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2018 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive Philosophy

It's likely that no team in the NFL has embraced analytics on offense as much as the Philadelphia Eagles, who are more likely to attempt 4th down conversions (especially in the first half of games), are more likely to pass in so-called "obvious running situations", are less likely to run against stacked boxes, and in general seek out every tiny edge they can get. The Eagles playcalling is not just aggressive, but also varied, with no single running back dominating carries nor receiver dominating targets.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Wentz
Backup(s): Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Starting QB: In a league where teams are always searching for one good quarterback, the Philadelphia Eagles have the rare luxury of rostering two quality passers. Carson Wentz emerged last year as one of the league's best young players and was on his way to winning the league's Most Valuable Player award before tearing multiple ligaments against the Rams in December. At the time of his injury, Wentz was leading the league in passing touchdowns, passer rating, and QBR, and the Eagles were 11-2 on the season. Veteran Nick Foles took over and did enough in the final weeks to secure the #1 seed in the NFC Playoffs. In the playoffs, Foles had a run for the ages, completing 77-of-106 passes (73% completion rate) for 971 yards, six touchdowns, and just one interception. He threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns in the Super Bowl, outdueling Tom Brady. Entering 2018, Carson Wentz is on schedule with his rehabilitation process and hopes to be on the field for Week One. However, given Foles' stellar command of Doug Pederson's offense, the team won't rush Wentz back, and Foles could start a handful of games, possibly even as many as six if Wentz needs to stay on the PUP list.

Backup QB: Foles was the apple of Philadelphia's eye back in 2013 when he started ten games for Chip Kelly and threw 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions while leading the league in touchdown rate, yards per attempt, yards per completion, and passer rating. His play tailed off the following season, and he moved onto St. Louis in 2015, struggling in 11 starts (4-7 as a starter, seven touchdowns, and ten interceptions). From there he signed with Andy Reid in Kansas City, where he familiarized himself with Doug Pederson and Reid's offense that combines classic West Coast principles with modern spread formations. Foles' familiarity with the system made him a free agent priority last year, as a mentor and steady hand in support of Wentz. Following the Super Bowl heroics, Foles is entrenched as the Eagles backup for at least one more season.

Running Backs

Starter: Jay Ajayi
Backup(s): Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnell Pumphrey, Josh Adams [R]
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: Jay Ajayi joined the Eagles in a rare midseason trade and played with renewed confidence after struggling early in the season with Miami. As a Dolphin, the 6'1", 221-pound juggernaut averaged just 3.4 yards per carry and 4.8 yards per reception. He failed to score a touchdown in seven starts. As an Eagle, Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry, which would have been 2nd in the league to Alvin Kamara on a standalone basis. He also caught ten passes for 91 yards and scored twice. Ajayi enters this season as the nominal starter, but Doug Pederson will continue to use a committee approach at the position. By not re-signing LeGarrette Blount, the Eagles have handed the primary interior and short-yardage duties to Ajayi; roles he's well suited for playing behind an above-average offensive line.

Backup RBs: The Eagles ranked 3rd last year with 2,115 rushing yards on 473 carries, yet no running back played more than 31% of the snaps (LeGarrette Blount). Undrafted rookie Corey Clement was second with 23% of the offensive snaps, to go along with 64% of special teams snaps. Clement is a versatile contributor and made his biggest play of the season as a receiver; catching a touchdown in the Super Bowl. As a former Wisconsin Badger, Clement's receiving abilities were primarily unknown to scouts, but he enters 2018 as a proven commodity capable of playing in all downs and distances. Wendell Smallwood considered the potential heir apparent at the position just a year ago, struggled last year and the coaches seemed to lose confidence in him. Smallwood needs a strong showing in the preseason to secure a roster spot and a role in the rotation. 35-year old veteran Darren Sproles was re-signed, a surprising move given his age and injury-shortened 2017 season. He'll push 2nd year Donnell Pumphrey for the final roster spot as a change-of-pace contributor.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace
Backups: Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward Jr., Rashard Davis, Bryce Treggs, Markus Wheaton, Dom Williams, Marquess Wilson

Starting WRs: The Eagles relied heavily on a trio of receivers last year, as Alshon Jeffery (82% of snaps), Nelson Agholor (72%), and Torrey Smith (65%) stayed on the field in most situations. Smith was traded to the Panthers in the offseason, but veteran Mike Wallace is an upgrade. Wallace (6'0", 202 lbs.) is similarly sized to Smith (6'0", 205 lbs.) but is faster, has better hands (57% catch rate versus 49% for Smith), and runs better routes. Nelson Agholor thrived last season under Doug Pederson's watch, after two forgettable seasons to start his career. Agholor looked incapable of catching the ball in 2015-2016 (52% catch rate) but was consistently sharp last year (65%) while running short- and intermediate routes with confidence. Alshon Jeffery took a one-year "prove it" contract from the Eagles last year after the free agent market wasn't robust, and it paid off for him and the team. Jeffery signed a 4-year, $52 million extension in December including $27 million guaranteed. He led the team with 120 targets and nine touchdowns, and repeat both feats this year.

