Every Eagles fan remembers the three-headed monster of 2003, when Brian Westbrook, Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter combined for 1,618 rushing yards, 2,465 scrimmage yards and 29 touchdowns for a team that went 12-4 and reached the NFC Championship Game.
Forget the three-headed monster.
Now the Eagles have a four-headed monster.
Over the past four years, Miles Sanders was the Eagles’ workhorse, their lead back whenever he was healthy.
Now Sanders is with the Panthers, and the Eagles are moving forward with four backs who each have impressive resumes and unique skill sets (and small cap figures).
And unlike 2003, when a lackluster passing game forced the Eagles to build around the running backs, this year the running attack will complement what should be a high-powered passing game.
This is going to be wild.
“I’m very curious and I’m excited about that running back room,” Gainwell said. “We’ve got a lot of great guys in there, me, Boston, D’Andre and Penny, man, I’m just excited about the roles we have and what we can do. We’re very special and we’re just going to take control of it.”
Who’s the starter? Who’s going to get the most carries? Who’s going to play the most snaps?
Nobody knows. It’s going to depend on so many variables, including down and distance, score of the game, who’s got the hot hand, who’s healthiest, what sort of defense the Eagles are facing and so on.
But all these guys can play and they each had very good training camps.
Talent? Oh yeah, there's talent. Check this out:
Swift is one of only four players in NFL history with at least 500 rushing yards, 45 catches and seven TDs in each of his first three seasons.
Penny’s 5.7 average is tied for highest in NFL history by a running back with at least 250 carries.
Gainwell is the only running back in the last 50 years with at least 950 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in his first two seasons on 180 or fewer touches.
Scott is one of only eight running backs in NFL history with 16 or more touchdown runs on fewer than 300 carries.
Put them together and …
“I would say very dangerous,” Swift said. “But it starts with the work that we put in day to day. We have a great skill set on offense in general, and it’s a lot for a defense to think about. I feel like the sky’s the limit. … When we’re clicking on all cylinders, we’ll be good.”
From what training camp looked like, our best guess is that Swift will be a guy who can play on any down or in any situation, Gainwell will have a greatly increased role from last year and Penny could be a 6-8 carry guy. Scott’s role on offense might be limited if everyone else is healthy, but he’s shown over the last five years he can come in at any point and produce.
This sort of rotation doesn’t work unless all the backs put their egos aside. It’s possible none of them will come close to 1,000 yards or make a Pro Bowl and there won’t be a ton of carries to even go around since the Eagles are probably going to throw 30 times a game and Jalen Hurts will get a bunch of carries as well.
Considering that all of them other than Gainwell are scheduled to become free agents this summer, that can all be difficult to deal with.
But these four backs seem to have a deep respect for each other and the type of team-first personalities that Nick Sirianni demands.
“We get paid to bond as a team and as teammates and compete together as teammates,” Penny said. “I just think everything is all out of love. We all know what the goal is. That's what I like about this group. We're just so competitive, but at the end of the day, we're in our locker rooms or in the meeting rooms, we've got probably the best bonds. These guys, they're true professionals.”
It might be hard for all the backs to deal with limited and unclear roles, but it will be even harder for opposing defenses to deal with this rotation.
How would you like to face the multi-dimensional Swift for two series, then all of a sudden there’s Gainwell coming out of the backfield turning a short pass into a big gain or Penny exploding through the line for one of his big runs.
“Basically, we’re just going to do what we do and have each others’ backs each day,” Gainwell said. “Getting the opportunity to be in the room with all these guys, they’re very special, and I can sense a selfless group and we all know that we have a big role that we have to take in and it’s just a selflessness in everybody. I love it.”