LAST year… the Eagles were 4 – 2 in the division and 9 – 7 overall, to finish 2nd in the NFC East. An aggressive injury bug decimated the Secondary, causing the team to start 13 different players over the course of the season. Despite a 30th ranked pass defense, the team managed to finish 12th in points allowed (21.8 per game). Injuries at RB contributed to a 28th ranked rushing attack, for a team that finished 18th in scoring (22.9 per game). A second year in a row of losing the starting QB didn’t help matters, although the team still finished 7th in passing yards.
That was last year. Keeping in mind that though the Draft will change some of this, the following is a report on how the team looks today, prior to the NFL Draft….
Carson Wentz hasn’t lasted 16 games in either of the last two seasons. Right now the “Injury Prone” label is following him around, waiting to get his autograph. Two or more missed games (due to injury) in 2019, and Carson will be scribbling his signature. It’ll only be fair.
When healthy (or even semi-healthy) Wentz is a bonafide killer. Whether throwing a touchdown with two blown ligaments in his knee, or completing 70% of his passes with a broken bone in his back, there is no denying that the guy can ball. Even during the worst of times. His yards per game, yards per pass, and QBR has improved every year. Regardless of injury. Sometimes in the face of injury.
The back-up is Nate Sudfeld. The former Redskin draft pick, has been a solid and smart pick-up for Philadelphia. He’s doesn’t make stupid mistakes, protects the ball and makes a defense’s job difficult. There are teams who can’t say that about their starters. Luis Perez reads well and has a solid arm, but has to learn to step into his throws. (+)
Jordan Howard is a downhill runner who can pass protect, and pick up short yardage. That means he’s a four down back, not a three down back. He’s been working on improving his pass catching, as his catch percentage was just 58% in 2016. It rose to 71.9% in 2017, and then to 76.9% in 2018. (Those numbers are on par with former teammate Tarik Cohen’s 2017 and 2018 catch rates of 74.6% and 78.0% respectively. The Bear’s excuse for playing Howard less, was total bullshit.)
Corey Clement was hampered by an early hamstring injury, before tearing his ACL in December. The undrafted Clement flashes feature-back size, solid running, and top-tier catching ability (80% career rate). Word is, he will be the pass catcher out of the backfield, replacing Darren Sproles, if Sproles doesn’t come back in 2019.
Wendell Smallwood (87 – 364 – 4.2 – 3) was given six starts last year, and was never a threat to break one. (His longest run of the season was 15 yards. His career long is 26.) Josh Adams (120 – 511 – 4.3 – 3) started five games, and led the team in rushing yards. Adams (a native Philadelphian), has all the tools physically, but lacks any aggression. Like Smallwood, he’ll get the yards that are blocked for him, but (to this point) is nothing special.
The combined numbers (207 – 875 – 4.22 – 6) aren’t bad, but they’re misleading. They’re the result of the Eagles system carrying players, not the other way around. Better athletes would have put up better numbers with the same opportunities. Still, while Smallwood and Adams are by no means starting caliber, they are a luxury, even enviable, as 3rd and 4th stringers. (+)
Alshon Jeffery is a monster when called upon. The problem is, that his number isn’t called often enough. In fact, in 6 of 13 games last season, he failed to record even 50 yards, and his touchdowns dropped from 9 in 2017, to 6 in 2018. In 2018 Nelson Agholor established a new career-high in receptions (64), but saw his touchdown production go from 8 to 4.
The King of Deep Threats, DeSean Jackson, was brought back to Philly in a trade, providing the Eagles with the kind of speed that was the catalyst for their 2017 Super Bowl run. Jackson is coming off of a 700+ yard year, where he led the NFL with an 18.9 yard per catch average. So even at 32, he still has the wheels to take the top off of defenses, open up the run game, and provide others room to roam underneath.
