With Sanders Out, Eagles Rookie RB Could See Uptick In Action
The Eagles will be without running back Miles Sanders for at least Thursday night and maybe longer.
Fortunately for them, Boston Scott and Corey Clement – Sanders' primary replacements – have basked in the limelight at times during their NFL journey.
However, the pair this season has failed to live up to heightened expectations, mustering just 32 carries for 97 rushing yards and compiling an additional 50 yards through the air.
With Sanders on the mend, the enigmatic tandem once again is thrust onto center stage as the Eagles prepare for them to undertake expanded roles.
Along with Scott and Clement, rookie running back Jason Huntley also vaults up the depth chart and will serve as the No. 3 option in the interim. Huntley, who was added off waivers from the Detroit Lions before the regular season, has yet to be unveiled.
In three games, Huntley has registered just one offensive snap, a 1-yard carry in the season opener. His other two snaps came on special teams against the Baltimore Ravens.
Despite Huntley’s winding path to the pros, the 5-foot-9, 193-pound running led a decorated four-year career at New Mexico State.
Named to the 2019 Paul Hornung and Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award watch lists ahead of his senior campaign, Huntley rushed for 1,090 yards and nine touchdowns on 154 carries while reeling in an additional 190 receiving yards on 40 catches.
The first-team All-Independent performer eclipsed the 100-yard rushing barrier five times in 2019 and his 7.1 yards-per-carry average was good for fourth-best in the nation behind Travis Etienne, Lynn Bowden, and Kennedy Brooks.
Huntley’s collegiate career culminated with an invitation to participate in the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. His tremendous contact balance, short-area quickness, and field vision were the driving forces behind his game-high 53 rushing yards. In all, Huntley accumulated 2,182 rushing yards – seventh-most in program history – and yielded 1,119 receiving yards, distinguishing himself as the only running back in the 2020 draft class to surpass 1,000 receiving yards. He also managed 1,521 yards and five touchdowns as a kick returner, showcasing next-level versatility. A fifth-round pick of the Lions, Huntley was a numbers-game victim, and a victim of circumstance. The intriguing Day 3 selection never had the opportunity to showcase his talent to the rest of the league due to the cancellation of preseason play.
What Huntley can potentially bring to an NFL backfield remains a mystery.
“In terms of Jason's strengths, speed is the most obvious one,” said New Mexico State running backs coach Matt Christian. “He is an explosive athlete. His strength goes under-appreciated, though. He was pound-for-pound the strongest player on our team and runs heavier than he is. He is not afraid of contact as a runner at all. He is an extremely confident and humble young man and believes in his abilities.”
Though the stars failed to align in Detroit, high-upside prospects like Huntley typically don’t last long on the waiver wire. Shortly after his release, the rookie learned his path would be redirected to Philadelphia.
With Scott and Clement firmly entrenched as reserves behind Sanders, Huntley appeared destined for a redshirt season. But life in the NFL can be fickle, as injuries and other variables often alter the landscape.
With Sanders sidelined, Huntley could be called on to occupy some of the vacant snaps – if he can overcome a glaring deficiency.
“He knew pass protection was going to be the area he needed the most work at,” Christian said. “We didn't ask him to do that a lot in college because we used him so heavily in pass concepts and wanted him out in the routes. He is willing and physical enough and understands the game and defenses well; however, he just needed reps and film to get to the level necessary to play.”
Despite countless roster shuffles the past six weeks, the Eagles never jeopardized Huntley’s spot on the 53-man roster. The team envisions an eventual role for the change-up runner, but circumstances could force Huntley’s development to be expedited.
After toiling in anonymity for six weeks on the fringes of the roster, Huntley’s patience could soon be rewarded.
“If given an opportunity and a role that fits his skill-set, Jason could absolutely provide a spark and add to 'RB by committee' mentality,” Christian said. “Jason has always surprised people in his career; from high school to New Mexico State he has overachieved. I wouldn't be shocked if given a few opportunities in a game if he provided some explosive plays for the Eagles.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.