After losing five of the six games he started as a rookie third-round pick in 2012, nobody figured Nick Foles would ever amount to much as a starting quarterback.
That's why Michael Vick was given the starting job for the Eagles at the start of 2013. However, when Vick got hurt early on and Foles was once again handed the reins as a sophomore, the latter put up some OMG numbers, performing far beyond anyone's expectations.
In 2013, Foles posted the third-highest passer rating and the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history while also leading the league with 9.1 yards per attempt. Furthermore, Philadelphia's offense as a whole finished second in total yards and fourth in points during the regular season.
Somehow, someway, with the oft-overlooked 88th overall pick at the helm, the Eagles became just the fifth team in NFL history to accumulate over 6,500 total yards on offense while turning the ball over fewer than 20 times.
|Eagles turnover differential, 2013 (including playoffs)|
|With Foles at QB||+20|
|Without Foles at QB||-6|
|Pro Football Reference|
Now, the question is whether Foles can continue to perform at a Pro Bowl level and become a franchise quarterback, year in and year out. He was able to sneak up on the rest of the league in 2013, which can often be advantageous. But now, opposing defenses know what to expect, and you can be sure that they've been studying his tendencies.
"They have more on you," Foles admitted recently to Josh Paunil of PhillyMag.com. "They know your tendencies so that’s why we have to keep working."
Keep in mind that it wasn't just Foles taking defenses by surprise last season; it was Chip Kelly's first season coaching in the NFL. He had never even been a coordinator or an assistant in this league, and Foles certainly benefited from playing in a historically speedy and unique offense that threw the rest of the league for a loop.
How much of Foles' success was related to Kelly's offense? It can't be a coincidence that DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Riley Cooper also happened to experience the best season of their respective careers in 2013 as well.
Plus, Foles was certainly aided by a running game that led the league with 2,566 rushing yards and 5.1 yards per carry as well as an offensive line that featured two Pro Bowlers (Jason Peters and Evan Mathis) and the league's highest-rated center (Jason Kelce), according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
But Kelly hasn't gone anywhere. In fact, per CBS Philly, he says that the team's offense is "light years" ahead of where it was last year, and he told Sheil Kapadia of PhillyMag.com that the team is actually somehow moving faster.
The team's entire offensive line is back, and 2013 first-round pick Lane Johnson should only be better on the right side.
The running game still features the reigning NFL rushing champion in McCoy, but now Darren Sproles has been added to the mix. Jackson is gone, but Jeremy Maclin is back, and Day 2 draft picks Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff could be ready to contribute ASAP.
|Last full season|
|Pro Football Reference|
So the surprise element may have faded and the loss of Jackson—who compiled 1,332 receiving yards and nine touchdowns last season—could hurt his stock a tad, but those might not be back-breaking factors regarding whether Foles can pick up where he left off.
Plus, you have to consider that Foles himself should get better as the 25-year-old enters his third season.
"In terms of where Nick is in year two, he’s more comfortable," Kelly said last week, per PhiladelphiaEagles.com. “I think you can sense it when you see him out on the field."
What should we expect from Foles in his second full season as a starter? Let's see what recent precedents indicate by looking at how a few active quarterbacks have been able to provide encore performances after successful first full seasons:
Of the 10 examples on the above chart, only one quarterback—Aaron Rodgers—improved substantially in his second season as a full-time starter. Meanwhile, five of the 10 guys who had great first full seasons took a step backward the next year, at least statistically.
However, it should be noted that a major knee injury was a factor for Robert Griffin III, and aside from him, only Josh Freeman and Philip Rivers got significantly worse on paper. Freeman is a worst-case scenario, but Rivers has made four Pro Bowls since his sophomore season.
If Foles can merely mimic the production from his first quasi-full season in the same way Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger did, he'll be considered a star quarterback by the time the 2014 campaign has concluded.
Looking back, it's actually harder than you'd think to find obvious one-hit wonders at the quarterback position. Guys get hot for stretches and fade away, but nobody has ever really done what Foles did in 2013 and then disappeared.
Here's where Foles sits among the 20 quarterbacks with the highest single-season passer ratings in NFL history:
|Highest-rated single-season passers (Super Bowl era)|
|Pro Football Reference|
Can you see a one-hit wonder on that list? Josh McCown put up that number in relief of Cutler last year, and it came late in his career. So that's an anomaly, but the circumstances differ completely than those of Foles.
In fact, the only non-superstars on that list are McCown and Chad Pennington, but Pennington still had a solid career, and his 2002 rating was still 15 points lower than Foles' 2013 rating.
