BOCA RATON, Fla. -- So you think the Eagles won’t draft Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 8 pick in April’s draft?
Or, at least, reconsider the chances after Howie Roseman spoke about the value of the running back position in the draft on Monday at the NFL owners meetings
“There’s this narrative that you can get running backs in the fifth, sixth, seventh round and undrafted free agency,” the Eagles' executive vice president of football operations said during a morning break. “But when you look back at the last 10 years of guys that are really in the top 10 in rushing, those guys are high picks.
“And so, when you find a special talent at that position, that guy who can run the ball, who can pass-protect, who can catch the ball out of the backfield, that’s a unique weapon.”
According to most NFL evaluators, only one running-back prospect can do all three of those skills at an elite level: Elliott. But would the Eagles, who haven’t expended an early-round pick on the position since 2009 when LeSean McCoy was chosen in the second round, roll the dice with the 6-foot, 225-pound Ohio State running back?
If you take Roseman at his word, they would have to consider the possibility. The Eagles currently have Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles as the top two running backs after they traded DeMarco Murray to the Titans. But do the Eagles consider either capable of being the No. 1 tailback? Mathews has been injury-prone, and Sproles will turn 33 in June.
The Eagles also have Kenjon Barner on the roster. Roseman has had previous success finding running backs later in the draft or as undrafted rookies. Bryce Brown (seventh round), Chris Polk (undrafted) and Dion Lewis (fifth round) spring to mind. But not one of them developed into a franchise-caliber tailback.
“When you talk about that, there’s a difference between a special player and a role player at that position,” Roseman said. “Those guys are good players, but when you’re talking about the guys who are 1,500-yard rushers, the guys people are game-planning [for], those are hard to get later in the draft.”
Most recently, the Rams drafted Todd Gurley with the 10th overall pick last year and he rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie. But there have been plenty of first-round running backs who haven’t panned out over the last decade (such as Trent Richardson).
The Eagles could add a body in free agency first.
“We’re looking to add depth everywhere,” Roseman said. “You take what’s in free agency, and you also take the young players in the draft. We feel really good about Ryan and Darren and Kenjon’s coming back, as well. But [it’s] also a position we’re constantly exploring and seeing if we can add some guys.”
Arian Foster (29), Chris Johnson (30) and Reggie Bush (31) might be too old for the Eagles, but Alfred Morris (27), Ronnie Hillman (24) or even Polk (26) could pique their interest.
Roseman didn’t dispute reports that Mathews was also on trade block. But when Murray was dealt for a better fourth-round pick – and the dumping of his contract – they elected to keep the 28-year old.
“When we looked at that position going into the offseason, we said that if we had the chance to get value for one of those guys, because we felt like we had three kind of front-line guys and then some young players we wanted to develop,” Roseman said. “We did that with DeMarco. So as we sit here now, [Mathews is] an important part of our team.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement. While Roseman’s running-back declaration could simply be gamesmanship – a way to deflect from the Eagles’ true intentions at No. 8 – it would be shortsighted to not consider the possibility of Elliott in the first round.