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2016 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterbacks

Starter: Chase Daniel
Backup(s): Carson Wentz [R]

Starting QB: Talk about a shocking turn of events. Just as Eagles fans were surprised when the team acquired Sam Bradford from the Rams, jaws were once again on the floor in early September when Bradford was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a 2017 1st round pick and a 2018 4th round pick. The trade vaults Chase Daniel into the starting lineup temporarily. It's not a question of if Carson Wentz will become the starter, it's only a question of when. For now, Daniel will man the helm of an offense he's intimately familiar with from the three seasons he played under Andy Reid and Doug Pederson in Kansas City. Daniel was signed to a 3-year, $21 million contract ($12 million guaranteed) and should be a serviceable but uninspiring starter in the early going. He's limited physically but is smart, a vocal leader, and accurate enough to execute the short- and intermediate passes that are the hallmark of the West Coast offense.

Backup QB: Make no mistake, Carson Wentz is the Future in Philadelphia. But an early September trade of Sam Bradford may also make Wentz the Present. The mammoth (6'5", 237 lbs.) signal caller dominated FCS competition at North Dakota State, and showed enough (against lesser competition) to convince the Eagles to move up aggressively to draft him. While Wentz' level of competition is an understandable point of contention, it's worth noting that the other four non-FBS quarterbacks drafted in the 1st round of the NFL draft all turned out well: Doug Williams (1978), Phil Simms (1979), Steve McNair (1995) and Joe Flacco (2008). The Eagles love Wentz' physical prowess, his release point, his arm strength and an aggressive mentality. He's not a finished product, and will need to adjust to the speed of the NFL game more than his FBS counterparts like Jared Goff, but there's no question Wentz will be given a multi-year long leash to establish himself as the new cornerstone of the offense.

Running Backs

Starter: Ryan Mathews
Backup(s): Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Last year the Eagles signed Mathews and DeMarco Murray and it was viewed as an embarrassment of riches. A year later the team has jettisoned Murray and appears set to give Mathews a shot at the starting role. Remember how important the running game is in Kansas City; Doug Pederson is not going to abandon the ground game. Mathews has plenty of experience as a starter from his years in San Diego, notching a 1,255-yard season in 2013. Mathews is not only a good inside runner, he's an above average receiver. What he lacks is durability, a nose for the goal line, and an ability to hold onto the ball (18 fumbles in 58 games).

Backup RBs: Darren Sproles is 33 years old but a quick look at the Eagles depth chart indicates he'll see no reduction in his role. With Ryan Mathews set as the starter, Sproles will serve his usual role as the occasional change-of-pace runner and the primary 3rd down receiving back. Pederson's passing offense should feature the running backs prominently, and Sproles is the best receiving back on the roster. Rookie Wendell Smallwood's role may be understated as beat writers focus on his 5th round draft status. That would be a mistake. Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing last season and has all the tools needed to succeed. He's a willing inside rusher, he has top end speed (4.47), and is an above average receiver. With only Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles ahead of him, don't rule out a starting role for Smallwood at some point this season. The X factor is Kenjon Barner. Barner was a Chip Kelly favorite (he played at Oregon) but he's impressed the new coaching staff.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham
Backups: Josh Huff

Starting WRs: Jordan Matthews suffered a bone bruise in early August but has no structural damage. He'll miss a few weeks of the preseason but is expected to be fine for the start of the regular season. Matthews played 90% of his snaps in the slot under Chip Kelly, and in spite of commentary to the contrary, early training camp suggests Matthews will remain primarily in the slot. The former Vanderbilt star has been productive through two seasons, particularly in the end zone (16 touchdowns) where he can use his size (6'3", 212 lbs.) against overmatched defensive backs. Matthews versatility was on display last season. In the first part of the year, he was used primarily as a short-yardage possession receiver (11.1 yards per catch, 2 touchdowns) but was asked to be a more dynamic playmaker downfield in the second half (12.6 yards per catch, 6 touchdowns). The only thing keeping Matthews from vaulting into the upper echelon at the position is inconsistent quarterbacking. Nelson Agholor was a disappointment in his rookie season as he failed to live up to his draft hype and was no more than a role player in most weeks. Outside of a late season game against Buffalo (3 receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown), Agholor was a non-factor in the box score. His 23 catches ranked 8th among rookie receivers, which was partially driven by his 52% catch rate. A high ankle sprain explains a bit of his slow start, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The new coaching staff has re-invigorated Agholor (as well as clearing up legal worries) and he appears set to start and be Sam Bradford's primary outside target.

Backup WRs: Dorial Green-Beckham was the 40th pick last year and is a physical marvel (6'5", 237 lbs.), so the fact Tennessee was willing to trade him for a backup offensive lineman is damning. Yet, he'll get a fresh start and certainly shouldn't be written off after one season. Josh Huff came into 2015 with a lot of hype because of his connections to Chip Kelly, but ended up a marginal contributor (27 receptions for 312 yards and 3 touchdowns).

