When you really stop to think about it, the growth the Philadelphia Eagles have displayed from Week 1 to Week 17 in Chip Kelly’s first year on the sidelines is amazing. Lest we forget, this squad had a 3-5 record at the campaign’s midway point.
The Eagles finished the regular season about as strong one can in the NFL, winning seven of their last eight and defeating the division rival Cowboys in Dallas in the final game of the year. It’s almost as if Chip switched rosters with a good team somewhere along the way.
That would be ridiculous, of course. Chalk up the improvement to great coaching, nothing more. Now, with the regular season complete, let’s grade the club's progress.
In this special edition of our Eagles report card, I’ll be scoring each individual position on the same fairly simple criteria I use for the weekly grades. “A” is elite, “B” is good, “C” is average, “D” is passable and “F” is a complete failure to execute.
I’m pleased to announce that I didn’t have to go too deep into the alphabet very often.
One last thing to keep in mind while you peruse: Note how many players are 20-something years old or recent draft picks. A lot of these guys still have their best football ahead of them—a great sign for the future of the franchise.
Foles finished the season with the third-highest passer rating (119.3) in NFL history, and the best touchdown-to-interception ratio (27-to-2) of all time. The Eagles’ record was 8-2 when No. 9 was at the helm.
Those numbers right there pretty much say it all, don’t they?
In his second season, Foles went from being almost a complete afterthought in league circles to besting the likes of Brady and Manning on the leaderboards and in the record books. The 24-year-old's future looks extremely bright.
Vick’s season got off to a promising beginning. In Week 2, the four-time Pro Bowler set a career high with 428 yards passing.
It was all downhill from there, though. Vick only completed 46.5 percent of his passes over his next three starts before a hamstring injury knocked him out in Week 5. He eventually lost the starting job to Foles.
Between his inaccuracy, sacks and turnovers, Vick is simply too inefficient and mistake-prone at this stage of his career to be a successful every-week starter. He’s more than capable of playing a few great games; it’s sustaining that level and staying healthy that are the problem.
Is there a better running back in the NFL today? Maybe. Are there any more complete? McCoy doesn’t think so.
Speaking to reporters after putting the finishing touches on his first rushing championship, Shady weighed in on the age-old debate over who is the best back in the league. Via Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com:
I think overall, [Adrian Peterson] is probably the best back because he’s been doing it for so long. Just being so consistent in numbers and in stats.
But I think I’m the most complete, overall back for running the ball, catching and blocking. I think so.
If Peterson is No. 1, McCoy is No. 1a. The 25-year-old set a franchise record with 1,607 yards rushing to go with 11 total touchdowns. He also led the NFL with 2,146 yards from scrimmage, adding more credence to his “most complete” argument. Do I even need to mention McCoy was voted to his second Pro Bowl?
At this point, there’s no denying McCoy is a rare talent. As long as he continues to see this kind of workload in Chip Kelly’s offense, the records and accolades will only keep coming.
2013 was a career year in many respects for the resurgent Jackson, who set new personal bests with 82 receptions and 1,332 yards. A second alternate for the Pro Bowl, he was ninth in the NFL in yards and yards per catch. He also found the end zone nine times.
Furthermore, Jackson demonstrated a newfound maturity this season. He worked hard, rarely dropped passes, even threw blocks downfield. At 27 years old, the sky is still the limit.
When Jeremy Maclin went down with a torn ACL in training camp, Cooper was pressed into the role of No. 2 wide receiver. The 2010 fifth-round pick probably fared better than most people expected.
Cooper was ineffective through the first five weeks of the season with Vick under center, catching all of eight passes. He peaked once Foles took over, eclipsing 100 yards three times while reeling in six touchdowns over the next five games. Down the stretch, Cooper was unspectacular but reliable.
On one hand, it’s quite clear the 2010 fifth-round pick is somewhat limited athletically, as he was a relative non-factor more often than not. You can’t argue with the numbers, though—38th in the league with 835 yards, tied for 16th with eight touchdowns and third with 17.8 yards per catch.
Avant didn’t make much of an impact as a receiver, posting his lowest totals in receptions (38) and yards (447) since 2008. He did draw praise for his blocking, although his playing time was reduced over the second half of the season. At 30 years old, it’s safe to say Avant has entered his decline.
Thirty-two receptions for 502 yards are the lowest totals Celek has posted since he took over as the Eagles’ full-time starter in 2009. That being said, 15.4 yards per catch was the highest of his career, and six touchdowns were a runner-up.
The reason for Celek’s diminishing production isn’t necessarily because he’s in decline. He’s also getting a little more work as a blocker, particularly in the running game, where metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription only) has him ranked third among all tight ends with the requisite number of snaps.
He’s a bigger key in the Birds offense than many people probably realize.
