Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep:Philadelphia Eagles

eagles

Veteran Additions:
QB Mark Sanchez, RB Darren Sproles, DE/DT Clifton Geathers, DE/OLB Bryan Braman, CB Nolan Carroll, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Chris Maragos.
Early Draft Picks: 
DE/OLB Marcus Smith, WR Jordan Matthews, WR Josh Huff, CB Jaylen Watkins, DE/DT Taylor Hart, S Ed Reynolds. Eagles Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses: 
QB QB Eagles No. 7, WR DeSean Jackson, WR Jason Avant, S Patrick Chung.

2014 Philadelphia Eagles Offense: 
Chip Kelly’s offense was a complete mystery heading into the 2013 season. In fact, that’s what was written here last summer. As it turns out, Kelly did not utilize an all-out spread-option attack, as many anticipated – even when he had his scrambling quarterback available.

Philadelphia’s former signal-caller proved to be as overrated and unreliable as ever at the beginning of the season. Once he suffered his annual injury, Nick Foles stepped into the lineup and never really looked back. Foles was fantastic; he completed 64 percent of his passes, maintained a terrific 9.1 YPA and composed a ridiculous 27-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also displayed better-than-expected mobility, rushing for 225 yards and three additional scores on the ground.

Can Foles keep this up? It’s easy to be skeptical. Foles was just a second-day prospect coming out of Arizona, and he looked so incredibly mediocre in his rookie campaign. Plus, he battled just one top-15 pass defense in the regular season (Arizona). The Eagles’ schedule is tougher this year, given that they have to battle all of the NFC West teams. Plus, teams will have a whole season’s worth of tape on Foles and Kelly’s offense, so adjustments will have to be made. With that said, however, Foles is much more promising and trustworthy than the quarterback he replaced.

One concern with Foles is that he’ll have to repeat his 2013 performance without DeSean Jackson. The quick receiver was exiled from Philadelphia this offseason because of locker room issues and conflicts with the coaching staff. Jackson has always been one of the most overrated players in the NFL – he’s an injury-prone, one-trick pony who had never caught more than 62 balls in a season prior to 2013 – but opposing defenses were scared to death of his speed. They paid lots of attention to him, opening things up for Riley Cooper this past year. Cooper is now a known commodity, and he was already slowing down at the end of last season, failing to eclipse 53 receiving yards in all but one of his final six games. Having Jeremy Maclin back will help, but Maclin is even more brittle than Jackson, so the Eagles can’t depend on him staying healthy.

Fortunately for Foles, he’ll have some other weapons to work with. Second-year tight end Zach Ertz should be a bigger factor this year. Ertz showed flashes of what he could do at the end of the season, posting lines of 5-68-2 against the Cardinals and 6-57-1 at Minnesota. Kelly has already said that he’ll be a bigger part of the offense. The Eagles also acquired Darren Sproles from the Saints. Sproles has shown signs of decline – New Orleans was more than willing to get rid of him – but he’ll be a decent, pass-catching weapon out of the backfield this season.

Last but not least, LeSean McCoy figures to have another big year. McCoy, who rushed for 1,607 yards and caught 52 balls in 2013, saw his yards-per-carry average dip a bit when Foles entered the lineup. However, once teams began respecting Foles’ ability to air it out, McCoy took off again. He gained 130-plus yards on the ground in three of his final four regular-season contests, including a 217-yard showing against the Lions in that crazy snow game.

The offensive line will continue to block well for both McCoy and Foles, given that all five starters are back. The best part of the unit is on the left side. Blind-side protector Jason Peters shocked everyone by dominating following an Achilles injury, surrendering just four sacks this past season. Left guard Evan Mathis, meanwhile, is one of the top players at his position in the entire league.

Second-year right tackle Lane Johnson will improve once he returns from his four-game suspension for violating the substance-abuse policy. The Oklahoma product struggled in the first half of the season as a rookie, surrendering seven sacks prior to Week 9. He was much better after that though, giving up just three sacks to close out the year. He’ll play next to the weakest link up front, Todd Herremans, who will turn 32 in October. Center Jason Kelce, meanwhile, is one of the best in the business.

