Eagles ponder selecting running back

Knowshon Moreno, a 5-foot-11, 217-pound tailback from Georgia, could be in the Eagles' plans on draft day.
Knowshon Moreno, a 5-foot-11, 217-pound tailback from Georgia, could be in the Eagles' plans on draft day.
Posted: April 22, 2009

Selecting running backs is something the Eagles have always done later rather than sooner during coach Andy Reid's decade as the head coach, but that may change in Saturday's first round of the NFL draft.

"Everybody is always looking for the next Terrell Davis," former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick said during an NFL Network conference call Monday.

Davis, taken 196th overall in the sixth round of the 1995 draft, led the Denver Broncos to two Super Bowls, but the truth is it's a real longshot to find a player like that.

"The theory is you can get one in the fourth round, but that's not necessarily accurate," said Charley Casserly, the former general manager of the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans.

In the last decade, a total of 234 running backs were drafted and they combined for 100 1,000-yard seasons. Sixty of those 1,000-yard performances were turned in by first-round picks, 17 by second-round selections, and 11 by third-round picks. Only 12 1,000-yard rushing seasons were posted by players selected after the third round in the last decade.

Since 1990, every NFL rushing leader has been a first-round pick with the exception of the Broncos' Davis in 1998; Kansas City's Priest Holmes, an undrafted player, in 2001; and the New York Jets' Curtis Martin, a third-round pick, in 2004.

The Eagles made a decent find in the fourth round of the 2001 draft when they selected Correll Buckhalter. A year later, they struck gold with Brian Westbrook in the third round.

Since then, they've whiffed with third-rounders Ryan Moats and Tony Hunt and seventh-rounders Bruce Perry and Nate Ilaoa, which should come as no surprise given how seldom running backs taken after the first round succeed. The jury remains out on Lorenzo Booker, a third-round pick by Miami in 2007 whom the Eagles acquired for a fourth-round pick last year.

The Eagles haven't taken a running back in the first round since Keith Byars in 1986.

The running back situation appears to be different this year. Buckhalter left as a free agent to sign with the Denver Broncos, and Westbrook, at 30, is coming off knee surgery after his least productive season since 2005.

Eagles general manager Tom Heckert said the team is not philosophically opposed to selecting a running back in the first round.

"I guess we've been fortunate that we've had solid running backs, and we figured that we're not going to draft a first-round guy to really not play a whole lot for us," Heckert said. "We had Duce [Staley]) and then Brian. We didn't feel it was a necessity to have that guy."

Heckert acknowledged that things are different, but did not guarantee that the Eagles would take a running back in the first two rounds.

"It's still not to a point where we're going to say we've got to come out of the first two rounds with a running back," Heckert said. "We do think there are good running backs in the third. There always are third and fourth-round guys. It's not like we're in a panic mode by any stretch."

The projected first-round running back who has captivated Eagles fans is Knowshon Moreno, a 5-foot-11, 217-pound tailback from the University of Georgia. The product of Middletown South High in Central Jersey ran for 2,734 yards and 30 touchdowns in two seasons with Georgia.

If the Eagles decide this is the guy they want, they'll probably have to package their remaining first-round pick - the 21st overall - with another pick to make a trade. Casserly said he doesn't anticipate any running back being selected before New Orleans makes the 14th pick.

"I think Moreno is a good player," Casserly said. "He catches the ball and he's elusive. He reminds people of Emmitt Smith. The Eagles need a running back right now to complement Westbrook, and they need a back for the future to replace Westbrook when he's not there any more. Moreno could fill both those needs."


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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