Ertz’s playing time began to rise in the second half of the season, and not surprisingly, he began to flourish. The second-round pick had a monster December, catching 15 passes for 195 yards (13.0 YPC) and three touchdowns. That accounted for roughly half of his season totals (36 REC, 469 YDS, 4 TD).
You can count on Ertz owning a bigger role in the offense next season.
Peters erased any doubts about how a man of his age (31) and stature (6’4”, 328 lbs) would respond from not one but two surgeries to repair a ruptured Achilles tendon in April of 2012. The 10-year veteran earned his sixth Pro Bowl nod and appeared to only get stronger as the year went on.
As if the Achilles weren’t enough, Peters battled through a bunch of nagging injuries over the first half of the season, yet he never missed a game—not to mention he continued to perform at a high level consistently.
Perhaps the most underrated player in the NFL, Mathis charted as the best guard in the league according to Pro Football Focus (subscription only)—for the third season in a row. Somehow, Mathis is only a second alternate for the Pro Bowl, yet he might be the most technically sound lineman in the league.
Mathis isn’t the only one who possibly deserves more recognition. Kelce also finished with the highest cumulative score at his position according to PFF (subscription), and he didn’t even get a sniff of the Pro Bowl as an alternate.
Kelce does a great job with the calls at the line of scrimmage—you rarely see a blown assignment—and while he holds his own in pass pro, few, if any, centers are as good or better at the second and third level.
Kelce is only 26 and a perfect fit for Chip Kelly's offense.
The longest-tenured player on the Eagles roster got off to a poor start as he shifted spots again, this time sliding from right tackle to right guard. In particular, Herremans struggled badly in pass protection.
He appeared to grow increasingly comfortable in his new role around a month or two into the season, to the point where the 31-year-old’s issues are largely forgotten now. Herremans is a solid hand.
Not surprisingly, there was a bit of a learning curve for the fourth overall pick of April’s draft. While Johnson generally held up fine in pass protection, veteran pass-rushers would sometimes give him fits during the early portion of the schedule.
Johnson eventually settled in at right tackle, making huge strides over the course of his rookie year. He’s already a force to be reckoned with in the running game. Not bad for a kid who only played two seasons of offensive line at Oklahoma before making the jump to the pros.
Only 11 defensive linemen in the entire NFL have registered more tackles this season than Thornton’s 60. According to Pro Football Focus’ metrics (subscription), he was the second-best run defender in the league at defensive end behind Houston’s J.J. Watt.
That doesn’t get you on the Madden cover, but it’s a dirty job in the trenches and somebody has to do it. Unfortunately, Thornton is the definition of one-dimensional. He recorded just one sack this season and has to come off the field in many passing situations.
One reason the Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga to the New England Patriots at the trade deadline was because, heck, somebody was willing to trade for Isaac Sopoaga (Grade: D). The other was Logan.
The third-round pick took over for Sop at nose tackle and has actually been disruptive in the middle of the defense. He gets some penetration and bats passes down at the line of scrimmage. Nice developmental prospect.
It’s almost a shame Cox isn’t still in the Wide 9 chasing down the quarterback on every play because he’s such a natural pass-rusher. Instead, he’s taken on several additional responsibilities, and he's moved around the formation in Eagles’ 3-4, which eats into his sack total.
That’s OK, because 2012’s 12th overall draft pick flashes brilliance no matter what he's asked to do. Unlike Thornton, Cox is an every-down player who can be equally as destructive versus the run as he can be pressuring passers.
However, Cox still has a tendency to disappear at times. For the investment the front office made, you’d like to see him take over more games.
Regardless of scheme, Curry has a knack for getting to the quarterback. He recorded four sacks this year in limited playing time, though he was kept off the board over the final six weeks.
The sophomore defensive end isn’t the liability against the run that the coaching staff seemed to fear when he was inactive the first two games, but he’s still not ideal for the 3-4. Don’t be surprised when his name pops up in offseason trade rumors again.
Signed from the Texans in the offseason to ease the transition to a 3-4, Barwin does a little bit of everything. He’s rated eighth in run defense at his position per PFF (subscription), he can rush the passer, as evidenced by his five sacks, and he has the uncanny ability to get his hands on the ball when it’s in the air, with 11 passes defensed.
A two-time Pro Bowler, Ryans just completed one of the best seasons of his career. The eighth-year veteran set new career highs with four sacks and two interceptions and finished 12th in the NFL in tackles.
When Ryans arrived in Philly two years ago, there was talk the Houston Texans made the trade because he didn’t fit a 3-4 and a torn Achilles suffered in 2010 would prevent him from being an every-down linebacker. If that’s accurate, the Texans were wrong on both counts.
This second-year player out of Cal has all the talent in the world, but a lot of rough edges yet. For every big sack or interception Kendricks has come up with this season, he has two missed tackles or breakdowns in coverage.
