May 20, 2020
For it being the middle of the NFL offseason — with no practices or real workouts currently taking place around the league — there sure are a lot of angles to cover when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles. But that's one of the beautiful things about being a sports fan in this city: even when the entire world comes to a grinding halt, there are sports topics worth debating.
And today's edition of What They're Saying is full of debates worth having for Eagles fans. Is Carson Wentz a top-tier NFL quarterback? How will the Eagles use second-round pick Jalen Hurts? And is Miles Sanders poised for a MVP-caliber season?
We'll get into all that and more, so let's not waste any more time with a silly intro...
Over at CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora posted his 2020 QB rankings, in which he separates all the starters around the league into different tiers based on how good he thinks they are heading into the upcoming season. And two things immediately jumped out.
First, it was Carson Wentz' placement in the top tier, alongside a handful of former MVP winners. But what made this even more eye-popping was that just last offseason, La Canfora had Wentz in the third tier, "Rising Stars." No other quarterback from that tier actually rose, with Sam Darnold and Jared Goff dropping and Jimmy Garoppolo staying put. The other thing that jumped out, given all the recent comparisons between the two, was that Wentz also remained ahead of Dak Prescott, who was a Tier 4 QB ("You Can Win With Them") last season and jumped to Tier 2 ("Top Pros, Proven Winners") in 2020.
Here's a look at the where Wentz landed in 2020, among the "Bona Fide Franchise Quarterbacks."
Tier 1: Bona Fide Franchise Quarterbacks
2019: Aaron Rodgers Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Patrick Mahomes, Andrew Luck
2020: Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Brady, Brees, Rodgers, Carson Wentz, Roethlisberger
There should never really be more than eight quarterbacks in this cluster – the top 25 percent on planet earth. And extreme youth, or guys over the age of 36, continue to reign supreme. I was super high on Jackson since his draft selection and his MVP season was one for the ages. Mahomes is the best football player on earth. Wilson is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer who seems destined to be better appreciated down the line than, by many, in realtime. I do have some reservations about a few guys in this group, however.
I believe it's fair to ask if Rodgers' best work is in the past. That is not to say he does not still possess elite traits, but the DNA of that franchise is changing and this coaching staff may still prove to be an odd match for him -- he won't be finishing his career in Green Bay, regardless. Big Ben coming off an elbow surgery gives me some pause and Brees' injury history the last few years makes me wonder a bit, too. If Wentz stays healthy, and I understand that is a bit of a big if, he will be in the MVP conversation. Book it. [cbssports.com]
One of the names thrown around when the discussing the Eagles' options with Hurts has been Saints' Swiss army knife Taysom Hill. And according to Rodger Sherman of The Ringer, a lot of teams are looking for guys with that skillset. Although the comparison between Hurts and Hill might not be the best one.
Just about half of the NFL has been described as searching for a “Taysom Hill-type” or “their own Taysom Hill.” Sometimes, this label is used on players seeking a path similar to Hill’s—late-round or undrafted college quarterbacks who hope to catch on with NFL rosters by displaying positional versatility. Last year, the comparison was made for sixth-round pick Trace McSorley and undrafted QBs Nick Fitzgerald and Eric Dungey. This year, seventh-rounder Tommy Stevens was pegged as a “Taysom Hill clone.”
However, the Hill comp is somehow also used for virtually any athletic quarterback. When the Eagles picked Jalen Hurts in the second round of this year’s draft, it was repeatedly said that Hurts was a Taysom Hill type. Both Hurts and Hill had exactly 1,047 passing attempts in college, but Hill had roughly 50 percent of Hurts’s touchdown total (Hill had 43 touchdown passes; Hurts had 80) while throwing roughly 50 percent more picks (Hill had 31 interceptions; Hurts had 20). Neither their talents, production, nor draft value are comparable—but hey, they’re both fast! [theringer.com]
But just because Hurts is a different player than Hill, that didn't stop the Eagles from going out and getting a guy who is a lot closer to the Saints star. Here's more from Sherman:
Every team should want a player like Hill, but that’s easier said than done. There aren’t a ton of guys who can run a 4.4 40, and the ones who exist generally aren’t so versatile. Hill is a great runner, a capable run blocker, and an effective route runner. On top of all that, he’s a decent thrower. Earlier in this piece, that probably sounded like an insult, but let me be clear—it’s a miracle.
