Positional Analysis: Running Backs

Warnest Contributor Andrew Pluta analyzes the Eagles running back situation from this past season. All-Pro Brian Westbrook had a breakout season and distinguished himself as one of the top running backs in the game. Correll Buckhalter is a solid backup and rookie Tony Hunt showed promise...

Head Coach Andy Reid has often been criticized for the way he runs the Eagle’s offense, relying too much on the passing game and the arm of his star quarterback in recent years, but he cannot be accused of not running the ball enough after this past season. The Eagles offense finished the 2007 campaign with a rushing attack that produced 123.4 yards per game on the ground (eighth-best in the NFL) and averaged 4.7 yards per carry (second only to Minnesota), with Brian Westbrook leading the way and making his mark in the record books.

Coming off the first 1,000 yard rushing season of his career, Westbrook entered his sixth year in the league expecting he would be a big part of the offensive game plan early on, as Donovan McNabb rehabbed from a severe knee injury. Not only did Westbrook step up while his quarterback was on the mend, he put the team on his back and showed dominance in a way that only an NFL superstar can. One of his best games of the year came in week three, where the former Villanova standout scored three touchdowns against Detroit and showed how much of a dual threat he can be by recording over 100 yards rushing and receiving in the same game for the second time in his career.

Westbrook displayed his versatility all season long and went on to rush for a career high 1,333 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 90 passes, a new Eagles record, for 771 yards and five touchdowns. Westbrook led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, amassing 2,104 total yards on offense, and broke former-Eagle Wilbert Montgomery’s record of 2,006 total yards set in 1979. His outstanding season earned him a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team for the second time in his career, and Westbrook also was named to the Associated Press All-Pro team for the first time.

Correll Buckhalter on the move against the Seahawks.
Al Bello/Getty Images

Correll Buckhalter was second on the depth chart, and although he played behind a superstar in Westbrook, he was still able to make plays when called upon and contribute often. After dealing with knee injuries early in his career, Buckhalter has bounced back and developed into a solid backup with good speed and the ability to move the pile. The seven-year veteran rushed for a season-high 103 yards in week four against the Giants in place of Westbrook, who missed the game with an abdominal injury. Buckhalter finished the season with 313 yards and four touchdowns, and his 5.0 yards per carry average was the highest on the team among running backs.

Thomas Tapeh also performed well in his second season as the starting fullback and his lead blocking was important to his teammate’s success on the ground. While he only rushed for 18 yards on five attempts, Tapeh opened running lanes all year and Westbrook gained the most yards and scored the most touchdowns from the I-formation with his fullback leading the way.

Rookie Tony Hunt was a third round draft pick by the Eagles and while the former Penn State star did not see much playing time, he showed potential to be a short yardage back in the future with his size and power running. Although he was inactive for eight games during the season, Hunt was able to see some playing time in his first year, recording 10 rushing attempts for 16 yards. He scored the first touchdown of his professional career against Detroit in week three.

After finishing the season with a rushing game ranked in the top-ten in the league, the Eagles can go into the off-season with confidence in their current backfield. Ryan Moats will also rejoin the team next season after spending the year on injured reserve. While Tapeh will become an unrestricted free agent after February 28, Buckhalter is signed through next season, and Westbrook and Hunt have contracts that will keep them with the team until 2010.

Final Grade: A

Andrew Pluta can be reached at ajp8231@gmail.com.

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