LAST season an injury riddled Philadelphia Eagles team, won the NFC East with an overall record of 9 – 7, and a 5 – 1 division mark. This was immediately followed by a Wild Card playoff loss. While Philadelphia is the only team in the division not to get a brand new head coach, the staff on both sides of the ball underwent dramatic renovations. Division rivals who thinks they know this team, may be in for a massive shock to the system.
Now let’s get a look at what the Pre-Draft 2020 Eagles roster, tells us about the team today.
Carson Wentz played all 16 games last year and threw for a career-high 4,039 yards. This he did with an injury depleted receiving group. His mobility was also back on display, as he accounted for 243 rushing yards. The knocks on him are that early in the year he took too many sacks, which led to too many fumbles. By seasons end, those issues seemed to evaporate. If he starts off 2020 at that level, MVP candidacy will be a part of his season.
Given that Wentz started and finished every game in 2019, and given that the 5 starts he missed in 2018 were all due to coaches discretion, the only real games he missed due to being injured, were the ones from 2017. So we can officially deep six the “injury prone” label. Behind him is Nate Sudfeld on a one year deal. Sudfeld isn’t flashy, but when he’s in, the trains still run on time. Given his track record, and familiarity with all things Eagles, it would’ve been in the Eagles best interest to sign him to a longer contract. Kyle Lauletta flamed out in his only year in New York, but the Eagles have a better position staff, and may be able to get something from the lad. If so, they may discover yet another Diamond from Exton. (+)
Miles Sanders is the guy. This almost definitely will not be a committee position in 2020. Sanders can run the ball, catch the ball, and pass protect. While he is an every down back, he may not be an every situation back. Hard yards up the middle, and heavy workloads don’t seem to favor him. While he was productive when asked to carry the load, it came at a cost. An ankle injury in Week 17, became a knee injury during the playoff loss. It was bad enough for him to need crutches and be asked about surgery. (He didn’t need it.)
Unlike 2019, Sanders won’t split carries for nine weeks. He’ll be in harness from Week One this year. The insurance policies behind Sanders are Boston Scott and Elijah Holyfield. Holyfield is as green as St. Patrick’s Day. Scott had some big moments in 2019, but didn’t demonstrate much in the way of consistency. He had some short TD runs, but he had plenty of carries between the tackles, that went nowhere too. He looks great on Screen passes, but if Sanders goes down, the Eagle are up shit’s creek, because there is no meaningful depth here. (-)
At the moment this group is no less dangerous than it was last year. Alshon Jeffrey is back to win contested and jump balls in the end zone. Show me the film of the last time he lost one of those contests. DeSean Jackson is back to win foot races to the end zone. Show me the last time he lost one of those. This is the 2020 starting pair for the Eagles, unless they can somehow find a way to upgrade. Greg Ward is likely the new slot receiver. While he’s no burner, he’s a very good route runner with RELIABLE hands, who understands that he needs to uncover quickly to give his QB a place to go with the ball. He’s also proved that he can start on the outside. If he gets the snaps, don’t be surprised to see a 50 catch year from him.
The Eagles also have J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, but so far that doesn’t mean much. Shelton Gibson is also lurking back there, after spending the 2019 regular season on the Browns Practice Squad. There is no secret that the Eagles will spend a high draft pick here, so the landscape WILL change. That said, it’s already dangerous and three players deep, with targets that the triggerman already trusts to get the job done. (+)
Zach Ertz 88 catches, 916 yards, 6 TD’s. Dallas Goedert 58 catches, 607 yards, 5TD’s. That’s a combined 144 catches, 1,523 yards, 11 TD’s. There is no more dynamic duo at this position in all of football. Philadelphia boasts a pair of highly reliable targets who also function as capable blockers. And just to rub it in, Josh Perkins is a third stringer who can be split wide, and force secondaries to respect him down the field. (+)
Perennial Pro Pro Bowl RT Lane Johnson is still indisputably one the best in the game. The situation at LT however, depends on who you ask. Some think that second year man Andre Dillard is ready to takeover for the departed Jason Peters, others think he’s a bust in the making. In limited action at LT in 2019, Dillard looked like a rookie in the NFL, who was frequently left on an island. He clearly needs coaching, but it’s far too early to pull the panic lever. In limited action at RT, he was an unmitigated disaster, and had to be sat down. This indicates a player who gets away from his core concepts and fundamentals too easily. That’s fixable, but it’s also the pin in a grenade looking to go BUST!
