2016 season preview: Philadelphia Eagles

All eyes will be on the Eagles' quarterback situation this season, with Sam Bradford aiming to prove he's still the No. 1 option.

| 11 months ago
(Elsa/Getty Images)

(Elsa/Getty Images)

2016 season preview: Philadelphia Eagles

Following a regression to 7-9 after 10-6 finishes in both the 2013 and 2014 seasons, the Philadelphia Eagles made coaching changes during the offseason, going from Chip Kelly to Doug Pederson. They followed that move by going all-in in the draft, trading up to take quarterback Carson Wentz at No. 2. All eyes will be on that position this season as the team looks to get back to form. There are still pieces from those 10-win teams left on the roster, but there are also some areas of concern, particularly at the offensive skill positions.

[More: Be sure to check out PFF’s ranking of all 32 NFL QB situationsoffensive linesrunning back unitsreceiving corpssecondaries, and defensive front-sevens. Catch up on all the team previews here.]

Philadelphia Eagles Preseason Ranking

All eyes on Sam Bradford, Eagles’ QB situation in 2016

Quarterbacks: Rank 24th among all NFL teams

The Eagles’ quarterback group is an interesting—and potentially volatile—one. The likely starter, Sam Bradford, has produced a positive passing grade in each of the last four seasons that he’s played—he finished 2015 ranked 10th in PFF passing grade while leading all quarterbacks in adjusted completion percentage under pressure (74.6 percent). But, as always, health is a question mark, given that last season was just the third time that he managed more than 1,000 snaps since entering the NFL in 2010. There’s also the added pressure of having the QB of the future waiting behind him in Carson Wentz (North Dakota State), along with Chase Daniel (Chiefs), who has the advantage of having spent the last three seasons with Pederson in Kansas City.

Philadelphia RB unit still among NFL’s worst

Running backs: 31st

Despite issues in pass protection, the Eagles’ O-line finished second only to Dallas in run-blocking grade a season ago, which bodes well for the team’s lowest-ranked position group. Ryan Mathews produced a slightly-positive rushing grade in over 180 attempts the last two seasons, with solid elusive ratings both years; over that span, he forced 29 missed tackles on the ground and gained an average of 2.7 yards after contact per rush. Behind him, Darren Sproles should see plenty of snaps while splitting time on special teams (seventh-best punt-return grade in 2015), but he’s 33 years old and coming off of a career-low receiving grade with a notable decline in elusiveness. In 138 combined offensive touches last season, Sproles forced just 12 missed tackles after forcing 24 misses in 97 touches in 2014. If that downtrend continues this season, the team’s fifth-rounder, Wendell Smallwood (West Virginia), could be the beneficiary. Smallwood posted the 11th-best rushing grade among draft-eligible RBs last season.

WR position full of high draft stock, little production thus far

Receiving corps: 29th

The Eagles didn’t have a single receiver grade positively last season. Nelson Agholor, in particular had an abysmal rookie year, gaining just 283 yards and dropping four of 27 catchable passes while posting the league’s worst receiving grade. Jordan Matthews likewise had a disappointing season after a solid rookie year, while free-agent acquisition Rueben Randle (Giants) is coming off of the lowest-graded season of his career. At present, this is a unit that has plenty of high-round draft picks and potential, but doesn’t yet have the production to match it.

The team’s tight end group looks stronger in that regard, with both Brent Celek and Zach Ertz grading among the 20 best at the position in 2015.

Free-agency additions make O-line Philadelphia’s strongest unit

Offensive line: 7th

Most notable are the interior upgrades that the Eagles acquired in free agency. Brandon Brooks (Texans) brings four straight seasons of positive grades in pass protection, and at his best, is one of the league’s better run blockers. Stefen Wisniewski (Jaguars), whether he ends up with a starting job or not, also brings strong career grades in the passing game, where the Eagles’ line struggled the most last season. At tackle, the team is set with Jason Peters and Lane Johnson. Peters is coming off of a slight down year by his standards, but at his best, is one of the league’s best LTs, having graded positively in both facets every season that PFF has charted (since 2007). On the other side, Johnson recorded the league’s ninth-best pass-blocking efficiency rating in 2015, while his overall grades have been solid over the last two years.

Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan bright spots in front-seven

Front-seven: 21st

The defensive line is a definite strength for the Eagles; they’ve gotten solid production inside with Bennie Logan and Fletcher Cox—the two combined for 89 defensive stops last season, ranking fourth and fifth among interior defenders. On the edge, Brandon Graham finally saw starter-level playing time last season and maintained the high level of production that we’ve seen throughout his career, while Connor Barwin and Vinny Curry graded well above average as pass-rushers.

What brings the unit’s ranking down is depth and the linebackers. There’s not much behind the aforementioned five defensive lineman, given that both Beau Allen and Taylor Hart graded negatively overall last season. And at linebacker, Jordan Hicks enjoyed a solid rookie year, but their two other projected starters, Nigel Bradham and Michael Kendricks, struggled. Bradham had his lowest-graded season by far in 2015, producing below-average results in every facet, while Kendricks ranked last at the position in coverage, despite an impressive 2014 mark there.

New faces in secondary better fits for Jim Schwartz’s defense

Secondary: 12th

Malcolm Jenkins headlines one of the Eagles’ better units, entering his third season in Philadelphia after grading as one of the top safeties in the NFL last year. The team added Rodney McLeod (Rams) and Leodis McKelvin (Bills) after the departures of Walter Thurmond (retired) and Byron Maxwell (Dolphins). McLeod has two seasons of positive coverage grades under his belt, and was PFF’s 10th-graded safety overall in 2015, while McKelvin allowed a completion on just 47.2 percent of targets, the second-best mark among corners. Both acquisitions are likely better scheme fits under DC Jim Schwartz than the players they are replacing. The team’s other projected starter at outside corner, Nolan Carroll, has been somewhat inconsistent over his career, but at worst should still be close to average.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Unless the Eagles are beating up on the Jets or orchestrating a miracle at the Meadowlands against the Giants they always seem to find a way to shoot themselves in the foot. At least they aren’t as pathetic as the 76ers.

    • SHCE

      It’s pretty close

  • Fenster

    they will surprise, there is talent there. Getting away from Chip Kelly is addition by subtraction. I see 10-6

    • SHCE

      There’s actually very little talent. Unless Carson Wentz is the next Peyton Manning this year, I don’t see anything better than 6-10.

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      • Ryan Stocker

        I wouldn’t say there is very little talent. Zach Ertz is an ascending young tight end, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson are two very solid players that have room to grow, Vinny Curry is a young player that has played well in part-time and will now get a chance to prove himself full-time, Brandon Graham is solid but unspectacular, Fletcher Cox is a top-3 interior lineman, Bennie Logan was a potential pro bowl NT before getting injured, and Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McCleod make up probably the strongest safety tandem in the league. The Eagles lack depth at some positions and have some legit question marks at others as well as a question mark for the coaching staff. I think it’s too early to tell what this team’s floor is, but I see their ceiling as 9-7, a potential division title, and bounced in the first or second round.

    • Phil

      Nope. 4-12 will be their record and that’s being generous.

  • ReagansReanimatedCorpse

    Transition year.

    Best Potential Outcome: They win a bad division by default. Lose in first rd of playoffs.

    Worst Potential Outcome: Doug Pederson struggles as a head coach. Injuries, poor depth and a lack of offensive firepower result in a disastrous season.

    Most Likely Outcome: A weak division and improved defense lead to a middling season.

    Next year will be more pivotal. Can they get a return for Bradford in a trade? Can they add playmakers in free agency and the draft? And how will Carson Wentz develop?

    If it doesn’t come together by year 3, they’re in trouble. Either way, this is a “see what you might have” year.

  • ThinWhiteDuke

    I want to believe that 10-6 is possible, but the receiving corps just seems dreadful. I think Mathews might surprise in the backfield though and I think that if Pederson focuses on the tight end like he did in KC, you never know what might happen. I am putting stock in the the D being top tier in the league.

  • Lion

    I think that this article has hammered a bit too hard in some areas and was fair in others, but definitely was not forgiving at all, anywhere. In particular, I feel like the graders are looking at this as an offense first, passing team and grading it as such. Peterson is going to be a great coach, because he’s forming his strategy around what he’s got for players, not having a fire sale to get rid of players and bringing in new ones to fit what he wants to build. That’s a big difference. This is a run first team. How does that work out differently then these rankings?

