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September 03, 2015

Breakfast with the Birds: Brandon Graham due for a big year?

Eagles NFL

The folks at Grantland do really good work, and their two main football writers delivered some Eagles content yesterday. First, Bill Barnwell wrote a post about past trends that could repeat during the 2015 season. In the “Pass-Rusher Paid to Blossom in a Bigger Role Who Delivers” category, he went with Brandon Graham.

After impressing in limited playing time throughout his pro career, Graham enters the 2015 season as an unquestioned starter at the Predator position. Playing opposite of the versatile Connor Barwin, he will get plenty of chances to rush the passer:

The Eagles let Graham hit free agency, but after moving on from Trent Cole, they weren’t willing to let Graham actually leave. He ended up agreeing to a four-year, $26 million deal with $13 million in guarantees, impressive figures for a player with just 17 sacks across his first five seasons. Graham should finally get his chance to start this season after doing it just once in 2014 — and the longtime Grantland NFL Podcast favorite should be able to push toward a double-digit total as one of Philadelphia’s primary pass-rushers in 2015.

Sticking with the Birds, Barnwell gave Sam Bradford the nod as “The Injury-Riddled Player Who Finally Stays Healthy and Breaks Out” (These are ultra-specific categories). The 2014 version of this player, according to Barnwell? DeMarco Murray:

There will still be concerns about Bradford when the season starts. His still-developing offensive line will need to coalesce and keep the former Oklahoma star upright. His young receiving corps, also being overhauled for the second consecutive offseason, will need to take a step forward. And Bradford will need to trust himself; for all his physical ability, he seemed to exhibit a serious mental block about throwing deep in years past. But if you’re looking for the Murray profile of a talented player who could make a lot of money by staying healthy at the right time, Bradford is the most plausible comparison. He’s football’s biggest lottery ticket in 2015.

On the subject of Bradford, Robert Mays wrote a piece that outlined Chip Kelly’s thinking at the quarterback position:

It’s still (extremely) early, but the factors that could have led an optimistic person to feel good about how Bradford might translate to Kelly’s style have been on display all preseason. The inhuman accuracy from his first two college seasons — when he completed a combined 68.5 percent of his passes — has been there in both of his preseason starts. Bradford’s 10-for-10 line on Saturday was impressive, but seeing him perfectly locate throws to receivers in reasonably tight coverage was even more encouraging. If his ball placement is on, the simple decisions and quick tempo in Kelly’s offense could help turn Bradford into the point guard/distributor he was allowed to be in Norman; it’s his best chance to become what St. Louis envisioned when it selected him with the no. 1 pick five years ago.

Wednesday recap

1. Interesting Eagles writing, part one: Just this past offseason, Chip Kelly was given more power than any head coach in the NFL other than the two that met up in last year’s Super Bowl. I’ll go out on a limb and say he isn’t on the hot seat because of Nick Foles and Tim Tebow, Washington Post.

2. Interesting Eagles writing, part deux: Oh, ESPN, where to start? Let’s just say that “Fletcher Cox, star” is already very much a thing and Connor Barwin doesn’t play on the defensive line.

3. Kiko's debut: Usually the starters sit out the fourth and final preseason game, but offseason addition Kiko Alonso figures that he needs to see some actual playing time before the regular season starts. The 25-year-old linebacker hasn’t played in a game since 2013.

4. Jimmy’s chat: There are a bunch of questions in here about who will make the final 53-man roster. The subjects include Barkley/Tebow, a difficult call at safety, and whether or not there are going to be any surprises with the final cuts.

What they’re saying

NFL 25 Under 25 Rankings: Mike Sando and Mel Kiper Jr.

Insider only, but two Eagles crack the list of the league’s best young players, Fletcher Cox (6th) and Mychal Kendricks (23rd). Now, here is a real question for Kiper: Does he physically have an actual big board somewhere in his home? He has denied it before, but I’m not buying it.

Three reporters at the Philadelphia Daily News recently named Cox as the Eagles player most likely to earn All-Pro recognition this season. PFF had Cox as its fifth-rated 3-4 defensive end last season. Unless your name is J.J. Watt, it's tough for 3-4 defensive ends to collect enough sacks to gain notoriety. Cox has averaged a shade over 4.0 sacks in his three pro seasons.

Kendricks, sixth in PFF grading for inside linebackers last season, says he wants to become the NFL's best pass-rushing inside linebacker. A recent contract extension from the Eagles suggests they're optimistic as well. Missing six games over his first three seasons stands as one small concern.

2015 NFL award predictions: MVP, Rookie of the Year and more: staff

The Eagles that receive multiple votes are Nelson Agholor (Offensive ROY), Chip Kelly (COY), and Sam Bradford (Comeback Player of the Year). Here is what former Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick has to say about Sammy B:

Bradford looked like a very promising rookie in 2010 under offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and while Chip Kelly is clearly in charge of the offense in Philly, don't discount the relationship between the reunited quarterback and coordinator.

Brian Billick likes Eagles over Cowboys for the NFC East: Fox Sports Southwest

Let’s make today Brian Billick Day. He thinks that the Cowboys are going to miss DeMarco Murray:

"I'm going to be interested in the style of running game they want to establish. Obviously, DeMarco Murray, the power running game, what he was able to do. He always got positive yards. That's the thing I always like about DeMarco Murray, a little like Frank Gore. You were always going to get positive yards. It may not have been huge gains, but you weren't going to be in a whole lot of second-and-12, second-and-14. Even if it was second-and-8, that was better than what I mentioned earlier.

"I don't know that the running game that they have right now is going to give them that same consistency. That was a big part of the mechanics of that offense moving forward and then you set up the big play down the field obviously to Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. And Tony Romo performed maybe the best year of his career. He had the balance of that running game."

NFC ceiling/floor scenarios: Elliot Harrison,

I slightly disagree with Harrison here and believe that the Eagles should be a game higher in both categories:

Ceiling: 12-4. How does Philly soar to 12 wins? Sam Bradford realizes the potential everyone's been waiting to see him fulfill since his legendary pro-day workout back in 2010. (Just keep him out of the read-option a little more often, please.) DeMarco Murray stays upright and Jordan Matthews goes from pretty good rookie to sexy sophomore.

Floor: 7-9. This team is too talented to go 6-10 or worse. I think. Even if Bradford gets hurt again, Mark Sanchez can be adequate in his stead. That said, if Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell falter, that's a problem. And if the new-look O-line fails to live up to Jason Peters' lofty expectations, this offense won't rack up the points at the rate everyone anticipates.

What's On My Playlist: Connor Barwin: Sports Illustrated

I had no idea that Barwin was born deaf and still has trouble hearing out of one ear. On the other hand, I did figure him for a Hall and Oates guy. Really, who isn’t?

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann