Predicting Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Lineup Post Week 1 of Free Agency
Chip Kelly was fairly active in free agency. He signed five players on day one, all of whom are under-the-radar scheme players. It’s a far cry from the Dream Team fallout of 2011 when the Philadelphia Eagles added a slew of Pro Bowlers.
This year, Kelly is focusing more on filling parts of the puzzle. Isaac Sopoaga is a veteran nose tackle. Connor Barwin is a pass-rusher with a lot of promise. Cary Williams was a starting corner on the world champion Baltimore Ravens. Kenny Phillips, Patrick Chung and Bradley Fletcher should all vie for key roles as starters.
And there’s still the NFL draft, in which Kelly will have an opportunity to add some of the nation’s most talented collegiate prospects. The Eagles will likely target another quarterback, a 3-4 end and/or nose tackle, a cornerback and a safety. As of now, the following is the Eagles’ current starting roster.
Quarterback: Michael Vick
An inconsistent 2012 season seemed as if it may put an end to Michael Vick’s days in Philadelphia. He threw 10 interceptions and fumbled 11 times in just 10 starts. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating took significant drops. And he’s going to be 33 years old by next season.
Chip Kelly still worked out a one-year deal to bring back Vick, opting for a veteran that can fit his style of offense. It’s likely the Eagles draft a signal-caller early in the draft, whether it be Geno Smith or EJ Manuel. That means Vick will spend ’13 as the starter (or until he gets hurt) before handing the reigns to the new QB for 2014.
Running Back: LeSean McCoy
LeSean McCoy’s numbers dropped in 2012. He rushed for just 840 yards and two scores on 4.2 yards per carry, a far cry from the 20 times he reached the end zone the previous season. McCoy also missed four games to injury.
But he’s just 24 years old. He’s never had more than 273 carries in a season, and that lack of mileage will make him a star in Chip Kelly’s offense for many years. McCoy is as physically gifted as any back in the league, and he’s a superb playmaker in the open field.
Wide Receiver: DeSean Jackson
If there was ever a player made for Chip Kelly’s offense, it’s DeSean Jackson. The Philadelphia Eagles’ flashy receiver is as dangerous of a deep threat as there is in the league.
Jackson’s numbers haven’t been as strong in 2011 or 2012, but he’s received inconsistent quarterback play behind a shoddy offensive line. He’s still just entering his sixth NFL season. Jackson should have a slew of 50-yard touchdowns still in him.
Wide Receiver: Jeremy Maclin
The Philadelphia Eagles will have a difficult decision to make after 2013, as Jeremy Maclin is set to become a free agent. For now though, Maclin enters the season as the team’s No. 2 receiver, a role he’s held for the past five seasons.
Maclin has never put together a complete year in Philly. He has yet to top 1,000 receiving yards, but he’s still been very effective. Maclin has averaged 64 receptions, 863 yards and six touchdowns since he was a rookie. He’s fast enough that he will excel in Chip Kelly’s offense. There’s a chance Jackson and Maclin could be a top-five receiving duo next year.
Wide Receiver: Jason Avant
Chip Kelly uses a fullback minimally, so Jason Avant gets the starting nod as a third receiver over James Casey.
That is, assuming Avant is still on the roster in 2013. He’s been a very productive player since 2006, when the Philadelphia Eagles grabbed him in the fourth round. Avant’s consistency is arguably his best trait, as he’s totaled 51, 52 and 53 receptions the last three seasons.
But Avant isn’t a logical fit in Kelly’s offense. He’s slow and merely a possession receiver. He’s also set to make $2.45 million, which could make him a surprise release next training camp. If that’s the case, either Arrelious Benn or Damaris Johnson steps up as the slot receiver.
Tight End: Brent Celek
One of these years, Brent Celek will be a veteran cut. He’s underwhelmed the last two seasons, struggling with drops (14). He’s nowhere near the player that caught nearly 1,000 yards in 2009.
Celek should still be on the roster for 2013. He counts as $4.5 million against the cap, which is a reasonable total to pay for a top-12 or top-15 tight end. He’s remarkably durable, having missed just one game in six NFL seasons.
