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Projecting Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft

Andrew KulpContributor IMay 1, 2014

Projecting Philadelphia Eagles' Starting Lineup Before the 2014 NFL Draft

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    What does the Philadelphia Eagles’ projected starting lineup look like for 2014, one week away from the NFL draft? With one or two exceptions, likely not a whole lot different than it did at the conclusion of last season.

    As of now, the Eagles are projected to return somewhere around 19 or 20 of their 22 offensive and defensive starters from ’13.

    Not that that’s a bad thing entirely. After all, head coach Chip Kelly guided a very similar roster to a 10-6 record, his first season on the sidelines. With another draft, a few notable free-agent additions and the quarterback situation seemingly settled, this roster certainly stands to be improved.

    The Eagles did sign a safety who is expected to help solidify a shaky back end of the defense. Oh, and a certain three-time Pro Bowler was dumped in a shocking twist for the NFL’s No. 2 offense.

    Just don’t expect too much to be wildly different. There will be competition at a few spots for sure, but as you’re about to find out, what you saw at the end of last season is largely what you’re going to get.

Quarterback

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nick Foles

    This time last year, there weren’t many people willing to give Foles a fighting chance to be Kelly’s starting quarterback. Now, he enters 2014 as the unquestioned leader of the offense.

    Perhaps it’s unrealistic for Foles to sustain last season’s NFL record 29-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio or unfair to expect him to lead the league in passer rating again. However, anything even approaching that production likely cements the 25-year-old’s status as Philadelphia’s quarterback of the future.

    While it’s not wholly untrue, the Eagles have left themselves some wiggle room with regard to Foles as their franchise QB. He would have to take a massive step back in ’14 for the organization to consider a different direction. I don’t see that happening.

Running Back

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    USA TODAY Sports

    LeSean McCoy

    Few backs were even in a class with the NFL’s leading rusher in ’13. Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson may be the best pure runner in the league, while Jamaal Charles for Kansas City and Matt Forte for Chicago rival McCoy for the distinction of top do-it-all back.

    If we go strictly by the numbers, McCoy stood alone. His 1,607 yards on the ground were 268 more than the runner-up, and he led the league in yards from scrimmage as well.

    Want to know the really crazy part? The two-time All-Pro is only 1,065 yards away from becoming the franchise’s all-time leading rusher—and he turns only 26 in July.

Wide Receiver

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Jeremy Maclin

    Most of the burden for replacing three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson and his career best 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns from last season falls on Maclin. Think he's up for the challenge?

    That's obviously more than Maclin has ever produced in a single season, as he has yet to crack 1,000 yards receiving in a season. The 19th overall pick of the '09 draft has the talent to be a No. 1 target in most offenses around the league though. Maybe stepping out of Jackson's shadow will help his numbers finally climb to Pro Bowl levels.

    The real question is how will his surgically-repaired ACL hold up?

     

    Riley Cooper

    Cooper is coming off of a decent season while filling in for an injured Maclin as the offense’s No. 2 receiver. The 2010 fifth-round pick was not a high-volume target, hauling in just 47 passes. However, his 17.8 yards per catch was good for third in the NFL.

    The fact is it’s highly unlikely Cooper can sustain such a high average—a number that fluctuates from year to year for most receivers—so it remains to be seen whether he will be as effective of a deep threat going forward. With Jackson out of the picture, Cooper needs to remain productive to help the offense stay on course.

Tight End

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Brent Celek

    Some might mistake Celek’s decrease in production in ’13 as a sign the tight end is on the decline. While there was less volume in terms of yards and receptions, the seven-year veteran’s 15.7 yards per catch was three full yards higher than his career average.

    Most of all, Celek distinguished himself as a blocker last season. Kelly once referred to him as the sixth member of the offensive line. For that reason, Celek will continue to play a huge role in the offense.

     

    Zach Ertz

    Expect the Eagles to use a lot more two-tight end sets in ’14. That’s partly due to Ertz’s rapid development and largely due to the need to find new avenues of offense after the release of Jackson.

    The second-round pick out of Stanford had a monster December, posting 15 receptions for 195 yards and three touchdowns. With his size (6’5”, 249 lbs) and route-running ability, Ertz figured to become a key cog in the offense moving forward no matter what. Now, there should be plenty of opportunity as well.

Offensive Line

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Jason Peters

    Peters signed a four-year contract extension that runs through 2018, ensuring the All-Pro isn’t going anywhere for awhile. Although he wasn’t quite as dominant as pre-Achilles-rupture Peters, he was still considered the best left tackle in the league last year.

     

    Evan Mathis

    Mathis was finally recognized for his phenomenal work at left guard in ’13, earning All-Pro honors. That resulted in a request to renegotiate his contract, which in turn landed the 32-year-old on the trade block according to Ian Rapoport for NFL.com. Mathis reported for voluntary offseason workouts, so he’s projected to resume his post… for now.

     

    Jason Kelce

    One of the smartest moves the Eagles made this offseason was extending Kelce through 2020. He earned the highest cumulative score among all centers from metrics site Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in ‘13 in just his third season in the league. Kelce is one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets right now and a perfect fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.

     

    Todd Herremans

    Herremans struggled early last season but had built-in excuses playing right guard for the first time and alongside a rookie right tackle to boot. He settled in nicely as the year went along, though, and should remain a solid option for the Birds for at least a little while longer.

