Typically when a coach is fired, the perception is that the team must enter re-build mode. While the Eagles aren’t ready to go compete for a Super Bowl at this very moment, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a roster that is close to being a competitive team in the NFL.
The most important position in the NFL is quarterback. Sam Bradford started off really slow in 2015, but by year’s end, almost the entire Eagles fanbase was hoping he re-signs with the team in the offseason. Yes, Sam Bradford will want to be paid in the offseason, but more importanly he will be looking to find some stability and camaraderie. Yes, the Eagles will have a new coaching staff, but the connection Bradford built with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz will have him thinking a return to Philadelphia will be the most comfortable move for him. Keep in mind, when in St. Louis, Sam Bradford not once had a receiver surpass 700 yards receiving. In 2015, both Jordan Matthews (997) and Zach Ertz (853) recorded the two highest receiving totals Bradford ever had in a receivers. Expect Sam Bradford to be the quarterback for the Eagles in 2016 and beyond.
Outside of quarterback, the Eagles have some weapons on offense. The running game will feature DeMarco Murray as the lead back, and I am sure the new coaching staff will run a more conventional running game that fits Murray’s down-hill running style. Ryan Mathews will be the change of pace back, which is a perfect fit for him. Darren Sproles is 32 years old, but still productive as ever. Sproles’ cap-hit is $4.5 million in 2016, here’s to hoping the new staff wants him back.
The receiving options aren’t as bad as most think. Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews both had career best years in 2015 and are only getting better. Nelson Agholor, the 1st round pick in 2015, was hindered by injuries and lack of chemistry with Sam Bradford. One thing you see when you watch Agholor is he’s always creating separation. Expect a big leap from Agholor in year number 2.
The Eagles’ biggest need or needs on offense is offensive line. They must address both guard positions and also look into the future of left tackle. Lane Johnson may slide to left tackle when Jason Peters is done, but that then leaves a hole at right tackle. Offensive line should be priority 1,2, and 3 for the Eagles.
On defense, the Eagles have a ton of play-makers. Fletcher Cox is arguably the 2nd best 3-4 defensive end in the NFL behind only JJ Watt. If the Eagles switch to a 4-3 defense, Cox could be even more productive.
Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, and Kiko Alonso head the line backing group. Kiko clearly wasn’t himself after recovering from a torn ACL. Mychal Kendricks had his worst season since his rookie season, in 2015. After Jordan Hicks injured himself, the defense simply wasn’t the same. If Hicks Hicks comes back strong after his injury, Kiko returns to playing at the level he did his rookie season, and Kendricks plays to the ability all Eagles are familiar to seeing, the linebacking group could be a real strength for the Eagles’ defense.
The safety position, once looked at as a liability, was maybe the most reliable unit on the Eagles defense in 2015. Malcolm Jenkins was PFF’s best safety in the NFL, he led the NFL in snaps in 2015. Walter Thurmond enters the offseason as a free agent, and in his first year at safety, he had a solid season. With 71 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 interceptions, 7 pass deflections (all career highs). In a league that is deprived from good safety play, the Eagles should seriously consider bringing back Walter Thurmond and keep the tandem of he and Jenkins together.
One of the most overlooked performances in 2015 was Brandon Graham’s. in the offseason, the Eagles decided to move on from Eagles Great Trent Cole and make Brandon Graham a full-time starter. In 2015, Graham had 6.5 sacks, which is a bit underwhelming when judging stats. But if you look a little further, Graham had a total of 45 QB hurries, which was the 6th most from any 3-4 outside linebacker. He was rated PFF’s 6th best outside linebacker ion the entire league.
A name that doesn’t get enough love is Bennie Logan. Late in the year, the Eagles started getting gashed by opponents in the running game, that had a lot to do with Logan being injured. Logan will never be a forceful pass-rusher, but his ability to stop the run is special. Logan had 45 “stops” in 2015, which is the number of solo tackles that constitute an offensive failure. That was the 3rd most from any defensive tackle in the NFL.
Fan favorite Connor Barwin is a good player, but as a pass-rusher, he is just so average. Out of 53 graded 3-4 outside linebackers, Connor Barwin was the 39th best in 2015, according to PFF. While he’s one of the league’s best at batting down balls, he rarely gets pressure on the quarterback. His sack numbers are more of a testament to Fletcher Cox getting so much attention.
Vinny Curry should be a priority in the offseason for the Eagles in the offseason. Regardless if the Eagles keep a 3-4 defense or switch to a 4-3. Curry is a pass-rushing specialist. In 426 snaps, Vinny Curry had 35 QB hurries. Perspective: JJ Watt had 37 QB pressures in 1,022 snaps. Yes Watt is double teamed nearly every snap, but still Curry’s 35 QB hurries were 8th most by any 3-4 defensive end. Factor in him playing half the snaps of most starters, and at a position that isn’t necessarily his best fit, SIGN THE MAN.
The big signing in the offseason was Byron Maxwell. The narrative that Maxwell had a bad season couldn’t be more wrong. After week 1, Maxwell gave up just 2 total touchdowns in coverage. Also after week 1, Maxwell gave up just 4 catches and 53 yards per game. Are those numbers worth $63 million? No. But the season Maxwell had was very, very solid.
The other corner, the rookie, Eric Rowe made a name for himself. When Nolan Carroll was injured in the Detroit Lions game, Eric Rowe struggled against Calvin Johnson. Who wouldn’t in their first outing? After that, though Eric Rowe balled out. In the 5 games Rowe started, he gave up 3 catches, 39 yards, and a 66 QB rating per game. Rowe also didn’t allow a single touchdown in the 5 games he started at corner.
The corner position shouldn’t be a position of worry for fans heading into next season, especially with JaCorey Shepherd returning from an ACL injury.
The Eagles roster is full of talent and skill players. The new coaching staff must build the trenches on both sides of the ball. This isn’t a team that won 2 games in 2015. They played awful for most of the year and still managed to win 7 games. The new coaching staff needs to find an identity and build a tough, hard-nosed team that the City of Philadelphia is accustomed to seeing.