A new era begins for the Eagles in 2010.
Gone is veteran team leader Donovan McNabb, traded to division rival Washington to make way for Kevin Kolb at quarterback.
Despite all the criticism he received both from Eagles fans and around the league, there should be little dispute that McNabb’s accomplishments far exceeded his reputation in Philadelphia. Kolb is sure to feel the wrath of Eagles fans if he can’t step in and produce the way McNabb had in years past.
Even so, Kolb enters an enviable situation with an Eagles team that features a stalwart offensive line and a young, solid cast of players at the skill positions. Eagles head coach Andy Reid uses a version of the West Coast offense that is heavy on pass plays, and he is not expected to tone down the playbook for his new quarterback.
Look for the Eagles to throw just as much in 2010 as in previous years and for Kolb to emerge as one of the league’s better young quarterbacks.
The team is deep at wide receiver with DeSean Jackson—a superstar in the making—entering his third year in the league. Jackson is a highlight reel waiting to happen, and he had more big plays than any wide receiver in the league last year. Kolb and Jackson will need to develop chemistry on deep balls if Jackson is to repeat that performance in 2009.
Jeremy Maclin starts opposite Jackson, and while he isn’t as dynamic, he has the talent to become one of the league’s top No. 2 receivers in short order. Jason Avant is the team’s third wide receiver but could start for many other teams in the league. Although he isn’t a burner, Avant has a knack for getting open, and he doesn’t drop many balls.
Brent Celek had an outstanding season in 2009, emerging as one of the league’s top pass-catching tight ends. He was a favorite of McNabb’s in the red zone and was Kolb’s favorite target during his two starts last season. The Eagles are expecting another big season from Celek in 2010.
The running load will be handled mostly by second-year player LeSean McCoy. McCoy had a decent rookie season, and the team hopes he can take another step forward and match former Eagle Brian Westbrook’s production.
While McCoy is a decent prospect, that expectation may be a bit of stretch, particularly in 2010. Mike Bell and Leonard Weaver will back up McCoy. Both players are big backs who like to run between the tackles.
While the Eagles are loaded on offense, the defense has more question marks. Other than defensive end Trent Cole and cornerback Asante Samuel, the team lacks playmakers on defense. Some would even dispute Samuel’s reputation as a top defender, given his propensity for getting burned due to his frequent gambles for big plays and his poor tackling ability.
The Eagles shouldn’t be considered a rebuilding team, nor are they truly in a reloading phase in 2010. While expectations in Philadelphia are high, it is worth noting that first-year starters at quarterback often struggle to close out games. In a division as competitive as the NFC East, blowing even a single game can translate into the loss of a playoff spot.
QB Kevin Kolb
Kolb enters training camp as the hot, high-upside quarterback for fantasy purposes, but by the time your fantasy draft rolls around, his sleeper status will likely be well known. Leading up to the start of the season, look for fantasy pundits to routinely compare him to Aaron Rodgers in his first year as a starter.
Kolb topped 300 passing yards in both of his starts last season and figures to benefit from a solid supporting cast. With a stout offensive line and perhaps the league’s top group of young skill position players, Kolb enters an enviable situation as a first-year starter in Philadelphia.
He is a bit of a risk due to his lack of playing time but also possesses major upside and is a great option for dynasty leagues. He is also a great option this season as a low-end starter in redraft leagues.
RB LeSean McCoy
Brian Westbrook is gone and McCoy will take over in 2010 as the team’s starting running back. The question is whether he has the ability to produce the way Westbrook did. McCoy looked a bit pedestrian as a runner during his rookie season, averaging 4.1 yards per carry on 155 carries.
He was more effective as a receiver, with 40 receptions for 308 yards. At 5’10” and 198 pounds, McCoy is a smaller back, but he isn’t a blazer and didn’t produce many big plays as a rookie.
While he will receive the majority of the team’s touches at the position, he will likely relinquish the short-yardage work to Mike Bell or Leonard Weaver, which limits his upside.
In addition, look for Bell and Weaver to be used late in games when the Eagles are looking to close out the contest. McCoy figures to have a solid season, but there is a good chance he will be drafted higher than he should be. Keep him on your radar, but don’t overpay for a player who will likely be an upper-tier fantasy backup at season’s end.
RB Mike Bell
Bell comes over from the Saints after resurrecting his career in New Orleans last year. Considering his power running style, Bell figures to provide a solid compliment to the team’s starter LeSean McCoy, who is more of an outside runner.
Bell will compete with hybrid fullback/running back Leonard Weaver for short yardage work but enters training camp as the favorite to win that role. Look for another 600-yard, five or six-touchdown season, similar to his 2009 production with the Saints. McCoy owners will definitely want Bell on their fantasy rosters as a handcuff.
WR DeSean Jackson
Jackson was the most explosive big-play receiver in the league last year, finishing the season with nine touchdowns and an eye-popping average of 18.5 yards per reception. He topped 1,000 yards in his second season, finishing the year with 1,156.
Jackson is clearly still developing at receiver, and because of that he possesses major upside. Still, banking on him to produce the same number of big plays in 2010 as he had in 2009 is risky, so his fantasy ranking should be based more on continued improvement as a receiver on short and intermediate patterns.
Given his production during his first two years in the league, it seems a safe bet that improvement will occur in 2010. The trade of Donovan McNabb to the Redskins affects his value only minimally, as Kevin Kolb seems ready to emerge at quarterback. The question with Jackson is about value. If somebody in your league thinks he’s ready to emerge as a Top Five receiver, let them reach for Jackson. If you can get him as a bottom-tier WR1, the value is there.
WR Jeremy Maclin
Maclin played well as a rookie with the Eagles last year, posting 762 yards receiving and four touchdowns. He figures to take another step in his development during his second year in the league. Maclin has good speed and displayed some playmaking ability last year, averaging just under 14 yards per reception.
He did suffer from a fair number of drops, however, including a couple that would have led to big plays. His upside is somewhat limited in 2010, since he will compete for touches with solid pass catchers DeSean Jackson, Jason Avant, and Brent Celek as well as with running backs LeSean McCoy, Mike Bell, and Leonard Weaver. Consider him a WR4 for fantasy purposes—but one of the more attractive ones, given his solid playmaking ability in an Eagles offense that will throw plenty in 2010.
WR Jason Avant
The Eagles love Avant and during this offseason signed him to a lucrative five-year contract to serve as the team’s top backup wide receiver. He is a big player and is able to use his size to his advantage. Avant excels at running crossing patterns, and his number is regularly called upon on third downs.
While Avant’s production as a backup receiver was excellent (587 yards and three touchdowns), and while he has improved in each of his four years in the league, he has little to no chance of supplanting DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin for one of the team’s starting spots. That limits his potential in dynasty leagues and relegates him to waiver wire material in all but the deepest redraft leagues. However, should injury strike Jackson or Maclin, jump at your first chance to grab Avant.
TE Brent Celek
Let’s cut to the chase—Celek is a talented pass-catching tight end; he plays in a solid, pass heavy offense; and new quarterback Kevin Kolb loves throwing to him (208 yards and a touchdown during Kolb’s two starts last year). Celek built on his impressive late-season performance in 2008 to become the fourth-ranked fantasy tight end in 2009, with nearly 1,000 yards receiving and eight touchdowns.
But for some reason he’s not getting the love, and many prognosticators have him ranked as a mid to lower-tier option at tight end. That equals value since there’s no reason why he can’t duplicate his 2009 production in 2010. I’m on board, you should be too.