Philadelphia Eagles: Ranking the Top 10 Current Players

Manav Khandelwal@@KhandymanSportsAnalyst IIMarch 16, 2012

Philadelphia Eagles: Ranking the Top 10 Current Players

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    Following the re-signings of Todd Herremans, Trent Cole and DeSean Jackson, it seems prudent to take a good, hard look at the players most valuable to the future of the Eagles franchise. Who is going to lead them to their first ever Super Bowl championship? Who should we value the most?

    So, I will, in descending order, rank the top ten most valuable Eagles in terms of skill, youth, positional value and loyalty to the franchise (but not with a rubric). 

Honorable Mention(s): Nnamdi Asomugha and Michael Vick

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    These two are veterans who, coming off of rough 2010-20111 seasons, seem to be on the downswings of their careers. Neither seems to be in the long-term future plans of the organization, but are getting "honorably" mentioned because of their current impacts.

    Michael Vick still seems to have the type of mobility he had in 2009-10, when he rushed for 676 yards and nine touchdowns. However, injuries ranging from injured hands to concussions seem to have worn down the 10th-year quarterback.

    Since the Eagles could let him go after this season, his future with the Eagles could be limited, but his ability to extend the play with his legs and the strength still left in his arm seem to indicate that he could be a force for the Eagles in the near future.

    Asomugha is in an even tougher spot, because many people in Philadelphia seem to genuinely dislike the guy, if only because he missed expectations by a mile. His years of having to defend one pass a game in Oakland seem to have eroded his mechanics and his athleticism, as he was burned early and often last season. (No Philadelphia fan will forget the two touchdowns he gave up to Giants WR Victor Cruz as New York beat the Eagles.)

    Nnamdi, already 30, hasn't had more than 40 tackles in a season since 2006, and seems to be struggling to keep up with younger wide receivers as his weaknesses are exploited. It seems that leaving him in press coverage, man-to-man, should help him get back to what succeeded in Oakland, but his value to the Eagles will be severely limited if he can't rehash his former self soon.

10: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (LCB)

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    DRC's biggest value to the Eagles comes in these two forms: athleticism and youth. He is the Eagles' fastest and most agile defensive player, and is only 25 years of age.

    However, a troubling notion is the fact that he forced—yes, this isn't a typo—zero turnovers last season over forcing 12 in the previous two seasons combined. He always been an explosive play kind of player, though not as much as Asante Samuel, and if he can't begin to make more plays then his tenure in Philadelphia won't be as productive as initially predicted.

    Even with that said, it's not very hard to find a silver lining: Rodgers-Cromartie looked really good when playing outside cornerback with Asante riding the pine. Instead of the slot, where he looked confused and slow, he looked explosive and smart playing his normal position. With the likely departure of Samuel, DRC could prove to be one of the better trade pickups the Eagles have made if he can replicate that aforementioned production.

9: Trent Cole (DE)

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    If it weren't for the fact that Trent has endured 108 games of NFL punishment on his body, he'd be much higher up on this list. He is the longest-tenured defensive starter, a leader in the locker room and one of best pass rushers the Eagles have ever had.

    Cole has been extremely effective in the last three years, racking up 33.5 sacks in that time span. The addition of Jason Babin seemed to free him up somewhat, but it shouldn't take away from how good he's been over the years. Through four or five years where the Eagles didn't have a competent defensive linemen along with Trent, he continued to lead the league in sacks every season and punish opposing offensive lines. That is the sign of true greatness.

    However, as I said, the only worry with Trent is that he could start to wear down. Last year saw a diminishing presence in rush defense from him, and since that is where the Eagles are lacking the most, he needs to continue to balance rushing the passer and defending the run. Until then, it doesn't seem fit to rank him higher than the other guys ahead of him. 

8: Evan Mathis (OG)

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    Mathis, as previously ranked by Bleacher Report, is one of the highest-rated guards in the nation. However, I tend to disagree that he currently is as effective as he is made out to be.

    Many believe he is the product of Howard Mudd's system, as he walked into training camp last season virtually anonymously. In fact, he didn't really start playing all that well until Week 4 or Week 5, where his technique finally developed into the one of the smoothest in the NFL.

    He isn't as good right now as Todd Herremans or Jason Peters, but he certainly has the capability of continuing to function as one of the better linemen in the league.

    Evan's future with the Eagles is in question, due to him being an unrestricted free agent. Three teams are reportedly interested in the 30-year-old. His age is an issue, but he's only played three seasons in the NFL, so his health might not be.

7: Todd Herremans (OT)

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    A former fourth-round draft pick out of Saginaw Valley State, Herremans has blossomed into one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL. His versatility to play three different positions is an absolute value boost, as well as his locker room-enhancing character.

    At 29, and having played seven years already in the league, wear-and-tear could be a problem given his position. However, he's played all 32 regular season games over the last two seasons.

    He was also instrumental to the success of the line last year, one that allowed running back LeSean McCoy to run for 1,300-plus yards and 17 touchdowns. Herremans and left tackle Jason Peters were also very effective in pass protection.

    Todd's abilities are not in question, as he's proved to the league that he is one of the premier tackles/guards. However, his age does frighten me a little, and his value may only be this high for two or three years more. 

6: Brent Celek (TE)

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    Even though he's ranked sixth on this list, Brent is one of the most underrated tight ends in the NFL because of his not-so-glamorous pass-catching numbers.

    Brent caught 62 passes for 811 yards and five touchdowns, good numbers, but they were not enough to earn him recognition in today's pass-happy league. Other one-dimensional ends like Jason Witten, Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have highlighted the position and Celek's contributions to the Eagles' offensive consistency are overshadowed.