The coaching staff will take the good with the bad, though. Kendricks produced a nice all-around line with 106 tackles, four sacks, five pass breakups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. He’s not perfect by any stretch, but if he ever ties up the loose ends in his game, he could wind up taking a trip to Honolulu one day.
Who would’ve thought the 31-year-old Cole would make an almost seamless transition from defensive end in a 4-3 defense to outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment? His run defense was top-notch from day one, and he drops into coverage like he’s been doing it his entire career.
It took a little longer for him to learn how to rush from his new position, but he turned it on at the end of the season, racking up eight sacks over the final eight games. Cole has at least one more quality season left in the tank.
It doesn’t look like it’s going to work out for Graham in Philly. He only has three sacks in limited playing time, and he’s a free agent at the end of the season. A 2010 first-round pick, Graham never quite seemed like a fit for the 3-4 anyway. Shame, the kid is perfectly adequate.
Fletcher tends to fly under the radar, but he’s really having a terrific season. The 27-year-old is tied for 19th in the NFL with 15 pass breakups, and only eight cornerbacks have more tackles—yet Fletcher missed three games due to injuries.
A free-agent castoff from the St. Louis Rams, Fletcher doesn’t put up flashy numbers, with just two interceptions on the season. He’s a physical corner who rarely gives up anything easy, and at $2.6 million per year, he’s an absolute steal.
Like Fletcher, Williams is physical with wide receivers, although he concedes a lot underneath—the slant route has been a real killer this season. Then again, he may concede those short plays, but he’s a solid tackler who can minimize the damage after the catch.
Williams battles for jump balls in the end zone, though, and helps out in run support. The seventh-year veteran had three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and a sack.
Consider this: Boykin is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions, and as the nickel cornerback, he only plays roughly half the defensive snaps. He’s also tied for 10th with 17 pass breakups and has forced two fumbles as well.
A fourth-round pick in 2012, Boykin probably has the talent to play on the outside, but the Eagles like him in the slot. It’s not hard to see why, as he’s fast becoming a big-time playmaker at one of the league’s most difficult positions.
Back in Week 2, it looked like it would be more of the same from second-round draft bust Nate Allen, as San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was picking him apart. The fourth-year veteran rebounded from that dreadful performance, though, and actually wound up having a quality season.
Allen’s main area of improvement came in the form of tackling, where all of a sudden he was willing and able. He didn’t make many game-changing plays, with just one sack, interception and forced fumble each, but didn’t surrender many big plays over the top, either—a fine safety valve for the defense.
Chung began the season as the starter, but while he was in and out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, that allowed rookie Earl Wolff to solidify the job. Wolff has been gone with an injury basically since Week 10, though, and since that time we’ve had to endure Chung’s reign of terror.
A free-agent acquisition from the Patriots, Chung has been on the hook for scoring plays of 33 yards or more in four of the Eagles’ last six games. He frequently misses tackles, numerous times flying toward the ball-carrier so out of control, the collision wipes out his own teammates.
It’s not like Chung makes up for it with big plays in bunches, either. He is versatile, which is why the coaching staff continues to put him on the field. Only whether he lines up at safety or nickel cornerback, whether he blitzes or drops in coverage, Chung simply isn’t very good.
Wolff had supplanted Chung at safety before a knee injury struck. The fifth-round pick started six uneventful games at safety, which was enough to know that he isn’t a liability at least.
Beyond that, Wolff didn’t really stand out, which is to be expected. He broke up five passes and came up with an interception this season, both of which are more than Chung’s totals.
Jones was awarded NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors in back-to-back games this season during a stretch when 11 of his 14 punts were downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. He finished with 33 for the year, his clutch kicks forcing offenses to go on lengthy drives that were less likely to succeed, majorly influencing the outcomes.
He also holds on field-goal and extra-point tries.
For my money, Donnie Jones was the most effective punter in the league this season.
For a kicker who doesn’t even attempt many from 50-plus—only two this season—an 82.1 percent field-goal percentage isn’t very good. In fact, it’s not even top 10. Henery isn’t exactly booming kickoffs out of the end zone either, with the 27th-rated touchback percentage. Prepare for a competition this summer.
As awesome as Jackson’s season as a pass-catcher was, he didn’t do much in the return game, recording a career-low 5.1-yard average. To be fair, he only attempted 14 returns, but it seemed much of the time Jackson was literally running in the wrong direction.
Every time Damaris is back to return a kick or punt feels like an adventure, which is probably why he was demoted midway through the year. He’s still back there from time to time, but I can’t imagine for much longer. He probably only stuck all season because the club was so thin at wide receiver.
An Eagles long snapper of eight years, Dorenbos pretty much never makes a mistake. He’s signed through 2016.