Tight Ends

Starters: Zach Ertz
Backups: Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Zach Ertz has been good through three seasons. Has he been great? No. Has he been the difference maker most expected coming out of Stanford? No. Let's start with the positive, Ertz roles and responsibilities have increased in each season. His catch totals (36 to 58 to 75) and yards (469 to 702 to 853) have been moving in the right direction. The negative is Ertz' inability to break big plays. He's only scored nine touchdowns in 47 games, and is coming off a 2-TD season. The hope is Ertz will flourish under the same system that allowed Travis Kelce to become a star in Kansas City. What's unclear is whether Ertz is on par with Kelce as an athlete and competitor. It seems that Brent Celek has been on the bubble for years, but his leadership and consistency continues to afford him a role. With his former coaches returning from Kansas City, it's possible Celek could see a slight increase in his role. While not a voluminous offensive force, Celek remains sure-handed and is an excellent blocker.

Place Kicker

Caleb Sturgis: When Cody Parkey went to injured reserve with a groin injury last year, Sturgis performed adequately, making 18-of-22 field goals and 35-of-37 extra points, but two of his field goal misses were from under 40 yards. Sturgis outplayed Parkey in a spirited camp battle to win the job.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Josh Huff, Kenjon Barner, Wendall Smallwood

Josh Huff handled 21 of Philadelphia's 27 kickoff returns last year, with no one else netting more than two. With no other veteran returners on the team, look for things to look similar in 2016.

Punt Returners: Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner

One of the better return men in recent history, Darren Sproles led the league in punt return yardage and touchdowns in each of the last two seasons. Despite turning 33 this offseason, look for him to try to make it three straight in 2016.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jason Peters, LG Allen Barbre, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson
Key Backups: Isaac Seumalo [R], Dennis Kelly, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, Stefen Wisniewski

The Eagles' offensive line improved when they signed Brandon Brooks in free agency. Brooks, formerly of the Texans, is a natural fit at a right guard spot which had been troublesome for the Eagles last season. Brooks should form a natural tandem with center Jason Kelce, as both are natural run blockers. The tackles are rock solid, as left tackle Jason Peters continues to play at a high level, despite his relatively advanced age of 34. When Peters retires, top notch right tackle Lane Johnson should be a natural to swap over to the left side. Left guard is probably the weakest spot with Allen Barbre starting, but he should face competition from third round rookie Isaac Seumalo and free agent acquisition Stefen Wisniewski. Overall this line has good talent at almost every position and should be among the league's better units, once the new right guard settles into the lineup. Tier Ranking: Top Tier.

Team Defense

The Eagles had their second straight top 10 D/ST season under Chip Kelly last year, but with Kelly gone, they are falling well out of the top 10 D/ST's drafted in early fantasy leagues. They retained Malcolm Jenkins and Vinny Curry in the offseason and dealt away Kelly acquisitions Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso for a first-round bump that helped them get part way to #2 and draft their quarterback of the future, Carson Wentz. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz will move the team to a 4-3 defense, which could free up Brandon Graham and Mychal Kendricks to make more plays. Darren Sproles' returns have helped the scoring spike for the Eagles D/ST, but he may not open the season with the team. The Eagles back-to-back seasons with four defensive scores may be difficult to reproduce, so the drop from the D/ST1 draft ranks seems appropriate.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Brandon Graham, DE Vinny Curry, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Bennie Logan
Backups: DE Connor Barwin, DE Taylor Hart, DE Marcus Smith, DE Alex McCalister [R], DT Beau Allen, DT Mike Martin, DT Travis Raciti

Starting DL: The arrival of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz means the Eagles will transition back to a 4-3 defense this year. Vinny Curry should be a main beneficiary of this switch. Despite being drastically miscast as a 3-4 DE in Billy Davis' system, he still managed 16.5 sacks over three years in a part-time role. The Eagles believe he is a great fit in Schwartz' "wide 9" scheme and were willing to re-sign him to a sizable, long-term contract. Now in a full time role, Curry could near double digit sack totals in 2016. Brandon Graham is another player that the Eagles have drastically underutilized and miscast in past years. Although he's yet to surpass 6.5 sacks in a season, he has the potential to near double digit figures along with strong tackle production. He will be more comfortable as a 4-3 defensive end and his play on the field should improve accordingly. Fletcher Cox was far and away Philadelphia's best lineman last season, generating 71 total tackles, 9.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, and 2 fumble recoveries. He will continue to be the anchor of the defense and be a disruptive force along the interior of the defensive front. Bennie Logan doesn't light up the box scores with big plays, but he's an important part of the Eagles defense. Despite the transition from a three to a four man front, he will still be depended on to clog up running lanes as a "one technique." The Eagles were middle of the road in terms of sacks produced last season, but they could see a rise in those totals with a new defensive scheme that prioritizes generating pressure on the quarterback from the edge rushers.

