Training Camp Tour: Sam Bradford clear No. 1 QB in Eagles camp
On Day 9 of the Pro Football Focus training camp tour, the PFF analysis team traveled to Philadelphia to take in Eagles camp.
PHILADELPHIA – Our next stop on the PFF training camp tour took us to Philadelphia to see the Eagles—while also assessing just how many cheesesteaks as we could consume during our brief stay, naturally. The goal was to see “Pat’s,” “Geno’s,” “Jim’s,” and of course Carson Wentz. Mission accomplished.
The Eagles are one of the league’s most interesting teams entering the 2016 season, as we like their roster overall, though there should be some concerns with where the weaknesses are on the roster. Last year’s receiving corps was one of the league’s worst, while the current crop of cornerbacks may hold back the pass defense. As for the quarterbacks, Sam Bradford has a lame duck starting season ahead while Wentz adjusts to the NFL in an expected redshirt season. All of the team’s main storylines played out just as expected during our day at Eagles camp.
Sam Bradford the clear top QB
For those expecting to see Wentz (North Dakota State) change the mind of the coaching staff with a great camp, it doesn’t appear likely. Bradford is running with the first team, and his accuracy stands out above the rest of the quarterbacks. There are some growing pains in the new offense, and Bradford admitted as much in his post-practice remarks. They’re still getting on the same page with regard to mastering the concepts and seeing the defense through the same eyes.
Chase Daniel (Chiefs), not Wentz, is seeing the second-team reps, and he had a rough day during our short viewing. He threw behind receivers twice for interceptions, and forced a number of other passes into coverage that also had a good chance of being intercepted.
Wentz had an up-and-down day, as evidenced by a mis-timed overthrow on a red zone post during seven-on-seven that was followed immediately by a well-placed corner route on the very next play. He had a similar back-to-back sequence with a nicely-thrown touchdown followed by a mis-read of coverage in which he forced the ball into tight coverage for an interception. Wentz showed good touch on a number of passes on Thursday, but also forced others while throwing inaccurately on short passes and when on the move. On open short passes, he was off from a ball-location standpoint, placing it in suboptimal locations for receivers to catch and turn upfield. It’s the kind of inconsistency that is expected from a rookie quarterback, so when looking through that lens, it was more positive than negative for Wentz.
Bradford is clearly the starter heading into the season, and if he gets more help from his receivers, the statistics will look much better. Last season, he ranked 11th in overall grade among QBs, but throwing to one of the league’s worst receiving corps led to a passer rating of 86.4 that ranked only 26th.
Drops could remain major problem for receiving corps
The two biggest weaknesses on the Eagles’ roster may be the wide receivers and the cornerbacks, so that brings an interesting dynamic to training camp. While the receivers certainly had their moments—finding soft spots in the Eagles’ secondary—last year’s drop issue was evident during our time at camp. Last season, Bradford had 7.8 percent of his passes dropped—the highest mark in the NFL—and the inability to consistently catch the ball hurt the offense at practice Thursday morning. Whether it was FB/TE Trey Burton and Chris Pantale dropping the ball in the end zone, or WRs Rueben Randle and Nelson Agholor losing reps at the catch point, the pass catchers let the ball hit the ground far too often. On a positive note, undrafted rookie wide receiver Paul Turner (Louisiana Tech) looked outstanding, and by all accounts, Thursday’s showing was not an anomaly. He got open against both man and zone coverage, and Bradford praised his ability to properly read the defense and adjust his routes accordingly.
Bradford has good short-area accuracy, and if the Eagles’ new offense is going to be able to sustain drives, they must catch the ball better than they did both last season and in our one-day look at training camp.
Will the cornerbacks hold up this season?
While we like the Eagles’ overall roster, there are concerns with where the weaknesses lie. The aforementioned wide receivers could hold the team back in a pass-happy NFL, but so could the cornerbacks. The safety duo of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod (Rams) is among the league’s best, and Bradford sang them praises after practice, but the Eagles’ season may lie in the hands of CBs Leodis McKelvin (Bills), Nolan Carroll, and Eric Rowe.
It was a rough start to practice as the offense had open receivers flying through the defensive backfield on nearly every play, drawing the ire of the coaching staff, culminating in colorful language, to say the least. Once the kids next to us took the “earmuffs” off, the secondary seemed to respond with better communication and fewer coverage busts as the practice progressed.
As for the individuals, McKelvin was torched by WR Chris Givens (Ravens) early on for a touchdown, while Rowe was the object of praise as the secondary made their adjustments. Rookie CB Jalen Mills (LSU) took his lumps as well, though he did pick off one of Daniel’s errant throws.
Mills may be in the mix for playing time, as is 2015 sixth-rounder JaCorey Shepherd, who missed all of last season, but it’s the big three that must perform this season. McKelvin has been an average coverage player throughout his career, peaking with a strong 2013 season in which he allowed only 46.1 percent of passes to be completed into his coverage while getting his hands on 13 passes. However, he’s come back down to Earth the past two seasons, and Philadelphia needs more of the 2013 performance. Carroll’s story is similar, though more consistent than McKelvin’s, as the former has graded right around average every season of his career. Rowe had his ups and downs as a rookie, finishing with a 46.8 coverage grade (1–100 scale), but we expect improvement in his second year, as he’s still relatively young as a cornerback. It may be a lot of ask, but the Eagles need top-notch performances from McKelvin and Carroll, as well as second-year development from Rowe, in order to reach their potential as a team.
Other camp notes:
– Stefan Wisniewski (Jaguars) took first-team reps at right guard. Rookie third-round guard Isaac Seumalo (Oregon State) worked with the second team at both left guard and center. He’s reportedly a little behind due to Pac-12 graduation rules that kept him out of spring minicamps.
– DT Mike Martin is playing over DT Bennie Logan at the moment. DE Brandon Graham attributes it to Martin “just doing what the coaches want him to do,” while praising his ability to get up the field in the new, penetrating defensive scheme. Graham also praised two undrafted rookie defensive linemen in Destiny Vaeao out of Washington State and Aziz Shittu out of Stanford.