Winslow Townson/Associated Press
The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t have the look of a traditional buyer as Tuesday’s trade deadline loomed. At 7-1, the Eagles have the NFL’s best record. They’ve played like the clbad of the NFC from the get-go.
Then Eagles general manager Howie Roseman pulled off a deal on Halloween that should put a scare into not just the NFC East, but all of the NFL.
By sending a fourth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins for running back Jay Ajayi, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, the Eagles added a young and talented ball-carrier to an already loaded offense. It’s now becoming difficult to find holes in a ship that looks to be cruising full speed ahead toward a division title and a high seed in the NFC playoff bracket.
Miami selected Ajayi with a fifth-round pick in 2015 amid concerns over the “long-term durability of his right knee,” according to Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com. But after a sluggish rookie season, Ajayi exploded during Miami’s run to the playoffs last year, rushing for over 1,200 yards and topping 200 yards in a game three times.
|Jay Ajayi 2016 vs. 2017|
|Per Pro Football Focus|
Ajayi’s numbers were down this year, and he had reportedly drawn the ire of Dolphins head coach Adam Gase, per Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald.
But that drop in production can in part be attributed to Miami’s terrible offensive line, which ranks 31st in run blocking, per Football Outsiders, And Roseman said he has no concerns about Ajayi’s knee or his attitude, according to ESPN.com. He also stated the team has had interest in the 24-year-old since the Eagles practiced with the Dolphins over the summer.
“When we came back after those practices, we said, ‘That’s our guy,'” Roseman said, via ESPN.com. “He has the mentality we’re looking for. He brings the kind of presence and plays the way we want to represent our football team with and our fans with. That’s one of the benefits of having these scrimmages. When [the trade] came about, we had done our homework.”
It’s not as though the Eagles needed to add a running back. Even though Philadelphia lost Darren Sproles to a season-ending injury in Week 3, the team’s ground game still ranks fifth in the NFL at 129.3 yards per contest.
Even after the addition of Ajayi, Roseman insisted LeGarrette Blount is still a big part of the team’s plans moving forward, via ESPN.com.
“He’s a warrior, he’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, and we’re really glad to have him,” he said. “This is no reflection of any of [our] running backs. This is a good opportunity for the Philadelphia Eagles, and our job is to add good players who fit what we do, and we feel like Jay Ajayi did that.”
The Eagles now have one of the deeper running back stables in the league. They can roll out Ajayi on early downs, Smallwood on pbading downs and Blount in short-yardage and goal-line situations or when killing the clock.
Ajayi can also fill that latter role, given his affinity for grinding out yardage after contact:
Nathan Jahnke @PFF_NateJahnke
Jay Ajayi has averaged 3.2 yards after contact per carry over the course of his career; best for backs with 200+ carries over last 12 years
Both of those bruisers can make people miss, too. Ajayi and Blount rank first and third, respectively, in missed tackles forced since the beginning of last year, per Pro Football Focus:
Pro Football Focus @PFF
The Eagles backfield now has two of the top three running backs in missed tackles forced since the beginning of the 2016 season https://t.co/YUypfVCd0o
The Eagles already had a strong ground game. Now they may have the best one-two punch in football.
And that isn’t the only punch they can throw.
In his second NFL season, Carson Wentz is playing at an MVP level. Wentz is third in the league in pbading yards (2,063), has 19 touchdown pbades against just five interceptions and has a pbader rating of over 100 through eight games.
Michael Perez/Associated Press
No tight end in the NFC has more receiving yards than Zach Ertz. Nelson Agholor has five touchdown catches in a breakout third season. Alshon Jeffery has stayed healthy and has been a dependable downfield target in the pbading game.
Philly’s defensive line is the best in the NFC. It leads the NFL in run defense (70.4 yards per game) and has piled up 22 sacks. Like the backfield, the Eagles front four is deep, which affords defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz the luxury of constantly rotating capable linemen.
Alex Brandon/Associated Press
The Eagles aren’t completely without flaws. The offensive line ranks in the bottom half of the league in run blocking and pbad protection, per Football Outsiders. And the secondary has allowed 256.8 pbading yards per game, the seventh-most league-wide.
After losing left tackle Jason Peters to a season-ending ACL and MCL tear in his right knee in Week 7, one could even argue the Eagles have a serious issue along the offensive line.
However, given that no team in the NFC is scoring more points than the Eagles, that O-line must be doing something right. And the pbad-defense numbers are skewed by how teams have to throw all day long because they can’t run on Philly at all. In reality, it’s probably a better unit than the numbers would suggest.
This trade was the NFL equivalent of getting a fat bag of candy without having to dress up and go door-to-door. Roseman strengthened an area that already wasn’t a weakness, adding a player many considered among the top 10 at his position entering the season while not paying much to do so.
It was a fantastic Halloween for the Eagles. For Ajayi, too—nothing helps the ol’ attitude like going from a pretender to a contender.
And Roseman’s coup should frighten the hell out of the rest of an NFC East that was already choking on the Eagles’ dust halfway through the 2017 season.