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2017 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Wentz
Backup(s): Nick Foles, Matt McGloin

Starting QB: After a flurry of preseason machinations, Carson Wentz was thrust into the starting lineup as a rookie and acquitted himself in a manner that lends credence to the skeptics and the optimists. Wentz started all 16 games and completed 62.4% of his passes for 3,782 yards in spite of taking a pounding at times. Optimists will note Wentz' strong(er) play when right tackle Lane Johnson was in the lineup (he missed 10 games due to suspension in 2016) as well as the marked improvement in the receiving corps this year with the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. The pessimists will point to Wentz erratic decision-making, low TD rate, and the league's smallest running back group forcing Philadelphia into a pass-happy system that will allow defenses to pin their ears back. Historically speaking, Wentz' rookie year isn't particularly indicative of his long-term future. There's no reason Wentz shouldn't exhibit material growth in 2017, and a lack of improvement would be a disturbing harbinger for the Eagles' plans to contend in coming seasons.

Backup QB: Just as Doug Pederson returned home after a few seasons in Kansas City, Nick Foles has come back to the nest as Carson Wentz' backup. Foles is an ideal backup with the right amount of experience (36 starts), a winning record (20-16) and compelling efficiency (4.4% career TD rate vs 2.1% career INT rate). He isn't trying to compete for the starting job, but understands Pederson's offense well should an injury force him under center. Matt McGloin will try to hang on during training camp as the 3rd arm.

Running Backs

Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Backup(s): Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnell Pumphrey [R], Ryan Mathews
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: The Eagles appeared desperately undersized at the running back position coming out of the NFL draft, with Darren Sproles, Donnell Pumphrey and Wendell Smallwood all too small to credibly hold down a full-time workload. The team solved the issue by signing LeGarrette Blount to a 1-year deal. Blount led the NFL with 18 rushing touchdowns last season for the Patriots and offers the Eagles the perfect bruising, inside complement to the speedy, versatile backs already on the roster. Blount is 30 years old and has struggled to produce for anyone other than Bill Belichick, but the incentive of playing on a one-year deal after holding out in free agency for a large contract bodes well for the Eagles rushing attack.

Backup RBs: The Eagles will use a committee approach, even with the addition of Blount. Darren Sproles could be called the nominal starter, just as easily. Sproles is 34 years old but shows no signs of slowing down. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2016 and had his best season as an Eagle (865 total yards and 4 touchdowns). He makes his mark mainly as a receiver (52 catches in '16) and will reprise that role in a pass-happy offense. Wendell Smallwood has an opportunity to emerge from an unproven backfield, although Blount's addition clouds his upside. Smallwood was a minor contributor as a rookie, rushing for 312 yards and scoring just one touchdown. He has vision and lateral quickness, and was an effective inside runner in college. However, he isn't built to take on a 20-carry workload. Rookie Donnell Pumphrey exited San Diego State as the NCAA all-time leading rushing (6,405 yards and 64 touchdowns) but it's next to impossible to project a major role for the diminutive runner this year. Pumphrey is 5'8", 176 lbs. and showed a startling lack of strength and athleticism at the Combine. He has the vision and the instincts, but he has to be kept on a 'pitch count' at the pro level.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith
Backups: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins [R], Sheldon Gibson [R], Dorial Green-Beckham

Starting WRs: The receiving corps underwent a massive makeover this offseason with the additions of veterans Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and rookies Mack Hollins and Sheldon Gibson. The team needed a talent infusion as the 2016 receiving corps ranked 31st in yards (1,839) and touchdowns (8). It was painful to watch at times and hindered Carson Wentz' development. Signing Jeffery was a coup, particularly because he took a one-year 'prove it' deal after free agency failed to yield a monster contract he had expected. At 6'3", 226 lbs., Jeffery is an imposing physical presence that can make catches in traffic. When healthy, Jeffery is a borderline elite receiver as exhibited by his 2013-2014 stretch in Chicago: 293 targets, 174 receptions, 2,544 yards and 17 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Jeffery has battled injury over the last two seasons and missed 11 games. Assuming Jeffery is healthy and playing for a big contract either from the Eagles or another suitor, he and Wentz should make for a compelling tandem. He'll see a ton of targets without question. It seems Torrey Smith is 35 years old, but he's only 28 and entering his seventh season. Smith was a massive free agent bust in San Francisco, but gets a new lease on life in Doug Pederson's offense. Smith is one-dimensional; he's a vertical threat with inconsistent hands. Yet, that dimension was sorely missed in Philadelphia last year and his presence will unlock running lanes for the backs and space in the middle for Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews.

