2016 cheat sheet: Philadelphia Eagles
[Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Aug. 19, 2016, and updated on Sept. 8, 2016, following the trade that sent QB Sam Bradford to the Minnesota Vikings.]
The Philadelphia Eagles are heading into 2016 with hopes of bouncing back from a 7-9 year after an interesting offseason, during which they changed coaches from Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson. There are plenty of storylines to keep an eye on, including the quarterback group with second-overall pick Carson Wentz, as well as the the 10-game suspension facing tackle Lane Johnson.
Three biggest things to know
1. Second-overall pick Carson Wentz is in the spotlight.
With Sam Bradford traded to Minnesota, the Eagles are putting their season in the hands of rookie Carson Wentz. The compensation for Bradford will help them in the future, but 2016 could be rough if Wentz’s preseason action is any indication. Injuries limited him to 38 snaps, but in that span, Wentz graded below-average as a passer, completing just one pass that traveled beyond 10 yards downfield. When pressured, only 25 percent of his passes (three of 12) hit the mark. Conversely, Bradford was one of the most-accurate quarterbacks under pressure in 2015, and finished the 2016 preseason with a perfect adjusted completion rate on those plays, one of just two players to do so. Fortunately, the Eagles allowed pressure below the league-average rate in 2015, and that continued in the preseason, with opposing rushers getting to Philadelphia’s QBs on roughly 29 percent of their drop backs—the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL.
2. Drops were a major problem last season.
One factor that will definitely affect Wentz is the play of his receivers, who, outside of tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz, graded below-average across the board last season. Jordan Matthews was the team’s highest-graded WR, and he ranked just 68th at the position in terms of overall grade. Drops were a particular issue, and one that didn’t look resolved on the day that PFF visited Eagles camp. Only two QBs saw more of their passes dropped in 2015 than Sam Bradford, with 42, and on a per-pass basis, that number was actually worse with Bradford, seeing a league-high 7.8 percent of his attempts dropped. Those plays cost the Eagles’ offense at least 335 yards, ninth-most in the league.
We’ll see if this problem continues in 2016; Ertz and Celek should continue to produce above-average play, and we’ve at least seen solid play from the rest of Philadelphia’s pass catchers in previous seasons. Matthews graded above-average during his rookie season in 2014, while newcomer Reuben Randle put forth three straight seasons of positive overall grades prior to 2015. The biggest improvement could come from sophomore Nelson Agholor, who had the worst season of the group, but showed his potential during his final college season, in which he finished with the FBS’s fifth-highest receiving grade.
Newcomer Dorial Green-Beckham adds another young, high-round pick to the Eagles’ inventory. Despite just an average grade, Beckham would have been the Eagles’ highest-graded receiver a season ago (53rd-overall) after hauling in 32 of 63 targets across 586 snaps with average gain that ranked 10th at the position. In his first preseason game of 2016, he saw just two targets, catching one of those for 15 yards.
3. Safeties make up for questionable CB depth.
Apart from receiver, cornerback is perhaps the most glaring position of need when looking at the team’s depth chart. Ron Brooks and Leodis McKelvin are the current projected starters on the outside, but both former Bills graded below-average last season, while the team’s top-graded CB (Nolan Carroll) ranked just 53rd in overall grade. Brooks has yet to put forth an above-average coverage grade in his career, while the Eagles are likely hoping McKelvin can regain the form of his 2010–2013 seasons. Fortunately, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod form an excellent safety net, with Jenkins further helping with his ability to play the slot; last season, he was the second-highest graded safety overall, spending 47 percent of his snaps in the slot.
A strong pass-rush will also aid Philadelphia’s corners; only four defenses collectively graded better rushing the passer than the Eagles, and they return the bulk of that production in the form of Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry.
Key arrivals and departures
Top three draft picks: QB Carson Wentz (Round 1, pick No. 2 overall, North Dakota State), OL Isaac Seumalo (Round 3, pick No. 79 overall, Oregon State), RB Wendell Smallwood (Round 5, pick No.153 overall, West Virginia)
Signed in free agency: S Rodney McCleod (Rams), G Brandon Brooks (Texans), CB Leodis McKelvin (Bills), C Stefen Wisniewski (Jaguars), P Ryan Quigley (Jets), WR Rueben Randle (Giants), WR Chris Givens (Ravens), QB Chase Daniel (Chiefs), DT Mike Martin (Titans)
Left via free agency: S Walter Thurmond, DI Cedric Thornton (Cowboys), QB Mark Sanchez (Broncos)
Acquired via trade: WR Dorial Green-Beckham (Titans)
Departed via trade: LB Kiko Alonso (Dolphins), CB Byron Maxwell (Dolphins), RB DeMarco Murray (Titans), OT Dennis Kelly (Titans), CB Eric Rowe (Patriots)
Cut: LB DeMeco Ryans, DI Brandon Blair, WR Riley Cooper
Rookie to watch
Jalen Mills, CB, LSU (Round 7, pick No. 233 overall)
Several rookies are listed as second stringers on the Eagles’ most recent depth chart; among them is CB Jalen Mills behind starter Leodis McKelvin. Mills has reportedly had a solid camp, and is interestingly ahead of Eric Rowe, whom the team took in the second round (47th overall) a year ago; he finished 2015 with the 82nd-ranked overall grade among NFL CBs. Mills actually graded negatively in both coverage and run defense during an injury-plagued final season at LSU, but when healthy in 2014, he was above-average in coverage, getting his hands on three passes at safety. Again, outside corner is a question mark for the Eagles, and if listed starters Brooks and McKelvin continue their most recent level of play, Mills could be looking at snaps early on.
Highest-graded player of 2015
Fletcher Cox, DT, 89.9 overall grade
Cox broke out in 2014, and followed that performance with another massive jump last season, ranking 10th among interior defenders in overall grade and sixth among that group in pass-rushing. That earned him a huge extension this offseason, which isn’t surprising looking at the stats; he finished 2015 with 77 combined pressures (10 sacks, 13 hits, and 54 hurries) and 44 defensive stops, with both figures putting him among the top five in his position group.
We’ll see if he can match—or exceed—that production in 2016.
Breakout player watch
Vinny Curry, DL
Curry enters 2016 with three straight seasons of positive pass-rush grades, including a large jump in 2015, which was the first year he’s seen more than 400 snaps (426). Only five 3-4 DEs graded better rushing the passer, while on a per-snap basis, only two players (J.J. Watt and Arik Armstead) bested Curry’s 49 combined pressures in 340 rushes. There’s a good chance he sees another increase in playing time in 2016, and with Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox present to draw the attention of opposing offensive lines, Curry could be in for another big season.
Base defense (2015 season grades shown)
Base offense (2015 season grades shown)