Depth at this position looks like Matt Pryor who looks far better when moved inside. Jordan Mailata is still on the roster, but his back issues might make 2020 his wrap-up, if he can’t get on the field for the third year in a row. There is a blue chipper here, but this position has far too much to prove to just sign off on it. (-)
RG Brandon Brooks has been voted to the last three Pro Bowls. LG Isaac Seumalo has never been voted to one. That’s not a mistake. Having played his entire career on an Offensive Line that featured 4 Pro Bowl mainstays, it’s not that Seumalo plays on a line that garners no attention. The fact is, he’s an average player at best; or a sub-par player who’s being carried, at worst.
Brooks ended his 2019 season with a dislocated shoulder. It remains to be seen what if any ill-effects will linger as a result. It also remains to be seen if the lingering issues will be all in his head. Brooks already suffers from an anxiety disorder, which flared up in 2019, because he was given a contract extension, that he became worried about living up to. Packing a “comeback” on top of those weekly attacks, which cause him to vomit before every game, may be a tipping point.
Depth at the position looks like Matt Pryor who played solid when filling in for Brooks. Despite all the listed drama, this position has been stable, and advertised as one of the NFL’s best for years now. (+)
Jason Kelce is the best pivot in the division, and it’s not even close. Still, there are rumors that he’s considering retirement. If this is the case, then the Eagles have to begin the transition this year. The Eagles brought in two undrafted rookies in 2019. Keegan Render and Nate Herbig. Based on 2019 preseaon play, Herbig looks like the odds on heir. However, this draft has a couple of guys that could be worth a pick. That’s all in the future though. For now, Kelce is definitely the best in the division and possibly the best in the game. (+)
In a nutshell:
The only question here is whether or not LT Andre Dillard is ready. There are too many weapons here for the QB to be sabotaged by shitty blindside protection. If that area is stabilized, this Offensive unit should finally be able to do many of the things that everyone predicted it would do in 2019. (+)
Brandon Graham is a productive and technically sound player, vs either the run or the pass. While he gets sacks and piles up hurries, he’s not really a pass rusher to be feared. Derek Barnett’s game was supposed to be winning hand battles to gain access to passers. However, his tendency to flatten the edge instead of setting it, helps opponents salvage too many plays. (This is why down for down, current free agent Vinny Curry was far more effective than Barnett in 2019).
It took a minute for the light to go on for Josh Sweat, but in 2019 it clicked for him. He however, may need to add another 10 pounds, before he can be a starting player at this position, in this division. Daeshon Hall produces when he gets an opportunity, but he’s stuck behind other players contracts right now. (Sorry fella, but that comes with the game, sometimes.)
This position is not as productive as it should be. Also, they just don’t have a scary pass rusher. For that reason, I think a player will be picked on either Day One or early on Day Two of the Draft. Still, the Eagles are productive, and have two back-ups who would be legit NFL starters, with yet two more promising prospects, waiting in the wings. Depth and production are always a great combo. (+)
While teams don’t double Fletcher Cox on every play, every time they don’t, he reminds them that it was stupid not to. Be it run or pass, the man wrecks blocking schemes like they were homes. While newly signed former Steeler, Javon Hargrave, made his bones as an “A” gap penetrator, he can also hold the point of attack.
