Pros and Cons of Every Projected Philadelphia Eagles Starter in 2012
The Philadelphia Eagles are through with their first three preseason games and are pretty much set at every starting position. Left tackle, weak side linebacker, slot corner and defensive tackle have been settled. The Eagles have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL—good enough to make a very deep playoff run this winter.
Just about every starter on both sides of the ball for the Eagles has the potential to be a Pro Bowler this season, but they also have at least one major flaw that could lead to a down year as well. The key for the Eagles is to utilize these players' strengths and to cover up their weaknesses as best they can.
Here is a breakdown of the pros and cons of every Eagles starter.
Quarterback: Michael Vick
Michael Vick is about as frustrating as it gets at the quarterback position. This should be nothing new—Eagles fans dealt with plenty of frustration with Donovan McNabb. Vick is a different kind of frustration, but does have the potential to lead this offense to a Super Bowl title.
Michael Vick does things at the quarterback position that nobody else has ever been able to do. He is a freak athlete that runs like a speedy running back, but can still chuck the ball 70 yards down the field with just a flick of the wrist.
He lead the Eagles to an improbable fourth quarterback comeback against the New York Giants in 2010 after they fell behind by 21 points with just seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. No other quarterback could have done what he did that day. He made just as many big plays with his feet as he did with his arm.
He isn't just a running quarterback. He has developed into a pocket passer under Andy Reid. He also has a firm grasp on the offense, which he proved last season when he went 7-3 as a starter.
The cons of having Michael Vick as your starter are obvious to everyone. He becomes too much of a playmaker at times, committing mistake after mistake when he should just live for another play. He is also an injury waiting to happen. Eagles fans now hold their breath every time a defender makes the slightest contact with him.
Vick can cover up these issues if he just makes better decisions on the field. When the pass-rush gets free, get rid of the football. When the play isn't there, get rid of the football. See a pattern? Some of the greatest passes a quarterback can make are the ones that sail 10 yards out of bounds.
If Vick can improve his decision making, Eagles fans will experience the pros of having Vick as their franchise quarterback. If he doesn't, I will be writing about the pros and cons of Nick Foles by this time next year.
Running Back: LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy is an elite running back. There is no doubt about that anymore. He finished the 2011 season with over 1, 600 total yards and 20 total touchdowns. He is a threat to take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
Everything. LeSean McCoy does everything well. He is a great runner and receiver, but the most underrated aspect of his game is his ability in pass protection. He has a great feel for the blitz and loves to hit defensive ends and outside linebackers head on.
The other aspect of McCoy's game that is highly underrated is his ability to break tackles. Some people see McCoy and expect him to be nothing more than a speed back, but he is far from it. According to Football Outsiders, McCoy lead all running backs with 50 broken tackles in 2011. He made his defenders miss on 15 percent of his touches in 2011.
The only real con in McCoy's game is his ball control. He holds the football away from his body far too often, but it is hard to argue with the results on the field. He has never lost more than one fumble in the same season and has lost just three fumbles in 801 career touches. It hasn't been an issue just yet, but it is certainly something to keep an eye on if he doesn't start securing the ball better.
Fullback: Stanley Havili
Stanley Havili isn't a lock to make this roster, but I would give him a 90 percent chance of making this roster. The Eagles still could use a tight end or even an athletic lineman as a leadblocker, but I think Havili has done enough to earn a roster spot.
Athleticism. That is what got Havili drafted and that is what makes him worthy of a roster spot despite being a little but undersized for the fullback position. He is a threat as a runner and receiver at the fullback position, similar to what Leonard Weaver was able to do.
Havili is perfect for the fullback trap plays, where the quarterback fakes the toss to the running back and hands off to the fullback. He is also a great player to dump the ball off to in the flat when there is nothing else there.
The major concern with Havili isn't his ability as a runner or receiver; it's his ability as a lead blocker. He is listed at 230 pounds, about 10-15 pounds lighter than you would want your lead blocker to be.
