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May 09, 2017

Five Eagles players who need to play to potential in 2017

While the Philadelphia Eagles are far from a complete team by any measure, their 2017 season does have promise. They have what they think is a franchise quarterback, weapons in the passing game, and some very good players (although a lack of depth) at all three levels of their defense.

For the Eagles to make the next leap in becoming a playoff team, it would help considerably if some of their players can live up to their potential in 2017. Here are five players who need to step up their game for the Eagles to have a chance.

Zach Ertz, TE

Ertz is a very talented receiving tight end who has put up good numbers over his four year career.

 Zach ErtzRec Yards YPC TD 
 201336 469 13.0 
 201458 702 12.1 
 201575 853 11.4 
 201678 816 10.5 
 TOTAL247 2840 11.5 13 

However, one knock against Ertz is that a large portion of his numbers over the last two seasons have come at the end of the season, with the Eagles out of contention for the playoffs. There's some validity to that, though it is fair to note that Ertz battled injuries in the beginning of the season in each of the last two years.. Here are Ertz's number in September and October over the last two seasons:

 Zach Ertz (Sept/Oct, 2015/2016)Rec Yards TD 
2015 24 170 
 201615 150 
 TOTAL (12 games)39 320 

Ertz also widely drew criticism a year ago for his aversion to contact (by us, here and here). He was a much more physical player down the stretch, most notably after the Eagles loss in Cincinnati, when he passed on the opportunity to block Vontaze Burfict, who was trying to chase down Carson Wentz on a quarterback scramble.

It seems that every year Ertz is viewed as a "breakout candidate." I don't see it that way. He's more of a "step up" guy, in my view. Ertz has always clearly shown that he is a quality receiver at the tight end position. He is more than capable of putting together a monster season, but his play must remain consistent from September to January, and it would help if he got some more dog in him.

Torrey Smith, WR

Is it weird to put a newly signed player on this list? Maybe, I guess. However, the reality is that while the Eagles bolstered their receiving corps this offseason by adding Smith, Alshon Jeffery, and two rookie draft picks, they still need quality production this season from Smith.

In my view, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham can't be counted on for much of anything at this point, and the rookies (Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson) may take some time to acclimate to the NFL as receivers. The Eagles need Smith to produce now.

In March, we put together a video of all of Smith's targets in 2016. While his quarterbacks were dreadful, that excuse only goes so far. Smith was fifth on his team in receiving yards, and his play, regardless of the players around him, was bad.

The Eagles need Smith to be more like the player he was in Baltimore than the one he was in San Francisco.

Lane Johnson, OT

When Johnson played last season, he was excellent, and the team went 5-1. When he was out, he was very clearly missed. Yes, I know there was weirdness and a lot of gray area in the NFL's approved supplement policies, but just stick to granola bars and Gatorade going forward, Lane.

Vinny Curry, DE

In 2014, Curry had nine sacks and four forced fumbles (in addition to several other sacks that were negated by penalties). He did that damage while only playing on 32 percent of the team's defensive snaps. That was the reasoning behind signing him to a five-year, $46.25 million contract during the 2016 offseason that now looks really bad.

In most games a season ago, Connor Barwin was completely ineffective as a pass rusher, and typically bad against the run as well. It's odd that Curry couldn't get on the field more than he did, and even when he did, he could not produce impact plays.

Next offseason, if the Eagles decide to move on from Curry and get out of his contract, they would save $5 million in cap space, with $6 million in dead money. If Curry has a similar season in 2017 to the one he had in 2016, that decision will be a no-brainer. 

Curry has ability as a pass rusher. He has shown it. He needs to show it again both for himself and for the defense to maximize its ability to produce big plays.

Fletcher Cox, DT

Cox had a really good season in 2016, collecting 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble, despite being the focus of attention for opposing offensive lines. Still, I believe he's better than what he showed in 2016. Cox has the ability to be an All-Pro, and at times last year he played like one. With a deep and talented defensive line around him, Cox's high level of play ideally will be more consistent.

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