When the Eagles traded with the Browns to move up to select Carson Wentz, the overall feeling was a mixed. Yes, there’s excitement, to potentially land a franchise quarterback, and end the annual question of “can (insert average quarterback’s name here) do enough with the supporting cast around him to lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl?” While there’s excitement around Wentz, there is also a depressing cloud hanging over Eagles’ fans head when thinking about the immediate future. What about 2016? A first round pick that will sit, and have little to no impact on the upcoming season. What’s the fun in that?
Well first off, if Carson Wentz ends up becoming the quarterback the Eagles front office believes he can become, his no impact in 2016 is absolutely worth the time. Secondly, why is it that we give prospects 3 years to judge them, but also expect impact from day one? You always hear “select best player available, it’s how good teams draft.” While true, if you’re taking best player available, and waiting 3 years to see what type of player they become, how can you be upset if the Eagles take a player they plan on red-shirting his first year?
Fact is, good teams don’t rely on rookies to come in and impact the team immediately. Bad teams do. Yes, some teams are fortunate and find gems in the middle to late rounds that impact in year one. And often times early round picks do as well. But again, good teams don’t look for instant production. Outside of Ezekiel Elliott, I don’t see a rookie in this year’s draft taking a team to the next level in terms of making an average team good, or a good team great, etc.
When looking at the Eagles heading into 2016, before the draft, the outlook on them was positive. They re-signed their own, they paid young players entering their prime in free agency, they got their quarterback for the next two years. The Eagles did everything they could to enter draft weekend with minimal glaring needs allowing them to draft players for long-term. Again, a plan that teams with disciplined front offices do. It’s easy to say you’ll take the best player available and not draft by need, but it’s harder to actually execute it.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Eagles have a chance to surprise people. Every season, there are teams that media outlets predict will make a Super Bowl run, typically teams that have big free agent signings. This year, the Giants did, so expect a lot of buzz around them. The thing that sucks about the hype is it’s due to teams signing big names at skill positions. Eagles did it in 2011, but the team struggled. Why? The trenches. The offensive line and defensive lines were atrocious. 2015 was similar for the Eagles. Eagles added guys like DeMarco Murray and Byron Maxwell, but the offensive line was so bad, the Eagles’ offense was terrible.
This year, the Eagles lack the sex appeal on paper. But addressing the offensive line in free agency and the draft makes the offensive line a strength on offense, which most overlook when looking at a depth chart. Below, I will highlight a few players the Eagles are going to be leaning on to play well in 2016, starting with the skill positions on offense.
Anyone who follows my twitter handle knows my love for Nelson Agholor is real. He has everything you want in a number one wide receiver. Natural hands, creates separation, a really good route runner, and speed. Agholor was hindered by Sam Bradford being rusty in the early parts of 2016, and when Bradford finally began to settle in, Agholor suffered a high ankle sprain. Agholor is a player I saw create separation against corners like Darrelle Revis and Desmond Trufant. When evaluating a wideout, remember, more goes into it than the box score. Sometimes a guy gets open, but the ball isn’t thrown his way. No doubt Agholor had his own issues, but I expect a big year in 2016. My man Jonny Page took a deep look into Agholor’s route running in 2015. Check it out here.
Zach Ertz, to me, is the most important piece in this offense, outside of the quarterback. There’s no doubt in my mind that Ertz will be the focal point in Doug Pederson’s offense. Pederson having Travis Kelce in Kansas City, and offensive coordinator Frank Reich having Antonio Gates in San Diego, these guys know how to scheme, and create mismatches for versatile tight ends. While we all expected Chip Kelly to utilize Ertz to the best of his abilities, fact is he never did. We always saw flashes, but never a consistent string of games put together until the final four of 2015. Those numbers above are very impressive. Ertz should be one of the first tight ends selected in fantasy football this year.
This is obviously assuming Sam Bradford changes his diaper and shows up for training camp, which seems likely as he literally has no other option other than to retire. Look, before Bradford started acting like a prima donna, fans were excited about what Bradford could do in Pederson’s offense. And rightfully so. He gets an offseason dedicated to getting better, and not rehabbing his knee, he’s familiar with his wide receivers in Matthews, Agholor and Ertz. Nothing’s changed. Bradford missing voluntary camp isn’t ideal, but it isn’t season changing. This is the best situation Bradford has ever been in. A career year could be on the horizon.
The 2nd year corner ended 2015 on a positive note. Rowe flashed against talented wide receivers in Sammy Watkins and Pierre Garcon. Rowe will be asked to play a lot of man-to-man coverage in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. While Nolan Carroll is a reliable number two corner, Rowe will more than likely be asked to be the team’s number one corner. The talented front 4 of the Eagles is going to generate pressure which should help out Rowe and the back end of the defense. And again, Jonny took a dive into Eric Rowe in coverage last season. You can see it here.
After a very promising 2014, Mychal Kendricks was very bad in 2015. It may have had to do with fatigue since the defense was on the field more than any other defense in the league. Whatever it was, Kendricks struggled a lot. Jim Schwartz will implement a wide-9 defense which will put more run support responsibility on the line backers. Schwartz’s scheme is down-hill as he asks the defense to attack the line of scrimmage, which fits Mychal Kendricks strengths. Less thinking, more attacking. The Eagles desperately need Kendricks to have a bounce back year in 2016.
While on paper, the Eagles don’t look like a very competitive team, them addressing the offensive line in free agency and in the draft will make that unit a strength this upcoming year. The addition of Jim Schwartz and the wide-9 is going to benefit Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry a ton. The Eagles could flirt near the top of the league in sacks in 2016. With that being said, the Eagles need their young core to play to their potential, and Sam Bradford to take control of the offense. If done, the Eagles could take the NFC East crown.