January 08, 2018
In the first quarter of the 2017 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles went 3-1, and as you might imagine, they mostly earned good grades. After a perfect 4-0 second quarter of the season, the Eagles began to look like serious Super Bowl contenders at 7-1. After going 3-1 in the third quarter of the season, losing only to the Seattle Seahawks, they only solidified their immense promise.
And then... Carson Wentz tore his ACL. Still, after Wentz's devastating injury, the Eagles still managed to go 3-1 down the stretch, with their only loss coming in a meaningless Week 17 game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Let's hand out individual grades for the fourth quarter of the season, and then calculate their cumulative grade point averages.
QB Carson Wentz: Wentz only played in one game in the final quarter of the season, and he was outstanding, throwing for four TDs and breaking the Eagles' single-season record for touchdown passes in a season. He even threw one after tearing his ACL, showing incredible toughness. Obviously, we've all seen what the offense looks like without him. Wentz is the MVP of the NFL, in my view.
QB Nick Foles: The Eagles were obviously not going to be as potent on offense in transitioning from Wentz to Foles, but the Eagles' win over Oakland really revealed the differences between the two players.
Everything Foles does is slower. His release is slower, the ball gets to its target slower, decision making is slower, his foot speed is obviously slower, and even with Wentz often holding onto the ball longer than most quarterbacks, it seems that the time from snap to throw is significantly slower.
In the Oakland game, Foles was 19 of 38 for 163 yards (4.3 YPA), 1 TD, and 1 INT, for a QB rating of 59.4. Frankly, those poor numbers don't properly tell the story of how bad he was that night. It really could have been much worse, as Raiders safety Reggie Nelson dropped a gift pick-six.
The Eagles were hoping to see progress the next week against Dallas. They didn't get it. On the day, Foles was 4 of 11 for 39 yards, with no scores, and a QB rating of 9.3 on four drives. He struggled fielding shotgun snaps that weren't that bad and threw probably the ugliest interception of the Eagles' season.
Foles did play OK in relief of Wentz against the Rams, and then in his first start against the Giants. I stress "OK." His stats against the Giants (4 TD passes, for example) looked good on paper, but did not match the eye test. Foles looked like a competent quarterback in those games, and that's really the only thing keeping him from earning an F.
The Eagles' offense, led by Foles, just looks like it's in slow motion.
QB Nate Sudfeld: In his only action of the season, I thought Sudfeld showed that he is worth developing behind Wentz. The Eagles didn't score any points, but Sudfeld displayed good enough arm strength, better mobility than I had anticipated, and he didn't seem rattled by the moment. Accuracy and decision making will need to improve.
RB LeGarrette Blount: Over the last four games, Blount had 28 carries for 82 yards (2.9 YPC) 0 TDs, and a long rush of 9 yards. The loss of Wentz has prompted opposing defenses to pack the box, so there's a reason he's been less effective. Still, Blount has not been the hard runner defenses don't want to tackle in the cold weather that some hoped he would be. The offense needs him to do a better job softening up defenses with powerful runs when he gets his opportunities in the playoffs.
RB Wendell Smallwood: Smallwood is a complete non-factor at this point.
RB Corey Clement: Over the third quarter of the season, Clement saw a decreased role, carrying 13 times for 55 yards (4.2 YPC) and 0 TDs. He had 3 catches for 35 yards. It was interesting that Clement had just 1 carry against the Cowboys in the season finale, which is an indication Doug Pederson wanted to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Clement may have a decent role in the playoffs.
RB Kenjon Barner: Barner hasn't played much in the regular offense, however, he is the team's primary returner. Barner had muffed punts against the Raiders and Cowboys. Make no mistake, that is a huge concern. In the Rams-Falcons matchup, Rams kick returner Pharoh Cooper had a disastrous game, helping lead to the Falcons' win. Just field it cleanly, Kenjon.
RB Jay Ajayi: Ajayi is very clearly the Eagles' best running back, and Pederson was wise to have him inactive Week 17 vs. the Cowboys. In the three games he played in the final quarter of the regular season, Ajayi had 41 carries for 179 yards (4.4 YPC) and 0 TDs. He also had 5 catches for 63 yards and a TD. Ajayi is the Eagles' best hope for running the ball against packed boxes.
