May 10, 2015
No NFL team is going to go through a full season unscathed in the injury department, but if the Eagles can get through the 2015 season with their most important players staying intact, they could be in decent position to go back to the playoffs. However, a few key injuries could really cripple them.
Below are the 10 players the Eagles can least afford to lose to injury. Obviously, some of the below choices are the Eagles' best players, but we tried to also consider their importance to the scheme, depth behind them (which again, is a huge concern for the 2015 Eagles), long-term vs short term effects, and other factors.
I struggled to pick a player for this 10th spot, but I think Rowe's rookie season is more important for his development than Nelson Agholor's. Rowe is a long, athletic, physical specimen with a high ceiling, but he is inexperienced at cornerback. Rowe played his first three seasons in Utah at safety, and only his senior season at corner. The Eagles are right to start him out at corner, which is the more important position, but there's a good chance he's going to get torched early in his career. He may as well take his lumps sooner than later and learn from it. If he were to miss this season, it's a total washout of a year in which he can be developed. Agholor is more polished, and has a higher floor, so his rookie season is less crucial for him to get his feet wet.
Clearly, the Eagles are going to run the ball a lot in 2015. They traded LeSean McCoy, but added a pair of physical downhill runners Murray and Ryan Mathews. Murray led the league in rushing yards a year ago by a margin of almost 500 yards. With a starting quarterback coming off two ACL tears, a strong rushing attack is essential to keep pressure off of Sam Bradford to go out and put the team on his back.
Here's are the numbers the Eagles' receivers put up in 2014:
In other words, the only receivers on the Eagles roster who put up more than 100 receiving yards a year ago were Riley Cooper, who stunk out loud in 2014, and Miles Austin, who hasn't been a good player in years.
Josh Huff has higher expectations in 2015, and Agholor has a great chance to earn a starting job, but Matthews is the only wide receiver on the Eagles' roster who is extremely likely to produce in 2015. Matthews is clearly the best weapon in the passing game, and there really isn't anyone else as of right now who could be considered all that close. If he goes down, you're likely seeing another full season of Riley Cooper starting on the outside.
David Molk played well enough a season ago when Kelce went down for a few games, but Kelce is one of the best centers in the NFL and an integral part of the Eagles' communication up front in the trenches.
Cox is a rare case on this list of a player who is a legitimate beast in the NFL. Unfortunately, he plays in a scheme that doesn't allow him attack and be as disruptive as he might be in a different defense. For that reason, if he were lost, it would absolutely hurt, but it wouldn't necessarily be a devastating loss because of the somewhat minimized importance of his position.
Malcolm Jenkins will start at one safety spot this season. But who will start at the other spot?
• Earl Wolff hasn't been able to stay healthy.
• Jaylen Watkins is an unknown at this point in his career. He bulked up this offseason to potentially move to safety from corner, possibly out of sheer necessity.
• Chris Maragos and Chris Prosinski are great special teams players, but not passable as a 16 game starters.
• Ed Reynolds and Jerome Couplin III were mainly practice squad players in 2014.
• Rookies JaCorey Shepherd and Randall Evans could get some looks at safety, but we're talking about a pair of sixth round picks here, so it's wholly unrealistic to count on either player to be a competent starter at safety in their first year in the pros.
There are certainly a lot of bodies at safety, but the thought of one of them stepping up in 2015 is an optimistic view. The thought of two of them stepping up in 2015 if Jenkins were to go down is borderline delusional.
The Eagles don't have much in terms of depth at OLB, unless Marcus Smith makes a giant leap this season. In theory, the Eagles could move one of their 37 ILBs out to OLB in a pinch, but obviously, that's not ideal. Barwin does everything for the Eagles' defense. He can play the run, he can cover, and last season he tied for fourth in the NFL with 14.5 sacks. The Eagles ask him to do a lot, and he does it.
We already saw Peters go down for the season before it ever got started back in 2012. That team went 4-12. As I've written multiple times in depth (here and here), the Eagles' depth at OL should be cause for major concern in 2015 and beyond. If Peters were to go down, here are their options along the offensive line as the roster currently stands:
|If Peters gets hurt...||LT||LG||C||RG||RT|
|Option 1||Allen Barbre||Evan Mathis||Jason Kelce||Matt Tobin||Lane Johnson|
|Option 2||Lane Johnson||Evan Mathis||Jason Kelce||Allen Barbre||Andrew Gardner|
|Option 3||Lane Johnson||Evan Mathis||Jason Kelce||Matt Tobin||Allen Barbre|
|Option 4||Andrew Gardner||Evan Mathis||Jason Kelce||Allen Barbre||Lane Johnson|
None of those options are pretty.
If the Eagles lost Johnson, they would be in trouble in the short term for similar reasons as the ones noted above with Peters. However, the difference here is that the Eagles will eventually need Johnson to kick over to left tackle whenever Peters' inevitable decline occurs. I do not believe the Eagles are serious Super Bowl contenders in 2015. Therefore, I think the short term loss of Peters wouldn't be as meaningful as the long-term effects of Johnson's stunted growth.
My friend Tommy Lawlor at IgglesBlitz.com revealed very private conversations on his blog that we had back in February:
Jimmy Bama and I were talking on the phone the other night. After a lengthy argument over whether Funyuns go better with red wine or white wine, we shifted the talk to free agency. Both of us feel that the Eagles essentially have to sign CB Byron Maxwell. In fact, we almost take it for a given that they will.
This isn’t a case of inside information. Rather, the Eagles are desperate for corner help and Maxwell is the top guy on the market. He also fits the scheme and comes from a winning organization.
Maxwell feels like a player the Eagles must get.
First of all, white wine, clearly.
But also, that is true about Maxwell. Tommy and I pretty much thought of Maxwell as already being on the team way before free agency began, because of the Eagles' gaping chasm at CB.
In 2015, the Eagles are going to face the following #1 receivers on their respective teams: Odell Beckham Jr x2, Dez Bryant x2, DeSean Jackson x2, Calvin Johnson, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Larry Fitzgerald, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans (or Vincent Jackson if you'd prefer), Kelvin Benjamin, and Marques Colston (or Brandin Cooks). The Eagles will also face Rob Gronkowski, who may deserve the attention of a bigger corner.
It's not as if Maxwell is among the league's elite at CB by any stretch, but he's an above average starting CB, and the only proven outside corner the Eagles have. If they lose him, they're likely starting a rookie and whoever outlasts the rest of the bunch.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski