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January 29, 2018

10 surprise players who helped the Eagles get to the Super Bowl

The Eagles have their share of star players – Carson Wentz, Fletcher Cox, and Malcolm Jenkins, to name a few – and their contributions certainly helped Philadelphia get to the Super Bowl. 

However, without the supporting cast stepping up and having big seasons, the Eagles might not be here. They got major contributions from players with lower expectations heading into the season. Here are 10 players who helped the Eagles get to where they are today, in no particular order.

1) C Jason Kelce: After an offseason in which the Eagles were most certainly willing to deal him, Kelce had easily the best season of his career. He was good in pass protection, and outstanding both in the run game, and (as usual) getting out in front in the screen game. The Eagles are lucky that a good offer never came, as Kelce was probably the best center in the NFL this season. His replacement likely would have been the disappointing Isaac Seumalo.

2) LB Mychal Kendricks: Like Kelce above, Kendricks was also on the trading block, and the team almost struck a deal to send Kendricks to the San Francisco 49ers back in March. Kendricks had a really good season, collecting 77 tackles and 2 sacks, but most importantly, just playing sound defense and avoiding the errors in coverage and tackling that have plagued him throughout his career. Had they traded Kendricks, the Eagles may have been unprepared to deal with the loss of Jordan Hicks.

3) WR Nelson Agholor: Agholor had a breakout season, catching 62 passes for 768 yards and 8 TDs, making a number of spectacular plays in the process. Agholor went from potentially becoming one of the biggest draft busts in Eagles history, to a player they will almost certainly use their fifth-year option on this offseason. 

4) QB Nick Foles: Many (like myself) thought of Foles as a very good backup quarterback, capable of winning during the regular season if the starter went down for a few games, but not a guy who was likely to lead a team on a deep playoff playoff run if the starter was lost for the season. Even those reasonable expectations plummeted further when Foles looked horrendous in the Eagles' final regular-season games against the Oakland Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. And then... the light bulb went on, Foles had one quality start against the Atlanta Falcons and then an incredible one against the Minnesota Vikings, and, well, the Eagles are now in the Super Bowl.

5) CB Patrick Robinson: Through the first two weeks of training camp, Robinson was so bad that I not only wondered if he wouldn't make the team, but I thought there was an outside chance he might be gone before the Eagles had to make final cuts. Slowly but surely, Robinson got a little better every day, and eventually became one of the best slot corners in the NFL this season. His pick-six of Case Keenum was an enormous momentum-changing play in the NFC Championship Game, when the team badly needed one.

6) LG Stefen Wisniewski: The Eagles all but handed the LG job to Isaac Seumalo before the season began, and when Seumalo faltered, the Birds went to a weird LG by committee approach with Wisniewski and Chance Warmack splitting reps. It became very clear, very quickly, that Wisniewski was much better than Seumalo or Warmack, and he earned the starting LG job full-time, while producing a really solid season. On one of the biggest plays in the playoff game against the Falcons, Wisniewski took out three Atlanta defenders on a screen play to Jay Ajayi.

7) DE Chris Long: Like Robinson above, Long was a free agent signing late in the free agency process this past offseason, and he has paid off bigtime. He provided the assist on Robinson's pick-six by hitting Keenum as he threw, which affected the pass. He also recovered the fumble on Derek Barnett's strip sack in the same game. On the season, Long chipped in 5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles, excellent numbers from a rotational defensive end.

8) RB Corey Clement: Back in training camp, I didn't think Clement should have made the roster. Welp, that was wrong. Clement has proven to be an effective third-down back for the Birds, as he has been far better in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield than what he showed in college at Wisconsin. The Eagles haven't been afraid to use him in the playoffs, and Clement has rewarded them with a few key first downs.

9) S Corey Graham: Early in the season, Graham, playing hurt, had an ugly moment, when Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt ran right by him for a long TD. Ever since, Graham has been nothing but a solid third safety who has given Jim Schwartz a little added flexibility in the Eagles' defense. Graham helped seal the Eagles' win over the Giants down the stretch with great coverage on TE Evan Engram. In the playoffs, he played 34 snaps against the Vikings, and 24 snaps against the Falcons. Don't be surprised if Schwartz values Graham's experience against a pass-heavy Pats team in the Super Bowl.

10) OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Big V had his struggles during the regular season, but he had a solid performance against the Falcons, and he shut down feared Vikings pass rusher Everson Griffen in the NFC Championship Game. When the Eagles needed him to step up most, Vaitai delivered clutch performances protecting Foles' blind side.

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