First things First...I need to get something off my chest.
Although 2016 isn't necessarily a year that the Eagles franchise or fans expect their beloved team to go back to the post-season, with it being NFL slow season writers like myself need something to talk about!
Monday night NFL HQ posted this poll on twitter, many Eagles fans I'm sure voted yes but the majority of people called out NFL HQ for what they thought was a silly question. The Eagles spend $280 million dollars guaranteed on the core of their team, no longer are Philadelphia trying to build a team through Free Agency.
Listen to Howie Roseman talk, Doug Pederson and many other Philadelphia media personalities and they will tell you that the Eagles plan for the future is to build around their Quarterback and the teams core guys. In my opinion it's a great plan, teams that splurge in free agency rarely go onto being fantastic teams. Franchises like the Steelers, Patriots and Packers are good because they build a team of guys they have drafted, coached and moulded into their own style of football, oh and of course having 3 future hall of fame Quarterbacks help. (counting you Wentz)
My point here is I don't think many Eagles fans expect their team to go marching right back into the playoffs this season, that doesn't mean if they do we won't be ecstatic, it's just the point of their poll is misleading in terms of that's not why the Eagles spent money this year, there is more to it than simply hoping for a quick turn around.
So what should the Eagles 2016 season be graded on?
Last season the Eagles defence ranked 30th per ESPN, it actually surprised me that they were ranked that poorly after such a promising start to the year. The one thing you always heard while Chip Kelly was in charge was, it will be extremely difficult for the Eagles to succeed because of how often the defence is on the field. The data suggests that the people saying that were correct, in Chip Kelly's final two years the Eagles defence ranked 30th and 28th.
As for 2016 the Eagles move back to 4-3 and have one of the best defensive coordinators in the game in Jim Schwartz at the helm. In Schwartz' last season as a defensive co-ordinator with the Bills the Buffalo defence ranked 4th overall for points, 3rd in passing defence, 11th against the run and 4th overall league wide.
I see similarities in what Buffalo had to offer in 2014 as the Eagles do this year in 2016. Both had young good defensive lines, a mix of experience and youth at the cornerback and linebacker positions. The one area the Eagles win out in terms of talent you could argue is the safety spots but never the less the pieces are in place for this defence to be better.
If the Eagles can get within the top 15 league wide, somewhere they haven't been since 2012 (surprisingly), we can say that Jim Schwartz has done a good job. If they have a great year their is hope they could possibly crack the top 10, but for now anywhere around 15-12 mark is good for an eagles unit that has been totally driven into the ground the past two seasons.
Nelson Agholor's Growth At The Receiver Position
A lot has been made of the Eagles receiving corps, after drafting Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff and Nelson Agholor the past 2 seasons, only Matthews has had any type of productivity that give Eagles fans hope at the Receiver position.
Since DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin left Philadelphia, the Eagles haven't had a Receiver or Tight End surpass 1,000 yards receiving, Matthews is closest with admittedly 997 yards receiving in 2015 but it's Nelson Agholor who had so much promise coming into his rookie campaign that I think will make or break the Eagles receiving unit in 2016.
If Jordan Matthews can hold onto a few more balls this season one would suggest he will break into the 1,000 yard receiving group, Nelson Agholor though could catch 10 passes and potentially surpass his 2015 campaign. I am a firm believer that Agholor was battling an ankle injury for a majority of the season and just flat out lacked targets when given playing time.
One play of Agholor's rookie season has stuck with me and is enough to suggest I think he can be an important player for the Eagles. It was vs the Giants in week 17 where he caught the ball, made a nice stutter move and burst up the field for a big gain. It might not seem much but the acceleration he has before and after the catch is special. The video below is a package of Agholor's ability to create separation from his opponents.
I'm not saying he is the next Odell Beckham, I am just saying I think the kid has talent and if Doug Pederson can incorporate him into the offence the right way then he could have a good year for us.
Zach Ertz Leads The Eagles Offence
Now this is the one guy it seems every year since being drafted we are waiting to take over games. Zach Ertz has the best opportunity in my mind to become the player we know he can be this year under Doug Pederson. As I have said before Doug Pederson helped build the offence we saw in Kansas City which so fantastically turned Travis Kelce into one of the elite tight ends in the NFL.
Ertz is on the brink of elite status in terms of Tight Ends, ask anybody and they will tell you Zach Ertz is a beast, what he lacks to make that jump is touchdowns in the redzone and a season over 1,000 yards. Although with Tight Ends few crack 1,000 yards receiving, if you want to be in that top echelon alongside the Gronk's, Olsens, Walkers and Grahams of this world you need one of those under your belt. Zach Ertz I believe can do that, if there is one offensive guy that we can shoulder the offence on it should be Ertz.
Pro Football Focus had Ertz ranked 4th overall in 2015/16, the jump can be thanked to his much improved blocking technique that he worked hard on over the summer. One thing we must remember is stats wise Ertz was hurt due to the fact Chip Kelly used Brent Celek a lot more throughout his time at Philadelphia because of Ertz's inability to block when asked.
I want this guy to succeed and I think with another year playing with Sam Bradford as well as a coach who has been in a system that has seen a tight end have great success, Ertz can finally be the player we have hoped for.
Sam Bradford Becomes a Leader and a Mentor
Get used to Sam Bradford Eagles fans because he is our Quarterback and he is here to stay. Instead of harping on the fact you don't like him, what he did this off-season, we have Carson Wentz, here wears a long jersey.....let's look at the positives and how Bradford could help the Eagles this season.
He is 100% healthy, in the middle of his first full pre-season in at least 2 years and from all reports separated himself as the starter thus far through the Eagles off-season program.
What I am looking for from Bradford this year is obviously to continue on from his back end 2015/16 campaign but also to become the leader of the Eagles offence as well as a mentor for Wentz. I am optimistic about Bradford, I think given he is healthy and is in another year with mostly the same offensive players and an improved offensive line, he could actually have a good year if health is on his side.
Doug Pederson's offence is extremely QB friendly, Bradford will have control at the line of scrimmage which is something he never had with Chip Kelly, the prime example of that was Week 17 against the Giants where Bradford actually looked like he was having fun for the first time all year. Being 1st pick in the draft comes with it's pressures, being 2nd pick in the draft believe it or not also brings high expectation. This slightly odd Quarterback situation could come as a blessing in disguise that we have all failed to see.
What we see is $$$ signs and lot's of them for 3 starting calibre quarterbacks, when you think about the situation Wentz is surrounded by I honestly couldn't think of a better group in the league to be around, coaching staff who have played the QB position and Bradford a former number 1 pick. Sure he isn't Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers but the much maligned quarterback has a wealth of experience in terms of the added pressures of being exactly what Wentz is.
Give Sam a chance this year, as long as we are paying him we are playing him.
2016 is a clean slate in Philadelphia, we kind of know what to expect but at the same time we kind of don't. There is no point grading the Eagles on if they make the playoffs or not because this isn't what the off-season has been about. This Eagles team is being built for the future, if playoffs come this year, I put it down to it simply being a bonus to a successful off-season.