Philadelphia Eagles: Over/Under Predictions for 2017 Season
Repeat 7-9 seasons usually don't indicate that a team is improving, but the Philadelphia Eagles are an exception as they enter their second season under the direction of head coach Doug Pederson.
While the sub-.500 campaign in 2015, Chip Kelly's final year at the helm, exemplified a serious lack of talent and cohesion on the roster, an identical record in 2016 could be viewed as a success. Despite sizable roster gaps on both sides of the ball and a rookie quarterback leading the way, the Eagles proved they're on the rise and just needed a couple of key improvements before taking the next step.
Such improvements were made throughout free agency and the draft this offseason, with general manager Howie Roseman pulling his strings and addressing virtually every roster weakness decisively. With training camp on the horizon, it's time for the blueprint to come together on the field and place the Eagles back into contention for the NFC East crown.
But when a team deploys so many new faces and expects them to step right in, it's hard to know what to expect in terms of production. Let's take a closer look into every major category and make some tough calls as to how the season will shake out from a statistical standpoint.
Alshon Jeffery: 1,200 Yards
Big things are expected of Alshon Jeffery heading into his first season with the Eagles, and he should have millions of motivating reasons to live up to the expectations.
Jeffery essentially gambled on himself when he signed a one-year deal with Philly that contains a $9.5 million cap hit, per Over The Cap. The marquee free-agent wide receiver of the offseason likely could have secured a longer-term deal elsewhere, but the allure of playing with quarterback Carson Wentz is real.
The Eagles now have a true No. 1 receiver to go along with their talented second-year signal-caller, and he should perform as such. Despite Philadelphia's other moves to bolster the receiving unit, like signing Torrey Smith and drafting Mack Hollins, there's still a supreme lack of proven pass-catching across the offense.
That, along with Jeffery's rock-solid ability to make catches in traffic, move the chains with slashing short routes and gash defenses deep down the field, will make him one of the leading receivers in the league. There simply won't be another receiver Wentz can trust nearly as much as Jeffery.
Oh, and don't forget the fact Wentz was one of six quarterbacks in the league to throw the ball more than 600 times last season.
Racking up over 1,200 receiving yards, which would have ranked seventh in the league in 2016, is no small task and requires complete faith from the quarterback, along with an ability to stay healthy. Bank on Jeffery to play in a fashion that will make the Eagles back up a dump truck full of money on his Philly doorstep next offseason.
Derek Barnett: 6.5 Sacks
Despite taking him with the No. 14 overall pick in the draft, the Eagles may have gotten the best pure pass-rusher in the draft in Derek Barnett. That's a pretty big compliment considering a fellow pass-rusher went No. 1 overall.
Barnett turned 21 over the summer but is well beyond his years in terms of skill and potential production. Unlike the Cleveland Browns' Myles Garrett, Barnett will benefit from stepping into a system that already has a talented front seven.
On the surface, that would seem to inhibit Barnett's ability to rack up the type of numbers Joey Bosa put up last season as a rookie. But it could have the opposite effect. Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox will require extra attention from offensive lines, and the Eagles shouldn't be shy about allowing Barnett more snaps than Vinny Curry after his disappointing 2016 season.
Barnett was the one receiving the extra attention last season in Tennessee while going up against elite SEC competition and still produced 13 sacks with 19 tackles for loss en route to breaking Reggie White's career school record for sacks. Surpassing six sacks as a rookie shouldn't come as a surprise if Barnett stays healthy.
LeGarrette Blount: 200 Carries
Fittingly, the above photo might be an accurate depiction of the Eagles' depth chart at running back this coming season.
Philadelphia scoured a market full of proven running backs capable of being the feature guy and didn't hesitate to sign LeGarrette Blount to a one-year deal and make him the de facto primary back for 2017. The team also chose to pass on a number of workhorse backs early in the draft, paving the way for Blount to be the guy.
However, fans can still expect something of a by-committee approach. The Eagles still have stalwart rusher Darren Sproles, along with second-year pro Wendell Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey, to shoulder the load.
Blount is coming off an eye-popping campaign with the New England Patriots, putting up 18 touchdowns on 299 carries. That marked the first time since his rookie season in which he surpassed the 200-carry mark, but a bevy of injuries to the Patriots' backs played a big part in his extended use.
Factoring in the obvious notion that the Eagles will remain a pass-first team under Wentz and the number of versatile backs to share the load with, Blount shouldn't expect to hit the double-century mark in 2017. And that will be just fine.
Jason Peters: 15.5 Games as Starting LT
When Jason Peters signed an extension this offseason that locked him down in Philly through the 2019 season, per Over The Cap, some uneasiness followed from fans. That's not off base, as the 35-year-old left tackle could begin declining and halt Lane Johnson's expected slide over to the left.
Pederson calmed some of those nerves shortly after the extension, telling Paul Domowitch of the Philadelphia Daily News that moving inside to guard "could be a potential spot down the road."
Could that materialize before the end of the forthcoming season?
