Philadelphia Eagles: 10 Players with Best Chance of Making 2015 Pro Bowl
The 2013 Philadelphia Eagles capped off their 10-6 season and NFC East division title by sending five players to the league's annual Pro Bowl in Hawaii.
Quarterback Nick Foles—named the game's MVP—and guard Evan Mathis earned their first-ever selections. LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jason Peters all have been named to the team previously.
Five of 11 offensive starters being selected to the Pro Bowl is pretty impressive, and center Jason Kelce was an alternate. That means over half of the Eagles offense played at a Pro Bowl level in 2013, hence the team setting single-season franchise records for both points scored and total yards gained.
So which of these players can expect a repeat nomination to the NFL's all-star squad next year? Will any of the defensive players break through? Here's a glance at the 10 Birds most likely to earn Pro Bowl nods.
10. Jeremy Maclin
Jeremy Maclin's best bet for his NFL future is to sign a one-year deal to return to Philadelphia. Having missed all of 2013 with an ACL injury, the former first-round pick has not yet played for offensive guru Chip Kelly.
Kelly's impact on the Eagles in his first year was monumental, particularly at the wide receiver position. DeSean Jackson rejuvenated his career, setting career bests in catches (82) and yards (1,332), while tying his high of nine touchdown grabs.
The most surprising receiver, though, was Riley Cooper. A fourth-year player, Cooper demonstrated an uncanny rapport with Nick Foles, finishing with eight touchdowns, including five in a two-game span. Cooper finished second in the league with 17.8 yards per catch, thanks to Kelly's offense that brought out the best in Cooper.
That should bode very well for Maclin. Even if Cooper re-signs, he won't take snaps from Maclin, who is simply a more talented overall receiver. Maclin has managed to be productive as a starting receiver, despite never even reaching 1,000 yards in a season. Maclin would probably be best utilized in the slot, considering Jason Avant is entering his ninth season and showed a notable statistical decline in 2013.
Assuming Maclin can stay healthy next season, he's a lock for his best numbers yet.
9. Fletcher Cox
Fletcher Cox was a 2012 first-round pick, and he's well on his way to being a great player in this league.
The switch from 4-3 defensive tackle to 5-technique end in the new 3-4 defense obviously hurt Cox's pass-rushing statistics. Cox dropped from 5.5 sacks as a rookie to just three in his sophomore season.
That being said, he played really well. Cox still rated as one of the more efficient pass-rushers in the league, per the advanced metrics at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Cox picked up 39 QB hurries, more than all but two 3-4 ends in the NFL. In fact, there were six 3-4 ends to post at least 38 hurries (Cameron Jordan, Kyle Williams, J.J. Watt, Calais Campbell and Justin Smith), and Cox was the only one not to receive a Pro Bowl invitation.
Simply put, that means Cox played at a level right on par with that of the league's best. Cox is a well-rounded player who also stops the run, and he should be primed for national recognition sometime soon.
8. Zach Ertz
Depending on what the Philadelphia Eagles do this offseason, Zach Ertz could move up this list. He's an extremely talented tight end, and if either Jeremy Maclin or Riley Cooper walks in free agency, that will lead to more targets for Ertz in the passing game.
As a second-round rookie, Ertz posted a respectable 36/469/4 stat line, despite playing in fewer than half his team's snaps. Once Nick Foles became a full-time starter in Week 9, Ertz really took off. His numbers in the eight games afterwards (including playoffs) extrapolate to a 50/580/10 line. Brent Celek will continue to take snaps from Ertz because he's a vastly superior run-blocker.
If Celek is a veteran release heading into 2014 (unlikely, but he's due to make over $4 million in base salary), Ertz's Pro Bowl odds will greatly increase. The rest of the league seems to be in a transitioning period for tight ends, too: Tony Gonzalez is retiring. Antonio Gates and Jason Witten are hitting the twilight stages of their careers, and Rob Gronkowski can't stay healthy.
7. Brandon Boykin
Brandon Boykin really jumped onto the scene in 2013. Other than Richard Sherman, no cornerback had more interceptions than Boykin (6).
Boykin also made his plays on the biggest platforms. He sealed a midseason win against the Washington Redskins and a division-clinching win against the Dallas Cowboys. He also recorded a long pick-six in the primetime win over the Chicago Bears.
It's likely Boykin again begins 2014 as the team's nickel cornerback, behind Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. That's not going to hurt Boykin's Pro Bowl chances though; he's still going to see action on a high percentage of passing downs.
The NFL elects six cornerbacks each season, and four of them seem to be firmly entrenched as the best in the business: Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis, Joe Haden and Patrick Peterson. Boykin will likely be competing with a handful of other players for one of the final spots, and duplicating his six-interception total should get him the recognition he deserves.
