Predicting Progression, Regression for Philadelphia Eagles' Top PlayersJuly 27, 2017
Predicting Progression, Regression for Philadelphia Eagles' Top Players
Everything seems to be coming together for the Philadelphia Eagles entering the 2017 season.
With a difficult 7-9 rebuilding season in the rearview mirror and significant improvements made to key positions this offseason, the Eagles are marching into 2017 with a lot of momentum. Head coach Doug Pederson enters his second season at the helm with a roster much more capable of contending in the burly NFC East.
All indications point to a number of key position players taking the next step this season, but the unfortunate inevitability of the NFL is that players on every roster will take steps backward as well. Whether it's due to aging, unforeseen injuries, a shift in how the player is used or a combination of all three, the Eagles will undoubtedly see some players fail to perform the way they did in 2016 and years prior.
Philly is kicking off training camp, which makes it an ideal time to analyze some of the team's most important players and which direction fans can expect them to trend in the coming season.
There's nowhere to go but up for Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry in 2017 after an incredibly disappointing season in which he logged just 2.5 sacks—his lowest total since his rookie campaign in 2012.
The gigantic contract Curry signed last offseason made his regression all the more frustrating for fans, as his $9 million cap hit for 2017 ranks fourth on the team, per Over the Cap. Figured to continue his devastating pocket pressure, Curry struggled through injury and failed to secure a start all season.
The Eagles not so subtly put pressure on Curry for the coming season when they drafted Derek Barnett with the No. 14 overall pick at the draft after signing veteran end Chris Long. Not only will Curry have to fight just to get on the field, but the fact his team could save tons of cap space in the next three years by releasing him after 2017 should light a fire under him to prove he's worthy of the dollar amount beside him.
Curry told 94WIP back in May that he hurt his MCL at the start of last season, which explains a lot of his struggles. Fully healthy entering 2017 and with plenty of motivation, expect Curry to have a bounce-back year and return to his old form.
Darren Sproles is likely to go down as one of the greater Eagles of all time, and he's going to provide a lot of value for the team any year he's on the roster. But how much longer he's on it is beginning to become a question.
Sproles himself told ESPN.com's Tim McManus in 2016 that he expected 2017 to be his last season in the league. This summer, he refused to double down on that belief but also didn't shoot down the idea, telling the Philadelphia Inquirer's Zach Berman: "We're going to see. Right after we make the playoffs, come back and ask me."
At 34, Sproles has already executed his versatile all-around role longer than most players at his position. He should still expect to be the punt returner and find an effective role in the West Coast offense, but the Eagles have already locked down Donnel Pumphrey as his future replacement. Sproles is likely to see less of the ball as the Eagles see what they have in the rookie out of San Diego State.
Plus, LeGarrette Blount's presence in the fold and Wendell Smallwood's larger role will cut into Sproles' carries even more. It's not going to upset him if the Eagles are winning, but it should cause an inevitable regression in what could be the last season of a brilliant career in gang green.
Interior offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo figured to be in line for a breakout season in 2017, and offensive coordinator Frank Reich basically confirmed he's going to get every chance at breaking out entering training camp.
Reich told David George of the team website Seumalo is heading into camp as the starting left guard, which verifies the starting lineup is likely to be different from last year's unit. The player he's replacing, Allen Barbre, is headed to the Denver Broncos in a trade, the Broncos announced Wednesday.
There will still be a competition in training camp as backups Stefen Wisniewski and Chance Warmack try to push Seumalo, but it's hard to see the Eagles backtracking on a decision they just made public. The 23-year-old entering his second season impressed mightily in his four starts as a rookie, and the fact the team is plugging him into one of the league's best offensive lines gives every indication he's ready to become one of the better young guards in the league.
Hedged in between veterans Jason Peters and Jason Kelce, it's hard to see Seumalo having nothing short of a big season.
Entering the 2016 season, it could be argued that receiver Jordan Matthews provided the best all-around potential of any Eagles wideout. But a lot can change in one season.
Matthews delivered in terms of production, catching 73 passes for 804 yards, but he only caught three touchdowns, and much of his volume came from a severe lack of able bodies around him. Fast forward one year, and the Eagles have Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith to hold it down on the outside.
The former Vanderbilt star has been dealing with knee issues all offseason, but that may not be his only issue entering 2017. Les Bowen of the Philadelphia Daily News reported that a contract dispute, not his injured knee, may have been the main reason for his bevy of absences throughout OTAs and minicamp.
If the Eagles were high on Matthews—and even Nelson Agholor, to that effect—having a breakout year in 2017, it's hard to envision why they would have drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson in the middle rounds. Serious needs required addressing, yet they decided to replenish their core of young receivers instead.
Matthews could fail to reach his reception total from a season ago and still have a fine year, but all signs point to multiple issues needing to be worked out before he's even a regular part of the offense in 2017.
At last, we reach the player a vast majority of Eagles fans are most excited to see at the start of training camp, along with the 2017 campaign and the many seasons to come.
Philadelphia paid a king's ransom to move up for quarterback Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft, and he proved to be worth every penny throughout a highly encouraging rookie season. Despite showcasing his skills and potential to become one of the NFL's best quarterbacks, he still threw just 16 touchdowns (25th in the league) even though he attempted the fifth-most passes among all quarterbacks.
Not too much of that burden falls on Wentz's shoulders, as he threw to a subpar core of receivers and failed to find a good run game behind him. But his decision-making in the red zone and ability to perform in the clutch still showcased that, for all of his promise, he was still a rookie.
Finding better weaponry for Wentz became the No. 1 priority for the front office this season, and it did so in spectacular fashion with the signings of Jeffery, Smith and Blount. The sky is the limit for the 24-year-old, one of the most intelligent and skilled young quarterbacks the league has seen in several years.
The Eagles will go as far as Wentz takes them, which could end up being a long way.
The elder statesman of an Eagles offensive line Pro Football Focus rates as the best in football, left tackle Jason Peters enters 2017 as one of the most important players on the team—just like he's been for many years.
Around the age that Peters has reached (35) is about the time NFL teams begin to move away from offensive linemen in search of young blood, but the Eagles instead chose to reward Peters with a one-year extension that locks him up through 2019. Protecting a young quarterback's blind side is imperative, and Philly doesn't want to entrust that to an unproven youngster with all the potential this team has.
Still, Peters enters 2017 as one of the oldest starting tackles in the NFL. He's effectively defied Father Time throughout the past couple of seasons, but NFC East pass-rushers are getting younger and faster while Peters gets older.
There hasn't been much clamor for Peters to find a different position on the line because of his continued play, but Lane Johnson's emergence as one of the league's best right tackles, combined with Peters' inevitable decline in 2017, will allow that topic to be debated throughout the course of the season.