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May 01, 2020

Drafting an all-time Eagles fantasy football roster

Eagles NFL

Terrell Owens hauls in a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Donavan McNabb during the 2004 season.

The start of the fantasy football season, much like the return of sports in general, is still a ways away. But with no games playing, that means there's plenty of time to debate things we wouldn't otherwise get a chance to discuss. And we've got a good one for you today.

Most people have had to draft a fantasy team in the past, and are familiar with the strategies involved. But we wondered what would a team made up of some of the best players in Eagles history look like. Where would there be the toughest decisions? Who would be the most obvious choices? The biggest surprises? 

So that's what we've done, building a standard fantasy football roster* using only Eagles players — man, bye week is going to be tough. We used standard scoring and are basing this only on what the players did during their time in Philadelphia, not their entire careers. For some, that was helpful. For others, costly. And, for the sake of this exercise, we assume this fantasy season will take place in the current NFL, not the respective eras each individual played in. Got it? Good.

*QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, TE, FLEX, K, D/ST, and six bench spots

You're surely going to disagree — and it might not even take you more than player for that to happen — but that's kind of the whole point of this. It's just as much subjective as it is objective. Let the debate begin. 

QB - Donovan McNabb

This was not an easy decision to make, and was by far the most difficult of the bunch. But ultimately we landed on Donovan McNabb as our starting quarterback. The other top three contenders — Carson Wentz, Randall Cunningham and Michael Vick — are all capable and probably wouldn't result in too much of a drop-off from a fantasy perspective if you decided to start them instead. 

Here's a look at each player's per-game fantasy points total (using standard scoring) during their Eagle careers.

Carson Wentz17.74
Donovan McNabb16.88
Michael Vick16.10
Randall Cunningham15.97

So why are we not going with the guy who has put up the most points per game? That's because, of the four, Wentz has the greatest advantage playing in the current NFL with the rules shifting to benefit quarterbacks and their receivers, and in turn the league becoming more passer-friendly. And the belief here is that if McNabb entered the league at the same time as Wentz, his numbers would likely be higher.

Furthermore, McNabb not only brought a strong passing game (like Wentz), but could also scramble and score using his feet (like Cunningham and Vick), something that's very important in fantasy leagues. Obviously McNabb wasn't the most prolific rusher of the group listed above, but his numbers in that regard are good enough — and his passing numbers are much better than Cunningham and Vick. 

Since Vick and McNabb played in the same era, it shouldn't be hard to see why we went with one over the other — especially since we're only counting Vick's time in Philly and not his years in Atlanta. But the real final debate was on what sort of numbers Cunningham would have put up had he played in the current NFL as opposed to the more defense-friendly NFL of the 1980s and 90s. 

Ultimately, however, we decided to go with McNabb. Sure, he had the luxury of playing with a Hall of Fame receiver in Terrell Owens for a year and half, but he otherwise had absolutely nothing around him in terms of wide receivers and was still able to be one of the most prolific NFL quarterbacks year after year during his prime. Sure, the same can be said about some of the other quarterbacks on this list, especially after what we saw Wentz working with last year, but even Wentz has had better wide receiver play over his time in Philly than McNabb had. Yes, they were just that bad. 

But in a modern offense, with the skill players we have listed below, we'd put our money on McNabb absolutely balling out — and the best part is the fantasy season is over before the actually playoffs start, so we wouldn't have to worry about any air-guitar or controversial on-field vomiting. 

RB - LeSean McCoy

LeSean McCoy is the Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards, so it shouldn't be much of a surprise to find him listed as our first running back. He's a threat on the ground and as a receiver out of the backfield. He was one of the best fantasy players in the league during his prime and would have even more value if this was a PPR league. Unfortunately, McCoys arrival in Philadelphia lined up with the end McNabb's tenure, and it really would've been something to see the two of them together in their primes, although that didn't seem to slow Shady down as he got a couple years with reincarnated Michael Vick.

Not only did McCoy have sustained success over his time in Philadelphia, but he also had one of the best seasons in team history in 2011, when he scored a team record 20 total touchdowns (17 rushing), and followed that up two years later in 2013 with the most rushing yards (1,607) and yards from scrimmage (2,146), leading the NFL in both categories that year. Sign me up.

RB - Steve Van Buren

If you're of a certain age, this pick might seem a little controversial on it's face. After all, where's Wilbert Montgomery?!? Well, he didn't make our starting lineup and I'd love to explain why before you all jump on me... 

