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November 30, 2017

The new Dream Team: How the 2017 Eagles were built, offense edition

Back in 2011, Vince Young infamously uttered that the Eagles were a "Dream Team," after their high-profile acquisitions of Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, Steve Smith (not the good one), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown, and well, Young himself. 

RELATED: How the 2017 Eagles were built, defense edition

The "Dream Team" was a nightmare, as the Eagles started the season 4-8, but won four straight games to close that season, temporarily saving Andy Reid's job, which he would lose a year later after going 4-12 in 2012.

Six years after Young's "Dream Team" comment, with a three-year pit stop under Chip Kelly that quickly turned disastrous in between, the Eagles have quickly been rebuilt into the dominant 10-1 team that they are today under original Dream Team architect Howie Roseman, and personnel head Joe Douglas.

As we noted earlier this week, the Eagles have a point differential of +160, on pace for +233 over a 16-game season, which would put them 12th in that metric during the Super Bowl era, among some of the best teams in NFL history. Unlike in 2011, Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and the gang built this team (is it too early to call it a juggernaut?) with smart moves instead of major free agent splashes.

With a loss by the Dallas Cowboys Thursday night, before December begins, the Eagles can clinch an NFC East title. Let's take a position-by-position look at how this team was built, in case you haven't been following along closely over the last two years.


• Carson Wentz: The Eagles' effort to move up in the 2016 NFL Draft was the boldest move they made over the last two years, and was by far the most important, and fruitful.

The cost was steep. First, the Eagles moved from the 13th-overall pick to the eighth-overall pick by doing nothing more than shedding Byron Maxwell's awful contract and a player they had no use for in Kiko Alonso.

Then, thanks to a major swing and a miss by the Cleveland Browns' front office, who did not consider Wentz to be a "top 20" quarterback, the Eagles were able to trade up to the No. 2 overall pick. Here were the details of the trade:

Browns got Eagles got 
 2016 1st round pick (8th overall)Carson Wentz 
2016 3rd round pick (77th overall) 2017 4th round pick 
2016 4th round pick (100th overall)  
 2017 1st round pick 
 2018 2nd round pick 

After Minnesota Vikings' quarterback Teddy Bridgewater suffered a gruesome injury during a practice, the desperate Vikings traded a 2017 first round pick (that would later become rookie defensive end Derek Barnett), and a fourth-round pick in 2018 for the flawed and oft-injured Sam Bradford, thus significantly softening the impact of trading a bushel of picks for Wentz.

Wentz is an MVP candidate this season, and assuming he stays healthy, the Eagles should be contenders every year for the next decade under his leadership. The two trades to move up to draft Wentz may eventually be viewed as the best deals in the history of Philadelphia sports. Time will tell.

Nick Foles: The Eagles made a big mistake when they signed Chase Daniel to a three-year deal worth $21 million in 2016, ultimately cutting him in 2017 and taking a big cap hit. The Eagles then signed Foles to a pricey backup deal. Foles has only been needed for mop-up duty in blowouts so far, but he's certainly better than Daniel, and a legitimate backup who can keep the team afloat is something undesirable were to happen to Wentz down the stretch.

Nate Sudfeld: The team signed Sudfeld to their practice squad, making him one of the highest paid practice squad players in the NFL. When the Indianapolis Colts tried to poach Sudfeld to their 53-man roster, the Eagles added him to theirs.

SUMMARY: It cost them a lot of draft capital to land Wentz, and the Daniel-to-Foles transition resulted in a lot of wasted cap space, but as we stand now, the Eagles have an MVP candidate starter, a capable backup who's been in the system for years, and developmental guy. There's your ideal QB setup.

Running back

LeGarrette Blount: The Eagles signed Blount off the scrap heap in May for an extremely low one-year contract worth $1.25 million. He leads the team in rushing, having carried 137 times for 658 yards (4.8 YPC) and 2 TDs. Blount has had a surprisingly high number of long runs, as he is fourth in the NFL with 7 rushes of 20-plus yards. Additionally, from what I can tell through 12 weeks, Blount has also been an unselfish teammate, seeing the big picture and welcoming the usage of the Eagles' many useful backs.

Jay Ajayi: With Ajayi and Dolphins head coach Adam Gase reportedly butting heads in Miami, the Eagles gladly forked over a fourth-round pick for the third-year running back, who was fourth in the NFL in rushing in 2016 with 1272 yards. While he has only had 20 rushes in three games in Philly so far, Ajayi has made an impact, rushing for 194 yards (9.7 YPC) and 1 TD. He has at least one rush of 30-plus yards in all three games he has played for the Eagles.