Backup WRs: Three seasons into his career, we're starting to get a picture for what Jordan Matthews is, and what he is not. In two years with Chip Kelly, Matthews caught 16 touchdowns and played almost exclusively in the slot. Doug Pederson promised to expand Matthews' role, yet minor injuries and a rookie quarterback derailed those plans. Matthews set career lows for yards (804), catch rate (62%) and touchdowns (3). Ironically, his career trajectory may be set to improve thanks to a return to the slot role, with Smith and Jeffery occupying the outside. Matthews runs crisp routes and he has great hands, but he's not dynamic with the ball in his hands. It's fair to label Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham busts. It's unlikely one (or both) will stick on the final roster. Rookies Mack Hollins and Sheldon Gibson round out a revamped receiving corps.

Tight Ends

Starters: Zach Ertz
Backups: Brent Celek, Trey Burton

Zach Ertz emerged as Carson Wentz' most trusted target and should hold onto that role for years to come. Ertz set career marks for catches (78) and catch rate (73.6%) in his first season with Doug Pederson, but four years into his career it looks like Ertz is a good, but not elite, tight end. Ertz has just 13 touchdowns in four seasons, and comparisons to Jimmy Graham and Travis Kelce are clearly misplaced. Ertz' YAC (3.5 yards per catch) were among the lowest of any full-time starter. While he may never be an All Pro, he has become an above average blocker and stays on the field in most formations. Brent Celek is 32 years old and may have reached the end of his storied Eagles tenure. Last year he only caught 14 passes whereas 25-year old Trey Burton caught 37 balls.

Place Kicker

Caleb Sturgis: Caleb Sturgis seems to have found a home with the Eagles, and they should be happy to have him after he made 35 of 41 field goal attempts, including 24 for 24 from under 40 yards. He also made 30 of 31 extra point attempts. Sturgis was a top five kicker in most formats and finished third in the league in kicker scoring, but he is still unheralded in fantasy circles and not going in the top 12 kickers in 2017 drafts. He's an excellent choice if you wait and are one of the last teams to take a kicker in your draft.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Wendall Smallwood, Nelson Agholor

Philadelphia largely split kickoff return duties in 2016 between Kenjon Barner, Wendall Smallwood, Josh Huff, and Nelson Agholor. With Huff and Barner no longer on the team, the remaining two enter camps as the leaders for the duties in 2017.

Punt Returners: Darren Sproles, Nelson Agholor

Theoretically, everyone grows old at some point. Darren Sproles continues to put theory to the test, as he topped ten yards per punt return for his third straight year with the Eagles despite turning 33 before the 2016 season. Eventually he's going to grow old and not be one of the top punt returners in the NFL. Probably. Maybe.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jason Peters, LG Allen Barbre, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson
Key Backups: Chance Warmack, Stehen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai

The Eagles' offensive line boasts perhaps the best tackle duo in all of football. Left tackle Jason Peters is coming off his ninth career Pro Bowl appearance, and despite his relatively advanced age he remains one of the most dynamic athletes at that position. Lane Johnson had a ten game suspension last season but when he is in the lineup, he is an outstanding right tackle (who will likely move to left tackle after Peters retires). Right guard Brandon Brooks has been extremely solid but the team expects more out of center Jason Kelce who had a down season last year. Left guard is a competition between Allen Barbre, Chance Warmack and Isaac Seumalo. Barbre is listed as the starter currently but he will have to be outstanding in camp to ward off the challengers. Overall this Eagles' offensive line is a top tier unit, based mostly on the performance of their bookend tackles. If they can improve the play at left guard and center, the line could rank even higher.