2014 Philadelphia Eagles Defense:
Chip Kelly was able to improve the offense enough to transform it into one of the league’s best scoring units. The defense, however, is a different story. It struggled mightily at times in 2013, even surrendering a whopping 48 points to the Adrian Peterson-less Vikings in a mid-December meeting.

The Eagles had to bolster their pass rush and secondary. They spent some resources on trying to fix both areas, particularly the latter. They signed Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins in free agency. Carroll will likely start at some point this season, though it’s not like he’ll have much of a challenge pushing into the lineup. Cary Williams is maddeningly inconsistent, while Bradley Fletcher is injury-prone. If Carroll ends up starting, he’ll be joined by Brandon Boykin, who performed well as the team’s nickel in 2013. Fourth-round rookie Jaylen Watkins will also fight for playing time.

As for Jenkins, he figures to be an upgrade at safety, but only by default. Patrick Chung was so brutal there last year that anyone could be considered an improvement. Jenkins is a very pedestrian player who has never lived up to his first-round billing. He’ll start next to Nate Allen, another disappointment. Allen, a former second-round choice, has struggled throughout his career. He was a bit better this past season though, so perhaps that’ll be a sign of things to come.

As mentioned, the Eagles tried to improve their pass rush. They selected Marcus Smith in the first round in May. Smith was widely considered a reach, but the Seahawks, a team that drafts exceptionally well, were interested in him at No. 32 overall. Smith is raw, but has great upside. He probably won’t contribute much until 2015, so Trent Cole and Connor Barwin will start at outside linebacker again this year. Barwin was a mild disappointment this past season, but Cole stepped up after a down year, registering eight sacks after notching only three in 2012. Brandon Graham is also listed on the depth chart, but he’s a very poor fit for the 3-4.

Philadelphia’s best defensive unit this past season was the defensive line. The front office squandered some money by signing Isaac Sopoaga, but made amends by dealing him to New England in the middle of the year. This opened the door for third-round rookie Bennie Logan to start at nose tackle, and he was so much more effective there. Of course, it helped that he was surrounded by two exceptional players in Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. The latter doesn’t offer much pass-rushing ability, but he has proven to be an elite run-stuffer. Cox, meanwhile, is the best player on this defense. He has no weaknesses in his game.

The Eagles’ front offers plenty of protection for the inside linebackers, though that group didn’t perform up to par in 2013. DeMeco Ryans has never been an ideal fit for the 3-4, and he predictably struggled in Philadelphia’s new scheme. Mychal Kendricks, meanwhile, was an abomination in coverage. He was able to blitz well and stop the run efficiently, but he was a major liability when it came to covering.

2014 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule and Intangibles:
Philadelphia has an awful homefield advantage. The team hasn’t put together a winning record at the Linc in the past four seasons, owning a 13-21 record in that span. Oddly enough, the Eagles are 19-13 as visitors in that time frame.

The Eagles had horrific special teams last year. They were outgained on both punts and kickoffs, and they surrendered three scores to the opposition.

Alex Henery’s percentage has dropped in each of his three seasons, going from 88.9 in 2011 to 87.1 in 2012 to 82.1 this past season. He was 23-of-28.

Donnie Jones ranked ninth in net punting and fourth in terms of kicks placed inside the 20.

The Eagles have a mixed schedule. On one hand, they’ll trample the Jaguars, Titans and all of the pathetic teams in their own division. On the other hand, they’ll have to deal with all four NFC West squads, as well as the Colts and Packers.

2014 Philadelphia Eagles Analysis: The Eagles are the best team in the worst division in football, so they should be able to reach the playoffs once again. How far they advance once they get there depends on Nick Foles’ progression and the defense. Foles may not be as good this year, while the stop unit hasn’t been retooled enough. Thus, an early postseason exit is most likely.

Projection: 10-6 (1st in NFC East)

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