Van Buren played before most of you reading this were born, but that doesn't mean his accomplishments should be diminished. In fact, they should be given even more credence given the era in which he played. He may have only lasted eight years in the NFL, but in that span, Van Buren led the league in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns four times, in yards per game five times, and total yards from scrimmage twice. He was a five-time Pro Bowler and is in the Hall of Fame. He's certainly got the resume, but what makes him more worth than Wilbert? 

Montgomery's best season was in 1979, when he scored nine touchdowns and led the league with 2,006 scrimmage yards. And while he has it all over Van Buren in total yards that season, Van Buren actually has the better yards per game number for his career (70.6 YPG vs. 65.4). 

But the biggest gap is in scoring, which can be the big difference-maker in fantasy. Here's a look at the five best seasons in terms of rushing touchdowns in Eagles history.

1LeSean McCoy201117
2Steve Van Buren194515
3tSteve Van Buren194713
3tRicky Watters200613
5*Steve Van Buren194911

*Tied with Ricky Watters (1995) and Tom Sullivan (1974).

And did I mention that the seasons were only 12 games long back in Van Buren's day? I rest my case.

WR - Terrell Owens

This was a no-brainer. Terrell Owens is a Hall of Famer, and despite only playing 21 games in Philadelphia he's the best wideout to ever wear the uniform. We already know how deadly the McNabb-Owens connection can be — at least when the two are getting along. If having these two requires putting a marriage counselor on our bench in place of an extra running back or wide receiver, so be it. McNabb and Owens playing together (and happy) would be a deadly one-two punch. 

WR - Harold Carmichael

For as much as I'd love to pair deep-threat DeSean Jackson with Terrell Owens, I've gotta go old school here. Because Harold Carmichael was an absolute freak. At 6-foot-8, there's never really been another receiver like him. And even though he played during an era (1971-84) that wasn't as passing-friendly as it is today, he still put up numbers. Over his 13-year Eagles career, Carmichael averaged just under 700 yards per season, 15.2 YPC and six touchdowns. Those numbers aren't anything special by today's standards, but he was big and fast, and just imagine what he'd be able to do in red-zone situations in the modern NFL when defensive backs aren't allowed to body receivers or even really use their hands at all. He'd have six inches on even the taller DBs. You tell me how they're stopping him...

MORE: Ten of the weirdest and wackiest Eagles stats, team records

TE - Zach Ertz

On first glance, it feels like Zach Ertz is a slam dunk pick here, but it actually isn't as clearcut as you'd think with old-timer Pete Retzlaff making a strong case that it should actually be him over Ertz. However, Ertz has played just seven seasons compared to Retzlaff's eleven, so he has some time to catch up to his predecessor's impressive numbers. And since Ertz plays 16 games per season compared to Retzlaff's 12, it's hard to go on season averages or even career averages since the latter did the majority of his damage in the latter part of his career.

What we can do, however, is take a look at their per-game stats through each of their first seven seasons to see how they stack up. It's actually very close.


It also doesn't help that none of us have seen Retzlaff play live, because his 18.2 YPC as a tight end is absolutely absurd, but it was a very different NFL he played in. We might be making the wrong pick here with Ertz over Retzlaff, but we'll take our chances. 

FLEX - Wilbert Montgomery

Did you really think I was going to leave Wilbert off our team? 

Actually, he almost got relegated to the bench as I originally had Brian Westbrook in the FLEX spot on the roster. And if this was a PPR league, the nod would've almost certainly gone to Westbrook, who has the second-most scrimmage yards in a season in team history. But with Wilbert having the next two on the list, it makes this a little easier to go with him over B-West. Still, this was one of the toughest decisions on our roster and it's really splitting hairs if you prefer one over the other. Growing up during the Westbrook Era, it felt like I might be a little more biased to the newer guy which is why we originally had him here (plus, Westbrook was the epitome of a flex player so it just made sense), but ultimately we went old school.

Don't worry, Westbrook didn't get left off the team entirely... 

K - David Akers

This and T.O. were probably the only two positions where we didn't even need to look up numbers to know who we were taking. It certainly helped that he played on high-scoring offense, while some other great kickers didn't have that luxury, but we can't hold that against him. 

D/ST - 1991

This isn't just the best defense in Eagles history. It's arguably the best defense in NFL history, although the '85 Bears and Minnesota's Purple People Eaters might have something to say about that. And they'd certainly have arguments. 