Team Defense

After seeing Chip Kelly off and hiring Jim Schwartz to rebuild the defense, the Eagles moves paid dividends when the unit was near dominant at home at times. Their performance was strong enough to finish in the top ten as a fantasy D/ST and even higher in leagues that weight points allowed in scoring. This despite a team-wide fade in the second half of the season that should be avoided in quarterback Carson Wentz's second year. The team did lose run stuffer Bennie Logan and edge rusher Connor Barwin in free agency, but the front seven remains strong, especially with the addition of first-round defensive end Derek Barnett and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who came dirt-cheap in a trade. Cornerback remains a sore spot, and second-round pick Sidney Jones might not contribute much this year after a pre-draft achilles tear, but third-rounder Rasul Douglas should get playing time, along with free agent pickup Patrick Robinson. The Eagles aren't being drafted as a solid D/ST1, but they should be. Make them a priority target if you are one of the last to take the position in your draft.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Brandon Graham, DE Vinny Curry, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Timmy Jernigan
Backups: DE Chris Long, DE Derek Barnett [R], DT Beau Allen (injured), DT Elijah Qualls [R], DT Destiny Vaeao, DT Connor Wujciak

Starting DL: Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz' scheme relies on isolated pressure from the front four so it makes sense that the Eagles prioritized bolstering that unit this off-season. They traded for Timmy Jernigan to account for the loss of Bennie Logan in free agency and used their first round selection on defensive end Derek Barnett. After being tragically miscast as a stand up linebacker during a good portion of his NFL career, Graham finally got a chance to shine as a defensive end in Jim Schwartz' "Wide 9" defensive scheme. His 5.5 sacks last year are not overly impressive on the surface, but his strong tackle production lifted him to a top 15-fantasy finish and he graded out as the league's number two edge rusher behind All-Pro Kahlil Mack. Additionally, he led the NFL in QB hurries with 40 - another sign that there is plenty of untapped upside with Graham. Vinny Curry managed just 2.5 sacks last season after compiling 16.5 his previous three seasons. This was especially disappointing considering the team signed him to a hefty five-year, $47.25 million contract leading into the season. In all likelihood, he will begin this year as the starter opposite Brandon Graham, but should slid back into a rotational pass-rusher role once Derek Barnett gets up to speed. Fletcher Cox's sack totals dropped last year after setting a career high in the category with 9.5 the year prior. Despite this drop in statistical production, Cox's on-the-field play remained as strong as ever and he will continue to be a massively disruptive force along the interior of the defensive front. Newly minted Eagle, Timmy Jernigan should see a rise in production moving to a team where he will have much more of an attacking, one-gap role. He's a good bet to see an increase in his year-over-year sack totals.

Backup DL: The Eagles rotate their linemen at a high rate so maintaining a sufficient level of depth is a critical part of their defensive game plan. This said, they signed veteran Chris Long to a two-year, $4.5 million deal this past off-season. At one time, Long was one of the league's most consistent pass-rushing defensive ends, averaging over 10 sacks a season from 2010-2013. However, age and injuries have caught up to the 32-year old in recent years as he has compiled just eight total sacks during the last three seasons. He should see 400-450 snaps in a time-share with Vinny Curry and rookie Derek Barnett at right defensive end. Barnett made 36 starts in three seasons at Tennessee and broke Reggie White's school record for sacks with 33. There are some concerns about Barnett's upside as he lacks elite athleticism and doesn't have a dynamic first step, but he should be a high floor player given his edge bend, hand-fighting skills, and relentless motor. With established veterans Vinny Curry and Chris Long ahead of him, Barnett can is likely to begin his career as a rotational player but could quickly advance into a starting role if he develops as expected. The Eagles top reserve interior lineman Beau Allen tore his pectoral during an off-season workout and may start the year on the NFI/reserve list. Rookie Elijah Qualls will compete with Destiny Vaeao for Allen's reserve spot while he recovers from his injury.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Jordan Hicks, SLB Nigel Bradham, WLB Mychal Kendricks
Backups: LB Najee Goode, MLB Joe Walker, LB Kamu Grugier-Hill (injured)