Now let's do the same thing, but this time we will focus on yards per attempt:
|Quarterbacks with top single-season YPA (Super Bowl era)|
|Pro Football Reference|
An injury brought Cook's career to an end soon after his superb rookie season. In terms of the fringe guys on the chart, Earl Morrall was twice an All-Pro, Boomer Esiason was a four-time Pro Bowler and Dave Krieg made the Pro Bowl three times. Bob Berry was never very good, but he did make a Pro Bowl and had two seasons outside of this one in which his rating was above 100 and his YPA was above 8.7.
Chris Chandler and Bert Jones are the anomalies.
Chandler posted his phenomenal mark as a 33-year-old in 1998. It was also the only year in which he had a rating in the triple digits. At that point, though, he had already been a starter for five teams over a 10-year period. In a Sports Illustrated article from that year, he was proclaimed "an overnight sensation."
We've seen guys like Warner, Rich Gannon and Warren Moon blossom later in their football lives, but those guys displayed some sustainability. That wasn't really the case with Chandler, who went back to being a so-so starting quarterback in 1999.
A scarier comparison might be Jones, who at the age of 25 in 1976 posted the league's second-highest passer rating to go along with that stellar 9.0 yards per attempt and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 24-to-9. In those days, those numbers rocked, which is why Jones was named MVP, Offensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-Pro.
But Jones never even made a Pro Bowl again. His numbers plummeted in 1977, injuries held him back in 1978 and 1979, and he toiled away with a mid-70s rating and an near-even touchdown-to-interception ratio in 1980 and 1981.
But even the Jones example comes from a very different era. Here are seven one-year wonders that come to mind from the last 25 years:
|One-year quarterback wonders from the last 25 years|
|Quarterback||One-year wonder||Beyond that?|
|Don Majkowski||Comeback, yardage leader in '89||Never more than 10 TD passes|
|Scott Mitchell||Top 5 in YDS, TD, YPA, rating in '95||75.3 career rating, no Pro Bowls|
|Chris Chandler||9.6 YPA and 4th-best rating in '98||1 Pro Bowl in 18 seasons|
|Steve Beuerlein||Top 3 in YDS, TD, YPA, rating in '99||0 Pro Bowls in 13 seasons|
|Derek Anderson||3787 YDS, 29 TD in '07||24 total TD, 55 INT, 69.1 rating|
|David Garrard||102 rating, 3 INT in 12 GMS in '07||85.8 rating, no Pro Bowls|
|Josh Freeman||25 TD, 6 INT, 6th-best rating in '10||55 TD, 61 INT, 77.8 rating|
|Pro Football Reference|
Foles has to avoid becoming a Josh Freeman or a Bert Jones. The good news is that the odds are greatly in his favor, since more than 75 percent of the players on the two previous lists pertaining to single-season YPA and passer rating either became, or already were, stars.
Combine the criteria and you begin to see how rare Foles' 2013 season was:
|Quarterbacks who led NFL in rating, YPA, TD-INT ratio|
|Aaron Rodgers||2011||MVP; three Pro Bowls|
|Philip Rivers||2008||Five-time Pro Bowler|
|Tom Brady||2007||Future Hall of Famer|
|Peyton Manning||2004||Future Hall of Famer|
|Steve McNair||2003||MVP; three Pro Bowls|
|Kurt Warner||1999||Future Hall of Famer|
|Steve Young||1997||Hall of Famer|
|Jim Harbaugh||1995||10-year starter|
|Steve Young||1994||Hall of Famer|
|Steve Young||1992||Hall of Famer|
|Joe Montana||1989||Hall of Famer|
|Dan Marino||1984||Hall of Famer|
|Roger Stabauch||1971||Hall of Famer|
|Bart Starr||1966||Hall of Famer|
|Super Bowl era (Pro Football Reference|
So the worst-case scenario there would be Jim Harbaugh, and everything else would be, well, pretty much amazing. The point is that if Foles does turn into a one-year wonder, he'll be a major exception based on how damn good he was in 2013.
How does he go about preventing that from happening? The right mentality helps, and Kelly believes Foles possesses that.
"The great thing about Nick, and what you love about him, he knows he’s never going to arrive," Kelly said last month, per ESPN.com's Phil Sheridan. "It’s a great trait to have. Some guys get to where they’ve won a job and they kick their feet up and go on cruise control. That’s not him."
Stronger pocket presence, improved footwork and better awareness of pass-rushing dangers would also help. The kid did have a subpar sack percentage of 8.1 last year, while taking more time to throw than any other qualifying quarterback in the league, according to PFF.
But with his attitude, his weapons and his support system, it's hard to imagine Nick Foles flopping in 2014.