While his mileage remains relatively low (1,308 rushing attempts), he’s coming off two concussions that have put his career in jeopardy.
When on the field, Westbrook has produced at an elite rate, but at this stage, he’s only going to be a role player, and another concussion would likely end his career. He’s never played a full 16-game slate during his eight years in the NFL, and durability concerns will only become more prevalent. Westbrook remains unsigned, but the Redskins had made him an official offer in June. If he signs in Washington, he'd be in the mix with several veteran backs and most likely fill a third-down role.
Westbrook finished with a career-high 14 touchdowns last season, but there was also plenty not to like. His 4.0 YPC tied a career low, and his 7.4 yards per catch was also a personal worst. His 54 receptions and 402 receiving yards were his lowest totals since 2003, as ankle and knee injuries severely hampered his explosiveness. Westbrook missed another two games as well, and he’s yet to play a full 16-game slate in any season during his seven-year career. It appeared setting career-highs in carries during both 2006 and 2007 really caught up to him last year, and including the playoffs, he averaged a miniscule 2.9 YPC over the final six games.
Of more immediate concern however, Westbrook had surgery in June to clean up bone spurs in his right ankle. While the surgery isn’t considered major, it could sideline him into training camp, and it follows the knee surgery he had in February. While Westbrook’s status for the start of the season isn’t in serious doubt, he’ll turn 30 in September, and the risk of injury only increases with age. Sill, 1,247 career rushing attempts is not a glaring number, and even during last season’s performance at far less than 100 percent, the final stat line was productive. Incidentally, Westbrook isn’t much of a goal-line option – he converted just three of his 11 carries there for scores – but he’s still one of the best receiving backs in the league.
The Eagles traded for left tackle Jason Peters during the offseason, and though he allowed a league-high 11.5 sacks in 2008, part of that can be blamed on his unhappy situation in Buffalo. Peters still has elite talent, should help the offense generally and open running lanes for Westbrook in particular. Second-round draft pick LeSean McCoy should help keep Westbrook fresh but could also cut further into his workload.
Like Tiki Barber before him, Westbrook just
keeps getting better – and more durable – with
age. Although he did miss a game for the second
year in a row last season, Westbrook established
career-highs in rushing attempts (278), rushing
yards (1,333), receptions (90), receiving yards
(771) and touchdowns (12). He led the NFL in
yards from scrimmage with 2,104 and has become
the most dynamic back in football, giving
defensive coordinators headaches throughout the
Westbrook has never played a full 16-game
schedule during his six-year career and is coming
off a season in which he surpassed his previous
high in touches by 51, so he's not without
risk. However, because he's so involved in the
passing game, he's remarkably consistent, finishing
with more than 90 total yards in every game
he played last year. His 90 receptions put him in
the top-15 in the league and were nearly 20 more
than any other running back. The high activity in
the passing game also makes Westbrook somewhat
immune to tough opposing defenses, as he
can beat you in multiple ways.
The Eagles offense now centers around
Westbrook’s unique talent, and when you combine
offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's
innovative mind with an improving offensive
line, it's a terrific situation. Philadelphia won its
final three games last season, and with Donovan
McNabb healthier another year removed from
knee surgery, the team should improve, which is
always a plus.
To call Westbrook’s 2006 season a career year would be an understatement. The diminutive back (5-8, 203) totaled career bests in rushing attempts, rushing yards, YPC, rushing touchdowns and receptions. Despite a bothersome knee for much of the year, Westbrook held up physically, even though he received 67 more touches than his previous high for a single season. Injuries will always be a concern for Westbrook, and it’s best to expect 14-15 games from him rather than 16. Still, there are few better dual threats in the game, and for leagues that count points for receptions, he’s even more valuable.
It’s hard to believe, but once Donovan McNabb (knee) went down last year, Westbrook’s fantasy value actually increased, as coach Andy Reid handed the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who centered the offense around the running back. The Eagles went from a pass-happy team to a slightly more balanced one. In the first eight games, Westbrook never received 20 carries in a game. During the next seven weeks, he carried the ball 20 times or more on four occasions. If coach Reid makes good on his promise to continue featuring the running game, Westbrook should be among the league leaders in yards from scrimmage.
One area of concern, however, is Westbrook’s utter lack of goal-line activity, as he received just seven carries there all season. Because he’s shown ability to score from any spot on the field throughout his career (he scored six touchdowns from outside the 20 in 2006), his lack of work in close isn’t quite as worrisome as it would be with others. With the loss of Donte Stallworth and Donovan McNabb recovering from knee surgery, expect Westbrook to once again be the focal point of Philadelphia’s offense in 2007.
The Eagles seem to be in a Catch-22 when it comes to their running game. Westbrook is easily their most talented back, a fantastically elusive runner and great pass-catcher who has enough speed to be more than a third-down back. But his size (5-8, 200) and injury history limit the amount of touches he can handle in a season. If the team doesn’t get the ball to Westbrook enough, the offense sags without a running threat. If they do get the ball to Westbrook enough, he breaks down, and the offense sags without a running threat. The ideal solution would be to bring in a power back to take the pressure off Westbrook, but Philadelphia has steadfastly refused to address the position either in the draft or free agency, save for the late round selection of small speedster Ryan Moats (a virtual Westbrook clone) in the late rounds of 2004. Head coach Andy Reid has made a fresh committment to the running game, so Westbrook will have to prove he can take the increased punishment from the extra workload as a feature back.
Westbrook saw a larger-than-expected load last season after Correll Buckhalter went down in August with a torn patella tendon, and on a per-game basis, he was one of the more productive backs in the league. In 13 games, Westbrook had 1,515 yards on 177 carries and 73 receptions. Prorated over a full season, those numbers equal 1,865 yards, 90 catches and 11 touchdowns. And that doesn’t account for a game where Westbrook was recovering from bruised ribs and only had six carries. While Westbrook has good speed, it’s his lightning quickness that makes him so elusive as a ball carrier and route runner. Westbrook can change directions and cut back well and can make multiple tacklers miss. As a receiver, Westbrook has excellent hands, and his quickness makes him a mismatch for opposing linebackers who get stuck guarding him. In fact, despite missing three games (two of which were because the Eagles had wrapped up the NFC’s No. 1 seed early) Westbrook led all backs in receptions, yardage and receiving touchdowns. With Buckhalter expected back in the fold, we don’t expect Westbrook to be a factor from close range in 2005 – he scored just three rushing touchdowns last year and had just four carries from inside the five. And with the Eagles drafting Ryan Moats, described by some as a Westbrook clone, expect the 5-10, 205-pound Westbrook to share more of the load in 2005.
The new Charlie Garner. The multidimensional, explosive, yet diminutive Westbrook will please owners when they don’t expect anything from him and disappoint when they do. Running backs who get 117 carries and who don’t get short-yardage and goal-line carries can’t be expected to score more than a handful of TDs (especially with Terrell Owens around).
The speedy Westbrook will primarily be featured as a change-of-pace and third-down back. In addition, he is taking over the kick and punt return duties for the departed Brian Mitchell. Westbrook is expected to get more playing time than in years past but he is the third option at RB behind Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter.