|By Shawn Childs, Wednesday, July 1, 2015|
The Eagles have gone 20-12 in the two seasons with Chip Kelly as their head coach. Their up-tempo offense ran off a league-high 1,127 plays last season and a league-low 26:40 time of possession. The Eagles ranked third in the league in points (474) and fifth in yards per game (396.8). However, for the second straight year, Philadelphia finished in the bottom five in yards allowed per game (375.8). When you really break down Philadelphia's defense, it would move closer to league average if it was on the field 30 minutes per game instead of 35. Philly has made the playoffs 10 times over the past 15 years with one Super Bowl appearance. Pat Shurmur returns for his third season as the offensive coordinator. Pat has been part of the Eagles' coaching staff for 12 of his 16 years as an NFL coach. Bill Davis will run the defense for the third season as well. Davis previously served as the defensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers and the Arizona Cardinals.
Players in the Eagles' secondary bailed at the first opportunity after Philly ran them into the ground over the last two years. Cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher signed with the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots, respectively. Safety Nate Allen moved onto the Oakland Raiders. Williams has been a slightly below-average CB in his career. Last year, he allowed 56 catches on 99 attempts for 757 yard and five touchdowns with two interceptions. Prior to 2014, Fletcher has been a slight edge in pass coverage with some value supporting the run. Last year, he held WRs to a 53 percent catch rate, but QBs challenged him deep. This led to a league-high 1,072 yards allowed and nine TDs (second-most in the NFL).
Philadelphia brought in cornerbacks Byron Maxwell and E.J. Biggers to fill the voids. Maxwell played well in pass coverage in 2013 (29 completions on 58 targets for 356 yards, three TDs and four INTs). His completion rate actually went up to 64.7 last year, but he allowed only one TD with three INTs. Biggers has been a liability in pass coverage for the past two years while playing cornerback and free safety. E.J. allowed 31 completions on 45 attempts last year, resulting in 401 yards and five touchdowns. Walter Thurmond III was also brought in. A cornerback in previous years, Thurmond is expected to play safety with the Eagles. His 2014 season was ended by a pectoral muscle tear in September.
Philadelphia's top wide receiver, Jeremy Maclin, left to play for his old coach, Andy Reid, with the Kansas City Chiefs. Maclin caught 65 passes for 1,318 yards and seven TDs last season. Miles Austin was added for WR depth. His game has been on the decline over the past couple of years.
DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews were added to the roster to replace LeSean McCoy, who was traded to the Buffalo Bills. Murray took on astounding 449 regular-season touches last year and turned them 2,261 yards from scrimmage and 13 TDs. Mathews is a former first-round draft pick who has upside as a runner and as a receiver, but his career has been mostly about injuries.Backup RB Chris Polk signed with the Houston Texans.
Nick Foles was traded to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford. Foles was a key part of the Eagles' success in 2013. Over the past two years, Nick went 14-4 as a starter. Bradford has always had talent, but injuries have cost him parts of three seasons. He is currently recovering from his second left ACL tear in as many years.
Guard Todd Herremans left to play for the Indianapolis Colts. He struggled in 2014 after playing at an elite level the previous year. His season ended in November because of a torn biceps muscle. He's best in run blocking.
The only other change of value came at linebacker. Casey Matthews moved on to play with the Minnesota Vikings. Casey graded out negatively in 2014, his first season as a starter.
Philadelphia addressed the loss of Maclin by selecting Nelson Agholor in the first round. Nelson has similar qualities to Maclin. He has plus speed (4.42 40-yard dash) and plus route-running ability. Agholor isn't very strong, but he can play in the slot and out wide. He could also have value as a returner.
With three of their next four picks, the Eagles invested in upgrading their secondary. They drafted cornerbacks Eric Rowe, JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans. Rowe earned stars in every competition at this year's combine. He is extremely athletic, quick and possesses 4.45 40 speed. Eric isn't great at covering receivers deep down the field, but he has upside as a press corner. He could also see time at safety. He played three years in college at free safety before moving to cornerback in his season year. Shepherd has playmaking ability and solid football instincts, but he lacks speed (4.65 40). In addition, JaCorey isn't a physical player. His game may play better at safety, but he needs to get stronger and improve his tackling skills. Evans works hard on and off the field, which helps him make up for his lack of natural talent. He has solid speed but will struggle in man-to-man coverage when asked to chase deep. Evans is serviceable against the run.
In the third round, the Eagles added linebacker Jordan Hicks. He has upside in all areas of the game. He works hard and has a good feel for the game, but he may lack the vision necessary to make him an elite player. His gambling style in college may have covered up some of the weaknesses in his skill set. This approach will be exposed in the NFL.
Defensive end Brian Mihalik was drafted in the seventh round. His skill set lacks upside. He must add more strength and develop better pass-rushing moves if he wants to stay in the league.
Philadelphia Eagles WR Nelson Agholor
Philly finished ninth in rushing yards (1,992) and scored 16 TDs on the ground. They gained 4.2 yards per carry, which was just above league average. The Eagles allowed 32 sack. They recorded the sixth-most passing yards (4,356), 27 passing TDs and 21 interceptions.
Jason Peters was the best tackle in the league in 2014 and has usually been great when healthy. He was elite in both run and pass blocking last year (four sacks, four QB hits and 17 QB hurries).
Evan Mathis asked for and was granted his release in June after contract talks broke down and after the Eagles were unable to trade him. Philly now has a huge hole to fill at left guard. Mathis was one of the best at his position. He is expected to be replaced by Allen Barbre while Matt Tobin most likely fills in at right guard. Both players haven't shown upside in any area.
Center Jason Kelce was a top run blocker at his position in 2014. He allowed two sacks, three QB hits and eight QB hurries. He missed four games due to a sports hernia.
Right tackle Lane Johnson, a first-round pick in 2013, was productive in both run and pass blocking. In his rookie year, Lane allowed 11 sacks. That number fell all the way down to one last season.
This line has a couple of elite players and a solid center. Philly will run the ball well and be above average in pass blocking. Overall, the Eagles have one of the better O-lines in the league, anchored by a dominant left tackle.
The above chart shows the Eagles' 2015 offensive strength of schedule in terms of rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA) and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2014 stats, which we will work with as our starting point for 2015. We'll look at all the changes on offense for each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades each team has made on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish researching all 32 teams.
2014 Average: The league average of each stat from all 32 teams in 2014.
2014 Results: The results for each specific team in the NFL.
2015 Adjustment: The difference between a team's result and the league average in a certain statistic. This number will show if a team is above or below the league average in each stat and will serve as the basis for the strength of schedule.
Philadelphia really has only one tough matchup against the run: the New York Jets. The Lions' run defense will be significantly weaker following the departure of Ndamukong Suh. The most favorable matchups for the Eagles' running backs will come against the New Orleans Saints and two games versus the New York Giants. The Eagles have what appears to be two tough passing matchups: the Bills and the Miami Dolphins. They will possibly have 11 games against below-average pass defenses.
At just 43.2 percent, the Eagles ran the ball less often than in 2013. RBs caught 18.4 percent of their quarterbacks' completions. Tight ends caught 24.2 percent of the total. Wideouts hauled in 223 passes for 2,922 yards and 20 TDs.
QB Sam Bradford - Gamble (high risk)
UPDATE (10/3): All those Fantasy dreams of Sam Bradford have not come true. Through three games, the Eagles offense has looked flat. There's still potential for more, but you should let the other teams in your league wait for Bradford to realize his potential. With three TDs and five turnovers to start the season, Bradford should only be on your radar if you are hard-pressed to find a replacement off the waiver wire.
Bradford was a solid game manager in 2013 when he threw 14 TDs and only four INTs in seven games. However, his season ended in Week 7 when he tore his left ACL. He then tore the same ligament last August, forcing him to miss the entire 2014 season. Sam hasn't thrown for 4,000 yards or more than 21 touchdowns in any year since entering the league in 2010. He is 18-30-1 as a starting QB with only 59 TDs in 49 starts. Bradford has a live arm and a great opportunity in Philly to post strong numbers. The Eagles have had a top-10 passing offense in each of the two seasons with Kelly as their head coach. If healthy, I expect Bradford to win the starting job and approach 30 touchdowns. However, it's still hard to say if he will be ready by Week 1. He is a player to track with continued injury risk. The Eagles have talent at the receiving positions, so their starter will no doubt be a top-12 Fantasy QB and surpass 4,000 yards. I view Bradford as an upside backup QB in the Fantasy market with future starting value.
