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August 30, 2021

What they're saying: Eagles don't have a single player in ESPN's 'NFL Rank' Top 100

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Fletcher_Cox_Eagles_Camp_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Someone must've just told Fletcher Cox he didn't make ESPN's list of the top 100 NFL players...

Two weeks from today, and the first game of the Nick Sirianni Era in Philly will officially be in the books. There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding this team after a head coach and quarterback change this offseason was followed by a preseason full of vanilla play calls that only saw the starters play together for a few series. 

Sure, the Eagles will tell you that they learned a lot more about themselves from their joint practices with the Jets and Patriots than they did in their three preseason games, and that the reps from those practices were more important to both their players and their coaches than some meaningless preseason games. Which, sure, I guess. But that doesn't mean that there aren't important aspects of the game-day experience that can't be simulated on a practice field, with a fraction of the number of fans and nearly none of the pressure that comes with real football. And, yes, the preseason is only a shadow of real football, but the experience is certainly closer to the real thing than glorified practice reps. 

But with how much stock teams seem to now put in these joint practices, it's almost worth wondering whether or not the preseason is worth it at all. That, however, doesn't matter anymore for 2021. The preseason slate is over. And the only thing standing between the Birds and their season opener in Atlanta is two week's worth of practice and a plane ride.

With training camp and the preseason in the books — and final roster cuts looming on Tuesday — let's take a look at what the local and national media are saying about the Eagles... 

And then there were none

Tim McManus | ESPN

Every year over at ESPN, they post "NFL Rank," their list of the top 100 players in the NFL. This year, one year after having five players show up on the list, the Eagles were completely shut out, with not a single player ranking in the Top 100 according to ESPN's football writers. Last year, Carson Wentz (No. 39), Zach Ertz (48), Fletcher Cox (49), Darius Slay (61), and Lane Johnson (71) all made the list. The Jaguars were the only other team not to have any representation in 2021.

Given that the Birds are projected to near the bottom of the NFL this season by oddsmakers and those putting together the power rankings and predictions, it's not entirely surprising that they didn't have as many players on the list as they did in past years, but to go from five to zero — with four of those players still on the roster — is a bit odd. And almost makes you feel like it was done intentionally to get the exact type of reaction you're currently reading

Really, Fletcher Cox isn't one of the top 100 players in the NFL? He went from the top half of the list to out of the Top 100 after having more tackles and sacks than he did the year prior, despite playing in one fewer game? I understand Zach Ertz being left off given the emergence of some other tight ends — he isn't even the best tight end on his own team anymore — and the fact that he is coming off the worst year of his career. Lane Johnson, who was banged up all of last year, is also understandable given his injuries over the last few seasons. Darius Slay wasn't his best last season, but he still deserved consideration. And where's Brandon Graham, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl season after recording eight sacks last year. Or Jason Kelce?

As Tim McManus wrote in his defense of the list — ESPN pretty much had to have him do this or they risked the wrath of Eagles Twitter — perhaps age was a factor here, with the writers betting these players (all over 30) take a step back in 2021. A couple, sure. But all of them? It's almost like ESPN made this list specifically to fire up Eagles fans, who aren't going to be celebrating many wins on the field this season and therefore could certainly use some off the field. 

That being said, a combination of age, playing for what will likely be a losing team, and some recent injuries appear to be the things holding the Eagles back most from having a player crack the list. 

Why the Eagles didn't have a player on ESPN's 2021 NFL Rank: The Eagles deserve zero accolades, individual or otherwise, coming off last season. Did you watch them play? Their four-win campaign was so bad it ended with the only Super Bowl-winning coach in franchise history, Doug Pederson, getting fired, and one-time franchise quarterback Carson Wentz being shipped out.

The offensive line was so banged up, it set an NFL record with 13 iterations in the first 14 weeks. Eagles quarterbacks were sacked 65 times. Their leading wide receiver, Travis Fulgham, finished with 539 yards. The defense managed eight interceptions, third worst in the NFL. Do I need to go on? The Eagles were terrible, and it dragged everyone's individual value down in the voting process.

Who had the best shot of making this year's top 100? Graham, Cox and Slay came the closest to making the top 100, according to the results from ESPN's expert panel. Graham deserved the most consideration of the three after posting eight sacks and making his first Pro Bowl in 2020.

Age could be factoring into the projections of Graham (33 years old), Cox (30) and Slay (30). The same might be said for center Jason Kelce (33), but he deserves more respect. He has quietly built a career worthy of Pro Football Hall of Fame consideration, has started 16 games each of the past six seasons despite a litany of injuries, was the one constant on an ever-changing offensive front in 2020, and continues to play at a high level.

Who is the most likely to crack the list in 2022? Slay, Cox, Johnson and guard Brandon Brooks all have a decent shot if their health allows. And, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson came in way up at No. 37 overall on the 2021 NFL Rank after one great season, so it's possible reigning Heisman Trophy winner and 2021 Eagles first-round draft pick DeVonta Smith could vault into the top 100 in 2022. Third-year running back Miles Sanders is showing signs he could be on the verge of a breakout season if he can be more consistent as a pass-catcher out of the backfield.  []

So, wait, was it age that was holding guys like Cox off the list? Why are all their veterans listed first among the players most likely to make it next year? Did the flow of time reverse? 

Also, for what it's worth, a trio of Eagles made the NFL Network's list of the Top 100 players in the league: Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce and Brandon Graham. 

A case of Minshew Mania

Reuben Frank | NBC Sports Philadelphia

Over the weekend, the Eagles traded for Jaguars backup Gardner Minshew to help give them some better depth than Nick Mullens in the QB room. 

