BEFORE we can make a shopping list of what we need, we have to take stock of what we already have. So let’s go position by position and take a hard, honest look. In this instance I WILL NOT be giving anyone the benefit of the doubt. So don’t get upset if your favorite player isn’t praised highly here. Almost no one will be, nor do many deserve to be after this last season.
Carson Wentz is the long-term answer here whether people like it or not. He has some mechanical issues that need fixing, but that’s why he hired a coach. Good for him! I love the initiative to put out money and put in work. Chase Daniel is the back-up and his chief value resides in the fact that Wentz doesn’t have to glance over his shoulder at him. If Wentz is injured and Daniel needs to step in for a significant length of time, everyone will give up on their expectations, so it doesn’t matter how bad or good Daniel is. The Eagles would be wise to add a 3rd stringer, but other than that, there is no need to rock the boat.
RB: The big knock on Ryan Mathews is that he’s brittle, but the truth is that he always leaves you wanting a little more. He runs the ball well because he runs hard, but not elusively. He’s also not exactly dynamic as a receiver, or stellar in pass protection. When he’s not in the shop, he essentially only has the one gear. Darren Sproles is old and can’t take the beating of being an NFL bell-cow. Wendell Smallwood is decent roster filler, but he’s no game changer. Same for Kenyon Barner. Terrell Watson made an impression in the last game of the season, but A) it was just one game and B) it was against an opponent on auto-pilot. The sizable Watson warrants a good look during OTA’s and mini-camp, but we should still draft a guy so that the weight isn’t all on Wentz.
WR: Since Jordan Matthews isn’t a speedster, the idea is he has to play inside as a slot. This misguided notion has handicapped our Offense through two coaching regimes, yet no one seems to be learning the lesson. Dorial Green-Beckham at 6’5”, 240, with 4.5 speed, could be and should be, a weekly match-up nightmare on the edge. He can’t be those things however, if he’s mostly used on crosses and drag routes. Nelson Agholor can run, but he lacks NFL focus. This led to the bad routes, the lining up wrong, and of course the drops. While Agholor was benched for a game, his bad play didn’t cost him his Starter status, even though better options (like Paul Turner) and developmental options (like Bryce Treggs) would have benefited from the snaps wasted by Agholor. The evidence strongly indicates that our WR shortcomings stem mostly from this organization’s well-noted history of being unable to develop dominant wide outs. What this WR corp lacks isn’t speed (as I covered in an earlier article), we lack an ultra-competitive, “gimme-the-ball” type, who’d take too much pride in his game to lose focus or be sloppy. The Draft may yield us such a player, but only if we bother to look up from our stopwatches and take note of the finer points of a wide receiver’s game.
I know everyone is in love with Zach Ertz, but really he’s half of a TE. Yes yes, his blocking has improved, but not enough for the Eagles to stop keeping Brent Celek around for run plays. Seriously. Name another back-up TE who makes 4 million dollars a year, despite not catching more than 32 balls, or for 400 yards in any season since 2013. Celek is still an Eagle because Ertz is less of a TE and more of a big, slow WR. It makes you wonder why we don’t use WR Green-Beckham in place of Ertz since their blocking is about equal and Green-Beckham is decidedly faster and more athletic. Trey Burton is a human Swiss Army knife, but we never deploy him fully by lining him up at TE, and then moving him around the formation to create mismatches. Instead of being a 3rd string TE that opponents have to game plan for, we’ve relegated him to being just a 3rd string TE.
OT: Jason Peters while still better than most at his position, is clearly beginning to have issues facing speed rushers. If he gets his mitts on you, the down is over for you, but his problems on the edge indicate that his days on the outside are clearly numbered. He has the short-area quickness, strength and bulk to be kicked inside to Guard for a few more years, but the Eagles don’t seem likely to do that. (I would). Lane Johnson‘s importance to this team was demonstrated resoundingly during his 10 game suspension. That same suspension (being his second), also raises some questions about Johnson’s reliability and responsibility down the line. Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a total disaster, even if you take away his horrendous first start vs the Redskins. Gamely, the Eagles gave the rookie 6 games to show some progress, but his deficiencies forced the coaches to run most of our Offense away from his side, and eventually pull the plug on playing him altogether. He was benched after Week 11 in favor of swing-man Allen Barbre. Our lack of depth here basically dooms 2017 if Johnson or Peters goes down to injury. We need to address this.