Corey Clement: Clement has been an excellent find as a 2017 undrafted rookie free agent, as he has carried 58 times for 259 yards (4.5 YPC) and 4 TDs. He has also chipped in 2 TDs on 4 receptions this season. In other words, Clement has scored 6 TDs on 62 touches, or one TD every 10. 3 touches. He has also been the running back of choice for Doug Pederson in pass protection situations.

Kenyon Barner: Barner was unemployed to start the season, but the team signed him to be their punt returner when they lost Darren Sproles for the season. Barner has chipped in a rushing TD and receiving TD in the regular offense as well.

Wendell Smallwood: Smallwood was a fifth-round pick of the team in 2016. He has battled injuries and has been buried on the depth chart. He is an extremely rare example of a player on this roster who has fallen short of expectations.

SUMMARY: Way back in May before the Eagles signed Blount, the Eagles' top three running backs were Sproles (5'6, 190), Smallwood (5'11, 201), and Donnel Pumphrey (5'8, 177), as small a trio as you'll ever find in the NFL. Now they have three bruisers in Blount (6'0, 250), Ajayi (6'0, 220), Clement (5'11, 209), which should serve them well in the playoffs, when the weather will be colder and tackling those bigger guys won't be very desirable.

Wide receiver

Alshon Jeffery: Jeffery came at a surprisingly low cost to the Eagles this offseason, when he signed a one-year deal worth $9.5 million, with added incentives. After a slow start, Jeffery hasn't put up astronomical numbers, but he has 5 TDs in his last 4 games. After 11 games, Jeffery has 7 TDs. In the entirety of the 2016 season, Jordan Matthews led all Eagles wide receivers with 3 TDs.

Torrey Smith: The Eagles acquired Smith for what is essentially a series of (3) one-year deals worth $15 million total ($5 million per year). The Eagles have the option to pick up Smith's $5 million salary in 2018. The guess here is that they won't. Smith has made some big plays in the Eagles offense but has also let too many slip through his hands.

Nelson Agholor: Most of the city gave up on Agholor after an awful first two years of his career, but Pederson and the Eagles did not. The Eagles moved Agholor to the slot, where he has thrived. For their patience, the Eagles have been rewarded with a player who has 33 receptions for 458 yards and 6 TDs, including a few highlight reel plays.

Mack Hollins: Hollins has been a trustworthy fourth receiver, who has 12 catches on 13 targets for 191 yards and a long, crucial TD against the Redskins. He has also been a core special teamer.

Marcus Johnson: Johnson was an undrafted free agent in 2016, who mostly just plays special teams. He has 2 catches.

Shelton Gibson: Gibson was inactive for the first 10 games and isn't going to actually contribute this season, but the Eagles thought so little of the Bears that they basically just said, "Screw it, let's let Shelton Gibson suit up for one game just to let him have some fun too."

SUMMARY: The Eagles had the worst group of wide receivers in the NFL in 2016. Hell, they were lining up Paul Turner and Bryce Treggs at times last year. In 2017, while not star-studded, it's a legitimate group of professional receivers who have all made their share of big plays.

Tight end

Zach Ertz: Ertz is third among NFL tight ends behind the Chiefs' Travis Kelce and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski with 639 receiving yards and 7 TDs on 55 receptions. The Eagles locked up Ertz to a five-year contract extension worth $42.5 million during the 2016 offseason. While not exactly the best blocking tight end in the world, or a guy who will punish defensive backs who try to tackle him, Ertz is a sure-handed, extremely reliable target for Wentz, and should be a fixture on the roster for the foreseeable future.

Brent Celek: Celek is the longest-tenured Eagle, whose career is winding down, but he has had his moments this season. With Ertz out against the Broncos, Celek had 3 receptions for 39 yards. He also had an important 27-yard catch and run on the old "Oh shoot screen" against Dallas. Celek has taken pay cuts each of the last two offseasons and is a tough guy who has played through a whole slew of painful injuries throughout his career.

 • Trey Burton: Burton was a former undrafted free agent during the Chip Kelly era, and core special teamer who can occasionally present mismatches for opposing defenses, like he did against the Broncos when he scored on a 27-yard TD reception against a linebacker who had no chance. On the season, Burton has 11 catches for 111 yards and 2 TDs.

