July 4, 2024   4 MIN READ

Early Returns

DiCecco: Rookie RB Will Make Mark On Offense

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The Eagles hope to have emerged from April’s NFL Draft with a handful of building blocks, specifically on the defensive side, with cornerbacks Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean along with edge rusher Jalyx Hunt.

But the early defensive haul largely overshadowed some of the intriguing offensive additions secured later that weekend.

Wide receivers Ainias Smith and Johnny Wilson appeared to command the vast majority of the fanfare, as each provide a tantalizing skill set and join a razor-thin receiving corps in terms of depth.

There’s also Clemson running back Will Shipley, a fourth-rounder, who flashed throughout the spring.

But which of the offensive rookies will be positioned to have the greatest impact? Let’s take a closer look:

Will Shipley

RB Will Shipley

While wide receivers Smith and Wilson, drafted in the fifth and sixth rounds, respectively, would appear to have a clearer path to playing time, their impacts will ultimately be capped due to the influx of talent at their position.

And while it’s early, it’s also difficult to foresee either being far enough along in their development to garnering significant enough snaps to warrant the distinction.

Shipley, on the other hand, is a rookie who figures to prominently factor into Kellen Moore’s offensive equation, if only for his receiving prowess.

While it bears watching how quickly and effectively Shipley takes to pass protection, the 21-year-old offers a different dimension behind Saquon Barkley.

During the initial open spring session, Shipley looked somewhat clunky as a receiver, double-catching and, on multiple occasions, appearing to fight the ball.

Perhaps the rookie was pressing and overthinking. Given the passing-centric nature of spring practices, and the lack of contact, Shipley never had an opportunity to showcase his patience or vision as a runner, nor his pass protection.

But his size – 5-foot-11, 209 pounds – and burst initiated quite a bit of intrigue.

By the conclusion of the spring sessions, Shipley had become a popular dump-off target, even demonstrating some range operating the intermediary levels.

He caught the ball cleanly and was decisive after the catch, promptly turning upfield to churn out extra yards or scoot around the perimeter. The explosion and juice were obvious, demonstrating Shipley’s mismatch potential and receiving upside in an offense expected to feature the running back more in the passing game.

Shipley currently slots in third on the Eagles’ running back depth chart, and like Smith and Wilson, it’s fair to question the number of opportunities he’ll have to carve out a substantial role.

Entrenched in the No. 2 role, for now, is fourth-year pro Kenny Gainwell. While the Eagles entrust Gainwell to protect the football and make prudent decision situationally, he doesn’t offer much in home-run hitting potential or significantly move the needle as a blocker.

Sure, Gainwell has been steady and consistent in short-yardage scenarios, generally delivering when called upon, but he doesn’t offer the same change of pace that Shipley can.

Gainwell is also entering a contract year, adding another wrinkle to the equation.

Shipley overtakes a role in the pecking order most recently occupied by the seldom-used Boston Scott, who last season accounted for a whopping 20 carries over his 68 snaps.

Gainwell, meanwhile, totaled career highs in snaps (442) and carries (84). Even if Saquon Barkley remains healthy for the majority of the season, I wouldn’t expect a similar projection from the reserve roles.

But I’d anticipate Shipley eating into Gainwell’s workload, as the Eagles prepare to nurture its No. 2 of the future. And for as much as I believe Shipley’s role will grow as the season advances – effectively preserving Barkley for a stretch run – it’s also worth noting that he offers the potential to aid in the kickoff return game as well.

The uptick isn’t likely to come early in the season, but Shipley should command enough opportunities to comfortably have the greatest impact among the team’s offensive rookies.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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