G: This is a really interesting position because it can be read a couple of ways. We have Brandon Brooks who is a solid building block at RG. So that’s a clear positive. On the Left we have depth in the form of Barbre and Stefen Wisniewski. Rookie Isaac Seumalo didn’t get any meaningful playing time unless someone else couldn’t play (RG for Brooks in weeks 12 and 14), or had proven themselves dangerously incompetent (LG over Vaitai in week 15). In any case, the Eagles had to be cornered into starting Seumalo. In the course of outplaying his contract, Wisniewski also vastly outplayed the rookie and perhaps even edged the guy (Barbre) who opened the season as the starter. You cannot seriously discuss the 2017 Eagles without drawing Wisniewski into the discussion as a possible Starter. Maybe it’s just me, but I get the vibe that the Eagles organization is less than overjoyed at the way things have worked out at this position.
C: Jason Kelce is widely regarded as a top player at his position, since he’s one of the best at blocking in space and on the move. The trouble is all the other aspects of his game. The real knock on Kelce is that when asked to be a solo assignment, in-line blocker, he can be overpowered one-on-one by seemingly most DT’s. We all have memories of him being forklifted back into QB’s, or of him being unable to root out a defender in short yardage situations. Need I remind anyone of how erratic his shotgun snapping can be? When looked at as an overview, Kelce is a pretty good player. However, when you start to separate out aspects of his game, you can’t help but notice glaring deficiencies. He also represents the only legit Center on the roster meaning we have zero depth here. The Eagles can’t get around to upgrading this spot soon enough.
It’s time to move on from Connor Barwin. Actually it was time last year. Vinny Curry I thought was going to have a double digit sack year, but instead of starting in 2016, he rode pine behind Barwin who made twice the money for not twice the production. Hilarious fact: Curry will carry a $9M cap figure next year, despite never having started an NFL game. My guess is with a cap figure that high, that weird piece of trivia is about to change. Brandon Graham isn’t overly strong or quick, but what he is, is relentless. That makes him an excellent rotation guy. As a Starter however, he isn’t a guy who opponents have to game plan for. We need one of those at DE. That’s not a knock against Curry or Graham or even Steven Means, but none of those guys will keep an offensive coordinator up at night. We need to get one of those at DE.
DT: Fletcher Cox is the real deal. He destroys one-on-one blocks and blocking schemes. If Free Agent Bennie Logan returns, he gives us a solid run defender who is capable of anchoring vs a double-team. Destiny Vaeao is a young player who has me excited, because like Cox, he’s an explosive disruptor. He gets QB’s out of the pocket and thus out of the design of the play. I would love to see him and Cox get extended time on the field together. Beau Allen is tremendously strong, and did a much better job of staying on his feet this year. That said, when Allen started in Logan’s absence, he looked like a back-up playing heavy minutes. Either we have to re-sign Logan or add another grunt.
Jordan “Cowboy Killer” Hicks has a well-rounded game and generally does a solid job being where he needs to be. He also led the team with 5 picks this year, bringing his career total to 7 in just two seasons. However, at 236 pounds he isn’t a thumper type, so instead of blowing up blockers, there are times (vs the run) when he seems to almost stick to them. If that aspect of his game could be improved even a little, then we would quietly have one of the best MLB’s in the game. For depth we added Stephen Tulloch, but odds are that his roster spot will belong to Joe Walker or a rookie in 2017.