The key for Havili as a lead blocker will be to use his speed to get in front of his man and to just hold his ground. A lead blockers' job is to take away one player in the running game. He is strong enough to accomplish that, just as long as he improves on his blocking technique.
Wide Receiver: DeSean Jackson
DeSean Jackson has received a great deal of criticism regarding his contract dispute from last season. His effort and commitment was questioned and his future with the team was in doubt. This summer, Jackson got his contract extension and all of the issues from last season are behind him.
Jackson changes the way teams defend the Eagles offense. Safeties are forced to play 15 yards off the line of scrimmage. Nobody has that kind of impact on the defense. You have to give him that kind of cushion because of his deep speed.
It's not just his deep speed that makes Jackson a great receiver. He is great route runner and maybe the pound-for-pound best run blocker in the NFL. Nobody notices it very often, but Jackson does so much of the little things well.
Jackson isn't much of a receiver in the red zone. This isn't exactly breaking news. He is 5'10" and 175 pounds. It's tough for a player of that size to make plays in a very short field. He's great at getting the Eagles inside the 20, just not so great at making plays once they are there.
Wide Receiver: Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin is right on the brink of breaking out in a big way. He is the most complete receiver in a very explosive offense. He is coming off back-to-back seasons of at least 850 receiving yards. 2012 should be a breakout season for Maclin. The opportunities will be there from him to easily rack up over 1,000 yards receiving.
Maclin is a complete receiver. He runs crisp routes, has good hands, blocks well in the running game and also has the speed to beat his man deep. He doesn't do one thing great, but he does everything well. That makes him hard to game plan against. You can't force him inside or outside. You can't take away the short game or the deep ball. He beats you either way. He finds the holes against zone coverage and can easily beat man coverage.
The only reason Maclin doesn't finally get over the 1,000 yard plateau will be injuries. Last season, shoulder and hamstring injuries derailed the second half of the season for Maclin. He was on pace for over 1,200 yards through the first eight games, but missed three of the next eight games.
Maclin's hamstring has already kept him out of practice and the first preseason game. They might just want to keep him fresh for when the games actually mean something, but it is still a major cause for concern.
Tight End: Brent Celek
Brent Celek is a lot like Jeremy Maclin. They are both solid players who just have not taken that next step in their careers just yet. They are both Pro Bowl caliber players that are right on the cusp of becoming something great.
There is little not to like about Celek's game. He is a solid blocker and a very underrated receiver. Celek had just 511 receiving yards in 2010 because of the need for him in pass protection. It was a similar situation last season until the offensive line started to settle in. You can't ask your tight end to post big numbers as a receiver if he has to stay in pass protection the majority of the time.
That's the great thing about Celek. He can help you as a reliable receiver over the middle of the field, but he can also help you as an extra blocker. When the offensive tackles are on the game, Celek can be used primarily as a receiver.
The only real criticism Celek gets is his lack of deep threat ability. He isn't Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates. He is capable of making big plays down the field if he gets single coverag, but for the most part, he is better used 5-15 yards down the field over the middle.
Left Tackle: King Dunlap
On Sunday, it was announced that King Dunlap had won the Eagles starting left tackle job. Last March, Dunlap was a free agent that had gotten zero attention until Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles. Now, Dunlap appears to be the man responsible for protecting Michael Vick this season. Every team that has a real need at left tackle should be kicking themselves right now.
Dunlap is reliable in pass protection. That is why he won the left tackle spot and will probably hold onto it all season long. He uses his size really well and doesn't get burned very often. He won't dominate pass-rushers, but he will hold his own against the best of them on a consistent basis.
The reason why the Eagles went after Demetress Bell in free agency is the biggest con with Dunlap. He isn't the athlete that Bell is. That is why the Eagles were in no hurry to re-sign Dunlap and that is why they had hoped Bell would win the job.