There is also Mack Hollins, a 6’4” sprinter who spent last year on I.R. He has already shown highlight ability in games that count. If he can stay healthy, he is all upside. Charles D. Johnson is also on the list. While Johnson is well-traveled (to say the least), he’s 6’2”, 217, has 4.39 speed, and has started 17 NFL games. The Eagles plucked him from the defunct American Alliance of Football after he posted 45 – 687 – 15.2 – 5, largely against former NFL players. That should be plenty good for a 4th or 5th spot. (+)
Zach Ertz is one of the best in the game, but there’s plenty of room for improvement. Last season Ertz set the NFL’s all-time record, for catches in a season (116) at this position. He was very productive (116 – 1163 – 10.0 – 8) partly due to volume. He didn’t however, provide a lot of bang for the buck. In 116 receptions, he only had 8 scoring plays, and zero catches of 35 yards or more. In 2017 he had 8 scores on 42 fewer passes and two plays of 40+. Either he needs to become more of game-breaker, or he needs to see fewer targets.
Dallas Goedert had a rookie season that was eerily similar to Ertz’s. The guy was nothing but dependable, and turned out to be a better blocker than advertised. He’s also more physical after the catch than Ertz is. When he gets a better understanding of spacing in the NFL, he’s going to produce a lot of broken tackle highlights, and likely become too expensive to keep. But he’s under contract until 2021, so expect him to play here until 2020 at the very least. (+)
C Jason Kelce, who graded out as the best at his position in 2018. But what about the guys on either side of him?
RG Brandon Brooks is still rehabbing his ACL, the timetable on him isn’t clear yet. When he comes back, his explosiveness won’t come back immediately. Lane Johnson is one of the best, if not the best RT, in the NFL. He frequently faces down top pass rushers, but doesn’t get nearly the fanfare that he deserves, because he plays on the wrong end of the line.
LG now belongs solely to Isaac Seumalo. He’s serviceable. He knows the system and the assignments. However, “the tape don’t lie”. By no means can he be mistaken for great, or for a battler in the trenches. LT Jason Peters reworked his contract to come back for 2019. Peters had some moments when he still looked like a premiere OT, but too often in 2018 he looked ordinary. And few times he looked worse than ordinary.
Waiting in the wings are guys like OT Jordan Mailata and OT Matt Pryor. Mailata is a former rugby player trying to make the jump to NFL football. Matt Pryor is a marginal OT, who might be a Pro Bowl caliber G if the Eagles kick him inside. That move would be both wise and similar to what they did with college OT’s turned pro OG’s, Shawn Andrews and Todd Herremans.
Swing T Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the top back-up, but if the team trusted him, they wouldn’t still be trying to manufacture answers at OT. This was the 28th ranked rushing attack and they had 40 sacks allowed in 2018. These are not good markers. (-)
In a nutshell:
The injury bug that hit the Eagles as hard as it did in 2018, wouldn’t have been as devastating if the shelves had been better stocked. Depth should enable a team to keep doing what they do. If it doesn’t, it’s not depth.
For example, Wendell Smallwood, couldn’t fill the role of RB Jay Ajayi, in any regard. Thus Smallwood wasn’t depth, just a body, and the results spoke for themselves when he played. The same can be said at OT right now, and it’s why when WR Mike Wallace went down, the Eagles offense (for weeks) went with him.
That said, this team has a ton of weapons and has started to address it’s depth issue everywhere except the Offensive Line. (Thus far.) Barring a third straight year of an injury bug, the 2019 edition of the Offense should perform better than the 2018 edition, even if the O-Line is largely the same. (+)
While most pass rushers need to get sacks to get new deals at 31, Brandon Graham managed it as the King of Hurries. Derek Barnett is returning from a shoulder injury that cost him 10 games last season. He looked very good before he got hurt, but if Graham is going to get hurries, then Barnett needs to emerge as the closer and get sacks.
The reserves here could start on many teams. Returning to the fold is Vinny Curry. He was a massive part of the 2017 run, as he held the edge vs the run and made it easier for players on his hip to exploit gaps, and win one-on-ones. Chris Long is still on the roster, but contemplating retirement. Despite not starting at all, he had 6.5 sacks last year, his best since 2013. (+)
Fletcher Cox is an absolute beast. He’s coming off of a 10.5 sack season which is now his best as a pro. He chews up double-teams and punishes teams for trying to put a single man on him. Next to him will be Malik Jackson. Jackson is disruptive vs the pass, but how he’ll look vs the run, playing in this Wide 9 system, is a real question that no one seems to be asking.