    QB: Running the ball more is going to give more chances at short-play action passes. Also, it means that your QB is going to take a lot less hits. PFF ranks Bradford well and says they lowered the grade because they think he’s going to be hurt. Also, a run first and short passing game makes for a much easier system for new (Wenz) and less talented (Daniels) players. Peterson’s system isn’t all about standing in the pocket and launching bombs and it feels to me thats what this position was rated for.

    RB: Mathews is one heck of a talented runner. He played well last year and has a solid history, other then the injuries. Sproles is older, but honestly PFF seems to be hung up on all numbers and stats. Thats all well and good, but there were a lot of games last season where the ONLY people that seemed to be moving the ball were Sproles and Mathews. AND that was with the screwed up situation that Quack Kelly created at guard and the center having a god-awful year. Is this group in the top tier? Absolutely not. But second to last? No way. Mathews IS a feature caliber back and I think you’ll see this group have a much better year with a solid line and a different passing attack.

    WR/TE: The WRs were terrible. I think that Matthews showed that he can be outstanding, but honestly the system the quack was running was so bad that opposing defensive linemen were even guessing correct on the snap count and there was no time for WRs/QBs to ever really get into a rythem. This team desperately needs either Agholor to show he was a talent and Matthews to get back to form, or they need to go out and get two new guys. One thing that I do think needs to be addressed, again, is that this article isn’t taking schemes into account. I would not be surprised to see some 2TE sets to get the best pairs of hands and best blockers on the field. That fits much better into a short passing game and the eagles have both the OL and TEs to do this. A good leader can use the people he’s got to the best effect and get good results and thats what will happen here.

    The Front 7: This I thought was the worst assessment of this team. “There isn’t much depth behind the aforementioned five defensive lineman”. Well first of all, you only have 4 of them on the field at a time. That fifth outstanding lineman IS the depth. Curry, Barwin, Graham are without a doubt the best group of 3 DEs in the league at rushing the passer. Rotating three guys through 2 positions, with all three of them being fully capable as starters, is one outstanding group. As far as the DTs go, no, I’m not a Taylor Hart fan and Beau makes me laugh. They need to be replaced. But seriously, those guys rotating in to give the good big guys a brief break is hardly the make or break on this team.

    The assessment of the LBs was just outright terrible. Kendricks can cover and make plays. He’s a beast but he was playing, again, in the middle of Quacks system that kept the defense on the field FOREVER it seemed. Of course if the defense with lousy corners and only 1 safety is always on the field, you’ll end up with your LBs getting burned, especially if they have them covering WRs at times. Bradham had a down year, but he’s always played well under Schawrtz. That wasn’t taken into account and hardly is enough to say that they make for a weak unit. Hicks is outstanding. I noticed that they didn’t even bother mentioning depth at LB. Braman, Long and Goode are decent caliber backups. I’m kind of glad he didn’t mention Marcus Smith.

    Fair assessment of the secondary. But they failed to note the lower round draft picks of the last two seasons. There is some talent there. I don’t buy into the pre-season hype about the surprise low round and undrafted players, but there are a few CBs drifting around and one could turn out well.

    The LB group is pretty darn good and has some depth. You add that to the front seven and the secondary, and this is one heck of a defense and that is what this team is going to win games on. It kind of reminds me of the ’91 eagles but with a better O line.

  • Dave DeLuca

    PFF ranked Sam as the #10 passer in 2015 yet this year he is ranked 24th because he may get hurt? That is true of every player. They call the QB situation “volatile” because they have depth…again that is a ridiculous argument.

  • Dandre

    Eagles had one major problem last year, L/R Guard, that took its toll in every aspect of the game(Check plays when they had good play at the position).With loss of Mathis and Todd the team failed to improve on the previous record of 10-6, and caused a lot of three and outs. When the offense sustained drives and Chip’s GP worked, and when the defense was on the field league average time or less they were better than most other teams including the lb’s and cb’s. With the addition of Brooks and Steve, they should be better than a lot of people think.