On screens and draws Dunlap is going to struggle to get upfield as quickly as Peters did and as quickly as Bell can.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis
Evan Mathis proved that it is never too late to have a breakout season. At the tender age of 29, Mathis broke out in a big way for the Eagles under offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He became one of the most physical offensive guards in the NFL and helped form the best left side in football while playing next to Jason Peters.
Mathis is one of the most physical guards in football, but he still has the athleticism to get upfield on screen passes. Mathis really is the ideal guard in Mudd's blocking scheme. His effort, athleticism and physicality are unquestioned.
Mathis has never played a full season, and a turf toe injury kept him out of just one game last season. He also had the luxury of playing next to the best offensive lineman in football last season in Jason Peters. Can he still play great next to a lesser left tackle? 2012 will be his biggest test. We have seen him breakout, now can he maintain that success for a full season?
Center: Jason Kelce
Jason Kelce needed little time last season to assert himself as a starting caliber center for the Eagles. He earned a starting role over veteran center Jamaal Jackson and improved each and every week. He was passed over by every team in the 2011 NFL Draft, mainly due his lack of size for a center, but proved a lot of people wrong while starting all 16 games at center for one of the top offensive lines in the NFL.
Kelce might already be the best center in the NFL at getting upfield and making blocks in the screen game. That is his strength. He is at his best when he is on the move, whether he is pulling on a run play or getting upfield and making blocks against linebackers and defensive backs.
The problem with having a 280 pound center like Jason Kelce comes when you have to get that tough yard. Whether it is a quarterback sneak or just a run up the middle, the Eagles struggled to gain yards running behind Kelce.
Kelce needs to get stronger. He can still be a great athlete at center if he bulks up to around 295 pounds. If he stays in the 285 pound range, he will continue to get pushed backwards in the short yardage situations.
Right Guard: Danny Watkins
There is a reason why the Eagles spent their first round pick in 2011 on Danny Watkins. He has the potential to be a great guard in the NFL. He is a big player that runs extremely well. He got off to a slow start in 2011, but once he earned a starting spot and stopped thinking so much on the field, he really solidified the offensive line late in the season.
Danny Watkins is the perfect combination of size. strength and athleticism for Mudd's blocking scheme. He can push some of the bigger defensive tackles in this league backwards, but he also can be a great guy to run behind on screen passes.
Now that he has a better feel for the blocking scheme, we should get a better feel for what type of player he will become. Expect less thinking and more blocking. When a player has to do too much thinking, he can't be effective.
Watkins is still a really raw player. Five years ago. he was playing organized football for the first time in junior college. Last year was his first season as a guard. The fact that he can be pretty solid—even with how raw he is—has been pretty impressive.
Right Tackle: Todd Herremans
Todd Herremans was given no favors last summer. He had to learn a completely different blocking scheme under Howard Mudd. He started to settle in as the starting right guard in Mudd's scheme until the Eagles needed help at right tackle. He made the switch seamlessly and really became the MVP of that offensive line.
Herremans might be one of the most underrated offensive tackles in football. He was one of the top offensive tackles last season and really became a force when he got the chance to get upfield in the screen game. He was reliable in pass protection and did a nice job in the running game.
In a league full of inconsistent tackles, Herremans has become one of the most reliable right tackles in the game.
Herremans really struggled against DeMarcus Ware last season. Ware had six sacks in two games against the Eagles, most of which came against Herremans. This isn't really the worst criticism a player can receive. Just about everyone struggles against Ware. It is worth noting that Herremans did struggle against the best 3-4 edge rusher in the game. In his defense, he did shut down Brian Orakpo when he played left tackle in Week 17.
Defensive End: Trent Cole
Trent Cole is one of the most complete defensive ends in all of football. He is third all-time on the Eagles franchise sack list, but he is actually a better run defender. Cole is quick off the edge and uses his hands better than just about anyone. He had 11 sacks in his first season in the wide-9 scheme and we could see even better results in 2012.