QB Mark Sanchez - Deep-league Only
In relief of the injured Nick Foles last season, Sanchez went 4-4 while completing a career high 64.1 percent of his passes. Mark threw for 300-plus yards in four of his eight starts and fewer than two TDs only twice. His arm has value, but Sanchez tends to make too many mistakes; he committed 14 turnovers in those eight games. Mark is 37-33 in his career with 82 TDs and 80 INTs. With a year in this system, Sanchez should be improved, and the team's rebuilt backfield will take the pressure off the passing game in the red zone. His overall game is below Bradford's, but Sanchez's dependable health may lead to him getting the first crack at the starting job. He must limit the mistakes if he wants to have long-term value. Mark is worth a flier as Philly will throw a high volume of passes.
Philadelphia Eagles QB Mark Sanchez
RB DeMarco Murray - Stud (low risk)
UPDATE (10/3): DeMarco Murray's season isn't over, not yet anyway. Last year's top back still has plenty of time to get things back on track. That said, Fantasy owners should already be concerned. He didn't play in Week 3 and has a whopping 11 yards on 21(!) carries. Unacceptable. A touchdown saved his Week 2 point total, but he'll need to do a lot more than that to satisfy the masses. No shame in trading him for whatever you can get.
Murray was just outstanding last season. He led the league in rushing yards (1,845) and yards from scrimmage (2,261). DeMarco had the seventh-most rushing attempts (392) and the sixth-most touches (449) in NFL history. He posted a dozen 100-yard games and scored a league-high 13 rushing touchdowns. For his career, DeMarco is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. His value in the passing game has improved in each of his four seasons. With Mathews and Sproles on the roster as well, Murray will have more competition for snaps. In the end, the best player will earn the most playing time. DeMarco wasn't really a workhorse in his first three seasons, so his huge volume of work in 2014 may not lead to as much failure as most people believe. Philly ran the ball 975 times over the past two years. Murray can't help but stumble into 300 carries and at least 30 catches. He will have high value at the goal line as well. I expect 1,700-plus total yards with a chance at 15 touchdowns. He still projects to be a 300-point Fantasy player in PPR leagues.
RB Ryan Mathews - Fantasy Handcuff
Heath has always been an issue for Mathews. He has two 1,000-yard seasons on his resume, but he has missed 20 games in five years. Last season, Ryan played only six games due a sprained MCL in his right knee and a sprained right ankle. Ryan didn't have more than 17 touches in any game and saw his receptions total plummet to nine. Mathews' value as a receiver has declined every year since the start of 2012. Mathews has 24 career TDs in 60 games. He is the clear No. 2 RB here and may get 8-10 touches per game. Barring an injury to Murray, Mathews won't have a ton of Fantasy value. But as the 41st RB coming off draft boards on average, he should be easy to roster as a valuable handcuff.
Philadelphia Eagles RB Ryan Mathews
RB Darren Sproles - Bye Week Fill-in
UPDATE (10/3): After a couple down seasons, Darren Sproles is back to his old self as a PPR monster. In three games, Sproles already has 15 receptions, which puts him just off a career-best pace. Add a respectable 17 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown, and you've got yourself a weekly flex option in PPR leagues.
In his first season with the Eagles, Sproles finished with just 97 touches and a six-year low in catches (40). The Eagles struggled to connect with him in open space as he posted a career-low 64.5 percent catch rate. Sproles' catch rate was well more than 70 percent from 2010-13. His big-play ability remains intact (5.8 yards per carry, 9.7 yards per catch). This season, he will once again see most of his action on passing downs. In order to have any Fantasy value, Sproles needs to catch at least 60 balls. This seems highly unlikely with two other backs on the team who have receiving skills. Last season, Philly completed only 71 passes to its RBs for 558 yards and no touchdowns. Sproles is nothing more than deep insurance.
WR Jordan Matthews - Solid/Safe Pick
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Philadelphia Eagles WR Jordan Matthews
WR Nelson Agholor - Sleeper (undervalued)
UPDATE (10/3): Any thoughts of Nelson Agholor having an impact rookie season are long gone. A slow start in Philly has almost the entire offense off-kilter. Agholor still has a ton of dynasty value but another poor game should have most Fantasy owners cutting him loose.
