July 20, 2021   5 MIN READ

’21 Training Camp Pre: Kerryon Or Howard For RB2?

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[Editor’s Note: This is the seventh in a series of stories from Andrew DiCecco and Geoff Mosher previewing the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into training camp July 27. This story answers the question: Who’ll win the left tackle competition?]

On Monday, Mosher and DiCecco projected the winner of the left tackle spot between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. In this piece, they’ll decide between Jordan Howard and Kerryon Johnson for the backup running back spot.

Here’s how they see it:

Andrew DiCecco’s pick:

Former Lions second-rounder Kerryon Johnson is an ideal No. 2 running back, if he can stay healthy.

Between the pass-catching blunders, injury woes, curious usage of Miles Sanders and an overmatched backup in Boston Scott, the Eagles’ rushing attack was in desperate need of repair this offseason.

The 2020 season was supposed to be Sanders’ breakout campaign. However, the second-year runner endured an injury-plagued second season, playing just 12 games, accumulating 164 carries for 867 rushing yards and six touchdowns and adding 28 receptions for 197 yards as a receiver.

While the diminutive Boston Scott dazzled in the final stretch of games to close out the 2019 season, his limitations surfaced with increased usage. The 5-foot-6, 203-pound runner carried the ball 80 times for 370 yards and a touchdown while adding 25 catches for 212 and a touchdown as a receiver out of the backfield.

On many occasions, Scott appeared to be pressing, often looking to break the home run instead of surging forward and taking what the defense gave. Players of his mold are typically best suited as a sparingly used change-of-pace option.

This season, when Sanders hits the sideline, the Eagles should be far better equipped to maintain the balance in its offensive attack.

Veteran Jordan Howard returned to the team on a 1-year deal and could potentially fill the role of a between-the-tackles bruiser. Though the sixth-year running back offers little in terms of burst or receiving prowess, the power runner is sturdy in pass protection, a crucial element to the position.

Then there’s Kerryon Johnson, a former second-round who once appeared destined for NFL stardom before injuries mounted. The player once lauded for his agility, explosiveness, and fluidity as a receiver, quickly fell out of favor in Detroit. For perspective, Johnson compiled 113 carries in 8 games in 2019, but was relegated to a rotational role last season, registering a mere 52 carries across 16 games.

Still, if Johnson can shoulder the bulk of the receiving duties, and continue his pass-protection dominance, it would be fair to say that the Eagles stumbled on tremendous value on the waiver wire.

Due to fit, upside, and versatility, and versatility, Johnson will be tough to keep off the roster if healthy. To me, the decision would appear to be a no-brainer.

Geoff Mosher’s pick:

Despite averaging just 1.2 yards per carry with Miami, the Eagles brought Jordan Howard back.

Two of the Eagles’ running back spots are locked up. Miles Sanders is the primary back, gunning for a big season and ensuing contract extension. Kenneth Gainwell, a rookie picked in the fifth round, would have to fall on his face to get waived.

That leaves Jordan Howard, Kerryon Johnson and Boston Scott to compete for the last two spots. Scott is the ideal change-up back, but the Eagles need someone with more size and bulk to be the top backup in case Sanders is sidelined.

On talent alone, this should be Johnson’s job to lose. He’s a good runner with better-than-average hands out of the backfield and a plus pass protector. His biggest issue is durability, with just 34 games played in his three seasons since the Lions drafted him in the second round out of Auburn.

Johnson played 16 games last season but logged just 52 carries as he fell way behind rookie De’Andre Swift on the totem pole. Howard didn’t play much last year, mainly because he quickly fell out of favor with Miami’s coaching staff and was released after five games.

It really doesn’t make sense to keep both veterans, as the loser of the battle probably doesn’t get on the field as a changeup back, which is Scott’s role. So it appears that Howard and Johnson are battling each other for the No. 2 job.

Basically, it’s a battle of two running backs who, when healthy, have some solid attributes that can come in handy for a first-time head coach implementing a new offense. Both need to stay healthy in camp to avoid falling too far behind the other.

All things considered equal, Johnson is the more talented overall player. There’s a reason he was picked in the second round compared to Howard, a fifth-rounder in 2016, and a reason why the Eagles claimed his contract after the Lions waived him.

Johnson should be considered the leader in the clubhouse, but Howard feels like the safer pick. He ran well two years ago with the Eagles before a prolonged stinger injury kept him sidelined after Week 10, and the Eagles showed no hesitation signing him to the practice squad last year despite his 1.2 yards-per-carry average – and then re-signed him again this offseason when Howard admitted he had no other offers and wasn’t sure about his future in the league.

Howard’s determination shouldn’t be discounted here, nor should the Eagles’ feelings about him. Somehow, someway, I’m expecting him to prevail.

– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com and Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is is co-host of the “Inside the Birds” podcast and Senior staff writer/editor for InsideTheBirds.com.

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