Philadelphia Eagles: Was Pumphrey’s performance too little too late?

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images) /

After finally making his preseason debut vs the New York Jets, did Donnel Pumphrey do enough to earn a spot on the Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster?

As many Philadelphia Eagles fans already know, I’m an unabashed fan of 2017 fourth round pick Donnel Pumphrey.

Now granted, it’s not like he was my top-ranked back coming out of last year’s draft class, as I was really hoping the Eagles would end up with Alvin Kamara, but when the team traded up in the fourth round to secure Pumphrey it made a lot of sense.

With Darren Sproles‘ career coming to an end eventually (initially after last season), Pumphrey looked like a perfect heir apparent who could learn under one of the league’s all-time all-purpose yards leader.

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But that changing of the guard simply didn’t happen as swiftly as many fans would have liked.

Sure, Pumphrey is the all-time leading rusher in NCAA history and can gouge a defense with his speed, elusiveness, and agility, but he struggled in many of the areas that make Sproles so deadly, namely catching the ball as a space weapon.

After averaging less than two yards-per-carry over the 2017 preseason, a late-summer injury effectively saved Pumphrey’s position on the team, as he was placed on IR before the regular season begin.

But now, one year later, Pumphrey’s lost that margin of error.

With an extra year of experience under his belt and ample time to learn the Eagles offensive scheme, Pumphrey needed a strong summer to finally silence all the doubters and lock himself into a spot on the 53 man roster

And to be fair, he did flash, but unfortunately, it may have been too little too late.

After suffering an ankle early in camp, Pumphrey with sideline for all but the final preseason game, allowing competitors like Wendell Smallwood, Matt Jones, and even also injured Josh Adams to create some quality tape in his absence.

Pumphrey’s preseason tape? All of about four minutes.

Taking over at running back after the Eagles defensive goal-line stand at the end of the second quarter, Pumphrey immediately made his presence known with a very impressive 25-yard catch, weaving through traffic to get the team out of their own red zone.

From there, Pumphrey caught two more passes to bring his total for the game to 39 and received one carry for three yards

And just like that, Donnel Pumphrey’s preseason was over.

But was four touches for 42 yards enough to secure Pumphrey a roster spot going into the 2018 regular season?

Probably not.

Had Pumphrey strung together four games like his debut against the Jets than yeah, totally, he’d probably be considered the favorite for the team’s final roster spot, but he didn’t.

While I’m still incredibly high on Pumphrey and hope the team can find a way to keep him on the roster one more season, as I still believe he could be a solid Sproles clone in 2019, these aren’t last season’s Eagles, and developmental roster spots are going to be a lot harder to come by on a Super Bowl championship-winning rosters.

With once fringe players like Jordan Mailata and Joe Walker having effectively proven that they deserve a roster spot with a strong summer, would the team seriously consider allowing either player to walk for an unproven entity like Pumphrey?

The same could go for a player like the DeAndre Carter or De’Vante Bausby, a pair of older prospects who’s bounced around the league unable to find a consistent home, who flashed early and often over the summer, and may deserve a chance to continue to develop with the team, even after both of their practice squad eligibility has been thoroughly extinguished.

Can the same be said for Pumphrey?

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As injuries continue to mount, the Eagles will be forced to utilize the bottom half of the roster more than they typically would to start out the regular season, with a fifth wide receiver or fourth linebacker all but certain to see the field on Week 1.

Would the team seriously consider going light at one of those positions to hold on to a player like Pumphrey based on potential alone?

It seems unlikely.

While it would certainly put some egg on the team’s face, it looks like if Pumphrey will be with the team a week from today, it’ll be on the practice squad, a situation that’s a lot easier said than done.

Even though he’s largely disappointed over his first two summers with the team, someone will surely see the potential in Pumphrey and claim him off waivers before he would be able to join the Eagles practice squad, if he even wanted to stay in Philly at all. While, this could all amount nothing, if Pumphrey does develop into a star on another team, it’ll make the Eagles look even worse.

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So we are left with one question that really has no good answer: Can the Philadelphia Eagles afford to keep Donnel Pumphrey on the 53-man roster, or watch him develop into a dynamic weapon on another team?