The Philadelphia Eagles report to training camp on Friday, and you know what that means. Your fantasy football draft is right around the corner!
We all love football. Quite a few of you may even have a favorite team. But the only thing better than the elaborate touchdown dance LeSean McCoy will be performing at Super Bowl XLIX is the celebratory weeping I’ll be doing this December when I finally stick it to my loser friends and raise our league’s fantasy football trophy over my head.
But I digress. If you intend to join me in hosting your very own awards ceremony at the end of the season, it probably couldn’t hurt to get better acquainted with the NFL’s No. 2 offense.
Thanks to the famed uptempo pace of head coach Chip Kelly’s offense, you can bank on the Eagles running a ton of plays. The sheer volume of offense alone practically guarantees Philadelphia will have numerous viable fantasy options compared to the rest of the league.
It also helps that the Birds have some real firepower, too. From quarterback to running back to wide receiver to tight end, you can’t overlook the Eagles’ talent at any of the so-called skill positions.
P.S., I won’t hold it against you if you decide not to share this with the rest of your league. I know I wouldn’t.
QB Nick Foles
2013 was no fluke. At least, not as far as fantasy is concerned.
Whether Nick Foles is the best option to guide the Eagles franchise for the next decade is not our concern. The only question that matters here is: Can he fill out box scores at the level of a Peyton Manning or Drew Brees—but four rounds later in the draft?
I wouldn’t count on Foles treading into 5,000-yard/50-touchdown territory, but as a second-tier starter, he should do fine. There’s certainly something to the volume aspect, anyway. Foles probably doesn’t even have to be very good to hit 4,000 yards, and if last season was any indication, there will be plenty of shots to lob touchdown passes as well.
What you really have to watch out for is an uptick in turnovers. There’s no way Foles is going to post an NFL record 27-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio again this year. That being said, the game-charters for Football Outsiders Almanac 2014 only recorded two dropped picks last season, so it’s not like he should turn around and throw 20, either.
The trepidation with Foles as Philadelphia’s franchise quarterback is only natural at this stage, but there is enough of a body of work there to feel OK with him as your fantasy starter. He wouldn’t be my first choice, but if you wind up waiting on a passer, you could potentially land a top-five player in the middle rounds.
On the other hand, for the sake of our projections, we’ll stay relatively safe.
Projection: 4,000-4,500 yards, 30-35 touchdowns
RB LeSean McCoy
Last year, if you stole McCoy in the middle of the first round, you came away happy. This summer, Shady will go first overall in a lot of leagues.
While McCoy wouldn’t be my personal choice at No. 1, nor even my top running back this year (Jamaal Charles, Kansas City Chiefs), you couldn’t blame anybody for going that direction. He’s only 26 and is the NFL’s reigning rushing champion (1,607 yards)—yards from scrimmage (2,146), too.
He catches plenty of passes out of the backfield, and you don’t have to anticipate many of his goal-line carries getting vultured.
However, there are a couple reasons to worry about a dip in production here.
First of all, right tackle Lane Johnson’s four-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs is potentially a big blow early in the season. Johnson struggled at times during his rookie year but was at his best when paving the way for Shady.
On that note, three of Philadelphia’s five starting offensive linemen are in their 30s, so despite the fact that left tackle Jason Peters (32) and left guard Evan Mathis (32) were voted first-team All-Pros in 2013, some age-related regression is right around the corner.
Secondly, the arrival of Darren Sproles could eat into McCoy’s touches as well. After all, part of the reason Philadelphia traded a fifth-round pick to the New Orleans Saints for Sproles was to keep McCoy fresh. Shady led the NFL in rushing attempts and total touches last season.
So while he’s still an elite back in a high-volume offense that likes to run the ball, I don’t think we can count on McCoy replicating his line from last season. He’s easily worthy of an early first-round pick. I'm just saying you might want to temper your expectations ever so slightly.
Projection: 1,600-2,000 yards from scrimmage, 10-14 total touchdowns
RB Darren Sproles
The Eagles can insist Sproles is a running back all they want, but let’s face it: You’re not stashing him on your roster because of his production on the ground. Sproles’ fantasy value lies purely in his receiving ability. Even if McCoy were unavailable for whatever reason, the 5’6”, 31-year-old Sproles still wouldn’t take over as the workhorse back.
Sproles will remain a solid option in points-per-reception leagues, although I anticipate a possible dip in the numbers. He’ll see plenty of action, but the Saints never had a back as good as McCoy, which means fewer reps is a possibility.
Projection: 60-70 receptions, 500-600 receiving yards, 3-6 total touchdowns
While it’s well-documented that Maclin has never eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season, it’s worth noting that just about every player minus Jason Avant recorded new personal bests in Kelly’s offense. Not only that, but with DeSean Jackson released and out of the picture, Maclin finally has an opportunity to shine in a feature role.
Other than the torn ACL that erased Maclin’s 2013 campaign, there’s no reason to think he won’t be the next recipient of the Kelly bump. In fact, he has the potential to approach or perhaps even surpass Jackson’s effort of 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns a season ago.
One area where Maclin holds a distinct advantage is in the red zone. Prior to Kelly’s arrival, Jackson wouldn’t even be on the field down by the goal line very often. Between '08 and '13, Jackson caught nine touchdown passes inside 20 yards, five inside 10. Between '09 and '12—two fewer seasons—Maclin pulled down 15 TDs inside 20, nine inside 10.
