The Philadelphia Eagles enter the 2013 season amid expectations that the offense can be a high-powered scoring attack capable of putting up tons of yards and touchdowns. The key will be the quarterback decision, as Chip Kelly just announced that he will be going with the veteran Michael Vick as his QB for the Week 1 matchup against the Washington Redskins.
In my season preview article, I picked the Eagles to finish 6-10, largely due to a defense that I think will struggle in a transition to a 3-4 unit under coordinator Billy Davis. Expecting longtime defensive end Trent Cole to move to a standing position may be asking a lot, and the secondary will need to play much better to avoid last year's 33 passing touchdowns allowed.
The following breaks down which players will win major awards on the team.
LeSean McCoy should be the expected MVP for the Philadelphia Eagles this season. The return of Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans from season-ending injuries will bode well for McCoy, who is still just 25 years old and in the prime of his career.
McCoy was slowed by injuries a year ago, and finished with just 840 yards and two touchdowns on a 4.2 yards per carry average. His YPC was down 0.6 from the previous season and a full yard from his breakout campaign of '10, although this has more to do with the injuries sustained on the line than any decline in McCoy's play.
Chip Kelly ran the ball twice as many times as he passed while at the University of Oregon, which means McCoy should eclipse his previous career high in carries (273). Expecting McCoy to get 300-325 carries is reasonable, and he will be spelled by Bryce Brown, last year's impressive rookie.
McCoy also catches his fair share of passes out of the backfield, totaling as many as 78 in a season while averaging 55 over his four-year career.
Winner: LeSean McCoy
2013 Predictions: 304 carries, 1,503 yards, 4.94 YPC, 11 touchdowns; 44 receptions, 426 yards, two touchdowns; 348 touches, 1,929 total yards, 13 total touchdowns
The switch to a 3-4 defense shouldn't hurt Brandon Graham at all. In fact, it could bring out the best in the athletic Graham. Graham is still just 25 years old and talented enough that he should be able to transition to a 3-4 linebacker position.
Last year, Graham registered 5.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in just 435 defensive snaps. He worked his way into the starting lineup by midseason, eventually resulting in the trade of Jason Babin to Jacksonville. Graham's 31 hurries in just 435 snaps was the most efficient ratio in the NFL for pressures per snap played, per Pro Football Focus.
Graham will again begin the season as a backup. The Philadelphia Eagles brought in free-agent outside linebacker Connor Barwin, who will start opposite Trent Cole as a pass-rushing linebacker. Graham will still see his snaps though. It will be difficult to keep him off the field, given the success he had a year ago.
Like 2012, Graham will get a high number of quarterback pressures as a part-time player, which will result in his selection as the team's Defensive Player of the Year.
Winner: Brandon Graham
2013 Predictions: 11.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits, 40 quarterback pressures, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, one interception
Getting Jason Peters back will be key for the Philadelphia Eagles. He's an incredibly athletic football player who can excel in both pass-blocking and run-blocking situations.
Peters missed all of the 2012 campaign with a torn Achilles tendon, one that forced the Eagles to start Dennis Kelly, Demetress Bell, and King Dunlap. So far in training camp, Peters has looked terrific, with Chip Kelly saying he moves like a 350-pound tight end.
Peters will begin the season again as the left tackle, and if he can return to his five-time Pro Bowl form, the Eagles have themselves a great blocker for LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick.
Winner: Jason Peters
Jason Kelce was on the verge of breaking out a year ago before tearing his MCL and ACL in a Week 2 win over the Baltimore Ravens. He missed the entire season, giving way to backup Dallas Reynolds. As a result, the production of LeSean McCoy suffered, and the Philadelphia Eagles went just 2-12 without Kelce.
Kelce should be back and healthy at 2013, and he's talented enough to have a Pro Bowl nod on his future resume. Kelce is undersized and quick, and he's ready to take on his role as leader of the Birds' offensive line.
The NFC will likely send John Sullivan of the Minnesota Vikings to the Pro Bowl, followed by either Max Unger (Seattle Seahawks) or Jonathan Goodwin (San Francisco 49ers). But Kelce will be in the mix for the spot.
Winner: Jason Kelce
Brent Celek is returning for his seventh campaign with the Philadelphia Eagles, and his role is diminishing.
He's no longer the same player that totaled nearly 1,000 receiving yards in '09. Celek has been relegated to that of primarily a blocking tight end, given that he drops too many passes anymore.
The Eagles drafted tight end Zach Ertz out of Stanford University with their 35th overall selection and signed fullback/tight end James Casey from the Houston Texans. Those two will take up much of the targets intended for Celek. Celek's contract extends through the 2016 campaign at about $4 million per year, but the team can get out of that at little to no penalty.
Winner: Brent Celek
2013 Predictions: 34 receptions, 401 yards, 2 touchdowns (6 drops)
Last year, the Philadelphia Eagles spent a fourth-round pick on cornerback Brandon Boykin, who played in a nickel role in 2012. Boykin appeared in about half of his team's snaps, allowing three touchdown passes and a 98.0 passer rating. He held opposing quarterbacks to a 54.0 passer rating, per Pro Football Focus, but didn't record an interception.
In all, those aren't particularly impressive numbers for a cornerback. Then again, Boykin was a rookie covering slot receivers and it's a solid performance for a first-year player in this league.
Boykin should be poised to take a leap forward in '13. He reportedly has been dominating in training camp and there's a good chance he will beat out free-agent acquisition Bradley Fletcher for the starting role opposite Cary Williams. Boykin is undersized, but he's aggressive and has the chance to be a ballhawk.