SUMMARY: Overall, the Eagles' tight ends are a good group, with Ertz being the Eagles' most reliable weapon in the Eagles' passing game.

Offensive line

Halapoulivaati Vaitai: Vaitai was a 2016 fifth-round pick who was forced into action last year after Lane Johnson was suspended. Long story short, it did not go well. However, Vaitai progressed in his second year, and while the Eagles have given him extra help, he has more than held his own protecting Wentz's blind side filling in for Jason Peters.

Stefen Wisniewski: The Eagles employed an odd LG-by-committee approach with Wisniewski and Chance Warmack early this season, but Wisniewski made it a no-brainer for them to just leave him in there for the entirety of the game, as he clearly outplayed Warmack. Wis was a surprise re-signing by the team this offseason but has been a solid starter all season long at LG. He is yet another example of a guy who has exceeded expectations.

Jason Kelce: The book on Kelce was that he was always thought of as an athletic center who could do things that no other center in the league could do, in terms of getting out in front of screens and pulling to the outside with his speed and athleticism. However, as an undersized offensive lineman, he was susceptible to being pushed back in the pocket by bigger defensive tackles. In 2017, Kelce has been excellent all-around and is a clear Pro Bowl candidate, perhaps even All-Pro.

Brandon Brooks: Brooks was a 2016 free-agent acquisition who has been a great find for the Eagles, He and Lane Johnson make up the best RG-RT tandem in the NFL, hands down.

Lane Johnson: If Lane Johnson doesn't make the Pro Bowl this season, it will be an absolute sham. Every week, Johnson has faced a different stud edge rusher and has outplayed them all. He is perhaps the second-most-crucial player on the team after Wentz.

Isaac Seumalo: Seumalo started the season as the starting LG, but he was benched after a brutally bad performance against the Chiefs, which was the Eagles' only loss this season. He is now the primary backup at OT, at least until recently acquired Will Beatty gets up to speed.

Will Beatty: The Eagles signed Beatty a few weeks ago to be a backup tackle after the loss of Peters. Beatty is a veteran presence who won a Super Bowl with the Giants in 2011.

Chance Warmack: Warmack was a free agent acquisition this past offseason, on a small deal. Curiously, the Eagles signed him to a one-year contract extension before he ever played a game for them. He is a backup guard only.

SUMMARY: The Eagles have been outstanding in the trenches, as they are the second-ranked rushing team in the NFL. The Eagles' OL has also generally provided good protection for Wentz.

Kicker / long snapper

Jake Elliott: Elliott was signed off the Bengals' practice squad after the Eagles lost Caleb Sturgis to an injury. In his second game with the team, he drilled a now legendary 61-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to beat the Giants. Since then, Elliott has continued to connect on his long field goal attempts but has missed a number of extra points.

Rick Lovato: Lovato beat out Jon Dorenbos for the long snapper job during training camp, prompting the Eagles to trade Dorenbos to the Saints. After taking a physical with his new team, it was discovered that Dorenbos needed immediate heart surgery. Dorenbos' career is over, but he is now recovering and in good health. Had the Eagles not traded Dorenbos, he may have died on the field. The Eagles' front office decisions aren't just leading to 10-1 records. They're saving lives.

The fallen

OT Jason Peters: Peters is done for the season with ACL and MCL tears. At the time he got hurt, he was having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, and many wondered if his loss would sink the season. As noted above, however, Vaitai has held down the fort. Peters continues to provide veteran leadership, going so far as to text his teammates during halftime to tell them what he is seeing from them, technique-wise, on TV.

RB Darren Sproles: Sproles is done for the season with a torn ACL. On the field, Sproles was the Eagles' most well-rounded running back, as he could run inside, run outside, be a weapon in the passing game, and he was easily the team's best back in pass protection. Obviously, because of his small size, however, Sproles has been never been used as a 'workhorse' type of back, but he was typically on the field in the Eagles' most crucial situations. He was also the team's primary punt returner. It has taken multiple players to replace Sproles, which they have done.

K Caleb Sturgis: Sturgis was placed on IR with a quad injury suffered Week 1 against the Redskins. Obviously, he was replaced by Elliott.

RB Donnel Pumphrey: After a lackluster training camp and preseason, Pumphrey, a 2017 fourth-round pick, was placed on IR with a hamstring injury, essentially being redshirted for the 2017 season. 

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