When you have a franchise quarterback, there’s reason to be optimistic about the outlook of your team. Howie Roseman pulled off a series of trades last year to rid the organization of Sam Bradford and then move all the way up to the second overall spot in the draft to acquire Carson Wentz.
Wentz was an MVP candidate for the first three games, then saw a decline in his numbers as defenses adjusted, receivers failed to get open, and a slew of passes were dropped. Still, there’s strong reason for optimism for the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles.
Wentz is back and reloaded. The defensive front four is stacked. The cornerbacks are improved. The safeties are a top-5 group. And Alshon Jeffery may be the best receiver the team has had since Terrell Owens.
Is that enough to put the Eagles in the playoffs? Read to find out.
Carson Wentz starts all 16 games and becomes the first quarterback in franchise history to pass for over 4,000 yards.
The season comes down to the development of Carson Wentz, the first franchise quarterback this team has had since the Donovan McNabb days. Wentz’s raw passing numbers weren’t special in 2016, but he was playing with a pitiful group of wide receivers on a team that forced him to pass the ball over 600 times – oh, and he was a rookie. A full offseason as the starter plus the additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith should bode well for Wentz.
Wentz certainly passes the eye test – he’s big, strong, shows tremendous athleticism in the pocket, and he’s a natural leader. Staying healthy for 16 games is a must, but Wentz pulled it off as a rookie even after a preseason rib injury. He’s going to air the ball out a lot because the Eagles know he can handle it, and that will lead to the first 4,000-yard passing season in franchise history (side note: it’s hard to believe that no one has ever done this before for Philly – not Randall Cunningham, not McNabb, not Nick Foles, not Ron Jaworski, no one).
Wentz will probably finish near the league leaders in interceptions because he’s a risk taker, but he’s also going to toss 30 touchdowns in just his second season as a starter.
LeGarrette Blount leads the team in rushing yards (716) and rushing touchdowns (9).
After a horrific preseason, there was speculation that LeGarrette Blount may even be a surprise August release. He ended up making the team, probably more because Darren Sproles is a change-of-pace back and Wendell Smallwood hasn’t distinguished himself from being ‘just a guy.’ Blount is a tackle-breaking power back who will handle the red zone work. He doesn’t catch passes and he’s on the wrong side of 30; he’s also not paired with Tom Brady anymore, so don’t expect anything close to the 18 rushing touchdowns he put up in 2016. A mediocre 716-yard rushing performance and nine touchdowns is a fair output to expect from Blount.
Darren Sproles takes a punt back for a touchdown against the Oakland Raiders on Christmas Day to become the fifth player in NFL history with 20,000 career all-purpose yards.
Trading a fifth-round pick for Darren Sproles is one of the best decisions Chip Kelly made in his short stint with the franchise. Sproles is 34 years old and entering his 13th season, but he’s still a playmaker when he gets his hands on the football. He’s made the Pro Bowl all three years with the Eagles, and he’s returned more punts for touchdowns with Philly (4) than he did in nearly a decade beforehand (3). On Christmas Day this year, Sproles will etch his name into the record book. With a 77-yard punt return score against Oakland, Sproles will become the fifth player in NFL history with 20,000 career all-purpose yards. That’s an absolutely remarkable achievement for a 5’6” running back who had just eight carries in his first two NFL seasons.
Alshon Jeffery leads the team with 945 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, although he does miss three games with soft-tissue injuries. He walks in free agency following the season.
In terms of pure physical talent, Alshon Jeffery is the most talented wide receiver the Eagles have had since Terrell Owens. He’s a master at pulling down 50-50 balls. If he can stay healthy, Carson Wentz has himself a Pro Bowl talent.
The problem is that Jeffery hasn’t shown the ability to remain on the field in recent seasons; he suffered a minor knee sprain and hamstring injury last year, a shoulder injury, groin pull, and torn hamstring in 2015, a hamstring injury in 2014, and a hand fracture and meniscus tear as a rookie in 2012. That, and a four-game PEDs suspension, means he’s missed 17 games in five seasons, including an average of 5.5 the last two years.
That trend will likely continue in 2017, especially as Jeffery already dealt with shoulder problems in training camp. Jeffery will produce in the 13 games when he’s on the field – he’ll lead the team with 945 receiving yards and seven touchdowns – but it won’t be enough for the Eagles to extend his contract in the offseason.
While he comes nowhere near fulfilling his first-round draft status, Nelson Agholor sets career bests in receptions (57), receiving yards (636), and touchdowns (5).
After two dismal seasons with the club, the Eagles apparently saw enough from Nelson Agholor in training camp that they viewed Jordan Matthews to be expendable; or at least as a player who could be traded. Agholor’s biggest concern in the NFL has been the mental aspect of the game, leading to far too many dropped passes. A 57/636/5 line isn’t what you’d hope for from a former first-round pick in year three, but it’s a step forward after a horrific 2016.
Zach Ertz sets personal highs in receptions (85), yards (903), and touchdowns (5). He’s the NFC alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Jordan Matthews was the most consistent pass catcher on the team over the last three seasons, and now he’s been traded to Buffalo. Look for Zach Ertz to take his spot as Carson Wentz’s go-to target on third down. Ertz has seen steady progression since being drafted in 2013, and he inked a five-year extension prior to the ‘16 campaign. Ertz set career bests in receptions (78) last year and posted his second-best yardage total (816). As Eagles fans are well aware, he’s traditionally been more of a December player than the other months, but he’s also building a strong rapport with Wentz. Ertz will put up his most productive year yet in 2017 and he’ll be the NFC Pro Bowl alternate.
