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2019 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Offensive Philosophy

Like his mentor, Andy Reid, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson has taken the NFL by storm in recent years by updating his vanilla West Coast schemes with concepts borrowed liberally from college football. Pederson was one of the key figures behind the explosive popularity of Run-Pass Option plays, (or RPOs), and also incorporated a lot of Chip Kelly style mesh routes in his offense, where two receivers run shallow crossing routes past each other and aim to create traffic to shake off the trailing defenders.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Carson Wentz
Backup(s): Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson [R], Cody Kessler

Starting QB: For a team with a Super Bowl victory and consecutive playoff appearances, the Eagles have big question marks. It was a foregone conclusion the team would let Nick Foles leave in free agency after the best run as a backup in recent NFL history. He led the Eagles to an improbable Super Bowl win two seasons ago, outdueling Tom Brady, and then filled in admirably again for Carson Wentz late last year and during the team's playoff run. But Wentz is young, and the team's future - or so hopes everyone in the front office. The only reason to doubt the decision to let Foles walk is Wentz troubling injury history. Amid an MVP-caliber season in 2017, he tore multiple knee ligaments. His recovery lingered into the 2018 season, as he missed the first two games. Eagles fans breathed a collective sigh of relief after Wentz got back on the field because he looked every bit the elite passer from a year ago. That was until a hairline fracture in his back forced him to miss the team's final few games and playoffs. Wentz completed 70% of his passes last year, and although his touchdown rate fell from 2017's astounding 7.5%, it was still an elite 5.2%. Pro-rating Wentz' 11 games over a full season equates to 406 completions on 583 attempts for 4,471 yards, 31 touchdowns, and ten interceptions. Expectations are high for Wentz this year, and if he performs to the same level we've seen in 2017-2018, he'll be rewarded with a massive contract extension, cementing his place as Philadelphia's franchise player. But any regression, or further injury, will reshape the narrative in Philadelphia as a team that may face rebuilding or worse - quarterback purgatory.

Backup QB: A new era will be born this year as Nick Foles earns his well-deserved chance to start for another team (the Jaguars) and, in turn, the backup reins have been handed off to Nate Sudfeld. Sudfeld has come a long way from a developmental third-stringer selected in the sixth round of the draft. Although his regular season mettle is untested, Sudfeld has been a star in the preseason, earning the name "Stud-feld" in the process. The Eagles are giving him a big raise; he'll make $3 million this year after signing his restricted free agent tender. Although Sudfeld lacks Wentz' impressive physical traits, he's won the coaching staff over with smart decision-making and mastery of Doug Pederson's playbook. Rookie Clayton Thorson provides a developmental pocket passer with the potential to develop into a trustworthy backup under Doug Pederson's watchful eye.

Running Backs

Starter: Jordan Howard
Backup(s): Miles Sanders [R], Josh Adams, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood
Fullback(s):

Starting RB: It's disingenuous to ascribe the starter moniker to any Eagles running back, based on the way Doug Pederson has deployed his backs thus far. In three seasons, no runner has gained 1,000 yards rushing. In fact, no runner has gained more than LeGarrette Blount's 765 yards rushing on 173 carries in 2017. Despite the lack of individual success, the team has been wildly successful on the ground. Philadelphia's running backs rank 4th (behind New Orleans, Dallas, and New England) with 4,840 rushing yards over Pederson's three-year tenure. While a committee approach is likely, the team will be led by two newcomers: veteran Jordan Howard and rookie Miles Sanders. Howard - acquired in a trade from Chicago -fell out of favor with head coach Matt Nagy but is a proven workhorse. In three seasons, Howard has 778 carries for 3,370 yards and 24 touchdowns. He will benefit from running behind the Eagles above-average offensive line and will see ample red zone opportunities. Unfortunately, Howard is limited as a receiver ensuring he'll sit on obvious passing downs.