Maclin has always been a higher-volume receiver as well. Jackson’s career high in receptions prior to last season was 62. Maclin has never finished with fewer than 56, which came during his rookie year. So if Jackson can pull down 82 in Kelly’s offense, how many could Maclin snare?
It’s not even as if we haven’t seen Maclin work with Foles and without Jackson before, either. In 2012, Maclin went for over 100 yards and scored a touchdown in two of the four games Foles started after Jackson’s season-ending injury.
It’s time to remember how talented Maclin is. This is a former first-round pick, just 26 years old, whose career production has mostly been hindered by sharing a feature role on some bad offenses. He has the potential to exceed even these expectations.
Projection: 80-100 receptions, 1,100-1,400 yards, 7-10 touchdowns
WR Riley Cooper
It’s important to recognize that Riley Cooper, the No. 2 receiver in the league’s No. 2 offense, never truly became a viable fantasy option in 2013. That should tell you just about all you need to know.
Through the first five weeks of the season—before anybody wanted anything to do with him—Cooper posted eight receptions for 93 yards and a touchdown. The next five games—before anybody would’ve thought to start Cooper, let alone own him—he racked up 20 catches for 462 yards and six touchdowns. Both periods were likely an aberration.
Over his final seven contests (including playoffs), the real Cooper averaged 3.6 receptions and 49.7 yards per game with two touchdowns.
The concept that Cooper could improve in his second year as a starter doesn’t sit well with me, either. He doesn’t separate from defensive backs. The 6'4", 230-pound Cooper will outmuscle a smaller defensive backfield downfield once in a while due to sheer size advantage, but that’s about the only thing he has going for him.
At the very least, he’s going to be inconsistent. If you spot a favorable matchup where you know Cooper is going to be pitted against a tiny cornerback, he might be worth a spot start. That’s assuming he’s available on waivers. Please, for your own good, do not waste a roster spot trying to stash Cooper.
Projection: 35-50 receptions, 600-900 receiving yards, 4-8 touchdowns
WR Jordan Matthews
Jordan Matthews is by far the most difficult Eagle to project because rookie receivers seldom make huge impacts. Yet, in Matthews’ case, he’s expected to step right into a prevalent role as the primary slot receiver in a high-octane offense.
For how much Avant was on the field last year, his offensive production was almost miraculously poor. According to the game-charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Avant played on 72 percent of the offense’s snaps in 2013, yet he only managed 38 receptions, 447 yards and two touchdowns. A street free agent could’ve matched that kind of production.
Avant was released over the offseason. His replacement, the No. 42 pick in the draft, is almost 10 years younger. He’s also 6’3”, 212 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.4 seconds, according to NFL.com. Matthews even compiled 206 receptions, 2,800 yards and 15 TDs his final two seasons at Vanderbilt, which calls the SEC home.
So if a street free agent could match Avant’s numbers, and this Matthews guy looks like a stud, put two and two together. The added bonus here is he could even start stealing snaps from Cooper on the outside if things really start panning out, which is the kind of thing that can win you a league.
Projection: 30-60 receptions, 400-800 yards, 3-8 touchdowns
TE Zach Ertz
If Ertz’s first season serves as any indication, this kid is about to take off. The 36 receptions for 469 yards and four touchdowns the Stanford product hauled in last year were better than the rookie campaigns of most of the prolific tight ends we know today, including Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Jason Witten, to name a few.
Most of those players took a huge leap forward in year two, and Ertz appears primed to do the same. A good portion of his production came in December, when he caught 15 balls for 195 yards and three scores. That’s called progress, my friends.
Not only was Ertz’s role clearly growing down the stretch in 2013, it stands to be bigger going forward. With Jackson’s departure, the Eagles could run more two-tight end formations to help compensate for the loss on the outside. Ertz only played 40 percent of the offensive snaps as a rookie, according to Pro Football Focus. The added opportunities should help bolster the numbers.
Of course, being 6’5”, 250 pounds and running like a wide receiver doesn’t hurt, either.
Ertz is still expected to begin 2014 behind Brent Celek on the depth chart, but that’s largely because Celek has become an extraordinary run-blocker in Kelly’s offense. Ertz is the primary receiver of the two, and all indications are he’s headed for a breakout year. Honestly, these projections might be low-balling it.
Projection: 700-900 receiving yards, 6-10 touchdowns
K Alex Henery
This, of course, is assuming Henery beats out Carey Spear for the job or is not replaced by the first better option that comes along after training camp. Then again, you’re probably only considering one of these Eagles kickers as an option because a high-scoring offense usually equals more opportunities to put the ball through the uprights.
That may be true for extra points, but Henery has been allowed to attempt just five field goals of 50 or more yards in three seasons. The lack of range is likely to result in fewer field-goal opportunities overall, and thus, fewer points.
Regardless of who comes out on top in this competition, I would advise against putting that person on your roster.
The Eagles are projected to return as many as 10 of 11 starters from last year’s defense, which is both a good and bad thing. The unit wasn’t as bad as the rankings make it sound (No. 29 in total defense last year), and the hope is a little continuity plus one major addition at safety brings it all together.
In terms of fantasy, though, there’s not much to like. Philadelphia has neither an elite pass rush nor tremendous playmakers on the outside, so there’s not likely to be a jump or any improvement at all in sacks or interceptions.
The Eagles defense faced the highest number of plays in the NFL last season and will likely finish up there again due to how fast their offense moves, so holding opponents below 20 points most weeks won’t be easy, either.
If the matchup dictates, Philly could be an option some weeks, but not as a regular option.