Philadelphia Eagles: Handing out Regular Season Grades for Key Offensive Players
The Philadelphia Eagles’ 2013 was nothing short of magical. Fresh off a 4-12 record, Chip Kelly implemented a new coaching staff, new defensive scheme and entirely new fitness regime for his players.
The result was a 10-6 mark and the NFC East division title, with Kelly becoming just the second coach in NFL history to win a division title in his first season on an NFL staff. The Eagles rebounded from a 3-5 record at midseason, capturing seven wins in their final eight games, including a nail-biting 24-22 victory over the Dallas Cowboys to earn a home playoff game.
Philadelphia wouldn’t have won the division without contributions from a slew of great players. Nick Foles came out of nowhere to put up a historic season from the quarterback position. The offensive line gelled and opened up holes for LeSean McCoy. And the defense looked better every week. As the team prepares to host a playoff game on Sunday, here are regular season grades for the offensive players.
For a former third-round pick who lost the quarterback competition in training camp this season, Nick Foles played pretty well. He wasn’t even the starter until Week 9, but he still finished 2013 with all-time great numbers from the quarterback position.
Foles threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, turning in a 119.2 passer rating that ranks as the third-best single-season mark in league history. He led the NFL with 9.1 yards per attempt, pulling off the impossible achievement of turning Riley Cooper into a downfield threat.
Foles even proved to be a running threat, racking up 221 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. He went 8-2 as a starter and 9-2 in games in which he saw significant action. No one could have foreseen the kind of performance Foles turned in, and he’s looking like the long-term answer for Philadelphia.
Many people thought Michael Vick was the right man to lead the Eagles’ offense, as he possesses elite running skills and a cannon of an arm.
When Vick did play, he was pretty effective, accounting for seven touchdowns to just three interceptions and averaging a career-best 8.6 yards per attempt. His completion percentage was at just 54 percent though, and the Eagles went 1-4 in games in which he started and finished.
Chip Kelly’s offense really brought out the best in All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy. McCoy set a Philadelphia Eagles’ franchise record for rushing yards (1,607), leading the entire National Football League by a wide margin.
McCoy averaged 5.1 yards per attempt and scored 11 total touchdowns. He added 52 receptions for 539 yards out of the backfield, giving him a franchise record as well in total yards from scrimmage. Week in and week out, he proved to be the most dangerous weapon on the Eagles’ offense.
Bryce Brown took a step back for most of the season before a breakout game against the Chicago Bears. Brown’s season totals (314 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per rush) are inflated by a 65-yard rushing touchdown he had against the league’s worst rushing defense.
Brown may give the No. 2 running back duties to Chris Polk by next season, seeing as Polk played better when given a limited role in the offense.
After two consecutive subpar seasons, DeSean Jackson turned in a career year under Chip Kelly. Jackson set personal bests in receptions (82) and yards (1,332), while tying his high in touchdown catches (9).
Best of all, Jackson became more of a complete receiver than ever before. His tendency in the past to disappear if not involved early in the offense didn’t carry over to 2013. Jackson blocked better than ever before, ran routes across the middle and, for much of the season, carried a passing attack that was without No. 2 receiver Jeremy Maclin.
For the first five weeks, there wasn’t a more ineffective starting receiver than Riley Cooper. He caught just eight passes while playing in a full-time role, and he demonstrated almost no chemistry with veteran quarterback Michael Vick.
Enter Nick Foles, and all that changed.
Cooper’s numbers in Foles’ 10 starts project to a 59/1,166/11 stat line for a full season. Cooper caught three touchdowns in Foles’ record-tying seven-touchdown performance against the Oakland Raiders, and he finished with an impressive 17.8 yards per catch, the third-best total in the league.
The Philadelphia Eagles relied on Jason Avant less this year than in previous seasons, likely due to the addition of second-year tight end Zach Ertz in the offense.
Avant posted his lowest numbers since 2009, finishing with just 38 receptions, 447 yards and two touchdowns. Given that he will be 31 years old by the start of next season and due to make almost $4 million in salary, Avant’s time with the Eagles may be coming to a close.
The pure receiving numbers won’t reflect it, but Brent Celek is still one of the game’s finest tight ends. He’s not in the elite class of Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates, or Vernon Davis, but he’s a talented all-around player.
Celek finished with 32 receptions for 502 yards and six touchdowns, and he’s a terrific blocker. Pro Football Focus graded Celek as the sixth-overall tight end in 2013, and second-best as a pure run blocker.
As the season went on, second-round pick Zach Ertz became more and more of a focal point in the receiving game, and the Philadelphia Eagles will have a top two-tight end system in 2014.
Ertz finished with 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns, and he was sixth among all tight ends with at last 30 catches in yards gained per catch (13.0).
Coming off a pair of Achilles tears that forced him to miss all of 2012, Jason Peters was predictably rusty when the season started. In his first eight games, Peters gave up 23 hurries and had to come out of several games when he was banged up.
He really turned it up a notch in the second half. Over the final eight games, Peters allowed just five hurries. He was his former All-Pro self as a run blocker. And that earned him his sixth career Pro Bowl selection.
Evan Mathis is as consistent a player as there is in this league.
Check out his yearly rating among all guards, per Pro Football Focus:
This year, Mathis did get beat for two sacks, but he was as terrific a run blocker as this league has seen from a guard in years. On rushes between Mathis and center Jason Kelce, the Eagles averaged a ridiculous 8.0 yards per carry (per PFF, subscription required).
Jason Kelce may have turned into the NFL’s best center. He’s a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense. Kelce is undersized but incredibly nimble. Pro Football Focus rated Kelce as the third-best run-blocking center in the league and the best overall center.
Kelce played in 1,119 of a possible 1,129 snaps this season, and he’s going to get himself a long-term extension in Philadelphia soon.
For the first nine weeks of the season, Todd Herremans really struggled in this offense. He looked older and slower, and didn’t seem to be recovering from the foot injury he suffered late in 2012.
But Herremans really turned it around.
First nine weeks: -2.1 rating per Pro Football Focus, 2.7 hurries allowed per game
Next seven weeks: +8.3 rating per Pro Football Focus, 1.4 hurries allowed per game
That’s good news for Eagles fans who thought he may have begun a career decline.
Lane Johnson was Chip Kelly’s first-ever draft pick as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s essentially a younger version of Jason Peters. Johnson is arguably the most athletic offensive lineman to hit the NFL in years. He ran a 4.72 40-yard dash and benched 225 pounds 28 times.
Johnson had his growing pains as a rookie, as all offensive linemen do. After all, Russell Okung and Trent Williams were high draft picks who struggled in their first year in the league. Johnson was one of just eight offensive tackles to allow double-digit sacks, and he committed eight penalties.
As a run blocker though, Johnson was phenomenal. He rated as the 11th-best among 76 qualifiers, per Pro Football Focus’s standards. And Johnson has been much better as a pass blocker too, allowing 10 hurries over his last eight games after giving up 29 in his first eight.
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