    That being said, with both him and Mathis on the wrong side of 30—plus Mathis’ aforementioned contract issues—drafting a replacement is not out of the question.

     

    Lane Johnson

    Johnson experienced his share of “welcome to the NFL” moments in ’13, but, by the end of the season, it was easy to forget the Eagles were playing a rookie at right tackle. Needless to say, the future is very bright for last year’s fourth overall draft pick.

Defensive Line

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Fletcher Cox

    Cox got plenty of push from his new role as a defensive end in Philly's 3-4 alignment, even if the numbers don't show it. With a season in the new scheme under his belt, the 12th overall pick of the 2012 draft should be ready to take a step forward and anchor the Birds' defensive line for years to come.

     

    Bennie Logan

    Logan performed quite capably at nose tackle in his rookie season, which means the team is unlikely to address his spot early in the draft. General manager Howie Roseman explained to Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com that the team believes the second-year interior lineman can get up to 320 pounds.

     

    Cedric Thornton

    Thornton came from nowhere to become one of the league’s best run-stuffers in ’13. Unfortunately, that’s about all he was good for. Formerly an undrafted free agent, the second-year vet offers next to nothing in the way of a pass rush at defensive end.

    Luckily, the Birds have the perfect situational player in Vinny Curry to provide that.

Linebacker

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Trent Cole

    You couldn’t describe Cole’s transition to outside linebacker as anything less than a success. By the end of the season, the two-time Pro Bowler was coming on as a pass-rusher. Cole registered 8.0 sacks in '13, all over the Eagles’ final eight games.

    Cole turns 32 this year, so it’s definitely time to start seeking a replacement. The defense should be able to squeeze one last quality year out of him, though, before his cap hit increases to in excess of $10 million in 2015, according to EaglesCap.com.

     

    DeMeco Ryans

    Ryans arrived in Philadelphia in 2012 under the cloud that he was no longer a three-down interior linebacker. Granted, he may no longer be ideal in that role, as he is on the verge of turning 30, but the two-time Pro Bowler’s veteran savvy allows him to be effective in all situations.

    The former Houston Texan actually set career highs in ’13 with 4.0 sacks and two interceptions, and matched another with seven pass breakups. It’s definitely time the Eagles start seeking a replacement, but they can easily get by with Ryans for another season.

     

    Mychal Kendricks

    The second-year interior linebacker has his faults. His tackling needs work, and at 5’11”, he can get lost in coverage against bigger tight ends. That being said, Kendricks flashed the ability to become a dynamic playmaker in ’13. 4.0 sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles is a strong line for a second-year player in a new scheme. Could bigger things be on the horizon?

     

    Connor Barwin

    Barwin turned out to be a great fit for the Eagles’ scheme. The five-year vet was a beast against the run and had no problem dropping into coverage with regularity—more than any other 3-4 outside linebacker in the league last season, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He's the perfect complement to a pass-rush specialist.

Cornerback

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    Tim Sharp/Associated Press

    Cary Williams

    Williams is far from a shutdown corner, but was serviceable last season. So the seven-year veteran makes up for his lack of speed by conceding some underneath routes. Yeah, it’s less-than-ideal, but still better than getting beat for big plays down the field like Nnamdi Asomugha.

    The Eagles will no doubt check into potential replacements in this draft. Williams will be 30 at the end of the season.

     

    Bradley Fletcher

    The “other” free-agent addition at cornerback from last offseason, Fletcher turned out to be a very pleasant surprise in ‘13. The St. Louis Rams exile demonstrated consistently tight coverage in all areas of the field, finishing the year tied for 17th with 15 pass breakups in 13 games played.

    The 27-year-old is arguably the defense’s best outside cover man at this point, although he becomes a free agent at season’s end.

     

    Brandon Boykin

    General manager Howie Roseman informed Reuben Frank for CSNPhilly.com that the organization views Boykin as a “slot specialist.” While the third-year player certainly possesses the skill set to be effective on the perimeter, you can’t argue with what he’s done on the inside in two seasons as a pro.

    In ’13, Boykin finished tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions, despite playing roughly 50 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps. That’s incredible when you stop to think about it. Boykin is an awesome weapon to have, although you worry he might not be satisfied in such a limited role.

Safety

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    Michael Perez/Associated Press

    Malcolm Jenkins

    A free-agent contract worth $8.5 million guaranteed is enough to pencil the former New Orleans Saint into one of Philadelphia’s safety spots for ’14. While it wasn’t the glamorous signing fans were hoping for, Jenkins’ versatility should make him a great fit for the defensive scheme.

    The Eagles use their safeties in a variety of different roles, one of which quite commonly is man-to-man coverage. A converted cornerback, Jenkins is comfortable matching up against wide receivers or tight ends, even lining up in the box.

     

    Nate Allen

    Without a doubt the most wide-open spot on the team. Allen’s job could easily go to Earl Wolff, who performed well in six starts as a rookie in ’13. Or a high draft pick could win the job in training camp.

    As of today, my money is on Allen, who was re-signed on a one-year deal. The team made him no promises, but he already has a leg up on the competition, having started every game at safety for the Eagles last season and performing satisfactorily, albeit unremarkably.

    Heck, there’s a chance he improves. Allen has played under four different defensive coordinators through four NFL seasons, so there’s something to be said for how lack of continuity may have stunted his development.

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