Backup WRs: Mack Hollins is the only backup receiver with experience; he played 25% of the snaps last season. Hollins is a big receiver (6'4", 221 lbs.) and presents matchup difficulties in ways the starting trio won't, particularly in red zone packages. Hollins played well enough last season to project as a quality starter in the event of injuries to either Agholor or Wallace. He's also one of the team's best special teams players. Markus Wheaton will attempt to make the roster after failing to earn regular snaps in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Shelton Gibson has a slight edge over the other backups for a final roster spot, but the younger receivers will have an opportunity to displace him with strong preseasons.

Tight Ends

Starters: Zach Ertz
Backups: Richard Rodgers, Dallas Goedert [R], Billy Brown, Joshua Perkins, Adam Zaruba

Zach Ertz is a model of consistency. The former Stanford Cardinal has three consecutive seasons with 100+ targets, 74+ receptions, and 800+ yards. He's averaged between 10.5 and 11.4 yards per reception over that span, and his catch rate has been 67% or better. The big difference with Ertz' play in 2017 was his touchdown productivity. Ertz caught eight touchdowns last year (7.3% rate), doubling his prior career high. It's worth noting Ertz has missed at least one game in each of those seasons, but his injuries have been considered minor. Outside of Carson Wentz, no player is more important to the offenses' productivity. Beyond Ertz, changes are afoot. Long-time team leader Brent Celek retired after the Super Bowl, and Trey Burton signed a massive free agent contract in Chicago. In their place are veteran Richard Rodgers - quietly the most productive tight end in Green Bay for years - and rookie 2nd rounder Dallas Goedert. The Eagles use two-tight end sets regularly, and both Goedert and Rodgers will be on the field frequently.

Place Kicker

Jake Elliott: When the Bengals had a good problem and found themselves with two NFL quality kickers at the end of the preseason, they decided to stash 2017 fifth-round pick Jake Elliott on the practice squad. Their surplus filled a shortage for the Eagles when Caleb Sturgis went down in Week 1 with a torn hip flexor. Elliott wasn't quite a startable fantasy kicker, going 26-31 on field goal attempts, but his 61-yard game winner to beat the Giants in Week 3 quickly endeared him to teammates and fans alike. He's a fine pick if you wait until the last round to take a kicker because he'll harvest scoring opportunities from a quality Eagles offense that might be a bit conservative early in the season as Carson Wentz returns from a multi-ligament tear knee injury.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Wendall Smallwood, Corey Clement

2017 return specialist Kenjon Barner might be with the Panthers, but Wendall Smallwood and Corey Clement both have the requisite experience, (and a solid enough shot at making the final roster), to step into his shoes.

Punt Returners: Darren Sproles

On the one hand, Darren Sproles is 35 and coming off of a major injury, so it's fair to question how much he has left in the tank and whether Philadelphia will want to risk him on special teams. On the other hand, Sproles was named the returner on the Chargers' 50th anniversary team and ranks in the top 10 in NFL history in all-purpose yardage because he's been so deadly at the role for so long.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Jason Peters, Stefan Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson
Key Backups: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Isaac Suemalo, Chance Warmack, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor

Both center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson earned All-Pro honors during last year's championship season. Left tackle Jason Peters returns after an Achillies' tear. The team has Halapoulivaati Vaitai and seventh round developmental rookie Jordan Mailata waiting in the wings if the 36-year-old Peters is again unavailable due to injury. Right guard Brandon Brooks took a pay reduction after last season but is still a good player. Left guard Stefan Wisniewski had a hot run of downfield blocking during the playoffs. Overall, the Eagles' offensive line enter the season as an elite option.

Team Defense

Although the Super Bowl was an offensive shootout, the Eagles defense was essential to the team's making it to the championship game. The offense got plenty of (deserved) praise during the season, but Jim Schwartz' attacking 4-3 defense was stellar. The unit ranked 4th in points allowed, 4th in yards allowed, 6th in yards per play, 3rd in interceptions, and 6th in fumble recoveries. If there's one area for improvement, it's the 15th place finish in quarterback sacks (38 ). The defense returns the majority of last year's critical contributors, outside of starting cornerback Patrick Robinson. Sidney Jones, last year's 2nd round pick, is expected to step into the rotation after a medical redshirt last season. On the defensive line, the team replaced rotational players Vinny Curry and Beau Allen with upgrades Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. The Eagles finished as a top five fantasy defense last year and might be even better in 2018. They lost Vinny Curry in a cap crunch, and Timmy Jernigan might miss the start of the season with a herniated disc. Jordan Hicks will be coming from an Achilles rupture that ended his season in October, and Nigel Bradham was retained in the Jim Schwartz defense that allowed him to thrive. Ronald Darby should play more than the eight he was able to suit up for in the 2017 regular season. The Eagles deserve to stay among the top five in drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Michael Bennett, DT Tim Jernigan, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Brandon Graham
Backups: DE Derek Barnett, DE Josh Sweat [R], DT Haloti Ngata, DT Destiny Vaeao, DE Chris Long, DE Steven Means, DT Aziz Shittu, DT Elijah Quallas, DT Winston Craig

