Philadelphia Eagles' Most Likely Award Candidates for 2014 Season
It's less than three months until the start of the NFL season. That means the offseason, which feels like an eternity, is more than half over. Free agency and the draft are complete and minicamps have just started.
The Philadelphia Eagles won the division in 2013 under rookie head coach Chip Kelly, a major improvement from their last-place 4-12 campaign in 2012. They ranked fourth in the NFL in points per game on the offensive side of the ball and finished in the middle of the pack on the defensive side of the ball.
The following slides will predict the individual award winners for the Eagles this season. All opinions can and probably will change over the next 12 weeks.
Most Valuable Player: Nick Foles
There are really only two candidates for the Eagles' Most Valuable Player in 2014. One is the future franchise quarterback and the other is a top-three running back in the National Football League.
With all due respect to LeSean McCoy, he's just not as valuable as the man who plays the most important position in professional sports.
Nick Foles is the player who will make or break the season for the Eagles in 2014. Based on my prediction of Foles as the team MVP this year, you can guess how well I think he will do.
His 2013 season may never be duplicated statistically by anybody in the history of the NFL. Foles threw 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions, a single-season record for touchdown-to-interception ratio, and his 119.2 passer rating ranks third in NFL history.
But he also made just ten starts. He has yet to play a full season. In fact, his entire career so far consists of just 16 starts.
It's difficult to predict Foles' statistics in 2014 because he's obviously not going to post the same numbers as he did in the 2013 season. But if he can throw for 30 touchdowns and single-digit interceptions (and I think he will), he'll establish himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the game.
And then he'll get paid.
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy
I hate the unwritten rule that the Most Valuable Player can't also win Offensive Player of the Year. If Peyton Manning wins MVP, he was probably also the best offensive player.
But in this situation, I actually think the player with the best stats on offense will not be the MVP. That's simply because Nick Foles plays the most important position, making him the most valuable player if and when he plays well. But LeSean McCoy is going to have the best individual numbers.
Last year's league-leader in rushing attempts (314), yards (1,607) and yards from scrimmage (2146), McCoy is still just 25 years. It's amazing to think about. He's entering his sixth year in the NFL, and he's still right in the prime of his career.
He's going to be the focal point of the offense again in 2014. The emergence of Foles at quarterback doesn't change the fact that the Eagles are a running team. Foles will throw only 25 to 30 passes per game.
McCoy is going to still touch the ball at least 300 times this year. That means he'll likely collect more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and double-digit touchdowns. That should be enough to earn him the team's Offensive Player of the Year award.
Defensive Player of the Year: Brandon Boykin
There would have been no division title without the season-saving interception by cornerback Brandon Boykin in the final minutes of the season finale against Kyle Orton and the Dallas Cowboys.
Boykin consistently came up big all season for the Eagles, recording six interceptions, including two in the final minute to win games. He was probably the best defensive player on the team. Despite playing in just 51 percent of the team's snaps on defense, he graded as the best cover corner in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. He also collected 42 tackles in 44 attempts, the fourth-best rate in the league at his position.
This season, I expect the third-year corner for the Eagles to turn the corner and become one of the league's elite players at his position. I think he'll take a starting job away from veteran Bradley Fletcher in the preseason, meaning he'll be on the field for more than 90 percent of snaps. It's hard to sustain six interceptions over consecutive seasons but don't be surprised if he rates as one of the league's best cover corners again.
Offensive Rookie of the Year: Jordan Matthews
If Jordan Matthews is NOT the Offensive Rookie of the Year for the Eagles in 2014, there's a big, big problem.
The second-round draft pick out of Vanderbilt is considered the sixth- or seventh-best receiving threat in a deep, deep class at the position. Even on a running team, Matthews is expected to come in and contribute immediately. In fact, I think Matthews will unofficially end the season as Foles' most-trusted receiver.
My expectations are through the roof for Matthews. I think he'll be a Pro Bowl player in three seasons, especially in Chip Kelly's offense.
The only other option for Offensive Rookie of the Year is third-round receiver Josh Huff, but Matthews would probably need to be injured for Huff to play better than him.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: Jaylen Watkins
It really wouldn't have been too big of a surprise before the draft if Marcus Smith and Jaylen Watkins had been selected in the same round, likely the second or third round. But instead, the Eagles picked Smith with their first-round pick, while Watkins was grabbed with the top pick in the fourth round.
Smith isn't expected to contribute much as a rookie, however. He'll back up Trent Cole, and although he is expected to take over for the veteran in 2015, he probably won't even play half the defensive snaps in 2014. He's a bit of a project too, and I just don't see Smith making much of an impact in his rookie season.
I'm not sure how much I think Watkins will play as a rookie either, but I think his ability to play both cornerback and safety will make him a valuable asset in Billy Davis' defense. He's one injury away—or one benching away—from receiving significant playing time at any of the four positions in the defensive backfield.
