5 Philadelphia Eagles Who Will Make Biggest Leaps from 2011 to 2012
Last season, LeSean McCoy was the player that made the greatest leap from 2011 to 2012. He was already known as a good player in this league, but in 2012 he became on of the top running backs in the NFL.
This season there will be five Philadelphia Eagles that will make great strides in 2012. Some players were barely a part of the roster in 2011, while others were already good players who will become great players in 2012.
This is a team loaded with good, young talent poised to break out in the next few years. That is just a testament to how well this organization has drafted over the last decade. Here are the five most likely players to take that leap from 2011 to 2012.
1. Mike Kafka
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Mike Kafka isn't the break out star that is high on everybody's radar, but neither was Kevin Kolb back in 2009 when he was a very successful backup quarterback. Eagles fans know better than anyone who important backup quarterbacks are.
They have seen A.J Feeley, Jeff Garcia and the 2010 version of Michael Vick save their season after the starting quarterback went down to injury. Kafka could be forced to take on a similar situation in 2012 for the always injury-prone Vick.
Kafka had two chances to step up as a backup last season. He filled in during the fourth quarter in Week 2 and Week 3 last season.
He had great success in Week 2 in a Sunday night game against the Atlanta Falcons. Kafka completed seven out of nine passes in short relief of Vick. His only two passes were a failed Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game and a dropped pass by Jeremy Maclin on fourth down. He had great success on the short and intermediate routes.
The following week, Kafka took over for Vick in the fourth quarter against the New York Giants just as they had gone ahead 22-16. His first play was a designed deep pass that was underthrown and intercepted. The next time the offense took the field it was 29-16 and late in the fourth quarter. He never really had a chance to get anything going.
Last season his biggest weakness was the deep ball. He couldn't drive the ball deep enough to keep the safeties honest. That appears to be the biggest change in his game this summer. During OTAs, he was driving the ball deeper down the field with more accuracy.
If Kafka can throw a legitimate deep ball this season, then he will be a quality backup quarterback. He has the mobility, the pocket presence, the blitz recognition and he certainly has the accuracy as well. If he can add a quality deep pass to his game, Eagles fans will rest easy if Vick misses more time in 2012.
2. Jeremy Maclin
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You can't talk about breakout candidates on the Eagles roster without mentioning Jeremy Maclin's name. Actually, you can't talk about breakout candidates in the NFL without mentioning Maclin.
Maclin had a big year in 2010, just his second in the league. He finished the 2010 season with 70 receptions for 964 yards and 10 touchdowns. A lymphoma scare last summer really slowed him down last season. He still managed to have a good first half of 2011, but more issues kept him from finishing the year off as well as he could have. He finished with 859 yards and five touchdowns.
Maclin is a player that should thrive in this offense. He is a reliable receiver that gets the luxury of playing opposite of one of the most feared receivers in football, DeSean Jackson. He is also an outstanding route runner with great body control and good hands. He is an excellent screen receiver with the potential to be one of the better receivers after the catch in this league.
This season Maclin is 100 percent healthy and poised for a big season. At this time last year, he was well under his playing weight and just trying to figure out if he had a form of cancer of not. This summer he can just focus on football.
3. Demetress Bell
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Demetress Bell was barely good enough to be the starting left tackle for the Buffalo Bills over the past three seasons, In 2012 he will make the jump from borderline starter to one of the better left tackles in the game.
Two problems for Bell have held him back in the past. A blocking scheme that doesn't fit his skill set and injuries. He has missed 18 starts over the past three seasons. There is nothing offensive line coach Howard Mudd can do about it. The blocking scheme he utilizes, that's a whole other story.
Mudd's blocking scheme is a much better fit for Bell. It will feel like night and day from what he is used to. Instead of sitting back in the pocket and waiting for the pass rush to come to him. This season under coach Mudd, Bell will initiate the contact.
The new scheme and better talent around him on the line should do wonders for his career. He won't be Jason Peters, but he can be a very good left tackle in this blocking scheme.
4. Brandon Graham
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For Brandon Graham to improve on his 2011 season, all he really has to do is record a sack. He couldn't get to the quarterback once last season as he was still recovering from his ACL surgery the year before. 2012 should be a different story for Graham.
Graham came into to training camp last summer at 286 pounds. He was about 20 pounds overweight. It's difficult for football players to keep their weight down while rehabbing a major injury. You can't work out as hard, and when you can't work out as hard, you have to maintain a strict diet to stay at your ideal playing weight.
Graham should weigh in around 265 to 270 pounds at camp next week. Being in top shape will be a good start for him. He didn't have that luxury last season. He will this season along with healthy knees. He is still a very talented pass-rusher. He was a former top-15 pick in the draft.
Most people think he is already a bust based on what Jason Pierre-Paul has done. Both players were taken in the middle of the first round in 2010, but Graham hasn't won a Super Bowl or recorded double-digit sacks in one season.
Graham should get back on track this season. For one he is healthy, but also because his role and the talent around him will allow him to rack up a lot of sacks. He will not be the focus of the pass protection at any time this season. You can't double-team him when you have players like Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins and Fletcher Cox on the line.
Graham will also be a part of Jim Washburn's defensive line rotation. That means Graham will be fresh all season long. He will also get plenty of opportunities on obvious passing downs. 2012 will be a make or break type of season for Graham. Either he starts to earn that first -draft pick or we can officially label him a bust. I expect him to do more impressing rather than disappointing.
5. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
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Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was brought in last season to be the third cornerback in the best secondary in football. He was forced to play in the slot and the defense suffered because of it. He isn't an ideal slot corner. He is long and fast with the ability to jam receivers at the line of scrimmage. He also can gamble a little bit on receivers because he has the recovery speed to catch up down the field.
The Eagles didn't play much press man coverage last season. It didn't help his game and it hurt Nnamdi Asomugha as well. Both corners will be starting on the outside in press coverage this season. Both players are Pro Bowl-caliber players in that type of defense.
Asomugha is used to seeing quarterbacks throw away from him. He rarely was targeted more than 40 times in a season while in Oakland. He should have that type of season in 2012. That means Rodgers-Cromartie will get thrown at and have ample opportunities to make plays and jump routes.
I fully expect Rodgers-Cromartie to get back to his Pro Bowl form. He is a long corner at 6'2" and one of the fastest as well. He has all the physical tools to be one of the best cover corners in the game today. He should show that on the field in 2012.