Backup DL: With 26.5 sacks over three seasons, Connor Barwin has been a strong producer for the Eagles during his tenure with the team. However, he doesn't project as an every down player as a defensive end. The expectations are that he will split time with Vinny Curry and Brandon Graham, likely seeing the bulk of his snaps in passing situations. Marcus Smith has been one of the bigger first round busts in recent memory. Since being drafted 26th overall in the 2014 draft, he's only managed 7 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Learning a new defensive system may prove to be a challenge for him. He has a chance to hit the reset button on his lackluster career, but the majority of fans seem to have given up hope for a turnaround. Rookie Alex McCalister was taken in the seventh round and will be a boom/bust project for the Eagles. Scouts were impressed with his explosiveness and range covered off the snap, but he doesn't have an NFL frame and was kicked out of Florida for violating team rules.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Jordan Hicks, WLB Mychal Kendricks, SLB Nigel Bradham
Backups: MLB Joe Walker [R], WLB Najee Goode, SLB Bryan Braman, Travis Long, LB Deontae Skinner, LB Ty Powell

Starting LBs: The Eagles linebacking core was devastated by injury last year which led to a dramatic decline in their ability to defend against the run. They were dead last in rushing yards allowed, giving up nearly 135 yards on the ground per game. Before suffering a torn pectoral in Week 9, Jordan Hicks was an emerging star on defense. He showed enough promise in those seven games that the Eagles felt comfortable trading away Kiko Alonso and making Hicks the every down middle linebacker who will be in charge of calling all the defensive plays. He is very well set up for a monster year production-wise. Mychal Kendricks slides over to the weak side in this new scheme where he will be able to better utilize his speed and sideline-to-sideline range to chase down ball carriers. He may not spend as much time rushing the passer as he did in previous years which may hurt his sack production, but that should be balanced out by a resurgence in his tackle numbers. Nigel Bradham will be reunited with his old defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. He graded out as one of the worst starting outside linebackers on a dysfunctional Bills defense in 2015 and was charged with assault in late July of this year. The Eagles have stated they do not intent to release Bradham as a result of this incident and are banking on him returning to his 2014-self now that he is back to playing in a system that best suits him. He will leave the field during subpackages while Hicks and Kendricks play the role of the nickel linebackers.

Backup LBs: The Eagles decided to release their top reserve linebacker DeMeco Ryans during the off-season. The move saved the team $3.5 million dollars against the cap, but left them razor thin in terms of viable backup linebackers. Najee Goode is the most experienced player of the group, but only saw 37 defensive snaps in 2015. Joe Walker was a 7th round pick in this year's draft and will have to have a strong camp to stick with the team. Bryan Braman saw virtually zero defensive playing team last year but will continue to be one of Philadelphia's top special team players. Deontae Skinner was brought on last year after the Patriots let him go in May. The Eagles have a strong starting linebacker crew, but may be in trouble if any of their first stringers miss substantial time.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Leodis McKelvin, CB Ron Brooks, FS Malcolm Jenkins, SS Rodney McLeod
Backups: CB Nolan Carroll II, CB Eric Rowe, CB Blake Countess [R], CB Jaylen Watkins, CB Denzel Rice, SS Jerome Couplin, FS JaCorey Shepherd, FS Jalen Mills [R], SS Chris Maragos, FS Ed Reynolds

Starting DBs: The Eagles secondary gave up the fifth most passing yards in the NFL a year ago. This poor performance was in large part due to Byron Maxwell who was consistently torched by opposing offenses throughout the season. Consequently, he was traded to Miami in the off-season. Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks were both brought in during the off-season to compete for starting cornerback positions. They are both currently the favorites to win those slots due to their play in OTAs and familiarity with Jim Schwartz' scheme, having played for him in Buffalo. Malcolm Jenkins was a stable of consistency in a below average secondary. He led the NFL in defensive snaps played with over 1,200 and posted the best tackle numbers of his career with 91 solo stops. He was rewarded in the off-season for his strong play with a five-year, $40.5 million deal. He will continue to hold down the free safety position and see occasional playing time at slot corner. Howie Roseman brought in Rodney McLeod from the Rams to fill in the vacancy left by the departure of Walter Thurmond. General management paid handsomely to lure him to Philadelphia so he will need to continue to play like a top 10-15 to live up to expectations.

Backup DBs: With both starting corner positions up for grabs heading into the off-season, many Philadelphia beat writers were projecting sophomore player Eric Rowe to get first crack to prove himself worthy of the role. Although Rowe had a rough rookie season getting consistently beat by Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving Day. The Eagles were banking on him taking a big leap forward this year but his play so far this spring/summer has been extremely disappointing and he's now beginning to look like a potential second round bust. Nolan Carroll was the Eagles best corner before going down in Week 12 with a broken ankle. He received some interest on the open market but ultimately re-signed a one-year deal with Philadelphia. If he can regain his prior year form, he should be able to carve out a nice chunk of playing time for himself. Blake Countess, a 6th round rookie out of Auburn, was considered an undervalued prospect by some coming out of college. He's a willing and aggressive tackler who will work initially work within the special teams unit, but could eventually find his way into a sub package corner position. Another rookie selection, Jalen Mills was taken in the last round of the draft but isn't expected to be much of a long-term contributor for the team. All in all, the Eagles backup strength hasn't changed that much year over year.

Last modified: 2016-09-04 23:18:57