Coming back from a Lisfranc injury, is Malik Jackson. Jackson is more of an interior pass rusher, and thus he has a reputation as being extremely disruptive on the inside. Hassan Ridgeway isn’t really a pass rusher or a run stuffer. He’s a scrapper. He’s not really starter material. He’s not a 40 snap guy. What he is, is great in bursts. When he subs in, the opponent isn’t getting anything in the way of a break.
FIFTH down on the list is 350 pound Anthony Rush. Rush is a space eater, and block absorber. When he’s in the “A” gap, teams have a much harder time doubling Cox. Rush made life a lot easier for Cox in late 2019.
I’ve never seen anything like this at this position. Never. Not on any team. This position isn’t just five players deep, it’s five players who each make each other better, deep. Jackson’s a back-up, who’s been to a Pro Bowl, and started in a Super Bowl. Again, here he’s a back-up! It’s almost silly! There’s no way the season opens with all five of these players on the roster. No way. The NFL and the laws of supply and demand regarding talent, just won’t allow for such a thing. It’s unnatural. It’s flat-out not real. (+)
Nate Gerry has trouble with interior linemen, so he was a liability vs the run when the Eagles tried to play him on the inside. Once he was moved outside, he couldn’t stop making plays. More importantly, he started preventing opponents from making plays.
FA addition, Jatavis Brown isn’t suited to the pounding of playing this position in this division. At 221 pounds, if he’s here to be a Nickel/Dime guy, that may work. Asking him for more than that is likely asking for trouble. He’s a career back-up who was pressed into starting 10 games in 2018, but he was promptly returned to the bench in 2019. So odds are that he didn’t impress.
Genard Avery is more of a pass rusher. Given that the Eagles don’t like to blitz, it remains to be seen if Avery will need to switch positions. At this point Alex Singleton is a kick coverage guy. (-)
Duke Riley and T.J. Edwards are the current candidates for this spot. Riley, at 218 pounds is impossible to take seriously as a starting LB on the edge, and even less so in the middle. His role here seems limited to Nickle packages and kickoff coverage. Edwards logged four starts in 2019, both in the middle and on the outside. The Eagles organization seems quietly hellbent on finding a way to get him on the field. (Trivia facts: The Eagles won all four of Edwards starts, and didn’t allow more than 17 points in any of them.) The team could have a future with Edwards in the middle. However, they haven’t made it his spot yet, and they have no depth even if they had done so. That said, this position cannot be graded well at this point. (-)
FS Rodney McLeod make tackles, and plays on the ball, despite being stuck with having to cover deep from sideline to sideline. Jalen Mills moves from corner to SS. He already knows the concepts, the calls and many of the surrounding players, so his learning curve shouldn’t be very steep at all. The issue will be in deciding how to utilize him best. His lack of a second gear hurt him on the boundary, but if the Eagles play him in the box, it will only make that problem seem worse. Lining him up outside of the box, basically takes the team out of Single-high coverage and puts us in a Two Deep look. (Which I would be all for.)
Philadelphia native Will Parks comes in to push Mills for the starting role. The Eagles traded for Marcus Epps in 2019 and he only played 7 games for the Birds. That said, he played more as time went on. The loss of Malcolm Jenkins is a massive blow to the locker room, but the fact is, this position should still perform effectively on the field. Especially given that the position is faster and deeper in experience than it was a year ago. (+)
The big story here is the addition of former Lion, Darius Slay. If he’s as good as advertised in man coverage, then he will allow the Eagles to play their Cover One/Cover Three scheme, without as much need for help over the top.
Odds are, the other starting spot will go to Sidney Jones. Everyone seemed to be measuring him for his ‘Bust’ label, when suddenly near the end of 2019, the light seemed to click for him. He’s not out of the woods yet, but at least he looks like he’ll be getting a chance to redeem himself. Jones could be challenged for the spot by Rasul Douglas, and Cre’Von LeBlanc.
