The Diary of an Illinois Boston Fan

NFL Previews

Finally we hit the last of the NFC divisions with the division that has no clear leader. To start off let’s go to Philly and what ashes remain of their dumpster fire this past offseason.

Projected Offensive Depth Chart:

QB: Sam Bradford

RB: Ryan Mathews

OL: Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson

WR: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Reuben Randle

TE: Brent Celek

Even with the major controversy surrounding the drafting of first round pick, Carson Wentz, the big picture for Philly is a no-lose situation.

Scenario 1: Sam Braford, in a contract season with at least 5 teams (would be six if not for Chip Kelly being in SF) that could be vying for his services in 2017, has a more traditional system to showcase his talents in and try to warrant at least a mid-level type contract. Bradford still has franchise type talent and wasn’t nearly as terrible as the hot takes would make you believe. Playing in only 14 games, he still set a career high in passing yards with 3,725 and a second best 19 touchdowns…all in a system that grossly misused his skill set. He gets to work more under the center and work on the continuation of his relationship with his very very very talented receiving corps. He leads the Eagles to a division title.

Scenario 2: Bradford is terrible, allowing the Eagles to bottom out and grab a player like Myles Garrett high in the first round to supplement their defense and justify their selection of Wentz.

Scenario 3: Bradford’s unfortunate injury history flares up again, the Eagles get to recoup some of the money off of his extension because of it, and give Wentz a chance to prove himself earlier than expected.

Outside of the QB position, the Eagles (on paper) look absolutely loaded offensively. Ryan Mathews has had a topsy-turvy career dealing with injuries. When healthy he’s looked like an All-Pro…the only problem is he’s been hurt more often than not. Last year he shared carries with DeMarco Murry in one of the more ill-fitted pairings for the Chip Kelly system. Now he’s gonna get the chance to earn that starting position and hold off potential upstart Kenjon Barner who has showed flashes of starting ability with the same kind of game as Mathews. Mathews is a rather productive runner up the middle, which is unusual for a player that works better running on the outsides. He’s got all the tools to put together a special season for Philly, if only he can stay on the field.

Where Bradford will find his biggest help towards a big payday will be amongst his two tight ends. Doug Pederson is going to look towards a multiple style offense, so while the three receiver set is the base, Celek and Ertz are just too good to not play together. On drives where they’ve been on the field together for more than half the plays, the Eagles have scored a touchdown appx. 60% of the time, better than any other tight end pairing in the history of football. Why the Eagles have separated them often hasn’t made much sense considering they both have two very different styles of play. Ertz plays more like a wide receiver that out bodies corners and Celek is a more productive blocker that works the middle of the field to abuse over matched safeties and undersized linebackers. Bradford has been stuck playing conservatively most of his career (thanks to the injuries limiting his learning curve) and so he’s looked to his tight ends on roughly 40% of all his career throws, more than any other QB since 2010. Pederson has the chance to fully realize the explosiveness of the roster handed to him.

While Matthews and Agholor are the primary guys, the newly acquired Dorial Green-Beckham is a wild card that can really turn the tide for Philly. His size and hands are highly sought after, so the question remains as to why the Titans traded their 2nd year second round pick. Was it his attitude towards OTAs (reports source that he didn’t agree with all of the receivers the Titans kept bringing on the roster to challenge him)? Whatever it may be, he now gets to start his sophomore year fighting with Randle for the third receiver spot, a job I expect him to overtake by mid-season. Maybe like Bradford, he needs a more traditional passing game.

Projected Defensive Depth Chart

DL: Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin

LB: Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks

CB: Leodis McKelvi, Ron Brooks

S: Rodney McLeod, Malcolm Jenkins

Perhaps the most misrepresented defenses of all 2015 were the Eagles. Chip Kelly’s offenses tend to keep his defenses on the field longer than the average one. Last year they led the league in minutes played and that took an uncharacteristic toll on what are generally really good players.

Fletcher Cox just earned top ten money and rightfully so. As an end/tackle mix player he has improved turned into one of the best wrecking balls in the league. He had 9.5 sacks and his third straight season of setting new career highs in tackles with 71. Also notching another career high in 3 forced fumbles, Cox has become a force to be reckoned with even if his usage rate has been too high. This year, with what should be a far more stabilized time of possession, Cox should be able to increase his counting stats purely due to lessening his fatigue. The fact his low center of gravity let’s him upend linemen and take them out of their stances should only help his totals.

The Eagles line boasts one of the more deep rotations that all really seek to improve on their numbers by way of stamina boosts. They have two young defensive ends, in Brandon Graham and Marcus Smith, that can move inside if need be that both show promise but haven’t put everything together. Connor Barwin and his hair still have phenomenal hand technique. This line is my favorite pick to make a mark this year.

The secondary also improved after throwing incomprehensible money at it last year. After trading away Byron Maxwell to Miami and Walter Thurmond having retired, the Eagles went cheaper by signing once very good CB Leodis McKelvin away from Buffalo. The Bills clearly had no desire to have him back, with two younger and better corners on the roster, but losing McKelvin still hurts because of his veteran leadership and masterful return game skills.

The switching of Malcolm Jenkins to safety wasn’t because Jenkins has lost skill at corner. In fact he’s still probably a top ten corner when healthy. Their need for a back end secondary player forced Jenkins there and I’m really excited to watch him fall into the Charles Woodson in Green Bay role. Jenkins will translate cornerback speed and footwork to a position where he will stay face forward more times than not. I don’t understand why most teams don’t take very good corners and convert them more. I understand the need for a lock down guy, but when you can bring those ball skills to safety then you’ve immediately increased your efficiency tenfold. Jenkins will make watching Eagles defense fun again and no longer exhausting.

The NFC East is a total wash every year, changing hands each season since 2003, the Eagles being the only team to repeat as champs. The controversy around the quarterback situation could unravel quickly if Bradford struggles early on and Pederson starts to feel the heat to start Wentz. If the Eagles really want to show they’ve changed, then they’ll be best to let what happens happens and take the Jacksonville approach to team building…give Pederson a real chance to build his team. Pederson has never been a play caller in his NFL career but will take on those duties this season so things could be shaky to start. The Eagles need to set their identity quickly if they have any hopes of winning the East again.