If social media and talk radio are any indication, a good number of Eagles fans think Donnel Pumphrey should be released when the team cuts its roster from 90 to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept. 3, perhaps to be brought back to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
This would be really extraordinary. Pumphrey, a fourth-round running back and fledgling returner from San Diego State, has caught more passes than any other Eagle in the preseason, though his 12 catches have netted only 69 yards. Pumphrey has run the ball 19 times for 39 yards, but had just 2 yards on seven carries going into Thursday's 38-31 preseason victory over Miami, in which he carried 12 times for 37 yards. He muffed the catch of a punt Thursday, for the second time in the preseason, but was able to fall on the fumble.
It's true that Pumphrey, 5-9, 176, has failed to electrify the fan base the way some observers predicted, after he set the all-time FBS rushing record with 6,405 yards at San Diego State. At this point, it'll be a surprise if he emerges as a significant contributor as a rookie.
But cut a fourth-round draft choice out of his first training camp? The Eagles haven't done that in 20 years, since safety Damien Robinson in 1997.
They have drafted plenty of fourth-rounders who didn't excite in the interim. Scott Peters, the fourth-round center the Eagles chose in 2002, contracted mononucleosis and never played in a game for the team, but he didn't get cut until the end of the 2003 preseason, and the Giants then picked him up. Fourth-round 2000 wideout Gari Scott didn't get into any games as a rookie, and played in only three the next year, but he didn't get cut until 2002 training camp.
Trey Darilek, Jack Ikegwuonu, Keenan Clayton, Matt Barkley – lots of recent Eagles fourth-rounders aren't headed for the wall of fame, but none of them hit the waiver wire after one training camp.
To be drafted that high and given up on that quickly, you have to really tick people off, to the point where the personnel staff is willing to admit to the entire NFL that it screwed up royally and drafted a guy who can't play a lick, with more than 100 eventual draftees left on the board. There is no sign that Pumphrey, a thoughtful, studious player, has done that.
Robinson, the 1997 flop, earned this appraisal from Marcus Hayes in the Daily News after he was released: "He was soft. He was a disappointment. He was unprofessional."
Hayes wrote that all through the preseason, then-coach Ray Rhodes "was all over Robinson," who had been expected to challenge Mike Zordich for the starting strong safety job.
By the way, Robinson went to the Eagles' practice squad, from which he was signed by Tampa Bay three games into the '97 season. Robinson eventually played in 83 games, with 65 starts, for Tampa Bay, the New York Jets and Seattle, so you certainly could argue that exposing him to waivers was a mistake.
The worst thing anyone can say about Pumphrey is that he might be on his way to confirming the fears of evaluators who felt his build wasn't thick enough for him to be a successful NFL runner. But he certainly hasn't proved he can't possibly grow into the third-down, slotback role he was drafted to fill.
The Eagles are likely to keep four running backs on the roster and activate three for games. The top three would seem to be LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, if Smallwood remains healthy. The fourth spot will go to Pumphrey, Wisconsin undrafted rookie Corey Clement, or 2016 undrafted Oregon back Byron Marshall, unless the Eagles bring in a back from cutdowns elsewhere.
Fans and some reporters are excited about Clement, 5-10, 220, who grew up in Glassboro, N.J. He is the team's leading preseason rusher, with 24 carries for 89 yards, including a 24-yard burst against Buffalo. Marshall, meanwhile, only seems to play late in preseason games.
"They're making it tough," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said, when asked if picking between Clement and Pumphrey would be difficult. "I challenged the young guys tonight after the game that this next week is going to be important. I want them to make it hard on us as a coaching staff and a personnel department."
You don't make such determinations entirely off one game, but next Thursday's preseason finale against the Jets could tip the scales for Pumphrey or Clement, if that indeed is as much of a dilemma as Pederson indicated.
"This is going to be a crucial seven days," Clement said Thursday, after gaining 42 yards on nine carries against the Dolphins. "This is the last showcase we have to prove to the staff that I should be a part of this 53-man roster. But I can't think about that at all. If I am my best self that day … I go to sleep just knowing I gave it my all. I shouldn't have anything to worry about if I gave it my all each day."
Clement is fueled by excitement over having exceeded expectations. Pumphrey has to work not to let his emotions take him in the other direction. Asked after Thursday's game what was most important to him, Pumphrey said: "Really, just staying out of my head. That was the most important thing for me, and really just having fun out there. The first two weeks, I was really just more trying to press, and I wanted too much. I felt like today I was a lot more comfortable."
Pumphrey, widely seen as Sproles' understudy, though he lacks Sproles' muscular explosiveness, said he never worked as a returner in college.
"I'm still getting comfortable with punt return. I still have a lot to progress on," he said.
Pederson noted this week that Pumphrey – also rarely used as a pass receiver at San Diego State — is "a guy we've asked a lot of, to be quite honest." Running backs coach Duce Staley said recently that given the learning curve, Pumphrey isn't at the point where he doesn't have to think and can just play naturally.
Generally, you don't heap a bunch of different responsibilities on a guy you're getting ready to cut.