Winner: Brandon Boykin
2013 Predictions: three interceptions, 12 passes defensed, one forced fumble, 80.4 passer rating allowed on 92 targets
The Philadelphia Eagles took a gamble on free-agent safety Kenny Phillips, inking the former first-round pick to a one-year deal as a possible starter. Phillips played a pivotal role on the 2011 Super Bowl champion New York Giants, intercepting four passes that season. He dropped off last year due to a devastating knee injury, one from which he still hasn't recovered.
Phillips was supposed to take over as the starter at free safety for Nate Allen, but Phillips' knee and a quad strain haven't made him look too good. He has been slow moving around in practices and games, and expectations are high that he won't make the roster.
Personally, I think his injuries will hinder Phillips enough that he won't make it past the second round of cuts.
Winner: Kenny Phillips
Chip Kelly will love the versatility James Casey provides, which will make Casey the best free-agent acquisition of the group the Philadelphia Eagles brought in. Casey is talented enough to play H-back, tight end and fullback, and he will see a wide variety of all three in the offense.
Last year, Casey caught 34 passes for 330 yards and three touchdowns, all career-high numbers. The fourth-year player appeared in 609 snaps, which constitutes to roughly 55 percent of the Houston Texans' offense (1,150 snaps for the team in 2012).
For the Eagles, Casey could conceivably play in as many as 1,000 snaps. Kelly will play him frequently, and Casey should definitely finish with at least 50-60 receptions.
Winner: James Casey
2013 Predictions: 50 receptions, 506 yards, four touchdowns
The Philadelphia Eagles took a flier on free-agent cornerback Cary Williams from the Baltimore Ravens, signing the 28-year-old to a three-year, $17 million deal that includes $6.5 million in guaranteed money. Williams is fresh off a Super Bowl championship, having started 16 games while recording four interceptions and 17 passes defensed.
He also surrendered 938 passing yards through the air, the fourth-highest total of any corner in the NFL in 2012, per Pro Football Focus. Judging solely by the numbers, opposing quarterbacks threw at Williams often and with much success, completing 65.6 percent of their passes for six touchdown passes and a 98.4 passer rating.
So far with the Eagles, Williams hasn't done his part to win the fanbase over. He skipped voluntary OTAs, then told the fans (via the Mike Missanelli Show on 97.5 The Fanatic) that he doesn't care how they feel about it. Williams missed part of the preseason with hamstring issues, then publicly called the Eagles' defense 'soft' in an interview with Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer.
My prediction has Williams appearing in 12 games for the Eagles, missing four due to nagging injuries. He will record two interceptions and nine passes defensed, but give up too many long touchdown passes to be considered much of an upgrade over Nnamdi Asomugha or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Winner: Cary Williams
2013 Predictions: 12 games played, two interceptions, nine passes defensed, five touchdowns allowed, 105.4 passer rating allowed
As a rookie, Zach Ertz will push for playing time immediately. He has an impressive skill set and will challenge Brent Celek for time as the primary tight end.
Ertz can play tight end, slot receiver, or even traditional outside receiver. He has the speed to beat linebackers in one-on-one coverage and he's big enough that he will be difficult for opposing safeties to bring down.
Ertz caught 69 passes for 898 yards and six touchdowns at Stanford University last year, earning himself the 35th overall selection in the draft. He won't duplicate those numbers in 2013 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but he has a chance to lead the team in receptions with Jeremy Maclin injured. Ertz has the talent to be a multi-Pro Bowler by the time his career is over.
Winner: Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford (2nd round pick, 35th overall)
2013 Predictions: 48 receptions, 605 yards, five touchdowns
In the long haul, I think Lane Johnson will be a very good football player. He's incredibly athletic and it's his combination of size and speed that made him the fourth overall draft pick.
This year though, I expect that Johnson struggles to accustom himself to the NFL level. Dealing with the elite speed-rushers at right tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles is substantially more difficult than the players at the University of Oklahoma.
Johnson will start in Week 1, and he should be an asset for opening up holes for LeSean McCoy and Bryce Brown in the running game. Johnson has the athleticism to get to the second level and handle linebackers. As a pass protector, it's not unreasonable to expect that he surrenders seven to eight sacks, figures that would rate him one of the worst pass-blocking tackles in the league.
Winner: Lane Johnson
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles should bring out the best in LeSean McCoy, a former All-Pro running back who is still in the prime of his career.
McCoy won't be overworked due to the talented duo behind him in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. But there will be games in which he will be called upon to handle a full load. In a 2011 win over the Dallas Cowboys, McCoy ran 30 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns, helping the Eagles to a dominating 34-7 win.
This year's Week 7 win over the Cowboys has McCoy rushing 29 times for 148 yards and three touchdowns, while catching four passes for 52 yards. That's 200 total yards and three touchdowns in a 38-28 win.
Winner: LeSean McCoy, Week 7 vs. Dallas Cowboys
As I've mentioned, I'm a little worried about Lane Johnson's ability to handle the fiercest pass-rushers immediately. The Philadelphia Eagles are expecting Johnson to start at right tackle from Week 1, but he could struggle against the Washington Redskins on primetime football.
The Redskins had just 32 sacks as a team a year ago, but they played most of the season without Brian Orakpo. Now that he is back and Ryan Kerrigan is a year older, the Redskins have two dynamic pass-rushers that will cause trouble for Johnson.
The Eagles may see growing pains from their first-round pick in this one, which is a big reason I think the Redskins come away with a win.
Winner: Lane Johnson, Week 1 at Washington Redskins