OLB: Nigel Bradham killed it this year. Just like I said he would. Mychal Kendricks on the other hand regressed badly in 2016. Even if you take into account his limited snaps due to the Eagles starting 7 games with 5 DB’s, his on-field play (particularly in man coverage) bore no resemblance to the player that the Eagles gave a 4 year extension to in 2015. More to the point, I don’t think Kendricks has been nearly as good at all, since he was moved from SAM to ILB. The smart play would be to hold a fire-sale for Kendricks to get his bloated salary off of our books. I’d make it known that he could be had for a 5th rounder, then publicize each offer (to play teams off of each other). Then I’d stall for a couple days or until someone offered me either a 4th round pick, or a 5th and a 6th rounder. Then I’d move him and pick up a cheap veteran out of free agency for a year or so.
S: FS Rodney McLeod had a career year during his first season as an Eagle. A career high 3 picks, his first sack and a career high 83 tackles. While he did cool statistically as the year went on, it’s hard to overlook the factors that led to that cooling off. SS Malcolm Jenkins provided the leadership and high level of play that we’ve all come to expect from him. Jaylen Watkins, Chris Maragos, and Terrence Brooks make up the depth of this unit. Watkins and Brooks have shown potential as defenders, but Maragos is a Special Teamer.
CB: Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin were brought in from Buffalo because of their experience playing in the system run by DC Jim Schwartz. The idea was that they could help with installing it here. Brooks hardly played and McKelvin was a jaw-dropping disappointment. While it’s true that rookie Jalen Mills showed many flashes of potential, he also tended to attract flags and made few plays on the ball. Nolan Carroll is the best CB on this team and that in itself is a problem. He’s too easily outrun and doesn’t get his head around when the ball is thrown deep. Due to the poor CB play, our Safeties stopped being targeted because teams focused on working our edges. For years I said our Single-high Safety concept was hurting our CB’s, but now we have CB’s who hurt our Cover Two concept. We don’t need to change our system, we need better players.
K: When we signed Caleb Sturgis, I shrugged. I’m one of those guys who holds all of our Kickers up against David Akers, so of course most of them generate no curiosity and even less excitement. (Although at one point I was quietly rooting for Carey “Murderleg” Spear over Alex Henery.) Sturgis has been very good since he became an Eagle. Understand I said very good, not great. Not excellent. He doesn’t have the strongest leg for field goals or for kickoffs. What he is though, is damn near automatic from 40 yards and in. I have my doubts about whether or not you can make a deep playoff run with him, especially if we have to be on the road vs some of the cold weather teams in the conference (New York, Washington, Seattle, Green Bay, Chicago). However, at the moment we haven’t made the playoffs in three years and the Kicker isn’t the position that’s held us back. So Sturgis is fine for now.
P: Donnie Jones is fuckin’ excellent.
LS: I hate discussing this position. I always feel like a LS should do more than just that. Like Mike Bartrum. Bartrum was an excellent at long-snapping, but he was a TE not just a LS, so he was useful on other downs. For what he does, Jon Dorenbos is pretty good, but I can’t help but feel like his spot would be better occupied by the legit back-up Center we need so badly.
That was the breakdown, here’s the shopping list.
In order of importance:
We need CB’s that will allow our 4-man rush time to get to the QB. That right there changes the complexion of this entire team. After that you’re just building it into a bigger monster.
Our QB needs a WR that makes him feel like he has someone he can go to in big moments. Before the QB can have that confidence, the WR has to have it. You don’t want to hear this, but what we need is an asshole. Yes. We do. Think of the top 10 WR’s in the game today. What do at least half of them have in common? See? We need an asshole.
A DE that makes life easier for Fletcher Cox, would make winning the East easier as well. We need to draft a nightmare*.
Grabbing a fiery, competitive bell-cow RB* would take some of the opposing defense’s attention off of our QB. That would open up the entire passing game.
Whether for the future or just for depth today, an OT has to be part of this next Draft. We’re gambling the entire roster’s 2017 season if we do nothing.
Any kind of improvement at the C position is badly needed and overdue.
* indicates that I already have pick in mind.
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