Eagles analysis

An exciting newcomer makes list of most important Eagles

After Miles Sanders left in free agency, the Eagles added a running back who might have a big year

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Over the next few weeks leading up to training camp, we’ll be counting down the top 25 most important Eagles for the 2023 season.

25. Nolan Smith
24. Quez Watkins
23. Kenny Gainwell
22. Marcus Mariota
21. Reed Blankenship
20. Brandon Graham
19. D'Andre Swift

One of the most intriguing positions for the Eagles entering the 2023 season is running back.

Last year, the Eagles got the most out of Miles Sanders in the final year of his contract. Sanders rushed for over 1,200 yards and scored 11 touchdowns and then signed a multi-year deal with the Panthers in the offseason. The Eagles let him walk.

So a year after Sanders accounted for over 67% of the Eagles’ running back touches in 2021, there’s probably going to be more of a rotation this season with D’Andre Swift, Kenny Gainwell, Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott.

Who will get the most touches? If you had to bet on that right now, it’s probably Swift.

The Eagles traded away a fourth round pick (along with a 7th-round pick swap) to  acquire Swift from Detroit during the draft. Swift, a Philly native, is coming home.

It was clear that Swift was available after the Lions used the No. 12 overall pick to take Jahmyr Gibbs from Alabama. That’s when GM Howie Roseman called and worked out a deal to add Swift. 

“It wasn't in our mind a position that we were actively looking to upgrade, but at the same time, we're always looking for opportunities to improve the team,” Roseman said in April. “When this came about, we just felt really good about the player, we felt really good about the person, and it adds another tremendous player and person to our locker room. We feel like we really know who he is as a person, have a lot of connections with him.”

Swift, 24, is entering his fourth NFL season and his final under contract as a second-round pick in 2020 out of Georgia.

It’s fair to say Swift hasn’t quite lived up to his draft status as the No. 35 overall pick but he has been relatively productive during his first three years in Detroit. In 2022, Swift played in 14 games with 8 starts and had 542 rushing yards (5.5) and 5 touchdowns. In his career, Swift has a 4.6 yards-per-carry average and his career-high in yards came in 2021 when he had 617.

But the one area where Swift has really excelled is as a pass-catcher. In three NFL seasons, Swift has 156 catches for 1,198 yards and 7 touchdowns. His 156 catches rank fifth in the NFL among running backs since 2020. He’s behind just Austin Ekeler (231), Alvin Kamara (187), Leonard Fournette (178) and Aaron Jones (158). This part of his game is especially notable because the Eagles haven’t thrown to their backs all that much in recent years. Gainwell led the running backs with 23 catches last season.

The Eagles got an up-close look at Swift in last year’s season opener in Detroit.

While the Eagles held on to win that game 38-35, Swift had a career-high 144 rushing yards with a rushing touchdown and another 31 yards receiving. That was the first 175-yard game for a running back against the Eagles since Ezekiel Elliott back in 2018.

“You can definitely see his ability to make people miss in space, and you saw that against our defense last year,” head coach Nick Sirianni said. “He had some unbelievable runs against us last year, where you look at each other like man, that guy is hard to tackle. So, he has the ability to make you miss and also accelerate through the hole, which will serve us well in some of the draws that we run and some of the RPOs that we run.

“I don't know exactly how we'll use him perfectly with each individual run, you have to get your hands on him to see that, but also in the passing game, I think he's a dynamic playmaker that's done some things that we've done with guys in the past, with some of the different routes that he runs.

“But he has a great ability to read defenses out of the backfield, to make guys — to separate from tight coverage out of the backfield, and has really good hands. Obviously, again, can't say enough about the running back room that we have. We're really excited about the pieces that we had going into the draft, and we're even more excited about it with the addition of D'Andre.”

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