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December 06, 2019

Mailbag: Which Eagles positional groups are overachieving, and underachieving?

Eagles NFL
4_11032019_EaglesvsBears_Nelson_Agholor_KateFrese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles WR Nelson Agholor garnered the lowest "stay" percentage on the team.

In our Eagles chat on Wednesday, there were a lot of questions that we could not get to in time or other questions we did answer but could use more color. And so, let's do a mailbag post to answer some of the overflow.

Question from greenwithenvy: Who will be sacrificed once this turd of a season finally swirls around the bowl and disappears out of sight?

Ha, what a poetic phrasing of that question. We played “Assistant Coach Stay or Go” on the podcast this week, so this is already covered ground, but I thought Doug Pederson gave an interesting quote on Thursday about holding positional coaches accountable.

“You hold them accountable by the way their position plays, number one,” he said. “All these things I do at the end of the season and go back when I evaluate, which is probably the next question out of your mouth. But I do it that way.

“And I'm up front with the coaches from day one, from -- all the way back to OTAs when we’re coming out of that off-season before OTAs. I make a statement with the coaches. I'm probably giving you more information than you need, but I want to be up front with them as well.

“Say, ‘Listen, your performance is based on your players and how well they perform.’ Obviously they can't control injury and all that. That's where it starts. The message is clear early in the season. It's just not now. It's been addressed earlier in the year.”

Normally, if Doug were to be asked about positional coach accountability, if things were all hunky dory, he’d just dismiss that question. But nope, he addressed it, which to me means that he is indeed not thrilled with the jobs that some of his assistants are doing.

Because Pederson specifically stated that assistant coach performance is based on their players’ performances, let’s go position-by-position, and determine which positional groups are performing, and which groups are under-performing:

Quarterback: Carson Wentz has gotten little to no help, but he has still had his share of rocky moments along the way this season. In my view, Wentz remains very talented, but he’s only been “good, not great,” if even that. Under-performing.

Running back: Miles Sanders came into the NFL with three clear obstacles to overcome:

  1. Pass protection
  2. Receiving chops
  3. Fumbling issues

Though not yet a complete player as a runner (I believe that will come), so far, Sanders has been better than expected in all three above areas. Meanwhile, when healthy, Jordan Howard has been a pleasant surprise after a down year with the Bears in 2018. Over-performing.

Wide receiver: I think we’ve beaten this dead horse enough this season. Under-performing to an extreme degree.

• Tight end: Dallas Goedert has really come along as a blocker, but I think it’s fair to have hoped he’d be a little more productive as a receiver, though certainly the nonthreatening nature of the wide receivers on the outside makes that more difficult on the tight ends. Neutral.

Offensive line: Save for a game in which he probably shouldn’t have been asked to play RT, Andre Dillard’s progress has been fine so far, as he has played reasonably well for a first-round rookie when he has filled in for Jason Peters at LT. Otherwise, this remains the strongest positional group on the team. Neutral.

Defensive line: In my view, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat have all improved, and I wouldn’t ding the positional coach for an under-performing, but dinged-up Fletcher Cox (and others). Over-performing, when considering injuries.

Linebacker: Nigel Bradham has regressed, but Nate Gerry has improved. Is Kamu Grugier-Hill playing enough? Slightly under-performing.

Defensive backs: Before the Dolphins debacle, the Eagles were getting overachieving performances from their seconadary for four straight games against the Bills, Bears, Pats, and Seahawks. That’s the good. The bad is that Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas have not become starters, and Jones in particular is a huge disappointment. Under-performing.

Special teams: The Eagles have been churning the hell out of the back of their roster, which can’t be easy on the special teams coordinator. Additionally, the front office hasn’t provided a viable threat at the return positions, so that’s a significant obstacle to overcome as well. That said, there’s nothing really special about the Eagles’ special teams other than Jake Elliott, and I’m not sure how much credit there can go to the coach. Under-performing, but with some valid reasons.

In my view, it’s a no-brainer to fire wide receivers coach Carson Walch at the end of the season, and it sure looks like Mike Groh’s time to shine as the offensive coordinator has run out as well. If I’m Doug Pederson, the decision would already be made that I’d have a new offensive coordinator, quarterbacks coach, and wide receivers coach next season, and I’d evaluate the rest very closely when I have some time during the offseason.

Question from 'I hate Monday night games': Taking 3 guys in the same position (essentially) has worked before to get at least 2 (Barnett/Williams/Bellamy and Lito/Sheldon/Lewis). Why not 3 WRs?

This draft is so loaded with receiver talent, and the Eagles are so desperate for better players at wide receiver, that I'd be surprised if they didn't at least double-dip at that position, including using their first-round pick on one.

Just for fun, I looked for recent "triple-dips" by the Eagles at various positions, and it doesn't happen very often:

 YearPosition Players (round taken) 
 2015CB Eric Rowe (2nd), JaCorey Shepherd (6th), Randall Evans (6th) 
 2011LB Casey Matthews (4th), Brian Rolle (6th), Greg Lloyd (7th) 
 2010DE Brandon Graham (1st), Daniel Te'o-Nesheim (3rd), Ricky Sapp (5th) 

2015 was the draft in which Chip Kelly had full control, while the Eagles had a lot of picks in 2010 (13!) and 2011 (11). The Eagles are currently projected to have 10 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft, so if there were a year I could see a triple dip at a position, it would be in this upcoming draft at receiver.

Question from The 3 Amigos: The Eagles have drafted one good WR in like 30 years, and fans want them to spend 3 picks on WR's on a roster with more holes than a block of Swiss cheese?

Yes. While it's certainly fair for the fan base to doubt the front office's ability to draft that position, it's not like they can just stop trying, especially with a very poor 2020 WR free agent class upcoming.

The Eagles need to evaluate how/why they have failed to find and/or develop talent at wide receiver position this offseason, because -- I'll save you the suspense -- they are going to draft it.

Question from Gary: Doesn't it make sense to trade Zach Ertz now before his value tanks? He truly is a check-down artist who runs good routes but still cant block, and will only regress.

No, that does not make sense, and no, he's not just a "check-down artist." And really, I'm not even sure what that means.

There are some things you can quibble about in regard to Ertz's skill set (blocking, lack of YAC, etc), but he is still a top-5 TE and is, by far, is the best weapon the Eagles have in their passing attack. In a down year, he has 27 more catches and 246 more receiving yards than the next-closest player on the team. Additionally, from a financial perspective, it'll cost more to trade him than to just keep him. He's not going anywhere.

Question from Roynell the Seal: Jimmy, could you tell us a little bit about your feud with next Eagles OC Mike Kafka?

I don't have a feud with him. But, I did have an unfortunate experience with him. In either 2010 or 2011 (not sure), I was covering an Eagles training camp practice up at Lehigh, when there were thousands of fans there every day. We (the media) were allowed to be on the field, a couple yards off the sidelines, in front of where the fans were in the bleachers.

Kafka threw high on an out route, and the ball was coming right to me. No panic. I know I can catch a football. I can catch the f*** out of a football. So I calmly dropped my notepad and pen on the ground and put my hands up to catch the throw. And "FFFFFFFTTTTTT," it went right through my hands. Gross. Like, Agholor-style. 

The entire section of fans, rightfully, let me have it. "BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!" It was a well-deserved booing, and my failure to catch a pass from a noodle-armed third stringer still bothers me to this day.

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