Fantasy Depth Chart Review - Philadelphia
Following a hectic offseason where Chip Kelly and company made headlines several times, the Eagles enter 2015 hardly resembling their former selves.
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Unless you were under a rock this offseason, you know that the Eagles traded away Nick Foles in exchange for Sam Bradford. The former No. 1 overall draft pick now sits atop the Philly depth chart with Mark Sanchez in the backup spot while Matt Barkley and Tim Tebow duke it out for the final roster spot.
Chip Kelly has maintained that Bradford and Sanchez will compete for the starting job, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where Sanchez beats out a healthy Bradford. Of course, health is the issue with the former Sooner. Bradford missed all of last season with a torn left ACL, the same injury that cut his 2013 season short just seven games in. Much of the news on Bradford this offseason has focused on whether or not he’ll be ready for camp, but he seems confident that will be the case.
Obviously, Bradford’s injury history is a massive red flag, but it’s not unprecedented for a player to wipe the “injury prone” slate clean. Matthew Stafford was slapped with that label after missing 19 games in his first two seasons. Since then, he’s missed just 44 of the Lions’ 4,767 offensive snaps including playoff games. The point I’m trying to make here is that we shouldn’t immediately write Bradford off. His book isn’t completely written yet.
However, the earlier chapters on Bradford’s pro career are rather dull. His best statistical output came in 2012 when he put up 3,702 yards and 21 touchdowns, which ranked him 17th in fantasy scoring. Before you read too much into those numbers, consider this: His receivers that season included Brandon Gibson, Chris Givens, Danny Amendola, Austin Pettis, Brian Quick, and Steve Smith. That’s a motley crew that rivals what the Browns have going on at receiver this season.
Bradford certainly gets an upgrade in surrounding cast in Philly, and also gets to play in a very quarterback-friendly system that made Foles look like Joe Montana for stretches and had Sanchez putting up QB1 numbers last season. From Week 9 on, Sanchez was the No. 9 fantasy quarterback, outscoring the likes of Matt Ryan, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, and Tom Brady.
Bradford isn’t even close to an elite option, but he’s a superior talent to Foles and Sanchez and should thrive in Kelly’s offense. With a current ADP of 11.06 as the 16th quarterback off the board, he offers significant upside and has the potential for a strong ROI.
At receiver, we’re projecting Jordan Matthews to man the slot with rookie Nelson Agholor and Miles Austin starting outside. You read that right, Miles Austin. Kelly has been impressed with Austin so far, but the veteran just turned 31 and has missed 15 games over the last four seasons. Still, a healthy Austin is an upgrade over Riley Cooper, who was PFF’s worst wide receiver last season.
Speaking of last season, here’s how the Eagles distributed their targets among wide receivers: Jeremy Maclin – 143, Jordan Matthews – 105, Riley Cooper – 95, Josh Huff – 18, Jeff Maehl – 5, and Brad Smith – 3.
With Maclin out of the mix, it’s fair to expect an uptick in Matthews’ targets. However, it’s a stretch to suggest that Matthews simply assumes Maclin’s role in the offense. Matthews’ best fit is in the slot, and that’s where you can expect to see him line up a majority of the time.
Keep in mind that Kelly’s system favors versatile players in order to create mismatches, so Matthews will get some work on the outside. However, the best player comp in terms of fantasy potential is Marques Colston. Like Colston, Matthews offers a high fantasy floor, but it’s tough to envision his fantasy ceiling any higher than the WR2 range.
Agholor is another scheme-versatile receiver who is equally adept in the slot and outside the numbers. He put up 104 catches for 1,313 yards and 12 scores at USC in 2014. A sure-handed receiver, Agholor caught 76.3% of passes thrown his direction, which is best among this year’s top draft-eligible receivers. He also had 45 catches for 509 yards out of the slot in 2014. Right now, Agholor is going in the late-7th round, which may be a tad early based on our projected target total of 97.
It’s unlikely there will be much fantasy value to be had from Austin or Cooper, though folks in deep dynasty leagues will want to know the name Devante Davis. Coming out of UNLV, Davis went undrafted despite good size (6’3”) and decent speed (4.5 40 time). He’s essentially a better version of Cooper, and offers an intriguing long-term fantasy profile.
Those searching for an upside tight end on the verge of breaking into the top fantasy tier likely have Zach Ertz highlighted on your draft boards. The third-year man has been a frequent topic of conversation along the Eagles beat, as many writers have pegged Ertz to make the leap in 2015. He’s coming off of a 702-yard campaign in which he saw 86 targets. However, what really catches the eye is Ertz’s Week 16 performance where he caught 15-of-18 targets for 115 yards against the Redskins.
Ertz offers obvious upside, and the fantasy community has started to catch on. His ADP currently sits at 8.09, which is up from 10.05 just a month ago. There’s still a little meat on the bone, but that ADP is creeping into the undesirable range considering you can get Antonio Gates in the late-ninth and Jason Witten a full three rounds later in the 11th.
Running back is another position where Kelly significantly shook up the depth chart. He kicked things off by shipping LeSean McCoy to the Bills, and then signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. Murray is coming off his massive 392-carry season, while Mathews never seemed to reach his potential in San Diego. But how do things shape out for fantasy purposes on this crowded depth chart that also includes Darren Sproles?
