Eagles Add Kerryon Johnson to a Very Crowded Backfield

Johnson was just released two days ago by the Lions and could be the power back Philly has been looking for since Jay Ajayi left town
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PHILADELPHIA – The Eagles made a roster move late Friday afternoon.

It wasn’t a cornerback.

They are fortifying the running back position when they claimed Kerryon Johnson off waivers from the Detroit Lions, and, suddenly, the backfield is a very crowded place.

Johnson is the Eagles’ fourth running back addition of the offseason. Very early in the offseason, they brought back Adrian Killins then much later in free agency signed Jordan Howard, and, last weekend, they selected Memphis’ Kenny Gainwell in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.

The new additions are expected to join Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, and Elijah Holyfield on the roster for a total of eight RBs.

Nick Sirianni isn’t kidding about this competition stuff, is he?

Except at cornerback, which could use some, and maybe more will be forthcoming sooner rather than later.

READ MORE: Examining Eagles Options at Cornerback - Sports Illustrated ...

Right now, though, the focus is on Johnson, who was just released by the Lions on Wednesday after three seasons with them. Johnson was expendable after the free agency signing of Jamaal Williams.

A former second-round pick out of Auburn, he turns 24 at the end of June and has the size to be in the mix to complement the presumptive starter, Sanders.

Johnson is 5-11, 211 pounds and could be the power back the Eagles have craved since Jay Ajayi was around for a brief 14-game run over three seasons, including 2017 when he was acquired at the trade deadline from the Dolphins and helped lift the Eagles to a Super Bowl title.

After a strong rookie season in 2018, in which he ran for 641 yards on 118 carries (5.4 yards per carry) and three touchdowns to go along with 32 catches for 213 yards and another score, Johnson wasn’t as productive in his second season.

In 2019, with 113 carries, he averaged just 3.6 yards per carry, though he still scored three TDs. His production as a receiver was down as well, with just 10 receptions for 127 yards.

Last year, Johnson’s numbers fell precipitously after the additions of Adrian Peterson in free agency and D’Andre Swift in the draft. In 2020, Johnson played all 16 games but had just 52 carries. His usage in the passing game, however, was still relatively substantial with 19 catches for 187 yards.

Perhaps that is what Sirianni has in mind for Johnson if he is able to make the roster, a role in the passing game.

Gainwell, of course, also produced at a high clip as a receiver at Memphis. Sanders did as a rookie, but last year he struggled with catching the football.

Howard isn’t much of a pass-catching threat; Killins and Huntley are probably more valuable in that role rather than as runners.

READ MORE: Eagles Get 'A Rare Breed' in Memphis RB Kenny Gainwell ...

As for Holyfield, he hasn’t had a chance to show yet what he can do in either role.

So, there are now more options for the Eagles.

OTAs have yet to begin – that will happen later this month – but it would be safe to say at this stage Sanders and Gainwell are the only locks at this point.

Scott could have an inside track, too, to a roster berth, but with a new coaching staff, he will have to stand out in the competition that Sirianni is so keen on.

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s EagleMaven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.