    Not only is Celek the Eagles most consistent mid-yardage option, but he also is the best blocking tight end in the NFL. His 6' 4", 255-pound frame give him enough size to battle with linemen and linebackers in the trenches, and his surprising quickness and agility give him an advantage in open field blocking as well.

    While the Eagles offense is often headlined by the running maneuvers of quarterback Michael Vick, the astonishing numbers put up by Shady McCoy and the down-the-field, explosive plays brought on by wideout DeSean Jackson, Brent is the glue that keeps it all together.  His down-to-earth, positive personality helps to keep a sometimes chaotic locker room from falling apart.

    There's not much to dislike about Brent Celek. 

5: Jason Babin (DE)

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    Babin is coming off of a career season. There's not much more to say. He had 18.0 sacks, which put him third in the NFL, and forced three fumbles, good for 17th.

    However, if you look hard enough, there are some creases of concern that come with a sack-happy, wide-nine defensive end like Babin. First, there were stretches where he would just disappear, and his sacks came in bunches. 15 out of his 18 sacks came in six different games, and there were three instances where he record no sacks in back-to-back games following a multi-sack game. He needs to improve his consistency.

    Secondly, he wasn't very effective in defending the run game. Yes, that is a result of the system run by defensive line coach Jim Washburn, but Trent Cole was more effective in this area of his game than Babin. 

    Those things are coachable, however, and I know Babin will continue to improve. He's most likely nearing the end of his prime, which is a concern, but the Eagles should be able to get at least two or three more very productive years out of him, which is just what the doctor ordered.

4: Jason Peters (OT)

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    When the Eagles dealt for Jason right before the NFL draft in 2009, the fans, organization and even the players believed they had acquired the best left tackle in football. It took two years, but it seems Peters is back on that pedestal or at least close to it.

    He is the core of an overachieving Eagles offensive line, and is the best pass protector in the league. His technique is nearly flawless, his body is the perfect form for a tackle and he is also one of the nicest guys in the Eagles locker room.

    There's very little to dislike about him, besides his age. If he wasn't 30, he'd probably be first or second on this list, but it seems he might have a limited amount of years left in him. For Philadelphia's sake, let's hope they're all in an Eagles uniform.

3: DeSean Jackson (WR)

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    Fresh off his new five-year, $51 million deal, DeSean is raring to go. Following a season marred by "alligator arms" and off-the-field issues concerning his contract situation, he has no excuse to continue missing expectations.

    When you take attitude out of the equation, DeSean is a top 15 wide receiver at least. In the two seasons before 2011, he combined for 2,212 yards and 15 touchdowns receiving, to go along with 241 yards rushing.

    His breakaway speed helps him break coverage contain, and his ability to beat his defender to a spot gives Michael Vick options when they go deep. In addition, he opens up the field for the running game and the short passing game, which only compounds his value to the Eagles.

    While his talent is certainly elite-caliber, his consistency isn't. If he continues to disappear for months at a time, teams will be able to focus more on the other offensive stars, like Maclin, McCoy and Vick, and the offense doesn't function properly. If he doesn't get the ball while running go routes, his mind seems to wander and he isn't as effective.

    If DeSean can find the connection with Mike Vick that they had in 2010, then he is the most explosive player on the team, but until he starts making consistent deep catches, it's hard to move him up on this list. 

2: Jeremy Maclin (WR)

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    Jeremy is one of the best draft selections the Reid regime has ever made, picking him 19th overall in the 2009 NFL draft. Not only is he one of the hardest workers on the team, but his innate athletic ability only compounds his value.

    His youth is also a big factor in determining his value to the Eagles in the coming years. At the ripe age of 23, one can only speculate that he still has 6-7 years remaining in the prime of his career.

    Maclin combines athleticism with consistency, something DeSean wasn't able to do last season. Even after offseason cancer scares, Maclin still caught 63 balls for 859 yards and five touchdowns while missing three games. That means he was on pace for over 70 catches and 1,000 yards. He also averages over three first downs per game, which means he is a possession threat as well as a deep threat.

    Jeremy also has the right attitude: He's willing to run the correct routes for stretches of time without getting the ball, and then make a play when he's called upon to do so. This is the kind of player Philly needs.

    The only concern for Maclin going forward will be health. If he continues to miss 3-4 games per year like he did last season, his production might stagnate, but for now the 23-year-old's future looks bright. 

1: LeSean McCoy (RB)

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    And here we are: the most valuable player in the Eagles organization, LeSean "Shady" McCoy.

    Philadelphia's running back is coming off of a legendary season, in which he broke the Eagles records for most rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns in a season (17, 20). He also rushed for an incredible 1,309 yards, even while missing a game late in the season. 

    His quickness, agility (he's been compared to Barry Sanders because of it), and array of cutting moves make Shady the NFL's most dangerous running back. He is in the midst of a crowd of defenders one second, and then sprinting in the open field the next. He's nearly impossible to defend because of his ability to make people miss.

    He also draws comparisons to Brian Westbrook because of his pass-catching ability; McCoy caught 48 balls for 315 yards and three touchdowns. He also moved the sticks an NFL-leading 102 times.

    LeSean's contract situation needs to be ironed out, and seeing the string of re-signings lately by the Eagles, fans should be hopeful that he's next. While the offensive line's improvement contributed heavily to the Eagles improved rushing game, he is the most important piece of the offense.

    When the running game is strong, the passing game is even more explosive. And the kid is only 23. He has plenty of years left to keep tearing up defenses.