Everything. Cole really does do everything well. He isn't too small or too slow. He can out-muscle you or he can run right by you. He plays with the right pad level and he uses his hands to push off of tackles and get around them. He also reacts to the play better than any defensive end I have seen.
The only real con with Trent Cole is that he isn't an elite pass-rusher. He has never had 12.5 sacks in a single season. That isn't really much of a critique, but Cole is a pretty complete player. He does everything well. This is why he got a contract extension this summer and that is why he will continue to be one of the best defensive ends in all of football. He won't get as much attention as Jason Babin or Jared Allen get, but that is only because sacks sell jerseys. Cole doesn't sell as many as they do, but he helps his team win just as many games.
Defensive End: Jason Babin
Jason Babin has gone from first-round bust to elite pass-rusher in Jim Washburn's wide-9 scheme. He played for Washburn at Tennessee in 2010 and followed him to Philadelphia last season. He had 30.5 sacks in those two seasons. When you put him on the edge and have him just rush the passer, or at least the backfield, he is at his best.
It's easy to see what the strength of Jason Babin's game is. He is an elite pass-rusher. He uses his speed, strength and flexibility to get past tackles and get into the backfield. He has an array of pass-rush moves and a motor that never turns off. Offensive tackles have to be athletic and relentless to keep Babin away from the quarterback, and even that doesn't keep him out of the backfield.
Babin isn't a stout run defender. That is why he struggled at his previous four stops before breaking out with the Titans in 2010. In other defensive line schemes, he has to cover his gap and play the run too much. In Houston he was asked to be an outside linebacker in the 3-4 defense. He wasn't successful until he was told to just rush the passer and wreak havoc in the backfield. He really is a one-trick pony. He just does his one trick better than 99 percent of the league.
Defensive Tackle: Derek Landri
Derek Landri is slowly becoming a fan favorite in Philadelphia. He is that underrated player that fans just go crazy for. He had an excellent season last year after he was brought in when Antonio Dixon was lost for the season. He became a free agent and nobody offered him a contract until the Eagles finally signed him on April 9th. Ever since then, he has done nothing but dominate at his position.
Derek Landri is one of the most technically sound defensive tackles in the NFL right now. He is quick off the snap and relentless at the point of attack. He has been making a living in the opponents backfield this preseason. He ended the Cleveland Browns first possession last Friday as they were driving deep in Eagles territory. We should expect more of this in the upcoming season.
Derek Landri is undersized and not the athlete you would expect to see on the Eagles line. He can't get by on his physical abilities alone. Thankfully he doesn't have to. He doesn't have that freak like speed that Fletcher Cox has, but he is really quick off the line. He gets the first jump against his blocker and he uses his hands and technique to get by his man.
Defensive Tackle: Cullen Jenkins
Cullen Jenkins is holding the fort down at defensive tackle until Fletcher Cox is ready to became a starter in the NFL. Jenkins, now 31 years old, is on the down-side of his career. He is still a very good defensive tackle in this league, but there were signs of him slowing down last season.
Jenkins is one of the most versatile tackles in the NFL. He spent the majority of last season as a defensive tackle, but filled in for Trent Cole in the defensive line rotation when Trent Cole was injured last season. He also filled in at Jason Babin's defensive end spot this summer at both training camp and preseason. He has that rare combination of strength and athleticism that allows a defensive coordinator to really play around with him.
Jenkins really showed signs of slowing down last season. He had five sacks in the first five games, but managed just a half-sack over the next 11 games. He had plenty of help around him in Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson. He just disappeared in the pass-rush as the season went on. He still provided plenty of pressure, but the consistency of his rush decreased as the season went on.
The key for Jenkins success in 2012 will be how many snaps the Eagles give him each week and how well the defensive tackle next to him plays. He started to receive a lot more attention after his fast start to the 2011 season. If the other tackle plays up to his level, we should see Jenkins numbers increase from a year ago.