Offensive Dud of the Year: Riley Cooper
Against all odds, Riley Cooper emerged as the Eagles' breakout player of the year in 2013, probably on either side of the ball. He caught 47 passes for 835 yards, plus eight touchdowns. He developed tremendous chemistry with Nick Foles and was probably more effective than DeSean Jackson (yes, really) on deep passes. His 17.8 yards per catch ranked ninth in the National Football League.
Cooper's impressive breakout season earned him a five-year, $25 million contract. But details of Cooper's contract show that he can easily be cut after two years, and despite his success in 2013, I still don't think the Eagles view him as a long-term solution.
The expected emergence of rookie Jordan Matthews, another rookie in Josh Huff and veteran running back Darren Sproles could result in Cooper ranking just fifth or sixth on the team in targets. For anyone expecting the fifth-year player to continue on his success from 2014, they're likely to be disappointed.
Defensive Dud of the Year: Cary Williams
The Eagles signed veteran cornerback Cary Williams in free agency last offseason with the expectation that he would bring lots of physicality but subpar coverage skills to the defense.
Instead, he did the opposite, missing 13 tackles a year after missing just three. But he rated very well in coverage, allowing just an 80.6 passer rating, which was 3.5 points better than league average.
I don't expect Williams to continue his success as a cover corner in 2014. He'll enter the year as the number one corner, but if he struggles, and I think he will, don't be surprised if Brandon Boykin takes over covering the league's top receivers by the end of the season.
Williams' hefty salary in 2015 ($8.17 million) suggests that he is almost certainly entering his final season in an Eagles uniform.
Offensive Breakout Player of the Year: Alex Henery
Here's my ridiculous bold prediction of the season for the Eagles. I think Alex Henery emerges as one of the best kickers in the National Football League in 2014.
First of all, forget about the kicking competition in training camp with Murderleg. Henery isn't going to lose his spot to a kicker who made just 78 percent of his field goals in college.
Right now, the entire fanbase is frustrated with Henery. I understand. I was leading the criticism on Twitter throughout the 2013 season, especially against the Minnesota Vikings (short kickoffs) and New Orleans Saints (missed field goal in two-point loss).
But the 2014 season is a chance for Henery to completely forget about his past struggles. He was a very successful kicker as a rookie, and he's gotten progressively worse over the past two seasons. Field-goal percentages can fluctuate drastically from year to year. It's almost impossible to predict. One year, a Billy Cundiff will hit on 96 percent of field goals, and the next year he's cut by thrree different teams.
Henery has had his share of misses before, and he's due for a streak like the team-record 22 straight field goals he made in 2012. Kickoffs will still likely be an issue, although I don't ever remember him struggling like he did in 2013. Expect significant improvement in both areas. Expect Henery to win some games this year, instead of losing them.
And for the record, there's no other candidate for offensive breakout player of the year. Rookies aren't eligible because they haven't played yet. I think Lane Johnson struggles during his second season. I don't see Zach Ertz making quite the leap everybody expects. And I would be surprised if a backup like Chris Polk or Allen Barbre played enough to become a breakout player.
Defensive Breakout Player of the Year: Bennie Logan
There are a number of players I considered as the Eagles' defensive breakout player of the year.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin is a possibility but I'd say Boykin had his breakout season in 2013 and is ineligible for this award. I'm not sold on safety Earl Wolff yet and I don't think Mychal Kendricks or Fletcher Cox will quite make the leap fans are hoping for.
But I do think Bennie Logan, the starting nose tackle since the midseason Isaac Sopoaga trade last year, will become one of the better defensive tackles in the game.
A third-round pick in 2013, Logan gained significant weight this offseason, which is a good thing because right now the lasting image of him is when he was pushed around by the Saints in the postseason.
A bigger, more experienced Logan will help the Eagles in their run defense in 2014, an area that was already one of their strengths on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensive Comeback Player of the Year: Jeremy Maclin
The last we saw of Jeremy Maclin on the football field was the end of the miserable 2012 season when the Eagles won just four games. Maclin ended up tearing his ACL in the spring of 2013, missing the last year of his rookie contract.
He eventually re-signed with the team, a one-year prove-it deal that will make him a free agent again after the season.
That means he has a lot to prove this year and there's no better time to do it than his first year as the team's number one receiver.
I don't know if he'll have the 1200 or 1300-yard season that so many fans are hoping for, but even if he maintains his consistent 65-catch, 850-yard, seven-touchdown pace, it'll be enough for the Eagles to bring him back on a multi-year deal.
He has almost no competition for this award too. The only other candidate is Todd Herremans, but I think he's nearing the end of his career.
As far as defensive comeback player of the year, there's not a single player I think will be deserving of the award. Nobody on the defense was a stud in 2013 but there really wasn't any player who had a poor year. I guess the only possibility for the award is Brandon Graham, but I don't see him playing nearly enough, as usual.