There are a few Taysom Hill types in the most recent draft class. My personal favorite is Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who signed with the Eagles after going undrafted. Tate had a stunning sophomore season as a runner, with three 200-yard rushing games, but suffered from injuries and struggled when his college coaching staff tried to convert him into a pocket passer. I’d also spotlight Lynn Bowden Jr., drafted in the third round by the Raiders. Bowden is listed as a running back, but played wide receiver at Kentucky and took over as the team’s starting quarterback toward the end of 2019. He’s also willing to play special teams, as evidenced by this spectacular 99-yard touchdown he scored as a high school punter. [theringer.com]
While the comparisons between Hurts and Hill might be a little exaggerated, there is another successful example the Eagles can use when trying to figure out how to implement their new dual-threat quarterback on offense. Tim McManus of ESPN took a look at how the Eagles might use Hurts more like the Ravens used Lamar Jackson during the first half of his rookie season, before he became the team's starter (and went on to win an MVP award in his second season).
Hill's usage was similarly high in 2018 -- his first season as a regular on offense -- as the Saints ran 175 plays with a two-quarterback look.
The Ravens' use of Jackson in his rookie season was more moderate and more closely resembles how the Eagles likely will operate, especially with little time to acclimate Hurts to the offense amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Baltimore ran 56 plays with two QBs in 2018. Jackson averaged 9.5 snaps over the Ravens' first nine games before overtaking Flacco as the starter, throwing the ball 11 times while rushing three times per game on average.
The Ravens' offensive coordinator at the time? Marty Mornhinweg, who now serves as a senior consultant on the Eagles' staff.
"He felt very similar in Jalen as he did in Lamar," Pederson said of Mornhinweg's evaluation of the two quarterbacks.
"Having Marty look at Jalen and his skill set and what he can do, and then how they put plans together, how they designed an offense around putting Lamar in his rookie season and allowing him to play certain plays, it's all part of the process." [espn.com]
Not only did the Eagles add a different type of weapon with Hurts, but they also added a more traditional weapon around starter Carson Wentz this season: speed. And lots of it.
Additionally, some of the guys the Eagles added can do more than just run fast in a straight line, and that may give Doug Pederson and Wentz some more opportunities to mix things up on offense after a rather blah campaign in 2019. They made some big changes on offense, both on the field and in the coaching room, but Tommy Lawlor sees it less a teardown of their old offense and more of a way of adapting that offense to adjust to a rapidly evolving NFL landscape.
The Eagles also adapted on offense by focusing on speed. The front office and coaching staff watched the offense march down the field methodically last year. They saw a team that got old and slow in a hurry. That had to change so they brought in Marquise Goodwin, Jalen Reagor, John Hightower and Quez Watkins. Those guys can all fly. Reagor and Hightower combined for 59-641-4 as runners in college. You can throw it to them or hand it to them and they can make plays.
Jalen Hurts will give the offense a weapon to use creatively. I firmly believe he was drafted to be a QB, but I’m sure it wasn’t lost on the Eagles coaches that the top offenses last year did some creative things.
The Ravens led the league in scoring and ran a very creative offense, led by a brilliantly talented dual-threat QB. The Niners had WR Deebo Samuel run the ball 14 times. They faked to him 114 times (felt like it, anyway) and that made it tough on defenses. Niners receivers were 2-2-51 with a TD when they threw the ball. The Saints used Tayson Hill as an effective role player. Both SEA and NE scored TDs on trick plays against the Eagles.
There are times when you must be able to really open up the playbook. The Eagles have better schematic ideas on how to do that, but also better personnel to do that. [igglesblitz.com]
It may have taken half a season — and an injury to Jordan Howard — to really get Miles Sanders going, but once he did he proved to be one of the best young weapons in the NFL and earned his way into offensive rookie of the year discussions.
Now, the Penn State product is ready for an even bigger role in 2020, and given the current state of the running back room, that feels like a foregone conclusion at this point.
