Philadelphia Eagles: 5 Underrated Players Pivotal to the Birds' Success in 2011
The Philadelphia Eagles are still being dubbed the "Dream Team," despite the fact that coaches and upper executives vehemently deny being on that level.
Yes, the Eagles boast a lot of elite talents, but there are still underrated—or even under-the-radar players, if you want to call them that—who will ultimately define whether or not the Eagles can finally win their first Super Bowl.
Here are five underrated players who will be key to the Eagles' success in the 2011-2012 season.
King Dunlap/Ryan Harris
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Protecting Michael Vick will be of utmost importance this upcoming season after he took a torturous beating last year behind a porous offensive line.
It was tough to defend anything Winston Justice accomplished at right tackle last year. Justice consistently needed Brent Celek to line up next to him to help him out because he was too incapable of protecting Vick's blindside. Justice is currently on the PUP/Active list, and will have to work his way back to win over the coaches'—and ultimately Vick's—trust as the blindside protector.
King Dunlap is currently slated to start, and even though he has looked solid so far in games and in camp, he seemingly always has a few stretches of playing time where he excels, but then later fails miserably. Trusting him as the starter would not be a smart move, but he can be a capable backup if needed for a short period of time. While Dunlap is not a fan favorite, he is underrated, considering he has given the Eagles more than they could have hoped for from a seventh-rounder.
I firmly believe once Ryan Harris healthy, he will take the job from Dunlap. Harris is a fluid tackle who is a perfect fit in Howard Mudd's scheme. He pass protects very well and is one of the better tackles in the league when healthy. Teams will be coming to test Harris though, as left tackle Jason Peters is an established player in the league.
Harris, or whoever ends up winning the right tackle job, will have to be up to the task of protecting Vick's blindside, or disaster will hit Vick.
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Kelce is a sixth-round rookie and could lock up the starting center job from Jamaal Jackson if he has a strong showing against the Cleveland Browns Thursday night.
A strong camp and solid game tape has thrust Kelce into a possible starting role.
But Kelce will have to extensively study film on opposing defenses, especially because teams will try to test whether Vick can read a defense and make pre-snap adjustments. Part of the pre-snap adjustments falls on Kelce's shoulders. He will have to point out where the blitz is coming from and assist Vick.
Teams will try to throw complex schemes to confuse the rookie, so he will have to be at the top of his game to recognize defensive tendencies.
I'm one of Jamar Chaney's biggest supporters. He can play all three linebacker positions and has the elite physical tools—size, speed, instincts, tackling, etc.—to be an above-average linebacker.
The Eagles will more than likely play all three stud corners on the field, leaving Chaney and most likely Casey Matthews as the second line of defense.
When the Eagles have their nickel package on the field, teams will obviously look to run more. Since Matthews seemingly cannot get off a block, Chaney will have to be the impact, run-stuffing linebacker.
Chaney had 16 tackles in his first career start last year against the Giants, so his run-supporting capabilities are there.
Chaney is expected to play on the strong-side, meaning he will go against athletic tight ends such as Vernon Davis, Jason Witten, Zach Miller and Dustin Keller this year. The tight end has killed the Eagles these past few years, so hopefully Chaney reverses the fortune.
If the Eagles end up facing the Packers in the playoffs, Chaney will have to go against a freak of an athlete in Jermichael Finley, who can single-handedly destroy the opposing team's secondary.
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Antonio Dixon performed very well and was the key player who turned around the defense early in the year last season. Dixon is a great run-stopping defensive tackle, but like Mike Patterson, he does not offer much in pass-rushing.
The Eagles' nine-wide technique will eliminate the defensive ends from being run-stoppers, further pressuring Dixon to perform at a high level.
Dixon will also have to cover the flaws in Casey Matthews' game, considering he has major problems getting off a block and stopping the run at middle linebacker. If Dixon can get a huge push, it will take a lot of pressure off Matthews' and the rest of the linebackers' shoulders.
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Though DeSean Jackson gets all the hype and praise, Jeremy Maclin is no slouch and is progressing to be one of the top receivers in the game.
The knock on Maclin coming out of Missouri was his hands, but he has shown constant improvement. He is not asked to run fly patterns, but he has the speed to beat any corner in the league.
Maclin can get a key 3rd-and-6, and is usually Michael Vick's first option on passing plays.
Unlike Jackson, who refuses to go over the middle because of fear of injury, Maclin will run drag routes and isn't scared to take a big hit.
Maclin had a cancer scare that caused him to lose close to 15 pounds, but his contributions will be crucial for the Eagles to make a deep Super Bowl run.