Philadelphia Eagles 2023 Backfield: How Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Others Fit In

Miles Sanders is a pending free agent, creating a potential void in the Philadelphia Eagles' backfield that Howie Roseman must fill.

After coming oh-so-close to winning their second Super Bowl in six seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles are now forced to turn the page to their offseason planning. The Eagles were the NFL’s most efficient rushing team by a wide margin in 2022, and while much of that success can be attributed to Jalen Hurts and his running prowess, the team’s running backs also posted excellent seasons.

Miles Sanders, Philadelphia’s top back last year, is a pending free agent, so the club’s backfield could have a different flavor in 2023. Let’s look at the Eagles’ running back options, including internal choices, potential free agent additions, and possible draft selections.

What Will the 2023 Eagles Backfield Look Like?

In 2022, the Eagles ranked first in expected points added (EPA) per rush, total rush EPA, and rushing DVOA. Hurts made gargantuan strides as a passer in his second season as a full-time starter, but Philadelphia’s offense was built on the running game.

Boasting the NFL’s best offensive line certainly helps. The Eagles’ front five could look similar next season, although center Jason Kelce has considered retirement, and right guard Isaac Seumalo is a pending free agent.

Philadelphia has three running backs under contract next season, but we’ll start with Sanders, who is scheduled to reach the open market on March 15.

Miles Sanders

Sanders had always been a solid contributor since joining the Eagles as a second-round pick in 2019, but 2022 was his official coming-out party. The 25-year-old finished third in rushing success rate (59%), fifth in rushing yards (1,269), seventh in rushing first downs (62), and eighth in rushing touchdowns (11).

Sanders was rarely forced to run into heavy boxes, as he faced eight-plus defenders in the box on just 18% of his attempts. He also benefitted from Philadelphia’s offensive line, ranking seventh in yards before contact per attempt but only 27th in yards after contact per attempt.

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While the Eagles might be interested in re-signing Sanders, I think it will have to be on a team-friendly deal. General manager Howie Roseman is analytically-inclined and hasn’t spent much cap space on external running back signings.

Given the presence of Hurts and the state of Philadelphia’s offensive line, the Eagles might believe they could drop just about any back into their system and see results. As we’ll touch on shortly, this year’s free agent RB class will present a buyer’s market. If that pushes Sanders’ price down, he could return to Philadlephia next season.

Kenneth Gainwell

Sanders rarely produces as a pass catcher, which could further drive him out of the Eagles’ 2023 plans. Kenneth Gainwell, meanwhile, was drafted partly due to his receiving prowess after hauling in 51 passes during his final season at Memphis. Last year, he ranked 16th among running backs in receiving DVOA.

If Sanders doesn’t return next year, Gainwell could become Philadelphia’s primary RB. He’s only handled double-digit carries three times in his career (all in 2021), but he managed 231 carries at Memphis in 2021. Gainwell needs to improve as a between-the-tackles runner, but his ability as a receiver and pass protector will keep him on the field no matter who else the Eagles bring in.

Boston Scott

Mr. Reliable in the Eagles’ backfield, Boston Scott handled at least 85 touches per season from 2019-21 before that figure dropped to 59 this past year. A former New Orleans Saints sixth-round pick whom Philadelphia signed off New Orleans’ practice squad in 2018, Scott is now a pending free agent.

While Scott isn’t a core special teamer, he has played roughly a quarter of the Eagles’ ST snaps over the past four years. He re-signed with Philadelphia on a one-year, $1.75 million contract last offseason, and a similar deal could be in the works for 2023.

Trey Sermon

The San Francisco 49ers traded up to select Trey Sermon in the third round of the 2021 NFL Draft, but he played just 107 offensive snaps as a rookie after getting beaten out by fellow first-year back Elijah Mitchell. Philadelphia claimed Sermon off waivers just before the start of the 2022 campaign.

The Eagles have Sermon under contract for the next two seasons at near-league minimum rates, so there’s no reason for them to part ways at this juncture. Given his pedigree, Sermon will likely get a few more NFL chances. But he’s far from a roster lock in Philadelphia.

Kennedy Brooks

Kennedy Brooks crossed the 1,000-yard threshold three times at Oklahoma, but his scouting report reveals a running back that isn’t a great athlete and lacks a second gear. The Eagles signed him as an undrafted free agent last spring, then inked him to a futures deal at the end of January. He’ll have to fight his way onto the roster with a strong training camp and preseason.

Free Agents

I noted earlier that this year’s free agent running back class is a buyer’s market, and that’s because there is simply too much RB talent to go around. NFL teams have become more adept at finding backs in unlikely places (late-round picks, waiver claims, etc.), so the need to spend big dollars on RB options has been significantly reduced.

Here are the free agent backs who could land starting or high-end backup jobs when free agency opens: Saquon Barkley, Josh Jacobs, Tony Pollard, Devin Singletary, David Montgomery, Jamaal Williams, Jerick McKinnon, Kareem Hunt, D’Onta Foreman, Alexander Mattison, Damien Harris, Raheem Mostert, and Jeff Wilson Jr.

I wouldn’t expect the Eagles to target any of the high-profile backs on the market, even if Sanders leaves in free agency. As fun as it would be to imagine Barkley, Jacobs, or Pollard in Philadelphia’s offense, Roseman is too averse to spending on non-premium positions like running back and off-ball linebacker.

The Eagles have pursued No. 1 backs via the trade market in the past, but it seems like they were mostly just phishing for discounted deals. Roseman reportedly offered the Panthers a third- or fourth-round pick for Christian McCaffrey before he was traded to the 49ers last year.

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In 2019, he proposed a trade that would have sent Jordan Howard and a pick swap to the Los Angeles Chargers for franchise-tagged RB Melvin Gordon.

Neither of those offers was realistic, but they’re indicative of Roseman’s view on running backs: Don’t pay market value.

If Sanders leaves, I think the Eagles will lean into a running back rotation featuring Gainwell and a modestly-priced free agent. Hunt could be an option, especially given that Philadelphia reportedly looked into acquiring him from the Browns at last year’s trade deadline.

I also wonder if the Eagles could also be interested in adding someone like Rashaad Penny, who’s displayed game-breaking talent but should be cost-effective after dealing with multiple injury issues.

Draft Options

Sanders, who came off the board 53rd overall in 2019, is the highest-drafted running back on Roseman’s ledger. Every other back selected by the Eagles since Roseman was named general manager in 2010 was picked in the fourth round or later.

Philadelphia almost assuredly won’t use the No. 10 selection on a running back, and I’d be surprised if they use the No. 30 pick at the end of the first round on their backfield, either.

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Roseman understands that Day 1 picks — and the ensuing rookie contracts — at crucial positions like tackle, edge rusher, and cornerback create too much surplus value to ignore in favor of an RB.

As such, the Eagles probably won’t be in the market for Texas’ Bijan Robinson or Alabama’s Jahmyr Gibbs, who will be off the board before Philadelphia makes its third selection in Round 2. But if the Eagles want to find a bit of thunder to pair with Gainwell’s lighting, they could target Zach Charbonnet (6’1″, 220 lbs), or Tank Bigsby (6’0″, 213 lbs) on Day 2 or 3.

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