After an injury to Jordan Howard last season thrust Sanders into the starting duties, he led the Eagles in carries during his rookie campaign. In 16 games, the back carried the ball 179 times for 818 yards with three TDs, adding 50 receptions for 509 yards and another three scores.
Sanders told SiriusXM NFL Radio that he "absolutely" sees himself handling a bigger load in 2020.
"I believe that's why they drafted me in the first place," Sanders said. "It was really just a switch, honestly, that turned. All of a sudden, I was a starting running back, and I didn't start at the beginning of the season. So, I just looked at it as an opportunity, and I just attacked it."
Currently, Boston Scott and Corey Clement sit as the two Eagles RBs most likely to cut into Sanders' workload, but both are change-of-pace-type backs. Sanders has a clear path to early-down carries and a bulk of the snaps. [nfl.com]
Sanders doubled down on that enthusiasm on Wednesday during a workout, making a bold proclamation for the upcoming season:
My confidence is through the roof and I know what I can do for this team, I ain’t apologizing for saying that, just don’t be surprised when it happen!— Miles Sanders (@BoobieMilesXXIV) May 20, 2020
Over at CBS Sports, Pete Prisco ranked the 100 best players in the NFL, and the Eagles were well represented, with six players making the list, and one other (Carson Wentz) making the list of players just to miss the cut. Last week we looked at the handful of Eagles players to make PFF's Top 101 of the last decade, so we figured we'd also share this list of the best players right now.
Here's a look at the Eagles players who made the cut:
30. Lane Johnson
Philadelphia Eagles T
He missed four games last season, and the Eagles offense struggled without him. He's a really good run blocker, but he's also good in pass protection.
54. Fletcher Cox
Philadelphia Eagles DT
His sack numbers fell from 10.5 in 2019 to 3.5 last season, as his play fell off from his dominant 2018 season. Even so, he remains one of the better interior pass rushers.
55. Brandon Brooks
Philadelphia Eagles G
This 31-year-old is a perfect fit for the Eagles run scheme. He can push big people, but he's also athletic.
68. Zach Ertz
Philadelphia Eagles TE
In 15 games, he had 88 catches for 916 yards and six touchdowns – even though he battled a late-season injury. He's never been a great run blocker, which drops him down some here.
76. Jason Kelce
Philadelphia Eagles C
He isn't big or powerful, but he's smart and athletic, which is perfect for the Eagles offense. He can move for a center and that helps him to stay near the top of the center rankings.
96. Darius Slay
Philadelphia Eagles CB
He wasn't as good as his reputation for the Lions last season, but he still has the talent to be a top-tier corner. That's why the Eagles made the move to get him. [cbssports.com]
Even though it's probably the only safe way to resume sports at the moment, not having fans at home games is going to be a huge loss for NFL teams in 2020. And the Eagles will be among the biggest losers, as they could miss out on over $200 million worth of stadium revenue this season.
I know it's hard to feel bad for billionaire owners, but that loss is almost certainly going to trickle down to lower level employees, especially those who work concessions, parking lots, and security around the Linc.
It is quite possible that the NFL will play its 2020 season without spectators in its stadiums. What would that mean in dollars and cents for the league?
The NFL would lose $5.5 billion of stadium revenue (the sum of tickets, concessions, sponsors, parking and team stores)—or 38% of its total revenue—based on figures for the 2018 season (ranking below). But the impact on the individual teams would vary greatly. For example, the Dallas Cowboys and the New England Patriots would lose over half their total revenue while the Buffalo Bills, the Tennessee Titans and the Cincinnati Bengals would lose less than one-third.
1. Dallas Cowboys $621 million $950 million 2. New England Patriots $315 million $600 million 3. New York Giants $262 million $519 million 4. Houston Texans $218 million $497 million 5. New York Jets $218 million $475 million 6. San Francisco 49ers $208 million $492 million 7. Washington Redskins $205 million $493 million 8. Atlanta Falcons $204 million $458 million 9. Philadelphia Eagles $204 million $482 million 10. Green Bay Packers $174 million $456 million
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