Treyvon Hester won the Eagles a playoff game by getting a finger on, thus changing the trajectory, of the Double-Doink Field Goal at Chicago. During the rest of last year he and Bruce Hector were the tail end of a deep rotation, which included ends stealing downs inside. (+)
Nigel Bradham does it all. Covers, rushes the passer, plays the run effectively. He’s a solid run-and-chase ‘backer, who’s still on the field for the Nickel package. After spending the first half of 2018 trying to make the jump from Special Teamer to Starter, Kamu Grugier-Hill seemed to figure it out. There’s been mention of him playing more in 2019 and maybe even assuming some duties inside.
The only knock on this position is that it’s poorly stocked, at just two players. Due to the Eagles playing as much Nickel as they do, they don’t prioritize having many true players at this position, opting instead for hybrid/tweeners, like KGH used to be. (+)
Last season tweener Nate Gerry got two starts and it was a mixed bag. He moves well, but is too light in the loafers to take on linemen at the point of attack. He may be better suited to the outside. L.J. Fort was brought in but he’s a career back-up.
Paul Worrilow was expected to contribute last year, but a torn ACL on the first practice of OTA’s, snuffed that out. He last saw football relevance in 2015, and if he doesn’t make a strong comeback in 2019, he won’t see it again. This is not a strong position for this team. (-)
Consummate leader SS Malcolm Jenkins yet again left his stamp on a season, being the only Week One Starter to survive a rampant injury bug, that tore through the Eagles 2018 Secondary. He posted 97 tackles, the second highest of his career. FS Rodney McLeod returns from injury after missing 13 games in 2018 with a torn MCL. This is a Pro Bowl level pairing if McLeod is ready for Week One.
FS Tre Sullivan played strong during the second half of 2018 and into the playoffs. He was critical on a number of downs during the win at Chicago. Due to so many players on the roster being able to provide downs at SS/hybrid ‘backer, Andrew Sendejo has too much strong competition to have a real shot to make the roster. (+)
The upside of a vicious injury bug is that, it causes many players to gain experience and coaches to learn early on, just who can and can’t play. The Eagles are literally six players deep at this position. Five of whom can say that they’ve played well in at least one start last year.
Starting at the bottom is Sidney Jones who can’t yet claim a great start, but has the tools to be a Starter and possibly a very good one. Next up is Cre’von LeBlanc. He’s the guy who picked off Drew Brees on the opening play of a playoff game last year. Avonte Maddox was the rookie drafted to play another position, but got pressed into starting nine games, including seven (five regular season, and both playoff) at this position. Rasul Douglas picked up seven regular and both playoff starts, and not only played the pass well, but started to quickly diagnose and blow up screen passes, before they could even unfold.
And now the Starters! Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills. Mills played eight games and was not having a great year when he got hurt. It wasn’t awful, but he’d set a standard in 2017, that he wasn’t living up to. Darby deflected 12 balls in just nine starts before he got hurt. This team is ridiculously deep at this position. (+)
In a nutshell:
Despite an injury bug last year, this team was the 12th hardest team to score against in the NFL. The 2019 season will see them fully re-loaded, and rich with new experience and confidence, up and down the roster. (+)
Cameron Johnston had an uneven rookie year. His net average was over 40 (42.7), but 31 of his 61 punts (50.8%) were returned for 194 yards. That’s not a lot of yardage, but that’s too many times his kicks left a returner thinking that he had a chance. (-)
Jake Elliott hit 26/31 (83.6%) for the second year in a row. He was less clutch (2/5) from 50+, but was no longer shaky from 30-39 (10/11). His kickoffs were much better, as only 24 of his 82 kickoffs left the end zone, which helps out the Defense immensely. (+)
While as a team the Eagles gave better than they got, still there was no one who reached 500, or even 400 kick return yards. (-)
In a nutshell:
This unit lacks the juice it once had. Some of that can be laid at the feet of rule changes, but it’s up to the staff to adapt to not get plowed under by the rules. So far that hasn’t happened. (-)
Even decimated by injuries, this was a 9 win team in 2018. Hard to imagine them finishing worse with more weapons this year.