And he’s a good change-of-pace player to the speed receivers on the roster. Celek should be good for 50-60 catches and 600 yards.
Left Tackle: Jason Peters
The demise of the 2012 Philadelphia Eagles began with Jason Peters’ injury. When healthy, Peters is quite possibly the most complete offensive tackle in the NFL. He’s a phenomenal athlete that can get downfield on screen passes, and he’s tremendous in pass protection.
Peters suffered a devastating injury, so it’s no certainty that he can return to full strength. If he struggles to regain his form, the Eagles may have to look for his replacement the following draft.
Left Guard: Evan Mathis
The emergence of Evan Mathis over the last several seasons has been a huge steal. The Philadelphia Eagles signed him as a journeyman free agent, and he’s developed into a star. Much of that can be attributed to Jason Peters playing alongside him, but Mathis thrived even without Peters last year.
Mathis has played 2,180 snaps in Philly since 2011 and allowed just one sack. He’s a tenacious run-blocker, and that earned him a five-year contract extension that will keep him in Philly through 2016.
Center: Jason Kelce
Jason Kelce will be one of Chip Kelly’s favorite players. Kelce is an undersized center who excels in the running game. He’s athletic enough to open up holes for LeSean McCoy, and Kelce was emerging as a team captain in 2012 before his season-ending knee injury.
Kelce’s injury was serious, as he tore his MCL. But his recovery is going well, and Kelce said he expects to be ready for the start of training camp.
Right Guard: Danny Watkins
As of now, Danny Watkins has to be penciled in as the starter. But it’s written in pencil, and there’s a very good chance the Philadelphia Eagles will upgrade the position by the start of 2013.
Watkins has been benched twice in two seasons, losing his job last year to a free-agent signing off the street. Watkins is subpar in pass protection and he’s not particularly mobile. It’s doubtful Chip Kelly opts to bring back Jake Scott over Watkins, but he will definitely have his eyes open for a replacement.
Right Tackle: Todd Herremans
This makes three offensive linemen returning from season-ending injuries. Todd Herremans’ occurred in Week 6, which means he’s had adequate time to fully rehabilitate.
The problem with Herremans is that he’s a much better guard than tackle. He also will be tasked with protecting Michael Vick’s blind side (as long as Vick is healthy). The ideal situation for Chip Kelly would be to draft a right tackle and move Herremans inside.
Defensive End: Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox is going to be freakishly good as a 3-4 end. He played very well as a rookie defensive tackle, finishing with 32 tackles, 5.5 sacks and 14 quarterback pressures. The Philadelphia Eagles will be moving him to five-technique end in their 3-4, and they felt comfortable enough about Cox to release Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson.
Cox doesn’t have the size to be a zero-technique nose tackle that lines up over the center. But he’s also not that type of player. Cox is a strong pass-rusher who will thrive with a big nose tackle next to him.
Nose Tackle: Isaac Sopoaga
There’s no way Isaac Sopoaga is anything more than a stopgap nose tackle. He’s 31 years old with 80 career starts to his name.
But he’s a quality acquisition and a good veteran lineman. Sopoaga can play 3-4 end and 3-4 tackle, but he’ll solely play the nose tackle position for Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles. Sopoaga is no longer an every-down player, but he should be able to give the defense 30 to 40 snaps per game still.
Defensive End: Cedric Thornton
This is by far the weakest aspect of the new 3-4 defense. Fletcher Cox is a terrific end on the one side, but Cedric Thornton is merely a rotational player listed as a starter until the Philadelphia Eagles draft a defensive end.
SMU’s Margus Hunt may be an intriguing option should he last until the second round. That would enable the Eagles to use Thornton as their top rotational lineman. Thornton played well as a reserve in 2012, seeing action in all 16 games while picking up 19 tackles.
Outside Linebacker: Trent Cole
Trent Cole was probably better as a 4-3 defensive end than he will be as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Chip Kelly will probably have Cole line up with his hand in the dirt on a number of plays, essentially switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 at will.