Before the NFL Draft, I was looking at some of the Eagles' 2014 data. I was amazed at how much pressure their up-tempo offense put on their defense. Last year, Philly's defense was on the field for about 8 hours and 53 minutes, the most in the league. The quest for greatness on offense does come at a price with Chip Kelly's style of play. Despite this info, the Eagles focused on offense in the first round of the draft. Agholor offered big-play ability as a part-time player in his first two years at USC (75 catches, 1,258 yards, eight scores). His game improved greatly in 2014 when he caught 104 passes for 1,313 yards and 12 TDs. He also returned four punts for touchdowns in college which added to his draft value. Philly really needed to find a replacement for Maclin, and Agholor almost looks like a match as far as size (6 feet 1, 198 pounds) and speed (4.42 40). However, Nelson's lack of top-end speed suggests he'll earn most of his value within the first 15 yards from scrimmage. His long plays will be the product of his ability to make defenders miss in the open field. He can line up anywhere in the formation, and his route-running ability should give him plenty of opportunities to produce as a rookie. Nelson has a solid chance of hauling in 60-plus passes for 750-plus yards and about five touchdowns. Those stats make him a WR4, but he has more upside.
WR Riley Cooper - Bust (overvalued)
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WR Miles Austin - Over the Hill (decreased production)
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TE Zach Ertz - Stud (low risk)
Many Fantasy experts expected Ertz to have his breakthrough season in 2014. Zach did see his production grow by 50 percent, but one quarter of his catches came in Week 16, when he caught 15 passes for 115 yards on 18 targets. From Weeks 3-15, Ertz had only 32 catches, 368 yards and two TDs on 54 targets. He was out-snapped 827 to 603 by Brent Celek. Through all of this, Zach ended up as Fantasy's No. 13 TE. I like his upside, and he should see an increase in targets. But he has to be on the field more often. I'm banking Ertz putting up about 70 catches, 850 yards and six touchdowns or so. Based on last year's results; that stat line would make him a top-seven tight end.
Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz
TE Brent Celek - Over the Hill (decreased production)
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Philadelphia - Solid/Safe Pick
The Eagles will face four teams that had weak rushing attacks last season: The Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals. On the flip side, they also have to face the Jets' and the Cowboys' rushing attacks. Philly has eight games versus teams with above-average passing attacks. The Jets and the Seahawks are the only teams on the schedule that are below average through the air.
Defensive end Fletcher Cox was the Eagles' best run defender, and he also produced as a pass rusher (four sacks, five QB hits and 39 QB hurries). The 2012 first-rounder has improved greatly since his first two years in the league. DE Cedric Thornton also played well against the run, but he delivered just one sack and one QB hit. Nose tackle Bennie Logan was slightly above average against the run with no value in the pass rush.
LB Connor Barwin had a great season attacking the QB, racking up 14.5 sacks. He registered only eight sacks in the previous two seasons combined. LB Mychal Kendricks was a neutral run defender while playing extremely well in pass coverage and showing improvement as a pass rusher. Last year, he missed four games with a calf injury. LB Kiko Alonso came to the Eagles in the trade of LeSean McCoy. Alonso missed all of last year with a torn ACL. As a rookie in 2013, Alonso recorded 159 tackles, two sacks and four interceptions. He was a little weak against the run. LB Brandon Graham was a great asset in the pass rush in 2014 (5.5 sacks, eight QB hits, and 39 QB hurries). He was also an asset against the run.
Philadelphia Eagles LB Connor Barwin
Safety Malcolm Jenkins is the only returning player in this secondary. He added value to their run defense while playing well in pass coverage. Thurmond is currently listed as the second safety. He will face competition from Eric Rowe and Earl Wolff, who underwent major knee surgery in November. Byron Maxwell should be an upgrade in pass coverage. CB Brandon Boykin has played well in pass coverage while coming off the bench in his career.
This defense has strength on the D-line with value against the run. Their linebackers are talented and can get after the quarterback as well as hold their own in coverage. Jenkins is an asset in the secondary, and Maxwell should be at least league average. How much this secondary improves from last year will depend on the development of their young talent. Last year, the Eagles were very advantageous. They recovered 16 fumbles and scored seven defensive touchdowns, finishing as Fantasy's No. 1 defense. Draft them as a top-five unit this season.