WR Alshon Jeffery: As we noted a couple weeks ago, on average, according to the NFL's 'Next Gen Stats,' Jeffery averages just 1.8 yards of separation between himself and the nearest defender at the time of catch or incompletion. That is the lowest amount of separation in the NFL among all receivers and tight ends with a minimum of 40 targets.
Jeffery biggest strength is making contested catches, which requires a quarterback willing to "throw him open." However, those tight throws require timing and rapport with his quarterback, and that's just not something he has right now with Nick Foles. In three (or 2.5 or whatever) games with Foles, Jeffery had 5 catches on 14 targets for 57 yards, and 1 TD.
He is a good receiver when he can play with a familiar quarterback, who ideally also has good arm strength. With a player like Foles, he's simply not as useful as a receiver who can gain separation and make it easier on less talented quarterbacks.
WR Torrey Smith: Smith had a big game against the Rams, catching 6 passes for 100 yards, and then he went right back to being the often invisible receiver he was for most of the season. Also, the awful drop against the Cowboys Week 17 was not uncommon for him. Smith's hands are a concern heading into the playoffs when the Eagles need their receivers to make plays and help out Foles as much as possible.
WR Nelson Agholor: Agholor had 22 catches on 30 targets for 169 yards (7.7 YPC) and 1 TD over the last four games. His yards per catch were very low, which is understandable with Foles at QB. He's probably the Eagles' best option at receiver with Foles in the game, because of his ability to create separation. They'll need strong performances from Agholor during the playoffs.
WR Mack Hollins: Hollins caught 13 of his first 14 targets as a rookie, through his first 12 games. In his last four, he has cooled off considerably. He did not have any catches on three combined targets against the Rams, Giants, and Raiders. He did have 3 catches on 5 targets against the Cowboys. Still, many fans would love to see Hollins replace Smith in the lineup. That's not going to happen, but I can't blame them.
TE Zach Ertz: Ertz was leading all NFL tight ends in receiving earlier this season, but his numbers have cooled off considerably in the second half of the season:
The Eagles need Ertz to be a monster again in the playoffs.
TE Trey Burton: We didn't even give Burton a grade during the first quarter of the season because he didn't play much. However, he has gotten more playing time as the season has progressed, and he had a huge game in the Eagles' crucial win in LA when he had 5 catches for 71 yards and 2 TDs. He has set himself up nicely for some other team to wildly overpay for him in free agency this season. Good for him, potentially bad for the Eagles.
TE Brent Celek: Celek had 5 catches, 30 yards, and a TD. This may be his last season in Philly
LT Jason Peters: Peters was having an outstanding season when he was lost for the year with a torn ACL and MCL.
LG Stefen Wisniewski: Wis was injured in the Rams game, and it was quickly apparent how much they missed him after he went down. Nobody is pining for Allen Barbre anymore.
C Jason Kelce: Kelce's first-team All-Pro nod was deserved.
RG Brandon Brooks: Brooks doesn't get beaten in pass pro, and while he's not the mauler you might expect of a 330-pound guy, he makes a lot of great blocks in the run game. Brooks was an excellent free agent addition last offseason, and his Pro Bowl nod was warranted.
RT Lane Johnson: Last quarter, we wrote, "If Johnson doesn't make an All-Pro team this year, then the voters simply haven't watched him." Well, I guess they watched. Kudos.
OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Vaitai has allowed five sacks this season, most of which have been obvious situations in which he's been smoked by the edge rusher opposite him. While he is a good reserve swing tackle who can play both sides, I don't believe he is a player the Eagles should view as a long-term starter at either OT spot.
LG Chance Warmack: Warmack had to step in and play for Wisniewski against the Rams. That did not go well. He did play better in subsequent performances though.
LG Isaac Seumalo: Seumalo played quite a bit at center in the Eagles' meaningless game against the Cowboys. I'd be a liar if I claimed to watch him closely in that Week 17 game.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski.
Like Jimmy on Facebook.
Like the new PhillyVoice Sports page on Facebook.