10 Philadelphia Eagles Players Poised for a Breakout Campaign in 2013
Chip Kelly has made some major changes to the Eagles' roster over the past few months, adding up to six or eight new starters via the free-agency period and April's draft.
The Eagles will also be employing a healthy offensive line, as well as a new defensive coordinator and a new scheme on the field.
Basically, Kelly's team will look completely different from that of former head coach Andy Reid. He likes versatile players, guys who can play two or more positions (and play them well).
You won't see many formations featuring just one tight end. The backup running back won't collect splinters as he sits on the bench. The offense will be completely different.
Speed is important, but so is power and strength. With that being said, the following slides will highlight 10 players on the team who are due for a breakout season in 2013 (in no particular order).
1. Bryce Brown, Running Back
Throughout Andy Reid's tenure as the Eagles' head coach, the backup running back was one of the least utilized positions on the team. Whether it was Correll Buckhalter, Dorsey Levens or Ronnie Brown, the team's second-string running back was lucky to carry the ball four times per game.
That will all change with Kelly, who plans to use a two-back system in 2013, according to Pro Football Talk. In his final season at Oregon, Kelly had three running backs and his starting quarterback all carry the ball at least 87 times.
Expect LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown to split the carries next season (with McCoy probably carrying the ball on a 2-to-1 ratio).
Brown, who just turned 22, impressed as a rookie despite being a seventh-round draft pick. He carried 115 times for 564 yards (4.8 yards per rush) and four touchdowns, including a ridiculous 347 yards (and all four scores) in two starts filling in for an injured McCoy.
With virtually no experience as a college runner, Brown has very minimal wear and tear on his body and should be able to immediately become one of the top backup running backs in the National Football League.
2. Jeremy Maclin, Wide Receiver
Expectations were high that former first-round draft pick Jeremy Maclin would turn in his breakout season in 2011. But Maclin's season was largely affected from a mysterious illness that kept him out of training camp.
Then his breakout season was supposed to happen in 2012. But it didn't. Injuries affected a majority of the team's offensive players and the Eagles stumbled to a 4-12 finish after an exciting 3-1 start.
Through four years, Maclin has been one of the more consistent receivers in the league. He's a lock for 65 catches, 850 yards and five touchdowns each year. The problem is that the Eagles expected more when they traded up to grab him in the first round.
Maclin has the potential. There's no denying that.
Hopefully a new head coach and (maybe) a new quarterback will result in the first 1,000-yard season of Maclin's career.
3. Russell Shepard, Wide Receiver
Undrafted free agent wide receiver Russell Shepard is a long shot to make the team. But I think he'll do much more than just make the final roster. I think he has a chance to be a star.
The multi-talented athlete has the ability to play Wildcat quarterback, running back, receiver and kick and punt returner in the team's offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see him play each position this season.
At receiver, where he figures to play the most, he has a chance to overtake veteran Riley Cooper for the fourth receiver spot on the depth chart.
4. Damaris Johnson, Wide Receiver
The quarterback competition is going to be the most exciting one on the Eagles this season (obviously), but the battle for the final couple of spots at receiver should be pretty entertaining.
While I wouldn't be surprised at all to see veteran Jason Avant cut late in the preseason, the real battles will be for the fourth and fifth spots at receiver, where Riley Cooper, Arrelious Benn, Greg Salas, Marvin McNutt, Ifeanyi Momah, Russell Shepard and Damaris Johnson will compete.
Johnson likely has an edge over the others, thanks to his speed, his performance on last year's team and his abilities as a punt returner.
His 19 catches for 256 yards in 2012 is respectable considering Reid's tendency to ignore the lower receivers on the depth chart.
But if Johnson makes the 2013 Eagles, he has a chance to become a real star under Kelly, who will surely love the 23-year-old's playmaking ability.
5. James Casey, Tight End
Although he'll be 29 by the start of the 2013 season, new Eagles tight end James Casey doesn't have a lot of wear and tear on his body. He wasn't drafted until he was 25 and he has just 66 career catches.
The 2012 season was his best, as the fullback/tight end caught 34 balls for 330 yards and three scores as the Texans' primary backup.
Although he may enter 2013 as the team's third tight end between veteran Brent Celek and rookie Zach Ertz, expect Casey to see more than his fair share of playing time. His versatility will be a key, as he has the key to line up in the backfield and receiver along with tight end.
6. Jason Kelce, Center
Jason Kelce shocked the Eagles by stealing the starting job at center from veteran Jamaal Jackson during training camp in 2011. Although he had his fair share of ups and downs in 2011, he was expected to make major strides in his second season as a pro.
Then disaster struck, as Kelce tore his ACL in the second game of the season. He missed the remainder of the year but is expected to be fully healthy by the start of the 2013 season.
Now in his third year, Kelce's speed, versatility and strength as a run-blocker should pay dividends as the Eagles look to become a run-heavy team.
7. Phillip Hunt, Defensive End
All the signs were there for Phillip Hunt becoming a superstar in 2012. He performed well in limited action as a rookie in 2011, and he had a monster training camp and preseason in his second year.
But Hunt was a complete non-factor in 2012, participating in just 149 snaps and collecting only four quarterback hurries all season.
In the team's new defensive scheme, Hunt's abilities as a pass-rusher make him better suited as an outside linebacker than a defensive end. He doesn't project as a starter, but if he can make the 53-man roster, he has the opportunity to make some noise rushing the quarterback.
8. Mychal Kendricks, Linebacker
Bleacher Report's own Ryan Riddle predicted Mychal Kendricks to be his breakout player at linebacker during the 2013 season. This makes complete sense to me.
After playing in a 3-4 defense in college and a 4-3 defense in his first year in the NFL, Kendricks has experience in any kind of formation the team uses. His speed is his biggest asset, which will be used to keep up with some of the game's fastest quarterbacks (like RGIII).
9. Kenny Phillips, Safety
A former first-round draft pick by the New York Giants, Kenny Phillips never lived to his billing. That's not because he wasn't effective, however. It's because he struggled with injuries, playing in an average of 11 games per year since his career began in 2008.
If he can stay healthy for a full season, he has the potential to be one of the better safeties in the league. He'll obviously be a major improvement over last year's safeties, Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman, particularly with his abilities as a tackler.
10. Damaris Johnson, Punt Returner
Receiver and returner Damaris Johnson looked a lot like a rookie during most of the 2012 season, as he struggled with the basics of when to call for a fair catch and when to return a punt (hint: not from the 5-yard line).
But his explosiveness was evident, despite his many mental mistakes. He recorded a 98-yard punt return touchdown, the third-longest in league history, in the final minute of an eventual loss to the Dallas Cowboys. His 11.2 yards per return ranked 10th in the NFL.
If Johnson makes the team and learns the ins and outs of returning punts, he has an opportunity to become one of the best in the league. Winning the battle on special teams is not something the Eagles have excelled at in recent years.