THE BIGGEST disconnect between some Eagles fans and the front office this offseason has concerned the running-back position, and that gulf only seemed to widen in the 2017 NFL draft.
Fans hoping for a marquee runner such as Stanford's Christian McCaffrey or Florida State's Dalvin Cook were disappointed. Ditto those who didn't think the tape of Oklahoma's Joe Mixon punching a woman and breaking her jaw disqualified him from wearing an Eagles uniform.
McCaffrey went eighth overall to the Panthers, before the Eagles even got to make a selection. The Eagles might have taken Cook had he lasted until their 43rd overall pick, in the second round, and they apparently tried to trade up to get him, as the Vikings did when they selected Cook 41st overall. Eagles de facto general manager Howie Roseman wouldn't say for sure, but Roseman indicated after the draft that the Eagles would not have drafted Mixon, who went 48th overall, in the second round, to Cincinnati.
Cook aside, the Eagles, like a number of NFL teams, don't feel a bell-cow running back is an essential Super Bowl ingredient. Their West Coast offense is going to run through Carson Wentz. Part of the appeal of a McCaffrey or Cook would have been pass-catching ability, but that attribute also is available in backs who don't get taken in the first or second rounds, such as Donnel Pumphrey, the 5-8, 176-pound San Diego State star the Eagles selected 132nd overall, after trading up in the fourth round. Corey Clement, the Wisconsin back from Glassboro, N.J., the Eagles reportedly are signing as an undrafted free agent, is less of a receiving option.
Asked about Pumphrey at the conclusion of the draft, Roseman first talked about how there had been a run on running backs earlier than he'd hoped - Alvin Kamara (67th overall to the Saints), Kareem Hunt (86th to the Chiefs), D'Onta Foreman (89th to the Texans) and James Conner (105th overall, to the Steelers) all went in the third round, and Samaje Perine went long before the Eagles picked in the fourth, Perine chosen 114th overall by the Redskins.
"By the same token, we're really excited to make sure that we got Pumphrey, and then we like the players that are in the building. We've got Ryan (Mathews), we've got Darren (Sproles), Wendell (Smallwood), and Byron Marshall is a guy who can cross-train and play receiver and running back, as well," Roseman said. "We've got some talent at that position, and we're excited to see them."
The Eagles still have Mathews only because he is still rehabbing from cervical spine fusion surgery. It's far from clear he can play again, and incredibly unlikely that they won't need the $4 million in cap room they can save by cutting him.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson reacted warily when asked if this all makes Smallwood, the 2016 fifth-round pick, the Eagles' go-to back.
"I think Wendell is obviously coming off injury, so that's No. 1 - we've got to make sure he's 100 percent, physically, and ready to go there," Pederson said. Smallwood, who gained 312 yards on 77 carries as a rookie, went on injured reserve with an MCL injury after the Dec. 11 Washington game. "I think Wendell has a role on this football team. It's something that we saw glimpses of last season when he had a chance to play, and we just expect him to come in, compete, work and put himself in a position to help us again this year."
Later, Pederson called this "a big year" for Smallwood.
"We still have Ryan Mathews on the roster. We've got to get him healthy. You know as well as I do, when he's right, he's right. He's a big, powerful back. I loved watching him run last year," Pederson said.
Pumphrey embraces being compared with Sproles, but at 190 pounds, Sproles, who turns 34 in June, has a much more powerful lower body. Pumphrey is built more like Lorenzo Booker, who was briefly an Eagle before the Andy Reid regime figured out that Booker could be knocked over by a gust of wind from the Linc's green energy turbines.
An Eagles scout said over the weekend that Pumphrey is a much tougher, more determined runner than Booker was, and player personnel vice president Joe Douglas agreed. Both men noted that Pumphrey is the all-time NCAA FBS rushing leader, with 6,405 yards on 1,059 carries.
"With Pumphrey, the thing that stands out the most is prolific production. He's set every record," Douglas said. "Lightning feet. Great feet and great hands. And don't let the size fool you - this guy, he's a little dog that thinks he's a big dog, and he plays that way."
Howie and Joe
This was the first draft together for the dynamic duo of Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas, and they seemed to mesh just fine. What was Douglas' imprint? Other than projecting a position change from safety to linebacker for fifth-rounder Nathan Gerry from Nebraska, the Eagles seemed to take guys who were highly productive in college doing what they will be asked to do in the NFL. There was no babbling about how this player understood the big picture because he used to play quarterback, or that player was a good bet because of the length of his femur.
"The process was the same. It was a collaborative effort," said Doug Pederson, when asked if anything was different this year with Douglas at Roseman's elbow. "A lot of time and energy goes into this process. Howie and Joe both alluded to the fact that the communication - there's going to be times when you disagree, but when we walk out of the room we're united. Every pick is about the Philadelphia Eagles . . . The process was smooth."
"The working relationship has been outstanding," Douglas said. "The communication, daily, has been outstanding."
Now, hungry for the ball
Third-round corner Rasul Douglas might be the rookie with the best chance to start right away, which says more about the state of the Eagles' cornerback corps than it does about Douglas. But Douglas was impressive when he journeyed down from East Orange, N.J., to meet with reporters, talking of how he would buy McDonald's dollar-menu items and put a few away for later, at Nassau Community College, before he transferred to West Virginia.
"I take nothing for granted," said Douglas, who intercepted eight passes last season for the Mountaineers. "I always think about it. Every time I eat, I always think I'm making up a meal I missed in junior college or something like that."
The Eagles are expected to announce their list of undrafted free agents Monday. There also might be a few cuts, since they entered that process with only six open roster spots . . . Fourth-round wide receiver Mack Hollins, from North Carolina, is repped by the same agency as Carson Wentz, and Hollins worked out in California with Wentz before the draft . . . Hollins and speedy fifth-round wideout Shelton Gibson from West Virginia probably add up to a tough roster fight for underachievers such as Dorial Green-Beckham.