Backup RBs: Rookie Miles Sanders is used to biding his time. He sat behind Saquon Barkley at Penn State for two seasons before breaking out with 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns in 2018. Sanders (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) was the second running back drafted this year (behind Josh Jacobs) and has the talent to overtake Jordan Howard this year if he can master blitz pickups and the Eagles' complex playbook. Sanders is a patient runner and manages to avoid unnecessary hits thanks to fluid hips and sound footwork. He's an able receiver and can stay on the field for three downs. The only red flag was a relatively high fumble rate for the Nittany Lions, but nothing in his technique points to an uncorrectable problem. The top three runners from last season will compete for the final roster spots. Josh Adams elevated from practice squad player to the starter for five games and led the team with 120 carries for 511 yards and three touchdowns. Adams' role may fall by the wayside as his skill set is most evocative of Howard's, including a lack of prowess as a receiver. Wendell Smallwood nearly lost his roster spot last preseason, but ended up contributing as a runner (364 yards and three touchdowns) and receiver (28 receptions for 230 yards and two touchdowns); in place of the injured Darren Sproles. Corey Clement rounds out the depth chart. Although Clement only had 451 yards from scrimmage last season, he showed in the 2017 playoff run he's capable of more.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson
Backups: Nelson Agholor, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside [R], Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Braxton Miller, Greg Ward Jr.

Starting WRs: Alshon Jeffery hasn't had a 1,000-yard season since 2014 in Chicago, but his value to the Eagles cannot be overstated. Jeffery has scored 15 touchdowns in 20 regular season games in Philadelphia and is coming off a career-best 71% catch rate. When healthy, Jeffery can stretch the field and is aggressive at the point of attack; Carson Wentz trusts him to come up with 50/50 jump balls against opposing cornerbacks. Jeffery will be joined in the starting lineup by a returning hero; as veteran DeSean Jackson was re-acquired in the offseason. The 11-year veteran last played for Philadelphia in 2013 and had stints with Washington and Tampa Bay since. At 33 years old, Jackson won't be asked to approximate his 82-catch, 1,332-yard, nine touchdown season from six years ago, but he will be expected to give Carson Wentz a vertical threat that was lacking last year after Mike Wallace didn't pan out. Jackson still has elite deep speed, as exhibited by his league-leading 18.9-yard average yards per reception last year.

Backup WRs: It's unfair to characterize Nelson Agholor as a backup, considering he led the receiving corps with 985 snaps last season. Agholor will probably be on the field as much as Jeffery and Jackson and do most of his work out of the slot. Assuming Agholor's role isn't diminished by rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. The team opted to keep Agholor in spite of a significant cap number, in recognition of his emergence as a reliable safety blanket in the last two years. Agholor has 126 receptions for 1,504 yards and 12 touchdowns during the previous two years. Rookie Arcega-Whiteside (6-foot-3, 225 pounds) entered the draft after his junior year at Stanford, where he caught 48 receptions for 781 yards and nine touchdowns. He's ideally suited as a red-zone threat because he uses his size and strength to win contested catches, but to emerge as a full-time receiver, he'll need to improve his hands and the resulting catch rate. The other receivers on the roster are Mack Hollins (missed 2018 with an injury), and Shelton Gibson (one catch for 48 yards in 2018).

Tight Ends

Starters: Zach Ertz
Backups: Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers, Josh Perkins, Will Tye

For years Zach Ertz was a solid NFL contributor, but not an offensive lynchpin. From 2015-2017, Ertz consistently netted 70+ receptions and 800+ yards on 100+ targets. It wasn't until 2017 when Ertz earned Pro Bowl honors, mainly because he scored eight touchdowns (after scoring six combined in the prior two seasons). His consistency led many to conclude his upside was limited, but Ertz proved his doubters wrong with a historic 2018. The former Stanford Cardinal set a new NFL record with 116 receptions, breaking Jason Witten's mark. He gained 1,163 yards and scored eight touchdowns again. It was a season for the ages, and he'll be counted on as the team's top target once again in 2019. Backup Dallas Goedert was remarkable as a rookie, and the sky would be the limit for the former South Dakota State star were it not for Ertz' inescapable role. Playing second fiddle, Goedert still managed 33 receptions for 334 yards and four touchdowns, while showing well as a blocker. Expect frequent use of two-TE sets to ensure the best playmakers are on the field.

