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Who Stays, Who Goes: Running Backs

The Eagles have a decision to make with Miles Sanders before the end of the 2022 campaign

The Eagles finished with 2,715 rushing yards in 2021, breaking a franchise record that stood since 1949.

Yes, there were 17 games this past season for the first time and that’s way past the 12 the league played back when an 11-1 championship team rushed for just over 100 yards less but you get the point, Nick Sirianni’s running game was really effective in 2021.

The offensive line and Jalen Hurts’ ability as the so-called plus-one in the ground game get most of the credit for that and rightfully so but all of the Eagles’ running backs were effective at times when they got an opportunity starting with RB1 Miles Sanders down to the practice-squad elevation of Jason Huntley in Week 18.

Yet there is still great uncertainty at the position for a number of reasons, most notably that a potential second-contract is now in the conversation for Sanders, a player who looks good on the surface but has some significant flaws as you start to peel game the onion of his game.

Then comes the valuation of the position in the NFL as a whole where it’s believed that a second deal for big money will present diminishing returns with only the biggest and most dominant names cashing in.

Overall, Sanders, who will turn 25 on May 1, remained a bit of a disappointment in 2021 despite rushing for 754 yards at 5.5 yards per clip, both second on the team to Hurts and the latter number superlative for a RB.

The third-year pro, however, missed five games with an assortment of injuries that included an ankle, a quad, and finally a broken hand while also failing to take the necessary steps forward as a pass receiver or pass protector.

As a runner, meanwhile, Sanders still leaves far too much meat on the bone that the OL provides, and still has some ball-security issues. He also didn’t hit the home runs he’s become known for with his longest run of the season being 38 yards, a career-low in that category for the Penn State product.

Check out more about each running back in this gallery:

Miles Sanders
Jordan Howard answers questions following Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021 practice
Boston Scott after Eagles training camp practice on July 30, 2021
Kenny Gainwell

Sanders is about to enter the final year of his rookie deal but it’s hard to imagine anything getting done on the contract front until in-season 2022 like what happened this season with members of the 2018 draft class.

What you can glean from Nick Sirianni’s Week 1 and early-season philosophy as a whole is that he’d prefer to have a bell cow teamed with a third-down back, not the committee approach the Eagles turned to out of necessity.

Veteran Jordan Howard, 27, might be more valuable to the Eagles than anyone else and another one-year deal for the veteran minimum could be in the offing.

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Howard, who finished with 406 yards on 86 carries with three TDs, admitted he didn’t receive much interest around the league last year in free agency before returning to Philadelphia where he spent the first seven games on the practice squad until being pressed into action.

Howard’s size and north-south running style are tailor-made for the Eagles’ powerful offensive line but persistent stinger issues cropped up again and the Eagles could look to turn the page if they are able to get a younger option on Days 2 or 3 in the draft.

Boston Scott (87-373, seven TDs) turns 27 in late April and is a coaching-staff favorite.

He should be tendered as a restricted free agent and serves as one of the better RB3s in the NFL with a nose for the goal line.

MORE: Who Stays, Who Goes on Philadelphia Eagles: Quarterbacks

Kenny Gainwell, 22, has a tremendous upside as a pass-catching back out of the backfield so much so that by the second half of the season the Eagles had him working both with the RB and WR rooms at times.

Gainwell will be the guy as a receiving back moving forward into his second NFL campaign after finishing the first with 291 yards on 68 rushes and adding 33 receptions for an additional 253 with six combined TDs.

Huntley was elevated from the practice squad for the meaningless Week 18 finale and showed off both his speed and kick return ability with the latter being the path to contribution especially with the struggles of Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins in that role.

STAY: Miles Sanders (for 2022, no extension), Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, Jason Huntley

GO: Jordan Howard

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

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