Some scoffed at the signing, wondering why the Eagles would make such a move when they already have Jalen Hurts and Joe Flacco. But it really makes all the sense in the world, even if it's simply a low-cost depth move and nothing more. 

Here's a look at some impressive numbers from the former sixth-round pick over his first two seasons in the NFL courtesy of Roob... 

1. Minshew as a rookie in 2019 completed 61 percent of his passes with 21 touchdowns, six interceptions, a 91.2 passer rating and 233 yards per game. Among rookies who’ve thrown at least 400 passes, that passer rating is 4th-highest in NFL history, behind Dak Prescott [104.9], Justin Herbert [98.3] and Baker Mayfield [93.7]. His 233 yards per game are 9th-highest ever by a rookie, his touchdown ratio [one every 22 attempts] is 7th-best ever by a rookie and his INT ratio [one every 78 attempts] is 3rd-best ever.

2. Minshew’s career interception ratio of one every 72.5 attempts is 3rd-best in NFL history among quarterbacks who’ve thrown at least 500 passes. He trails Jacoby Brissett [one every 75.6 attempts] and Aaron Rodgers [one every 74.0].

3. Minshew is one of only five quarterbacks in NFL history with a passer rating over 90 in each of his first two seasons (minimum 250 attempts each season). The others are Dan Marino, Marcus Mariota, Ben Roethlisberger and Russell Wilson.  []

Minshew over Flacco for QB2?

EJ Smith | The Philadelphia Inquirer

But the belief here, and elsewhere, is that Minshew is more than just a depth move for the Eagles. For starters, there's a really good chance that, whether or not he overtakes Flacco as QB2 this season, he'll be the Birds' backup in 2022 no matter the starter given that he's still got another year left on his rookie deal after this one. 

There's also a good chance that he's able to overtake Flacco as the backup given the former Super Bowl winner's age and the fact that he likely won't be on the team beyond 2021. Sure, the Eagles are paying Flacco a lot (read: too much) which might make them want to stick with him as the No. 2 longer than they should, but as former Eagles president Joe Banner points out, the Eagles also gave up a future asset to acquire Minshew, something they likely wouldn't have been willing to do for a typical third-stringer. If they wanted to, they simply could've waited until after cuts were made and then tried to pick up an alternate QB to replace Mullens.

Instead, they made a trade. That should at least tell you something.

EJ: What are your thoughts on the Eagles trading for Gardner Minshew?

JB: I think it’s a smart move, and I’m actually surprised the Jaguars couldn’t get a little bit more in a trade for him. He’s a quarterback who can start and win. I’m not telling you he’s a quarterback that can put a team on his back, and carry them, but he’s a quarterback that can start and win and that’s actually a fairly small percentage of even the backups in the league.

EJ: Do you think Minshew is the presumptive favorite to take over the backup job?

JB: I don’t think they would have given up a draft pick, of course it’s contingent, so it’s not like it’s etched in stone, but I think it’s highly likely that he’s their backup quarterback, otherwise they wouldn’t have made this move.  []

Do I think he's coming for Hurts' job? No, but I do think the presence of a young QB who has shown potential rather than just a veteran playing out one last season, will, right or wrong, give Hurts a lot shorter of a leash when it comes to the fanbase. This season was supposed to be a fact-finding mission to discover if Hurts is the guy going forward, and the concern with some is that it could become derailed if Hurts struggles and isn't given enough time to right the ship. 

Because, let's be honest, even though we all know this year shouldn't just be about wins and losses, Philadelphians are not a patient group. And we hate losing. 

An affordable insurance policy

Albert Breer | MMQB

Over at MMQB, Albert Breer is also apparently a fan of the Eagles trading for Minshew, even if it is what it appears to be on the surface — a solid move to add some depth at the most important position in the game in a season in which there's an extra game. But it could be more than that... 

I like the Eagles’ trade for Gardner Minshew. The 25-year-old arrives in Philly with 20 starts, 5,530 yards and 37 touchdown passes against just 11 picks on his résumé. He’s on the books for $850,000 this year and $765,000 next year. So the team keeps three quarterbacks, and insurance against Jalen Hurts’s slumping or Joe Flacco’s getting hurt, then gets an experienced backup for ’22 at next to nothing. And if he becomes more than that, then great. But at a baseline, landing a quarterback with that much experience, at that age, at that price, for just a sixth-round pick (a fifth if he plays more than half of the snaps in three of the Eagles’ games) is 100% worth it.  []

That wasn't the only mention of the Eagles in Breer's column. He also published some snippets of an interview with Nick Sirianni and Robert Saleh from the team's joint practices and dropped a nugget about the Birds fielding some calls about their offensive linemen and linebackers. Jimmy Kempski has more on that — and who the Eagles might be willing to deal — here

Grading the rookies

Chris Franklin |

Finally, let's take a look back at training camp before we fully turn our attention ahead to the season opener against the Falcons. 

Over at, Chris Franklin graded all the rookies on their performance in camp and the preseason. We're not going to include first-round pick DeVonta Smith here — you'll have to click over to see what he got — but I've picked out on of my favorite rookies to watch during the preseason. Perhaps not-so-coincidentally, he received high marks from Franklin... 

RB Kenneth Gainwell

After a slow start, Gainwell has started to show why the Eagles were happy he fell to the fifth round.

Gainwell has been used in a variety of ways in the offense. Gainwell has lined up as a receiver and as a running back, catching the ball effectively and using his speed to get yards after the catch. Gainwell has also run the ball well, averaging 5.6 yards on 12 carries.

The Eagles can insert Gainwell in specific offensive packages, especially those involving him in the slot, matching him up potentially against a linebacker or a safety. Gainwell appears to be on track to have a productive season.

Grade: B  []

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