagles 10-9 win over the Jets
Adams was on the trainers' table getting his left foot taped up between drives — the same foot that had been giving him problems all offseason — but he returned for the next series. He couldn't find a cutback lane on a first-down stretch run, but on third and 1, he followed a Halapoulivaati Vaitai pull and plowed through a hole for a 6-yard gain.
"It was a great learning experience," Adams said. "You have games when you get a lot, you have games when you get a little. Part of growing as a running back is knowing where those yards will come. But all in all, I think I did a good job."
Pumphrey didn't see a pass come his way until less than a minute remained in the first half, but an exquisitely set up screen pass gave him space. He gobbled up 25 yards, but he ran into a defender. He caught a pair of 7-yard dump passes as the seconds ticked down, but the clock ran out when Christian Hackenberg scrambled and failed to stop the clock.
Eagles executive Howie Roseman and Pederson will take Hackenberg's brutal performance into account when assessing the rest of the offense. The quarterback had three turnovers in two quarters of play.
Adams didn't show much as a receiver. He finished with two catches for 2 yards. He had one pass sail through his hands in the flat when he took his eyes off the ball. But, overall, he was never given much of an opportunity to show his capabilities in the passing game and on special teams.
"I really wanted to make a bigger impact on special teams," Adams said. "Felt like I could have done better in that area."
If he has a strength, it's his vision and patience. He isn't afraid to wait for his blocking to develop before making his move. The highest compliment would be to say that he runs like the Steelers' Le'Veon Bell.
Adams isn't in Bell's class. But the Eagles aren't the only NFL team to see promise in the 21-year old. He received the highest roster bonus among the league's undrafted rookies.
The 6-foot-2 Adams will need to alter his running style. He runs upright and that makes him an easier target. But even when there's contact, he keeps his legs churning and doesn't fumble – at least he didn't during the preseason.
The same can't be said of Jones. The former Redskin had a forgettable first three preseason games – he had two drops and one fumble – but he rushed nine times for 54 yards and scored the winning touchdown against the Jets when he caught a 4-yard pass with 18 seconds left.
"I had to do exactly that to make the team," Jones said, "but I needed to do it all four games."