Weakside Linebacker: Akeem Jordan
Andy Reid announced that Akeem Jordan has won the starting weak side linebacker job during his press conference on August 26th. Jordan wasn't figured to be a part of the competition at outside linebacker, but with Brian Rolle's struggles and Jamar Chaney still banged up, he ended up winning by default.
Jordan is the safe choice on the weakside. He doesn't have the upside or the athleticism that Rolle has, but he will make far less mistakes and doesn't get swallowed up against the run very easily. I believe a big part of Rolle getting demoted is his lack of discipline during the preseason. He had two offsides penalties last Friday night against the Browns.
Andy Reid has had a tough time getting his defense to stop committing so many dumb penalties. Jordan is the better disciplined player. This defense doesn't need a playmaker at weakside linebacker. They just need someone who can do his job and not hurt the team.
Jordan is a decent starter. He isn't going to impose his will and he isn't the athlete that either Rolle or Chaney are. He is a safe option at linebacker and nothing more. He doesn't make big plays but he doesn't miss the easy ones either. He is perfect for a defense that just needs a quality starter, but is not ideal for a defense that needs a playmaker at linebacker.
Middle Linebacker: DeMeco Ryans
The Eagles sent a fourth-round pick in exchange for veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans in the offseason. The Eagles finally got some stability and leadership at linebacker for a defense that badly needs it. Ryans is a former Pro Bowl linebacker with the Houston Texans, but has since had to recover from an Achilles injury and adjust to the 3-4 defense. The belief the Eagles have is that Ryans is 100 percent healthy and will bounce back now that he is in the 4-3 defense once again.
With Ryans the Eagles got a leader and a run stuffer. They didn't have either last season. Ryans is great at engaging and releasing from offensive linemen in the run game. He never gets swallowed up. He finds a way to beat his blocker and always be around the football.
Ryans has has great recognition skills. There was a play against the Browns Friday night where the Browns used wide receiver Mohamed Massquoi to set a pick on linebacker Brian Rolle as he was trying to cover tight end Alex Smith. Ryans saw this and left his spot to chase down Smith. Plays like that show you the football I.Q. that Ryans has. That will always allow a linebacker to be effective, no matter how much speed they have lost through age and injuries.
Pass coverage is going to be an issue for Ryans this season. This is why the Eagles drafted Mychal Kendricks. They don't want Ryans to get matched up with too many tight ends. They want him to man the middle and take away the short passes from the backs. As long as he is allowed to do just that, he should be just fine in 2012.
Strongside Linebacker: Mychal Kendricks
Mychal Kendricks has been a star for the Eagles defense all summer long. He has been flying all over the field and has finished just about every tackle he has made. I have seen the progression with each preseason game. He was brought in to be a really good coverage linebacker, but has done more damage in run support.
Kendricks was the best athlete at linebacker coming into the draft. He can out-run and out-jump most wide receivers. You can see that when he is chasing down the ball carrier. Very few players have been able to escape him this preseason. There have been linebackers as athletic as Kendricks, but few that have adjusted as quickly as he has to the speed of the game.
We have heard it all summer long. Kendricks is too short to be able to cover tight ends. He stands at just 5'11", which is pretty short for an outside linebacker. You tend to see most outside linebackers around 6'1" to 6'3". Kendricks had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches at the NFL Combine. I believe that a player that can jump that high can overcome being a couple inches too small for his position. Only time will tell, but it has yet to be a major issue for him.
Cornerback: Nnamdi Asomugha
Nnamdi Asomugha was the biggest free agent signing just one year ago. Since then, he has been the target for a lot of unfair criticism. He was a press corner that defensive coordinator Juan Castillo tried to use similarly to the way the Green Bay Packers have been using Charles Woodson. Woodson is moved all over the defense. Nnamdi is a different type of player. He doesn't work as a safety and isn't a great blitzer. Once Castillo started to figure that out, Nnamdi started to lock down receivers.