Douglas has started 18 games over the last three seasons, but he flat out cannot cover deep speed. He diagnoses, tackles, and has very good ball skills. However, on an every down basis, in the Eagles Cover One/Cover Three scheme, Douglas is just too flammable. Unless (like Jalen Mills) his position is changed, the Eagles will never get the maximum out of him.
LeBlanc is a favorite of the Defensive Coordinator, but injuries and a need for someone who excels in the Nickel, kept LeBlanc off the edge. That may be where former Ram, Nickell Robey-Coleman comes in. Coleman brings a reputation as one the NFL’s best at covering the slot. Avonte Maddox has also started inside and outside, but with two players being pulled in and paid well, and with LeBlanc free to play the outside now, it seems as if the Front Office is already looking past Maddox at this position.
Setting the scheme aside and just looking at the athletes, this is an experienced, versatile, and deep group of battlers. Of these six players, five have started playoff games. Two have Super Bowl rings, and a third has been to one. This is the best group in the division, and it’s not even close. (+)
In a nutshell:
There is a hole right through the heart of this unit. The second level is ill-equipped to handle a physical 16 game schedule, particularly in this division. As a result the rest of the unit will have to make for that area’s shortcomings, instead of trying to max out the whole unit’s potential. Couple that with a questionable defensive system, and it doesn’t matter how good the athletes are. A strong Draft at LB may salvage this unit, but as of today, it isn’t a strength for this team. (-)
Cam Johnston has been very consistent from last year to this. His average came down from 48.1 yards to 46.4, and his net came down from 42.7 to 42.3. He had 31 punts returned for 194 yards (6.2) in 2018, and 32 punts returned for 207 (6.4) in 2019. On 10 more punts in 2019, you could argue that it was a lower percentage of his punts returned (45% vs 50%), but the point would be the same.
That high number of returns indicates that he’s outkicking his coverage and allowing returners to think they have a chance to affect the game. On the surface, the stats make it seem like he’s good but not great. In reality he’s giving hope to the opponent, and that is not a strength. (-)
Jake Elliott as far as points was as accurate as he’s ever been with a career-highs in Field Goal percentage (84.6) ,and Extra Point percentage (94.6). Although his accuracy from 40 to 49 dipped for a second year in a row (92.3 in 2017, 87.5 in 2018, 71.4 in 2019). That’s a 20% slide in two years.
Oh, there’s more!
On his kickoffs, only 64.2% were touchbacks. That saw 27 returned for an average of 23.8 yards a pop, and 1 came back for a touchdown. His kickoffs just aren’t long enough, consistently enough.
On FG attempts of 50 yards or longer, he was just 2 of 4 (50%), putting him at 4 for 9 (44%) over the last two seasons.
Also we were 0 for 2 on Onside Kicks, and his FG fake resulted in him throwing an interception.
He was however, just signed to a five year extension with 10M guaranteed, so bugger me to figure out where his motivation to improve will come from. (-)
Aside from WR Greg Ward and RB Boston Scott, there really isn’t anyone else for this duty to go to. DeSean Jackson and Miles Sanders are now too valuable to risk in such a fashion, and none of the other Eagles on the roster who have kickoff and/or punt return experience, are likely to make the final roster.
Neither Ward nor Scott have proven to be much more than a placeholder for the positions so far. (-)
In a nutshell:
None of the deficiencies here are genuine deficiencies. What they are, is one no-frills aspect stacked atop another no-frills aspect. Put bluntly, there is nothing special about the Eagles Special Teams. There is nothing here to hang their hats on. The entire premise seems to be “Just don’t lose it for us.” This unit doesn’t seem capable of contributing to a win on it’s own. (-)
This looks like a team that will be able to score. The question is, will they be able to stop anyone or win close games? Right now, due to nothing more than arrogance, that looks pretty dubious.
It seems yet another Eagles coaching staff, wants to attempt re-inventing the wheel. It may happen, but while the Eagles are experimenting with concepts, their division rivals will be trying to improve at winning football games. Not a good look so far for Philly.