PHILADELPHIA — The last time the Eagles were a balanced offensive attack was in 2017.
The rushing attack, headlined by LeGarrette Blount, paid huge dividends in Philadelphia’s first-ever Super Bowl victory. The physicality Blount brought to the Eagles complimented Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, and Wendell Smallwood.
Since the departure of Blount, the Eagles have struggled to find a running back with that specific skill set to replenish the loss. From Josh Adams to Jordan Howard being the closest (twice), Philadelphia has failed to provide the offense with an effective bruiser-style runner.
As everyone knows by now, Nick Sirianni comes from Frank Reich’s side to Philadelphia’s sidelines. Reich, the former offensive coordinator of the Eagles Super Bowl run in 2017, strives for balance in his offense.
Sirianni’s first-hand knowledge of a successful backfield combination appears to be surfacing in Philadelphia as well. The Colts went into last season with physical rookie Jonathan Taylor, the elusive Marlon Mack, a receiving running back in Nyheim Hines, and jack-of-all-trades Jordan Wilkins.
The Eagles possess a similar combination in terms of skillsets to that of the Colts’ in the current makeup of the backfield.
Miles Sanders is the elusive runner, Kenneth Gainwell will serve Hines’ role, Boston Scott fits the mold of Wilkins, and Kerryon Johnson is competing with Jordan Howard to claim the physical back role.
The former second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2018, Johnson is looking to recapture his magic when he hit the ground running as a rookie, compiling 641 rushing yards on 118 attempts for an average of 64.1 yards per game. He was able to do so in just 10 games and showcased a ton of potential, finishing second in the NFL with 5.4 yards per carry.
Johnson had his sophomore season cut short, only appearing in eight games en route to being phased out of the Lions’ backfield entirely ever since.
Now, Johnson gets a second chance at reviving his young NFL career. He won’t become the lead back in Philadelphia, but as Blount showed back in 2017, Johnson won’t have to be in order to be effective.
The Eagles need Johnson to bring the earthquake to Sanders’s lightning and Gainwell’s thunder.
The soon-to-be 24-year-old running back enters a situation where it’s a committee approach, but with a role already laid out for him that suits his style of play.
Johnson’s ability in pass protection has been described as elite by talent evaluators, which is an area of the huge need in the Eagles’ backfield. His secure hands (three career fumbles in three seasons) also give him a leg up in Philadelphia’s running back room, especially his ability to distinguish himself as a productive third-down running back in Detroit.
How can Philadelphia make life easier for second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts?
By balancing the offense and providing a rushing attack as a crutch for their inexperienced signal-caller. And it appears Sirianni is setting his sights on recapturing the keys to success for Indianapolis in his new offense.
Johnson still has to beat out Howard to stick around on Philadelphia’s roster, but Howard was expecting to retire in the off-season, and Johnson has a chip on his shoulder, with something to prove. The camp battle for the physical role in the Eagles’ backfield will surely be one to keep an eye out for.
Philadelphia is still searching for their perfect Blount replacement. Johnson is the next running back to give a stab at it, and the Eagles hope it’ll finally be their last.
With the Eagles’ new head coach already understanding how to utilize a successful rushing attack while prioritizing specific runners to certain roles, Johnson is in the best position to rejuvenate his career in a style that suits him as a player.
Sanders is still the lead back, and Gainwell should provide the backfield with a legitimate receiver, but Philadelphia needs their bruiser rusher.
The opportunity to fill Blount’s shoes is Johnson’s for the taking.