6. DeSean Jackson
After two straight subpar seasons, DeSean Jackson rejuvenated his career in 2013. The electrifying receiver set personal bests in his first season under Chip Kelly.
Jackson did all that without the benefit of No. 2 receiver Jeremy Maclin opposite him. The best part of Jackson's game was that he became more of a complete player than ever before.
He blocked better, hustled more and went across the middle on tough routes. If Kelly opts to bring back Cooper and Maclin, it may hurt Jackson's overall targets, especially with the emergence of Zach Ertz and the continued focus on the running game.
But if just one of the two receivers returns, Jackson is poised for a repeat of his 2013 numbers, and that could very well get him his fourth Pro Bowl selection.
5. Jason Kelce
The Philadelphia Eagles center is poised to become the next great center in this league. He’s coming off a breakout season, one that made him an alternate in the Pro Bowl.
Jason Kelce is a perfect fit for the Chip Kelly offense. He’s undersized but athletic enough to get to the second level with ease. That makes him the ideal run-blocker for LeSean McCoy, and Kelce was instrumental in helping McCoy win the NFL rushing title in 2013.
Kelce rated as the best center in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He’s equally as effective in pass-blocking as he is in the running game. It’s about time Kelce gets praise for that in the form of a Pro Bowl selection.
4. Nick Foles
Nick Foles’ success in 2013 was unexpected, to say the least. He threw 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, finishing with the third-best single-season passer rating in league history.
Shockingly, Foles didn’t even make the Pro Bowl initially, but he was added due to the fact that both Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson qualified for the Super Bowl. Foles’ ability to repeat his performance will depend largely on how much the NFL catches up to him. Is Foles a system quarterback who merely peaked, or is he the next great thing?
The sheer magnitude of his numbers would lean more toward the latter. If the Philadelphia Eagles re-sign Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper, it will certainly help Foles. But the fact that Foles was able to create a playmaker out of Cooper suggests that Foles can do that with anyone. The Eagles also return their starting five on the offensive line, and this is one of the best in the business.
Simply put, Foles could put up monster numbers once again in Chip Kelly’s offense. If he threw 27 touchdowns in 10 games, there has to be a chance he could put up 40 or more. The key will be just minimizing his interceptions once again.
3. Evan Mathis
It’s all about name recognition for offensive linemen in the National Football League. Evan Mathis finally has the name after being selected to his first Pro Bowl.
Mathis has rated as Pro Football Focus’ best guard in each of the last three seasons. He’s the only player at any position to make that claim.
Mathis is a dynamic run-blocker who helped the Philadelphia Eagles’ top-rated offensive line set a franchise record for points scored. Four guards earn Pro Bowl selections each year, and most experts would agree Mathis is the best at his position. That should make him a perennial selection from this point on.
2. Jason Peters
The Philadelphia Eagles have the NFL’s most athletic offensive lineman in Jason Peters, a converted tight end who possesses the athleticism to succeed in Chip Kelly’s offense. Peters is a six-time Pro Bowler who returned to full form in 2013, bouncing back from a series of offseason Achilles tendon injuries.
Peters is only signed through 2014, and it still remains to be seen as to whether the Eagles will extend him or not. But for now, Peters is a pretty safe bet to make his seventh Pro Bowl next season, and that will start the Hall of Fame conversation surrounding the former undrafted player.
1. LeSean McCoy
There’s a good chance LeSean McCoy hasn’t even reached his full potential yet. McCoy has scored 20 touchdowns in a season (2011) and led the NFL in rushing yards (2013), but the sky is really the limit for Shady.
McCoy is still just 25 years old. He’s firmly entrenched as the top playmaker in an offense fully designed to maximize his skills. The offensive line will bring back all five starters in 2014, and the line should be even better than the group that was far and away the best run-blocking unit a year ago.
Chip Kelly utilized McCoy more this season than Andy Reid ever did, giving him 314 carries. Still, McCoy has carried the ball an average of just 230 times per season during his five-year NFL career. That’s a really light workload. Chris Johnson averaged 293 his first five seasons. Adrian Peterson was at 281. Even Ray Rice and Matt Forte, two backs who catch the ball enough that they’re not workhorse backs, averaged 242 and 253, respectively.
Simply put, that means McCoy has plenty left in the tank. The Eagles have a solid group of backups in Bryce Brown and Chris Polk, but McCoy is a good bet for another 300/1,500/10 line plus 50 catches out of the backfield. He’s now the best running back in the NFL, and he doesn’t look to be close to relinquishing the title.