Ryan Mathews becomes Eagles' top RB -- for now

Philadelphia's Ryan Mathews has missed at least two games because of injury in five of his six NFL seasons. AP Photo/Bob Leverone

PHILADELPHIA -- With the Philadelphia Eagles shifting their focus from free agency to the draft, let’s continue our position-by-position look at the state of the roster.

Today, we look at running backs. We’ve already covered the offensive line, tight ends and wide receivers.

Key moves: Trading DeMarco Murray to Tennessee removed a disgruntled player from the roster. It also cleared salary-cap space that the Eagles were able to use elsewhere. It did not improve the roster at the running back position. The question is whether there is enough talent left.

Projected starters: The plural is important there. Ryan Mathews is the No. 1 running back on the Eagles' depth chart. But coach Doug Pederson made clear at the owners meetings this week that he intends to use a fullback.

The Eagles haven’t had a fullback on the roster since 2012. Pederson said he would consider tight ends as potential fullbacks. Trey Burton has played various positions and can fill the special teams roles. If he can block middle linebackers, as Pederson wants, he could be the team’s fullback.

Pederson’s impact: Pederson’s mentor, Andy Reid, often got way out of whack with his play-calling in Philadelphia. Reid threw the ball to excess and was too quick to abandon the run. Pederson has indicated that he leans toward running the ball more regularly.

Though Pederson said he wanted Murray on his team, the coach wasn’t heartbroken to move on. Mathews and Darren Sproles give him two versatile backs to work with.

Pederson said this week that he envisions using Sproles more than Chip Kelly did. Kelly used Sproles primarily as a receiver. The question is whether the 5-foot-6, 190-pound Sproles, at age 33, can take the physical pounding that comes with running the ball more.

That is especially significant because of Mathews' injury history. Mathews missed three games because of injuries last season. He has missed at least two games because of injury in five of his six NFL seasons.

In the pipeline: Kenjon Barner is the next man up at the moment. That is ironic, of course, because Barner was as closely associated with Chip Kelly as any player on the Eagles’ roster. He played for Kelly at Oregon and was acquired by the Eagles two years ago.

Barner appeared in 10 games in 2015. He carried the ball 28 times for 124 yards, a 4.4-yard average.

Kevin Monangai and Ross Scheuerman are also on the roster. Both are local products. Monangai played at Villanova, and Scheuerman went to Lafayette.

Draft outlook: It won’t be a shock if the Eagles draft a running back this year. They haven’t taken once since Bryce Brown in the seventh round in 2012.

Could that mean taking Ohio State’s Ezekiel Elliott with the No. 8 pick? Howie Roseman made a good case for getting elite running backs high in the draft. But his history -- Brown in 2012, Dion Lewis in the fifth round in 2011 -- has been to look for backs later in the draft.

Either way, with injury-prone and undersized backs on the roster, drafting a back makes a lot of sense.