Place Kicker

Jake Elliott: Jake Elliott had a similar second season with the Eagles to the rookie campaign that endeared him to Philadelphia fans everywhere. He wasn't one of the league's most accurate kickers, but 26-for-31 was good enough, and he was actually improved on accuracy from 30-39 yards while dropping to 2-for-5 from 50+ in 2018. He was middle of the pack in kicker scoring, too, but his draft value is in the top 6-8, which is too rich for the mediocre commodity he represents at the kicker position.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Corey Clement, Shelton Gibson, Nelson Agholor

The Eagles have several options to return kickoffs in 2019, but none of them are especially compelling. Clement and Gibson handled a few kickoffs in 2018. Agholor handled a few in years prior. All of the contenders have thin enough resumes that there's strong reason to believe the real winner of the training camp competition will be someone not currently on the radar.

Punt Returners: Corey Clement, Nelson Agholor

Darren Sproles, Golden Tate, and DeAndre Carter left the Eagles this offseason, and all of a sudden a deep and experienced group of punt returners is left shallow and inexperienced. Clement figures to get first crack at the job in 2019, but nobody on the team has the kind of history or experience that suggests they're a lock for anything at this stage of the game.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson
Key Backups: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Andre Dillard [R], Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor, Tyreek Burwell

Center Jason Kelce was named to the first team All-Pro team last season, befitting his status as the best center in football in recent years. The right side of Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson both got trips to Hawaii in the offseason, as part of their Pro Bowl honors. Left tackle Jason Peters is in the sunset of his career, but he still is capable of astounding athletic feats. The team has Halapoulivaati Vaitai, first round rookie Andre Dillard from Washington State and Jordan Mailata in the pipeline behind Peters. Left guard Isaac Seumalo won the job during the season last year and while the coaches like his development, he could face further competition if the coaches want to get Dillard on the field. Overall, this is a top-tier line under line coach Jeff Stoutland and their grade can improve with improved production from the left guard spot.

Team Defense

The Eagles defense was inconsistent in 2018, due to lack of depth and a litany of injuries. It was a bend-but-don't-break unit that ranked toward the bottom of the league (23rd) in yards allowed but toward the top (12th) in points allowed. The vaunted rush defense allowed the seventh-fewest yards, but that was more about the game script as the front seven allowed a woeful 4.7 yards per attempt (24th). The pass defense allowed the ninth-fewest touchdowns but failed to create momentum as had been the hallmark in the Super Bowl season a year prior. The front office had difficult decisions to make given a tight cap situation and opted to re-sign Brandon Graham while letting Jordan Hicks, Michael Bennett, and Corey Graham leave. A handful of veteran free agents including safety Andrew Sendejo, defensive end Vinny Curry, defensive tackle Malik Jackson, and linebacker Zach Brown will push for meaningful playing time in Jim Schwartz' attacking 4-3 scheme.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Derek Barnett, DT Malik Jackson, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Brandon Graham
Backups: DE Vinny Curry, DT Timmy Jernigan, DT Treyvon Hester, DE Josh Sweat, DT Hassan Ridgeway, DE Daeshon Hall, DE Shareef Miller [R]

Starting DL: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox remains one of the league's dominant interior linemen and is coming off a season with 95 quarterback pressures (11 sacks, 24 hits, and 60 hurries). Cox will have a new running mate in Malik Jackson. Jackson is coming off a down year in Jacksonville but was a disruptive two-way defender in six seasons with the Broncos and Jaguars. Brandon Graham returns for his tenth season, armed with a massive new contract. Although Graham has never had a double-digit sack year, he's disciplined is a true three-down lineman because of his ability to tackle in space and handle opposing running backs and tight ends in zone coverage. Derek Barnett gets the chance to replace Michael Bennett after missing most of 2018. Barnett has natural pass rush instincts but has committed an unsettling number of penalties in limited snaps.