Make no mistake that Murray is the lead dog in this backfield. The Eagles wouldn’t give him $21 million in guaranteed money to serve in a committee. That said, he’s extremely unlikely to average 24-plus carries per game again. The Eagles are going to divide carries between Murray and Mathews with Sproles getting his typical work in the passing game. We’re projecting 260 carries for Murray, 147 for Mathews, and 49 for Sproles.
While this carry distribution bodes poorly for Murray repeating as the top scoring fantasy running back, he’s still in the RB1 mix. However, if injury struck Mathews, Murray would immediately vault into contention for the top fantasy running back option. Likewise, if the opposite scenario played out and Murray got hurt, Mathews would be a clear RB1.
Shifting to the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles were a surprise DST breakout last season thanks in large part to their 11 defense or special teams touchdowns. Expect regression in that department, but there is a lot to like about this unit.
Along the defensive line the Eagles boast a budding superstar in Fletcher Cox. While he’s not an elite-level pass rusher (just 12.5 sacks in his first three seasons), Cox flashed fantasy upside last season, finishing as the No. 15 defensive lineman in balanced scoring leagues. With a solid tPOP of 8.8, Cox managed 61 total tackles. Only four defensive linemen had more: J.J. Watt (78), Jason Pierre-Paul (77), Carlos Dunlap (66), and Rob Ninkovich (62). Cox’s high tackle floor makes him an ideal DL2, though his lack of sack production will keep him out of the elite conversation.
Those in super-deep leagues will also want to keep an eye on Cedric Thornton. A strong run defender, Thornton finished 36th in fantasy scoring last season. Like Cox, Thornton offers a high floor/low ceiling fantasy profile and should be considered a DL3 streamer.
Moving to linebacker, we’ll start on the inside where the Eagles have three potential starters and only two spots to fill. Kiko Alonso came over from Buffalo in the McCoy trade and seems locked into one of the starting jobs. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks will compete for the other job. That is, unless the Eagles manage to trade Kendricks before the season begins. It’s tough to envision a scenario where the Eagles part ways with an up-and-coming talent in favor of an oft-injured veteran on the downslope of his career. Then again, who would have predicted the Eagles trading McCoy and Foles?
As things stand, Alonso and Kendricks are still the linebackers to own in IDP leagues. If things stay put, neither of them offers LB1 appeal, as they should eat into each other’s tackle totals. Still, they’re both suitable LB2s.
To those who are still caught up with Alonso’s monster 2013 rookie season, keep in mind that he put up those 159 total tackles while playing eight games in one of the most tackle-friendly venues in the NFL – Buffalo. Last season, the Eagles crew awarded 1.07 tackles per opportunity, while the Bills were at 1.41. Alonso’s 2013 tPOP of 13.3 wasn’t anywhere near elite-level, so expect regression in his tackle numbers this season.
Shifting outside, we have Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham projected to start. Barwin is coming off a breakout 14.5 sacks in 2014. His productivity was impressive, with a QB pressure on 16.0 percent of his pass rush snaps. While it’s unlikely Barwin matches last season’s numbers, he’s still a decent risk/reward LB3 in balanced scoring systems with slightly more value in big play leagues.
However, Graham is the more intriguing player of this duo. After serving as a situational player for the last four years, Graham surprisingly re-upped with the Eagles, dashing the hopes of dynasty owners (like yours truly) who thought he’d land with a 4-3 team.
Though not a household name, Graham has been one of the most effective pass rushers in the league on a per-snap basis. Last season, he recorded a QB pressure on 23.6 percent of his pass rush snaps. Comparatively, Justin Houston was at 19.6, and J.J. Watt was at 18.8. Now, that’s not to say that I expect Graham to blow Watt and Houston out of the water this season. His QBP is almost guaranteed to regress. However, in a full-time role, Graham is a serious breakout candidate. He’s a prime sleeper candidate with double-digit sack potential.
Shifting to the revamped secondary, Malcolm Jenkins returns at free safety and we’re projecting Walter Thurmond to start at strong safety. Jenkins wasn’t the most consistent fantasy option last season, but he did manage to finish in the top 20 among defensive backs (18th). He’s currently going as the No. 53 defensive back in ADP, which is an absolute steal. Jenkins is an ideal target late in IDP drafts.
Thurmond is converting over to safety from corner, and we really don’t know what to expect from him if he earns the starting job. However, it’s fairly clear that his former Seahawks teammate Byron Maxwell will start at right cornerback. While we saw fantasy finishes of 45th and 47th over the last two years out of Bradley Fletcher, it’s tough to envision Maxwell as much of a fantasy factor. His tPOP of 7.5 last season was among the lowest in the league.
Instead, there may actually be value to be had in rookie Eric Rowe. While we don’t have him projected to start, Rowe flashed freakish athletic ability at the Combine. He’s going to compete with Nolan Carroll for the starting job on the left, and could be an intriguing IDP option if he gets the gig. Rookie corners tend to see a ton of targets in their direction.
Jeff Ratcliffe is the Assistant Managing Editor and resident IDP maven and DFS junkie of PFF Fantasy.