It's not likely. Peters is not only one of the best Eagles linemen of all time, but he's also proved he can remain at the top of his game. Despite injuries and suspensions hampering the line last season, Peters held it down on Wentz's blind side and started all 16 games for the third time in four seasons.
The blueprint up front has come together quite nicely for the Eagles, who have the league's best offensive line going into 2017, according to Pro Football Focus. With capable backups Stefen Wisniewski and Isaac Seumalo pushing the starting guards this offseason, there's no need for Peters to move inside this season.
Nigel Bradham: 100 Tackles
Within a defensive front seven that saw more individual disappointments than encouragements in 2016, outside linebacker Nigel Bradham stood out with a whopping 102 tackles in his first year as an Eagle.
The 2016 campaign marked the second time in Bradham's career he's surpassed the century mark for tackles, a testament to his durability as an every-down linebacker and his innate ability to gravitate toward the ball. But more often than not, racking up that many tackles means a player is compensating for his teammates.
Bradham won't hit that plateau in 2017, but it won't be to the detriment of the Eagles. They can expect ball-hawking safety Malcolm Jenkins to improve from his 72-tackle campaign, which marked his lowest total as an Eagle. There's also a world of talent on the edge that didn't exist last season, which ensures Graham, Barnett, Curry, Chris Long and company will assume a bigger percentage of tackles than last season.
Plus, the 25-year-old middle linebacker Jordan Hicks upped his tackle total from 50 as a rookie to 85 last season and appears set to explode for a dominating season. An Eagle will likely reach the 100-tackle mark in 2017, but you can expect it to be Hicks or Jenkins, not Bradham.
Carson Wentz: 26 Passing Touchdowns
For all the immense promise and hype Wentz provided Eagles fans during his rookie campaign, one sour statistic stuck out like a sore thumb: 16 touchdowns.
The rookie's 16 touchdown passes ranked a lowly 25th in the league, which proved all the more depressing considering he finished fifth in passing attempts. For reference, Wentz's 16 touchdowns tied him with former San Francisco 49er Colin Kaepernick, who threw nearly 300 fewer passes and started just 11 games.
To Wentz's credit, much of the onus doesn't fall on him. He played with one of the league's least productive receiving corps, filled with underperforming youngsters and little in terms of veteran dependability.
Things have changed drastically for that unit over the offseason. Jeffery and Smith's arrivals will pay huge dividends, especially in the red zone, where Wentz completed just 47 percent of his passes last season, according to Pro Football Reference.
Blount's presence near the goal line will obviously keep Wentz from securing some short scores, but new deep threats and a much wider array of weapons will ensure the quarterback fires the ball into the end zone with regularity. Twenty-six touchdown passes would have been a top-10 number for signal-callers last season, and it's realistic that Wentz will reach that with a year of development under his belt.
Rasul Douglas: 3.5 Interceptions
Anyone who thinks this is absurd can thank Jeffery.
The new Eagles wideout heaped some high praise on incoming rookie Rasul Douglas, who appears likely to start Week 1 at cornerback, after playing against him throughout team activities this offseason. Significant production isn't usually expected from rookie cornerbacks, but Jeffery has his hopes set high.
"I look for him to have, my prediction, is probably to say about three to five picks this year," Jeffery said, per Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal. "I believe he can do that. Maybe more. We'll see. The sky's the limit for him. He's already pretty good. He's going to be a good corner in this league. He's just got to keep working, keep learning from what his coaches tell him."
In 2016, five interceptions would have tied Douglas for fifth-most in the league. In fact, only 20 defenders secured more than three picks on the season, only half of whom were cornerbacks.
This isn't ignoring the fact Douglas has a great chance to become the best cornerback on the Philly roster throughout his rookie season or that his 6'2", 209-pound frame is ideal for the burly NFC East receivers. Douglas is just a green player who will be much more focused on staying in front of his targets, and concentrating too much on nabbing picks would likely leave a young player susceptible to giving up big catches.
Douglas will make good on Jeffery's prediction one day, but it won't be as a rookie.
Why don't we quit beating around the bush and get down to the nitty-gritty?
When it boils down to it, the only over/under the Eagles care about is the win total. And putting the marker at 9.5 wins is relaying some optimism, considering oddsmakers have the total at eight wins, with -140 odds (bet $140 to win $100) on the over, per OddsShark.
But let's face it. Ten wins is likely the goal for the Eagles, who finished at 7-9 despite considerable flaws and poor late-game execution before significantly improving their roster on both sides of the ball this summer. In fact, Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.com recently broke down how four single plays in 2016 may have directly led to four Eagles losses.
Ten wins is likely to get it done too. In four of the past five seasons, a 10-6 finish would have been enough for the Eagles to make the playoffs. In three of the past five seasons, 10 wins would have won the division.
The arrival of serious weaponry on offense, shoring up the pass-rush conundrum and finding some young talent at cornerback all point to the team improving upon their 7-9 record from a season ago. Wentz is a year older and has valuable experience under his belt along with more help around him.
The Eagles aren't quite a finished product in terms of contending for a championship, but they're ready to take the next step and reach double-digit wins.