The Philadelphia Eagles defense ranked 29th out of 32 NFL teams in 2013. They also finished dead last in pass defense. And yet, you should not be surprised if the Eagles wind up selecting as many or more offensive players than defenders in this year’s draft.
It’s amazing how many people are willing to accept those rankings at face value and label the defense as porous, when the reality is the Birds offense shares many similar concerns—namely a scary lack of depth at certain positions in conjunction with an overreliance on players who are about to hit or are already in their 30s.
The defensive rankings are actually incredibly misleading to begin with, being that they are based entirely on yards. After all, Philadelphia faced the most plays from scrimmage last season, so naturally they’re going to concede more ground than some teams due to sheer volume alone. More attempts equals more opportunity.
|Eagles Defensive Stats and Rankings|
How quickly we forget the Eagles D held 13 of 17 opponents to 22 points or fewer. And the pass defense that was so terrible? Quarterbacks posted only a middling 84.0 passer rating on Philly, good enough to crack the top 50 percentile of the league. The unit seldom buckled under the workload.
None of which is to say that defense is perfectly fine. It failed to produce a single Pro Bowl player in ’13.
Outside linebacker Trent Cole is well into his 30s, while interior linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cornerback Cary Williams are set to join him this year—all three of whom command unwieldy salaries. Defensive backs Bradley Fletcher and Nate Allen are scheduled to become free agents next offseason. There is little to no depth along the defensive line or at outside linebacker.
Then again, just because the defense hasn’t caught up to the league’s No. 2 offense in one season under head coach Chip Kelly’s watch doesn’t mean the unit is not operating under some of the same stresses.
This is most readily apparent on the offensive line. Although the Eagles are set to return all five starters from a group that paved the way for NFL passer rating and rushing champions Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, it should be noted that three of the protectors are on the wrong side of 30—Evan Mathis would like a new contract, too. The front office is thinking about the future at guard especially, where Mathis and Todd Herremans are both barreling toward a downward slope.
|Eagles 30 or Older before Super Bowl or Free Agents in 2015|
|Offensive Player||Age or FA||Defensive Player||Age or FA|
|TE Brent Celek||30||S Nate Allen||UFA|
|RG Todd Herremans||32||OLB Trent Cole||32|
|LG Evan Mathis||33||CB Bradley Fletcher||UFA|
|WR Jeremy Maclin||UFA||ILB DeMeco Ryans||30|
|LT Jason Peters||33||DE Cedric Thornton||RFA|
|RB Darren Sproles||31||CB Cary Williams||30|
The skill positions are not exempt from deploying multiple players who suffer from age in important roles.
Tight end Brent Celek will turn 30 just in time for the Super Bowl, and while 2013 second-round pick Zach Ertz grows increasingly prominent, the need for at least two productive tight ends is on the rise. The Birds also swapped a fifth-rounder for soon-to-be 31-year-old running back Darren Sproles this offseason, which is fine for now, yet screams of short-term arrangement.
And lest we forget, the Eagles inconveniently released their biggest playmaker at wide receiver in three-time Pro Bowler DeSean Jackson. Even supposing Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are capable of picking up the slack, Maclin is set to test free agency again next year, not to mention there is little in the way of depth behind them.
It’s easy to say the Eagles offense can duplicate or even surpass Jackson in the aggregate—which is exactly what they are attempting to do with the infusion of Maclin and Sproles to the offense, plus Ertz’ continued development. Then again, Ertz is the only one of the three whose arrow is definitely pointing up.
Decline of veteran players is inevitable. Whether they play on the No. 29 defense or No. 2 offense in the NFL.
In the end, the Eagles aren’t really in a position to be targeting one side of the ball over another in the draft. Honestly, they could stand to draft the best player available at almost any position and not have it create a problem on the depth chart rather than solve one.