Part of the problem last season was Asante Samuel. Nnamdi and Samuel are two completely different corners. Samuel likes to play off his man, read the quarterback's eyes and jump routes. Nnamdi likes to press his man and bump him off his route. The Eagles have adjusted accordingly and will play a lot more press coverage this season.
Nnamdi is great it reading the snap count, getting off the line quickly and jamming the receiver before he has a change to get into his route. He uses his long arms and upper body strength to dominate his man physically.
Nnamdi is not a great tackler and really struggles in zone coverage. He isn't Asante Samuel as a tackler, but he will miss some easy tackles in the open field. He is also an average corner in zone coverage. It takes away his strength as a press corner. Playing Nnamdi in zone coverage is like dropping Jason Babin back in coverage.
He will play some zone coverage this season. You can't run the same type of coverage and not expect the defense to adjust and figure you out. Every great defense knows you have to mix up your coverages if you want to be successful.
Strong Safety: Nate Allen
Nate Allen is listed as a strong safety. I see him as more of a free safety, but Juan Castillo sees his safeties as interchangeable. Allen can pull it off because he is physical enough to play as a strong safety. Allen had a rough start to his 2011 season, as he was still recovering from offseason knee surgery, and it took a couple months into the season before he was able to get to 100 percent.
Nate Allen is at his best when playing center field in the secondary. We saw this early in his career in 2010, when he recorded an interception in each of his first two games. He was drafted to be a good coverage safety. He isn't great in single coverage, but he is at his best when he can play over the top or roam the deep middle portion of the field.
Nate Allen is at his worst when he is forced to play man coverage on tight ends and slot corners. He isn't a corner. He doesn't have that skill set. He needs to have an area to cover. A lot of safeties really struggle when they are asked to cover a receiver alone. Luckily for the Eagles, they are loaded with cover corners. They would be wise to either use Allen over the top or blitz him on just about every single play.
Free Safety: Kurt Coleman
Kurt Coleman is a former seventh round draft pick that got his chance as a rookie after Nate Allen was lost very late in the 2010 season. Coleman played well and has been a starter ever since. He was benched for a short time last season while the Eagles were mixing things up at safety, but rebounded nicely with a three interception performance against Rex Grossman. I believe Coleman is here to stay as the Eagles starting safety.
Coleman acts as a football magnet. He is naturally attracted to the football. He is always around the play. It has a lot to do with his hustle and natural football instincts. He also finishes every tackle. He doesn't try and body check the ball carries or trip him up. He uses his whole body on every tackle. That is rare to see these days and that is why the Eagles will keep him at safety for years to come.
Coleman is a small safety who isn't a great athlete. He has to rely on instincts and hustle because he can't rely on his speed and strength. Think of Coleman as the anti-Taylor Mays. He makes fewer mistakes in the open field but he doesn't have the recovery speed to make up for them when he does commit mistakes.
Cornerback: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Dominique Rodgers-Cromarite has to be the happiest guy in Philly right now. Because of Asante Samuel, he was forced to play a coverage scheme that he didn't fit in well with and play a position he wasn't built for. He was a slot corner in a zone coverage scheme. Now, he is back on the outside playing press coverage.
Rodgers-Cromartie is built for man coverage. He has the length at 6'2" to be able to jam the receiver at the line while also possessing the speed to recover when his man breaks his press. Actually, he has the speed to recover from just about anything. He was one of the stars of the Eagles training camp. There were several plays were DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin would have gotten about five yards of separation on Rodgers-Cromarite, but he always closed in as the ball was in the air. Just when you think the receiver is open, he turns on the Jets and makes a play on the football.
Tackling and run support are going to be an issue for Rodgers-Cromartie. He may be 6'2", but he barely stands at 190 pounds. The key for him is going to be effort. At times last season, he would give up on the play when he felt he was out of position to make the play. As long as the effort is there, he should be fine. He won't be a great tackler, but he should be able to hold his own if he plays to the whistle.