Backup DL: Defensive line depth has been a hallmark of the Howie Roseman era, and 2019 is no different. Vinny Curry returns after several years in Tampa Bay. Rookie Shareef Miller and second-year Josh Sweat will push for playing time, particularly in obvious passing downs. Timmy Jernigan was cut after an injury-riddled 2018 but re-signed on a team-friendly deal to redeem himself. Hassan Ridgeway acquired via trade, and Treyvon Hester will contend for the final spot on the interior. Chris Long remains under contract but is considering retirement.

Linebackers

Starters: SLB Kamu Grugier-Hill, MLB Zach Brown, WLB Nigel Bradham
Backups: OLB Paul Worrilow, ILB L.J. Fort, OLB Nathan Gerry, OLB B.J. Bello

Starting LBs: The linebacking corps is as shallow as the defensive line is deep. Jordan Hicks dealt with multiple injuries but was easily the team's best all-around linebacker. He took his services to the Cardinals in a rich free-agent deal. That leaves Nigel Bradham as the only proven returning commodity. Bradham played more than 900 snaps in 2018 and rarely came off the field. He's the team's best coverage linebacker. Kamu Grugier-Hill was the toast of the 2018 preseason but ended up playing less than one-third of the snaps; he's being counted on to win the strongside job. His main competition, Nathan Gerry, didn't play well on the few occasions he was needed last year. There's more encouraging news in the middle as Zach Brown comes over from division rival Washington. Brown is a bit of a journeyman, having already played for Washington, Buffalo, and Tennessee, but he's coming off his best season and should win the starting middle linebacker job with ease.

Backup LBs: L.J. Fort flashed in limited snaps last year in Pittsburgh and will get an opportunity to compete for a role given the lack of depth. Veteran Paul Worrilow was an impact player in his first few seasons with Atlanta but has been a non-factor in recent years due to injury. He missed all of 2018 and had a combined 48 tackles in the prior two seasons. Expect the Eagles to bring other veterans in for competition in the coming months.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Sidney Jones, CB Ronald Darby, SS Malcolm Jenkins, FS Rodney McLeod, CB Jalen Mills
Backups: S Avonte Maddox, S Andrew Sendejo, CB Rasul Douglas, CB Crevon LeBlanc, CB Jeremiah McKinnon, S Tre Sullivan, S Deiondre Hall, CB Josh Hawkins

Starting DBs: Malcolm Jenkins is the team's best defensive back and the only one who played all sixteen games last year. At 31 years old, Jenkins remains a sure tackler with enviable coverage instincts. The three-time Pro Bowler wants a new contract, and the team can ill afford upsetting Jenkins as the season approaches. Rodney McLeod is equally talented but hasn't been an impact defender for two years. In 2017, McLeod played fourteen games but had nagging injuries, and he missed 13 games last year with a torn MCL. The veteran took a big pay cut to keep his roster spot and will be looking for a bounce-back season to re-establish his market value for the Eagles or another team in 2020. At cornerback, Jalen Mills (eight games), Ronald Darby (nine games), and Sidney Jones (nine games) all missed too much time which forced the Eagles into a rotation of inexperienced corners. Darby is the best of the bunch when healthy, but needs to stay on the field if he wants to remain in Philadelphia beyond 2019.

Backup DBs: Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, and Cre'von LeBlanc all started games last year and played as well as the projected starters. The pecking order won't be settled until late into the preseason. It shouldn't shock anyone if one of this trio ends up with a starting job particularly if the Eagles opt for veteran cost cutting later this summer. Veteran safety Andrew Sendejo signed a one-year "prove it" deal after failing to cash in on a rich safety market in free agency. He's talented enough to earn significant playing time and should be on the field in nickel and dime situations, at a minimum. He's an upgrade from Corey Graham; who filled that role in recent seasons.

Last modified: 2019-05-24 15:30:54