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November 10, 2017

10 Eagles players who are exceeding expectations

Eagles NFL

The biggest reason for the Philadelphia Eagles' overwhelmingly surprising success this season has been the emergence of second-year quarterback Carson Wentz. You can also perhaps give a hat tip to the play of the defensive line and the leadership of a quality coaching staff led by Doug Pederson, among other things.

However, one of the other major reasons for the Eagles' 8-1 start has been the play of a lot of players who at one time were either afterthoughts or out of favor. Here are 10 players (Wentz aside) who have exceeded expectations in 2017, in alphabetical order.

1) WR Nelson Agholor

Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Agholor was awful. He had a paltry career 59 catches, 648 yards, and 3 TDs, despite starting 26 games. He also took two touchdowns off the board by not lining up correctly and had more than his share of egregious drops.

Back in May, I published an article titled "Nelson Agholor suddenly being good is wholly unrealistic," debunking the idea that Agholor would have some breakout third season in the pros like Demaryius Thomas of the Broncos or Jordy Nelson of the Packers did in the past. I closed with the following paragraph:

Can Agholor still go on to be a player like Jordy Nelson or Demaryius Thomas? Sure, it's possible, I suppose. But it's similarly realistic that Scarlett Johansson will show up at my door today and beg me to be her boyfriend. In that sense, I'm certainly rooting for him*.


Agholor has become a legitimate weapon for Carson Wentz as a slot receiver in the Eagles' offense, catching 29 passes on 42 targets for 428 yards and 5 TDs. In fact, when Eagles quarterbacks have targeted Agholor this season, they have a passer rating of 141.7.

I'll take my crow medium rare, please.

2) LB Nigel Bradham

Bradham had a good season for the Eagles in his first season in Philly in 2016, but he has taken his game to a new level in 2017, and has possibly put himself in the conversation for players the Eagles will try to re-sign this offseason. 

As we noted in a "gifs and stuff" a few weeks ago, Bradham was an absolute beast against the Carolina Panthers, making a high number of huge plays that helped the Eagles win that game.

3) RB Corey Clement

When Clement made the final 53-man roster back in September as an undrafted rookie, I'll admit that I didn't get it. Clement isn't fast, he didn't catch the ball well in camp, he struggled in pass pro in college to the point where he mostly stayed on the bench on third downs, and in my view, was the kind of player you can find anywhere.

On the season, Clement has carried the ball 48 times for 182 yards (3.8 YPC) and 3 TDs. He has also chipped in 3 catches for 46 yards and 2 TDs in the passing game, and the team seems to feel most confident with Clement in pass protection over the other backs on the roster, though none of them do that particularly well.

Still, while his ceiling is low because of his physical limitations, Clement has proven to be a valuable role player who has made a number of big plays.

4) DE Vinny Curry

During the 2016 offseason, Curry signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract. In the first year of his new deal, Curry had a disappointing season, posting just 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks while playing only 42.6 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.

As such, we named him among five Eagles players whose futures could be affected by the 2017 NFL Draft, seeing as the Eagles selected Derek Barnett in the first round.

In 2017, Curry has had a good season, particularly against the run, which was previously a significant wart on his overall game. At one time it looked like Curry would be a no-brainer 2018 offseason cap casualty. Now? That's still possible, but no longer an obvious decision.

5) K Jake Elliott

Whenever you have to sign a kicker during the season, that's not ideal, but Elliott has become a local legend with his ability to hit the long ball. Elliott's PATs have been a little shaky (he has missed 3 of 27), but he has connected on 9 of 10 field goal attempts from 40-49, and 5 of 6 on attempts of 50+ yards. And of course, one of those 50-plus yard attempts was his 61-yard game winner against the Giants:

6) C Jason Kelce

Kelce improved late in 2016 but was (we'll be kind) a below average starting center for the first half of that season. During the offseason, the Eagles wanted to trade Kelce and thought he might fetch something decent in return. That did not happen, and Kelce remained with the team.

It's a good thing he did because, in 2017, Kelce has legitimately played at a Pro Bowl level.

7) LB Mychal Kendricks

Another player the Eagles dangled as trade bait this offseason was Kendricks, who was almost dealt to the San Francisco 49ers around the time of the 2017 NFL Combine. Kendricks wasn't a good scheme fit, as his best attributes weren't being utilized by Jim Schwartz, and frankly, he simply wasn't playing well regardless. As a result, Kendricks rode the bench, and he wasn't happy about it.

In 2017 after a strong training camp and preseason, as we showed in a "gifs and stuff" post, Kendricks is somehow a good player again, which is extremely fortunate for an Eagles team that lost their best linebacker, Jordan Hicks. On the season, Kendricks has 47 tackles, 2 sacks, and 6 pass breakups.

8) CB Jalen Mills

In his rookie season, Mills took on a more extensive role than expected, playing 663 (64.8 percent) of the team's defensive snaps. He contributed 61 tackles and seven pass breakups, but did not have any interceptions or forced fumbles, and was often the target of opposing passing attacks.

It was reasonable to expect Mills to progress from Year 1 to Year 2 in the NFL, but Mills has taken a big jump forward. Through nine games, Mills has 43 tackles, 10 pass breakups, and 3 INTs, one of which he returned for a TD. He has looked like a legitimate NFL starter, and suddenly, the Eagles have envious depth at corner.

9) CB Patrick Robinson

After signing a one-year veteran minimum deal in Philly this offseason, Robinson had an absolutely brutal start to training camp, as he was getting roasted, badly, on a daily basis.

After the first 10 practices of training camp, I polled 30 Eagles media observers, asking them to give me one player whose stock was up, and one whose stock was down. Robinson (rightfully) led the team with 14 "stock down" votes.

 CB Patrick Robinson14 
 WR Shelton Gibson10 
 RB Donnel Pumphrey
 DT Elijah Qualls
 RB LeGarrette Blount
 CB Rasul Douglas

Undaunted, Robinson simply got better every day and has become a very good slot corner for the Birds. He's fifth on the team in tackles (29), and he has at least a share of the team lead with 3 INTs, 11 pass breakups, and a blocked kick.

10) OG Stefen Wisniewski

When the Eagles signed Wisniewski to a contract extension this past offseason, I remember seeing the text alert from the Eagles on my phone and thinking, "What the hell? Really?" It turns out that was a wise move, as Wisniewski has taken over as the Eagles' starter at LG for the struggling Isaac Seumalo, and has played well.

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*I will politely turn Scarlett down if that now happens, Amy.