Cole has been one of the NFL’s more underrated defensive players. He’s terrific against the run and he’s also averaged nine sacks per season since 2006. He really dropped off last year, but then again, so did the rest of the defense. Hopefully it wasn’t the start of Cole’s decline as a player, because he’s still just 30 years old.
Inside Linebacker: Mychal Kendricks
The future should bode well for second-year player Mychal Kendricks. He had an up-and-down rookie campaign as a 4-3 outside linebacker but will transition to 3-4 inside ‘backer in 2012.
Kendricks played both inside and outside linebacker in Cal’s 3-4 back in college. Kendricks has exceptional speed that should help him succeed in both coverage and run defense.
Inside Linebacker: DeMeco Ryans
There’s always a chance DeMeco Ryans won’t make next year’s roster. He’s set to make $6.7 million, which is a lot to pay for a linebacker that doesn’t make a lot of big plays.
Ryans is still a very good defender. He records a lot of tackles in the running game and he’s solid in coverage. Ryans was ultimately forced out of Houston when the Texans switched to a 3-4, and that could end up happening in Philadelphia too.
Outside Linebacker: Connor Barwin
This makes two ex-Houston Texans linebackers playing next to one another. Connor Barwin picked up 11.5 sacks in 2011, playing with Mario Williams and Brian Cushing and DeMeco Ryans. Then Williams and Ryans left, Cushing got hurt, and Barwin dropped to just 3.5 sacks in 16 games.
Barwin’s six-year, $36 million deal is puzzling, considering it drops Brandon Graham to a backup role. Graham made huge strides in ’12, finally putting together the breakout season the team had been longing for since he was picked in the first round.
And then there’s also last year’s second-round pick Vinny Curry, who will play a backup role as a pass-rushing linebacker. That creates quite a logjam at 3-4 linebacker.
Cornerback: Cary Williams
Gone are Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha. Cary Williams was signed as one starter, fresh off a Super Bowl championship in Baltimore.
Williams had his moments, recording six interceptions and 16 passes defensed in 2012. He also allowed over 1,100 yards in coverage, while getting burned for seven touchdown passes. He probably projects best as a league-average starter, but that’s an upgrade over DRC and Asomugha.
Cornerback: Bradley Fletcher
Bradley Fletcher is the other starting cornerback as of now, although don’t rule out Brandon Boykin or a rookie draft pick pushing for Fletcher’s spot.
Fletcher has played surprisingly well for the St. Louis Rams over the last four seasons. He lost his nickel spot to rookie Trumaine Johnson in 2012 but still permitted just a 55.8 passer rating on the 34 throws his way. It was a relatively low-risk signing, so if Fletcher plays well for the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s a steal.
Safety: Kenny Phillips
Kenny Phillips was signed to just a one-year prove-it deal, which could turn into a long-term contract if he stays healthy. Phillips recorded four interceptions and 11 passes defensed in 2011, helping the New York Giants win the Super Bowl.
He’s struggled to remain off the injury list since being drafted. Phillips has missed over 40 percent of games since 2008, including nine last year. If Phillips gets hurt again, that will likely thrust Nate Allen into a starting role.
Safety: Patrick Chung
Patrick Chung could be a sleeper signing if all goes according to plan. Chung was picked 34th overall by the New England Patriots and now that he’s on the Philadelphia Eagles, he makes four new starters in the secondary.
Chung is speedy and a playmaker when healthy. He did fall out of favor with Bill Belichick in New England, and there could be a reason. The odds are high that either Kenny Phillips or Chung misses significant time due to injury in 2012, which means Allen will probably start again.
Alex Henery is still on his rookie contract, but he’s a pretty good kicker. Henery is deadly accurate from inside 45 yards, although he hasn’t proven to have the leg strength to make anything over 50.
Mat McBriar is an adequate punter but in no way a long-term solution. The Philadelphia Eagles should keep their eyes open for replacements in the draft.
It’s still unknown as to who will return kicks and punts. Bryce Brown and Damaris Johnson are the odds-on favorites considering they handled the duties last year. That won’t suffice for most Eagles fans though, as the duo was well below average in abilities.
At long snapper, the Eagles have retained Pro Bowler Jon Dorenbos, who has never had a bad snap in seven seasons.