Jason Peters makes his 10th Pro Bowl and eighth as an Eagle, tying Chuck Bednarik for most in franchise history.
One of the most underappreciated players in the whole NFL, Jason Peters continues to defy age. A 10th Pro Bowl selection would all but lock up his Hall of Fame chances, and an eighth as a member of the Eagles would tie Chuck Bednarik for the most in franchise history. One day, Peters will retire and give way to Lane Johnson to be this club’s left tackle of the future, but Peters isn’t ready to relinquish the spot quite yet.
Lane Johnson makes the Pro Bowl as a right tackle.
Surprisingly enough, no right tackle has made the Pro Bowl since Atlanta’s Tyson Clabo in 2010. Voters tend to look for the blind side protectors, since teams traditionally put their best offensive tackle on the left side. But Lane Johnson is a freakish athlete, and that’s no exaggeration. He ran a 4.72 40 when he was drafted in 2013, and he was even a college quarterback, as well as tight end, defensive end, and offensive tackle.
Johnson has been suspended twice for PEDs, and his impact on the team was never more evident than 2016. With Johnson on the field, the Eagles were 5-1. Without Johnson, the Eagles were 2-8. Johnson has never missed a game due to injury in four NFL seasons, so assuming he doesn’t have any recurring issues with performance-enhancing drugs, it’s time he gets recognized for his stellar blocking abilities.
Brandon Graham is a First-Team All-Pro selection at defensive end, leading the team with 13 sacks.
It took Brandon Graham some time to establish himself as a quality defensive player for the Eagles, but he’s on the verge of becoming a star. Graham had just 5.5 sacks in 2016, but he posted a ridiculous amount of QB hurries and hits; his impact on the quarterback was more evident on the game tape than in the raw sack total.
Jim Schwartz’s 4-3 defense is a perfect fit for Graham, and opposing offensive lines will struggle to contain Graham, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, and Chris Long/Derek Barnett. Cox requires double teams, which means Graham will get a lot of one-on-one matchups, and those are the battles he’s proven he can win. This year will be the first year his sack total truly reflects that, and 13 sacks to go with five forced fumbles will earn him a First-Team All-Pro selection at defensive end.
The cornerback tandem of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills gives up some big plays, but forces a high number of turnovers.
Before the trade for Ronald Darby, this cornerback tandem was on par to be by far the worst unit in the league. With Darby, it’s an intriguing group, one that could be the best the Eagles have had in quite some time.
After all, look at the cornerbacks the Eagles have employed in recent years:
2016 – Leodis McKelvin/Nolan Carroll
2015 – Eric Rowe/Byron Maxwell
2014 – Cary Williams/Bradley Fletcher
2013 – Cary Williams/Bradley Fletcher
2012 – Nnamdi Asomugha/Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
How about some long-term stability at the position? It’s no wonder Philadelphia leads the NFL in touchdown passes allowed (149) over the last five seasons. Darby was a fantastic player as a rookie before dropping off in year two; even a middle ground between the two would be productive. Jalen Mills was a liability in pass coverage in 2016, but he was also a seventh-round rookie forced into regular action; what do you expect? I like the aggression he displays (although I don’t ever need to see the finger wag again), and I think he has a bright future as a starter. I think the two of them are at least a league-average duo, and that’s a step in the right direction.
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are a top-5 safety tandem.
In three seasons with the club, Malcolm Jenkins has emerged as a defensive leader and a Pro Bowl player. He’s started all 48 games with the Eagles, recording eight interceptions, three fumble recoveries, and four defensive touchdowns. He drops too many would-be picks, but he’s still an elite safety in the prime of his career.
Rodney McLeod was an under-the-radar free agent acquisition last year, and he filled in solidly in 2016. He’s not flashy, but he gets the job done. The two of them together – plus that defensive line – give the Eagles a likely top-10 defense.
The Eagles win their Week 1 matchup with the Redskins, marking the first win against Washington since Kirk Cousins became the full-time starter.
It’s difficult to fathom that the Eagles have lost every game to Kirk Cousins the last two years. That streak will end in Week 1 when Carson Wentz comes out firing, throwing for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 40-28 rout.
A Week 9 win over Denver sends the Eagles into their bye week at 5-4.
The Denver defense may be the toughest defense Wentz has faced so far as a pro. Don’t be surprised to see him throw multiple interceptions, but he’s also a playmaker who will find a way to move the ball down the field. A win here gives the Eagles an impressive 5-4 mark heading into their bye week.
The Eagles split their two matchups with Dallas, losing the Sunday night game following the bye week and winning the Week 17 finale.
After the bye week, the Eagles play in primetime for half of their next six games. The November 19 matchup is a road game at #JerryWorld, one the Eagles will really need to win to stay in the thick of the NFC East race. They’ll lose a tight one, dropping a 30-27 contest to fall to 5-5, although they will win a too-late Week 17 matchup to finish Carson Wentz’s second season with a plus-.500 record.
The Eagles finish 9-7, but just third in a competitive NFC East.
9-7 is a solid record, even if it doesn’t end in a playoff berth. I have the New York Giants at 10-6 and winning the competitive NFC East due largely to their loaded wide receiver corps and a stout defensive line. The Dallas Cowboys will miss Ezekiel Elliott and see regression due to a tough schedule, but a better division record puts the 9-7 Cowboys at second place in the NFC East.
A two-win improvement is a successful season for the Eagles, even if it doesn’t end in a postseason berth. Wentz is a franchise quarterback and the real deal. The offensive line is flanked with two top-notch tackles and an underrated interior group. The defensive front four is relentless, and the secondary is on the rise. It’s easy to see this team as a 2018 playoff squad.