Starting DL: Jim Schwartz believes in keeping lineman fresh, and it's hard to argue with the results as the Eagles defensive line wrecked havoc. Eleven lineman took snaps in 2017, and an amazing eight players were on the field at least 40% of the time. Only three players -- Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Fletcher Cox -- played more 50% of snaps. Curry and Beau Allen are gone, but the reigning Super Bowl champions reloaded by acquiring Michael Bennett and Haloti Ngata. Bennett, a nine-year veteran, will step into the starting lineup and provide another dominant pass rusher (54 career sacks) and stout run defender. Fletcher Cox is on a short list of the league's most disruptive interior defenders. Fellow starter Timmy Jernigan underwent back surgery and could miss the start of the regular season.

Backup DL: Depth, depth, and more depth. Derek Barnett would start and play 70% of snaps for most teams, but he'll be lucky to get on the field 50% of the time in his second season. Rookie Josh Sweat has potential but is raw and won't be counted on barring injuries higher up on the depth chart. Veteran Chris Long decided to come back after considering retirement (he won back-to-back Super Bowls as a Patriot and Eagle). Haloti Ngata is a five-time Pro Bowler, but he hasn't played at an elite level since leaving Baltimore for the Lions three seasons ago.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Kamu Grugier-Hill, MLB Jordan Hicks, OLB Nigel Bradham
Backups: ILB Joe Walker, OLB Corey Nelson, OLB Paul Worrilow (inj), OLB Nathan Gerry

Starting LBs: The starting linebackers matured into a cohesive unit capable of supporting an elite defensive line rotation and swallowing up tackles while protecting the middle of the field. Keeping the trio of Kendricks, Hicks and Bradham intact seemed unlikely given the Eagles salary cap situation, but other moves allowed the team to bring back all three. However, in May the Eagles reconsidered and released Kendricks in a surprise move. That means unproven Kamu Grugier-Hill and veteran Corey Nelson will get an opportunity to play alongside Bradham and Hicks. Bradham was rewarded with a $40-million extension after playing more than 90% of snaps last year. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks missed most of the season with a torn Achilles tendon, but is progressing well. When Hicks is healthy, he's an elite defender particularly on passing downs.

Backup LBs: Najee Goode, who filled in for Hicks last year, has moved on which opens the door for new contributors. Corey Nelson, a backup in Denver, signed a one-year deal and will also compete for snaps on passing downs. Interior depth is a concern as Joe Walker projects as the main backup. Walker, a 3rd year player, ended each of his first two seasons on Injured Reserve.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Jalen Mills, CB Donald Darby, S Rodney McLeod, S Malcolm Jenkins
Backups: CB Sidney Jones, CB D.J. Killings, CB De'Vante Bausby, S Randall Goforth, S Chris Maragos, S Tre Sullivan, CB Rasul Douglas, CB Avonte Maddox [R]

Starting DBs: When Patrick Robinson signed with the Eagles, he projected as a potential liability in an otherwise strong secondary. He struggled mightily in a starting role in New Orleans. For whatever reason, Robinson thrived in Schwartz' system, and graded out as one of the league's best corners in 2017. The cap-strapped Eagles couldn't afford to keep him, but that doesn't mean the secondary is poised for regression. The Eagles drafted Sidney Jones a year ago knowing he would miss his rookie season recovering from an Achilles injury. Jones would've been a high first round pick before the injury, and now Jones is healthy and akin to the Eagles getting a bonus 1st round pick in this years draft. He'll pair with Jalen Mills (91% of snaps) and Ronald Darby. Darby, acquired in a trade with Buffalo, is the team's most accomplished cornerback but missed half the season. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are among the best safety tandems in the league, and were iron men in 2017. Jenkins played 947 snaps (92% of team snaps) and McLeod played 844 (82%), combining for five interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and 119 tackles.

Backup DBs: Safety depth is a concern as Chris Maragos is primarily a special teams contributor and Randall Goforth is returning from a torn ACL. At cornerback, rookie Avonte Maddox will compete with Rasul Douglass for nickel honors.

Last modified: 2018-06-16 12:36:11