Philadelphia Eagles 2012: 7 Bold Predictions for the Season
The Philadelphia Eagles are no strangers to bold predictions. From Vince Young's "Dream Team" to the dynasty Michael Vick sees in his head, there's a lot of future-telling going on in our nation's birthplace.
Beginning to feel left out, I figured I would get in on all the fun.
So with training camp starting recently, I busted out my Tarot cards, read the lines on Andy Reid's slimmed-down belly, threw a lock of Riley Cooper's glorious hair and Jason Kelce's beard into my magical fire and saw the entire 2012 season play out right before my eyes.
What exactly did I see? Well, I predict you'll click ahead to find out.
7. Jeremy Maclin Outperforms DeSean Jackson
With DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and Brent Celek all usually on the field at the same time, there really isn't a true No. 1 target for Vick. He seems to trust each guy a little more depending on the situation, but I think that changes in 2012.
Jackson just got his hefty new deal to pay him like a No. 1 receiver, but I think he'll lose that distinction quickly. From everything we've seen since he entered the league, Maclin just seems to have the more complete skill set.
Sure, he's not as fast as Jackson, but few are. But with that said, Maclin is plenty fast and one of the faster guys in the league. Not only that, but he gets off the ball, runs routes, makes cuts and overall has much better hands than Jackson.
Oh, and he isn't afraid to go across the middle.
Essentially, he gives up a little speed to Jackson but surpasses him in nearly every other category. Jackson is obviously the more skilled return man, but we're strictly talking offense here and, as a receiver, Maclin is clearly Jackson's superior.
The lockout, along with Maclin's mysterious illness that significantly hampered his ability to prepare for the season, didn't allow Maclin and Vick to work up a good rapport and therefore led to a decrease in Maclin's numbers. This season, however, Maclin and Vick have plenty of time to work together, and it won't take long before Vick realizes who he should be looking at first.
6. Michael Vick Has His Best Season as a Pro
The transformation we've seen from Michael Vick on the field has been nothing short of outstanding. He went from a run-first quarterback in Atlanta who could not read a defense and looked terrified in the pocket, to a guy who is now using his legs as an asset rather than his first option and can stare down the gun barrel like Wyatt Earp.
With an entire offseason of work and preparation as the unquestioned starter, Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg's pet project will really take off and realize his true potential.
For those of you who like stats, I'm talking somewhere between 25 to 28 touchdowns, right around 4,000 yards through the air and single-digit interceptions. Pair that with about 450 yards on the ground and finding the end zone with his legs four or five times and you have the quarterback the Falcons thought they were getting over a decade ago.
The last hurdle with Vick is all mental. He was still struggling to read a defense pre-snap and was not anticipating the open receiver well enough. Instead, he would wait for guys to get open and, most of the time, it's too late by that point. The windows in the NFL close quickly.
You can bet Vick has been getting in a lot of classroom time with Reid, Mornhinweg and quarterbacks coach Doug Pederson to rectify those issues, and 2012 will finally be the season it all clicks.
5. Fletcher Cox Has a Pro Bowl Season
Fletcher Cox, the Philadelphia Eagles' first-round selection, finds himself thrust into the starting lineup with the word coming out of Bethlehem that Mike Patterson will miss at least all of training camp after having brain surgery in the offseason. Missing camp likely means Patterson opens up the season on the PUP list and misses at least the first six weeks.
At 6'4" and 295 pounds, Cox is the perfect type of tackle for Jim Washburn's one-gap scheme. Cox has a quick first step and will be allowed to shoot the gaps and get to the quarterback as much as possible.
And with Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin and Trent Cole to worry about, Cox will get a lot of one-on-one opportunities with guards not nearly as quick as he is.
Cox racked up five sacks in his final season at Mississippi State, and I expect that number to be his floor in Washburn's system. He's going to split time with Derek Landri and Antonio Dixon in the rotation, but I still expect to see his name in Pro Bowl talks, and potentially even on the short list for Rookie of the Year candidates.
4. Brandon Boykin Has Three Total Returns for Touchdowns
The return game might go virtually unnoticed for other fanbases in the NFL, but the Eagles' fanbase understands what an issue the return game has been for a number of years—specifically kick return.
The Eagles drafted Brandon Boykin in the fourth round of this year's draft mainly because of his abilities to cover the slot, but also because of what an outstanding return man he was in college.
