Philadelphia Eagles' Most Underrated and Overrated Offseason Signings
The Philadelphia Eagles entered their second offseason under Chip Kelly without any glaring holes on the team. The offense was one of the best in the NFL in 2013, setting a single-season franchise record for points scored. The defense was one of the NFL's most improved during the second half of the season, at one point surrendering 21 or fewer points in nine straight games.
That means the Eagles didn't have to look to fill four or five starting spots for the future this offseason. They added one new starter on the defensive side of the ball and took away one starter on the offensive side of the ball. The rest of their additions were purely value pieces, and that's what you like to see a contending team do during the offseason.
The following slides will highlight six different acquisitions for the Eagles, who had three underrated moves and three overrated moves.
Darren Sproles, RB: Overrated
The Eagles may or may not have added an extremely valuable offensive weapon in multitalented running back Darren Sproles, who was acquired for a fifth-round draft pick.
Sproles, 31, isn't an ordinary running back. He's never carried 100 times in a season, and at 5'6", it's highly unlikely that he could carry the load if LeSean McCoy went down with an injury.
Sproles was signed for his abilities as a receiver and a return man. Chip Kelly's offense is all about creating mismatches, and a shifty, elusive player with Sproles' speed will be a nightmare for defensive coordinators.
My only concern is that Sproles is past his prime, maybe even significantly past his prime.
It's hard to imagine a 31-year-old running back not being on the decline, and Sproles' numbers in 2013 indicated that he is. Although he caught 71 passes, he averaged just 4.2 yards per carry and scored just four total touchdowns. He also averaged just 6.7 yards per punt return and 21.3 yards per kick return. Those are easily the worst combined return numbers of his career.
Sproles benefited from a top-10 quarterback in NFL history and an offensive genius in Sean Payton. He still plays with a very good quarterback and a potentially brilliant offensive mind. It's just a stretch to think that Sproles doesn't see his numbers decline again in 2014.
Nolan Carroll, CB: Underrated
Flashback to the postseason in the wild-card round after the 2013 season.
With the Saints clinging to a 13-7 lead midway through the third quarter, Drew Brees and company faced a 3rd-and-12 from their 42-yard line. Brees promptly hit rookie receiver Kenny Stills for a 14-yard gain and a first down, beating little-used Roc Carmichael for the key gain. Carmichael had only been inserted into the game when Bradley Fletcher had to leave with an injury just a play earlier.
That one play led to the Saints' second touchdown of the game, giving them a 20-7 lead in a game they would eventually win, 26-24.
Although the Eagles chose to keep veterans Cary Williams and Fletcher as their starters for another year, they greatly increased their depth by adding Nolan Carroll from the Miami Dolphins.
In 2013, Carroll allowed just a 47.8 completion percentage and a 65.0 passer rating. Only one cornerback in the NFL bettered both marks last year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). Although Carroll has an outside chance to defeat Fletcher and earn the No. 2 starting cornerback spot, he'll likely be the fourth corner. (Brandon Boykin has the nickel spot locked up.)
The difference between a seasoned veteran like Carroll and an unproven player like Carmichael is tremendous. In fact, if Carroll had been covering Stills in that playoff game, there's a chance the Eagles would have stopped the Saints and won the game.
Malcolm Jenkins, FS: Overrated
The Eagles tried everything they could to convince their fanbase that they made the right decision in signing veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins instead of Pro Bowlers Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward. I'm certainly willing to give the franchise every benefit of the doubt. But at this point, I remain unconvinced that Jenkins will be able to cure the Eagles' woes at safety.
In 2013, Jenkins rated as one of the worst safeties in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). He surrendered a 103.3 passer rating and missed 16 tackles. No safety in the league rated worse on both marks.
Jenkins' biggest asset is his versatility. Originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback, he switched to safety after his rookie year. The Eagles will be able to use Jenkins to cover in three- and four-wide receiver sets instead of replacing him with another defensive back.
While I appreciate Jenkins' versatility, I still remain largely skeptical about the signing. He's just not very good at safety. Let's hope defensive coordinator Billy Davis' scheme is able to bring out the best in him.
Bryan Braman, OLB: Underrated
The Eagles signed outside linebacker Bryan Braman with the intent of using the 27-year-old to improve their special teams. After all, the Eagles allowed arguably their best special teams player from the past few seasons, Colt Anderson, to walk in free agency this offseason.
Braman's biggest asset is his abilities on special teams, but he's been a very pleasant surprise on the defensive side of the ball during OTAs. At least one Eagles writer, Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com, thinks Braman could push for serious playing time as Connor Barwin's backup at the "Jack" linebacker position.
The Eagles lacked serious depth on defense in 2013, but they managed to stay relatively injury-free. If Barwin, one of the most important defenders on the team, suffers an injury, Braman is going to need to be able to step in and fill the void.
Carey Spear, K: Overrated
The Alex Henery hate reached a breaking point following the team's postseason loss to the New Orleans Saints. The third-year kicker missed a 48-yard field goal in the team's eventual two-point playoff loss, capping off easily the worst year of his short career.
In 2013, Henery proved to be inconsistent. He couldn't handle any field goals of longer than 50 yards. And his distance on kickoffs consistently ranked among the worst in the NFL.
Naturally, the Eagles brought in competition for Henery this offseason. The new kicker, Carey Spear, is known as Murderleg...and a cool nickname is about all he brings to the table.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Jeff McClane noted that Spear has been thoroughly outplayed by Henery in camp to the point where Henery appears to have the job all but locked up for a fourth straight year. It's been bad enough that the Eagles should look at bringing a veteran into training camp because Spear clearly can't give Henery the competition he desperately needs.
Jordan Matthews, WR: Underrated
The Jordan Matthews bandwagon has been through the roof since the Eagles drafted the Vanderbilt wide receiver in the second round this year.
Matthews, a cousin of the legendary Jerry Rice, has already been called the best wide receiver at camp by Eagles reporter Jimmy Kempski of CSN Philly. He's big, fast, strong, intelligent and an extremely hard worker.
Kelly expects Matthews to open the season as the slot receiver, per Matt Lombardo of NJ.com, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him emerge as the go-to receiver for Nick Foles by the end of the season.
I'll go as far as to say that Matthews has almost no bust rate. He could easily win Offensive Rookie of the Year. He'll be a Pro Bowler within three years. I wouldn't be surprised to see him become the best receiver in the draft. The sky is the limit for Matthews, especially if he remains in Kelly's offense.