Starting LBs: Many expected second year linebacker Jordan Hicks to blossom into a top-tier linebacker given his performance over nine games in 2015. However, he failed to standout in the box scores last year registering more than five solo tackles only twice all year. Nigel Bradham was sneakily the Eagles most productive linebacker in 2016, compiling over 100 tackles for the second time in his career. He's a favorite of Jim Schwartz' and figures to continue to play a prominent role on the defense. Mychal Kendricks quickly fell out of favor with the new defensive coaching staff and has been the subject of numerous trade rumors over the last several months. The fifth year player out of California was only on the field for roughly 25% of the team's defensive snaps as the Eagles often opt to go with a nickel defense featuring only two linebackers. Although he remains irrelevant for fantasy purposes, Kendricks could quickly regain viability if he were traded to another team.

Backup LBs: The Eagles are quite thin in regards to backup linebackers (a big reason why Mychal Kendricks is still on the roster despite his scaled down use). Najee Goode would be the first player off the bench if one of the starting linebackers were injured. He's been with the team for four years and has a solid understanding of the defense but has really only been a key special teams player throughout his career. Outside of Goode, there's not much to mention. Joe Walker, a seventh round pick in last year's draft, missed all of last season with an ACL injury and Kamu Grugier-Hill was claimed off waivers from the Patriots last summer. Neither player is a guarantee to make the final 53-man roster.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Patrick Robinson, CB Jalen Mills, S Rodney McLeod, S Malcolm Jenkins
Backups: CB Ron Brooks, CB Rasul Douglas [R], CB Dwayne Gratz, S Jaylen Watkins, S Chris Maragos, CB C.J. Smith, CB Sidney Jones [R] (injured), CB Aaron Grymes S Nate Gerry [R], S Terrence Brooks

Starting DBs: The Eagles parted ways with both of their starting cornerbacks this off-season. This said, Philadelphia signed Patrick Robinson to a one-year, $1 million deal in March and he will serve as the team's starting cornerback on the right side of the defense. The Colts released Robinson earlier in the year after injury issues kept him out of the lineup for a majority of the 2016 season. The former Florida State Seminole does present some upside as he's only two years removed from a stellar 2015 season. Injuries and lack of depth forced seventh round rookie Jaylen Mills into a starting role last year. Although he was burned repeatedly in his rookie season, the Eagles seem encouraged by his play and he has a chance at starting given the relative lack of talent at the position for Philadelphia. Malcolm Jenkins has developed into one of the league's best safeties, receiving above average marks in both coverage and run support. Rodney McLeod had his best season as a pro, leading the Eagles in solo tackles with 72 and registering three interceptions. Both safeties logged over 1,000 snaps and are key cogs in the Philadelphia secondary.

Backup DBs: Ron Brooks operated as the Eagles' primary slot corner until tearing his quad in Week 7. His play was subpar when healthy, so he's not guaranteed to regain that spot in 2017. Third round pick Rasul Douglas will have a solid opportunity to be a Week 1 contributor given the team's uncertainty at the cornerback position. He has the length and ball skills to play outside in the NFL but will likely struggle if asked to press opposing wide receivers, as he was primarily an off-cover corner in college. Rookie Sidney Jones could eventually evolve into the team's best cornerback but that's not likely to happen until 2018 given his current injury is going to keep him out until at least October. Jaylen Watkins logged almost 400 snaps playing as the team's third safety in "big nickel" packages but he will make his biggest contributions on special teams.

Last modified: 2017-05-17 11:32:22