The Eagles defenses under Jim Johnson that were anchored by Brian Dawkins (specifically 2002 and 2008) were both strong contenders, but ultimately that '91 unit was just too good, especially considering what was going on on the other side of the ball. Just a couple of years ago, ESPN and Football Outsiders named the 1991 Eagles defense as the best of the last 30 years — which would, of course, exclude the two defenses listed above. Here's a look at what they had to say:

Looking at raw points scored and allowed can sometimes disguise the true strength of a defense because of problems on the other side of the ball. No team in modern NFL history exemplifies this quite like the 1991 Eagles. After Randall Cunningham tore an ACL 15 minutes into the first game of the season, the Eagles' offense collapsed. The defense spent the season constantly defending short fields. So while the Eagles gave up just 3.92 yards per play, the third-best figure since the move to a 16-game season in 1978, they finished fifth overall in points allowed in 1991.

Opposing quarterbacks completed just 44.1 percent of passes, the lowest rate for any defense since 1978. They led the NFL with 55 sacks and 43 forced fumbles. They finished third with 26 interceptions. And the defense wasn't one-dimensional: The Eagles allowed just 2.97 yards per carry on the ground, which ranks fifth since 1978. They put up these obscene numbers in standard stats despite playing the fourth-toughest defensive schedule in the league. Their division rivals finished first (Washington), fourth (Dallas) and sixth (New York) in offensive DVOA.

This was the late Buddy Ryan's defense, but without Ryan. He had been fired as head coach at the end of 1990. Rich Kotite was the head coach and Bud Carson the defensive coordinator. Three of the four defensive linemen were selected as first-team All-Pros: Reggie White, Jerome Brown and Clyde Simmons. Linebacker Seth Joyner and cornerback Eric Allen joined them in the Pro Bowl.  []

Yes, please.

BENCH (x6) - QB Carson Wentz, RB Brian Westbrook, RB Ricky Watters, WR Tommy McDonald, WR DeSean Jackson, TE Pete Retzlaff

Many of these guys we've already discussed above, so let's talk about a few we haven't covered yet...

•  RB Ricky Watters — He might best be known for his "For who? For what?" line, but Watters was a beast during his brief time in Philly and led the league in yards from scrimmage with 1,855 yards in 1996, his last of five consecutive Pro Bowl seasons. He was only in Philly for three seasons (1995-97) but still managed to amass 5,112 total yards (3,795 rushing) and 32 total touchdowns. All three of his seasons rank in the top 13 in Eagles history in terms of rushing yards and, as we noted above, he has two of the top 5 seasons all-time in terms of rushing TDs.  

• WR Tommy McDonald — McDonald doesn't have the career numbers of some of the other players on this list, but boy could he score. He's seventh in team history in receiving yards but has played fewer games than every one of the players above him on that list. And despite playing just 88 career games, he is second only to Mike Quick in terms of total touchdowns (66). He also is the team's all-time leader in YPC (min. 30 receptions), and he did all of this back in the late 50s and early 60s. He's a Hall of Famer who made five straight Pro Bowls for the Eagles and posted four straight seasons with double-digit receiving touchdowns. He deserves a spot.

• WR DeSean Jackson — There's an argument to be made that if DeSean didn't get hurt last season, he could've found his way into a starting spot on this team. Even still, the speedy deep threat deserves a place on our roster. His touchdown numbers (just 34 receiving TDs in 90 games with the Eagles) don't help, but he's still the fourth leading receiver in franchise history and would've passed Mike Quick and moved into third with just a couple more games in 2019. With a full season, he might've had an outside shot at catching Pete Retzlaff for second all-time. And if you look at yards/game, he's second behind Terrell Owens (min. 5 games).  

And in case you're wondering, Mike Quick would've been our next pick (and we originally had him before opting for Retzlaff instead). Randall Cunningham was also a very strong contender, but ultimately he fell just short (feel free to rip us for that). Sorry, guys.

Before wrapping up, let's take one last look at our roster:

QBDonovan McNabb
RBLeSean McCoy
RBSteve Van Buren
WRTerrell Owens
WRHarold Carmichael
TEZach Ertz
FLEXWilbert Montgomery
KDavid Akers
D/ST'91 Eagles
BNCarson Wentz
BNBrian Westbrook
BNRicky Watters
BNTommy McDonald
BNDeSean Jackson
BNPete Retzlaff

Well, that's all we've got for you. Please, tell us what we got wrong and how you'd fill out your roster in the comments below. 

Follow Matt on Twitter: @matt_mullin

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