In the three years he returned kicks for Georgia, Boykin returned four for touchdowns, including three in one season. He also never averaged less than 22 yards per return. Throw in his ability to return punts—one touchdown and almost 13 yards averaged per return—and the Eagles could have the dynamic full-time return man they've been looking for.
Disclaimer: I say "full-time" because I'm assuming you're yelling "Well, what about DJack?!" and my answer to you, crazy person who yells at a computer screen, is Jackson only return punts, and word is he might only do that on a part-time basis in 2012. So just relax, we've still got three more slides left.
Three returns for touchdowns may not seem like a lot on the surface, but a return touchdown is arguably the biggest momentum shift in football (right, Matt Dodge?) and contributing three of those would immediately make Boykin one of the biggest playmakers on the team.
3. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie Makes Philly Forget Asante Samuel
When Asante Samuel was traded to the Atlanta Falcons, I was surprised as anyone else to see what little compensation the Eagles were willing to take. After all, Samuel has been a top-three corner for some time now.
But the inflation of his contract, combined with an alarming number of birthday candles, made the Eagles' brass willing to ship him off for next to nothing and turn the starting spot over to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Personally, it made me extremely nervous.
But the more I think about it, the more I like it. Samuel's game had not fallen off and anyone who says differently simply wasn't paying attention or is such a homer they'll attempt to justify the move in any way they can.
However, silly justifications aren't needed here. The only justification needed is the skill set of Rodgers-Cromartie and the system Juan Castillo wants to run. Rodgers-Cromartie is a bump-and-run outside corner, but with Samuel around Rodgers-Cromartie was always going to be asked to play the slot, and the defense was going to run zone to cater to Samuel's strengths.
But no more.
Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha are the same style of corner and fit what Castillo wants to do, and Rodgers-Cromartie is a Pro Bowl talent. Oh, and he's a Pro Bowl talent in a contract year.
Combine those factors and what you have is the perfect recipe for an outstanding corner duo in Philly and a type of year from DRC that will make even the most skeptical fan forget all about what's his face.
2. Eagles Defense Ranks Top 10 in Every Category
Now that the shock from Andy Reid promoting his long-time offensive line coach to defensive coordinator has basically worn off, it's time to see what Juan Castillo can really do. And if the final month of the 2011 season is any indication, he's going to have this defense doing some special things.
On defense, the Eagles have really only lost one piece, Asante Samuel, and unless you've found a way to read these slides out of order, you already know why that's not such a big deal.
Mike Patterson is going to be out of commission for a little while (again, something you should already know), but if my prediction of Fletcher Cox is even half-accurate, the defensive tackles will be just fine even without Patterson.
On the flip side, let's look at what the defense has gained.
First off, there's the extra time together. Castillo has his rookie season—a shortened one at that—out of the way and has done a ton of growing. The core guys from last year are pretty much the same and also have had time from last season and this offseason to grow together. It sounds like a small detail, but chemistry on a team cannot be understated.
Then there's the pieces the defense has added. In addition to Cox, the Eagles drafted Mychal Kendricks and Brandon Boykin, traded for DeMeco Ryans and signed O.J. Atogwe. Add that to the guys already in place—Trent Cole, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha and so on—and you've got a unit stockpiled with talent.
Given the talent in place and the time the core group has spent together last season and/or this offseason, I don't think it's far-fetched to predict that at the end of the year Castillo's group is in the top third of the league in every major category.
1. Eagles Finally Get One for the Trophy Case
That's right, folks, the ultimate bold prediction.
The Philadelphia Eagles will win Super Bowl XLVII and finally put an end to the streak. You know, that whole not-winning-a-Super-Bowl streak.
Michael Vick has caught a lot of flack for his dynasty comments, but the thing is everyone in the organization believes it whole-heartedly. Vick was just the guy with the platform and cojones to actually come out and say it.
The talent is there, the confidence is there and the NFL, unlike other professional sports leagues, is always a wide-open competition. The Eagles have as much a chance at it as the other 32 teams, but what sets them apart is the talent the front office has put together and the fact that the guy molding the talent is one of the best this league has seen, even without a ring to his name yet.
So enjoy seven more months of the "Well, the Eagles haven't won a Super Bowl! So HA!" comebacks, Cowboys, Giants and Redskins fans, because come February, the answer will be an extremely proud Geno's cheese steak-smelling "ONE!"
Let the dynasty begin.