June 22, 2015
Because the Eagles' roster went through such a major overhaul this offseason, let's give some thoughts about each positional group, which we'll do today, starting with the offense.
In his latest press conference, Chip Kelly was asked if a Sam Bradford contract extension would effectively eliminate a quarterback competition between Bradford and Mark Sanchez. Kelly responded, "The best players are always going to play. I think that's always been the way it has to be, and that's the way it will be."
When a follow-up was asked with a different re-phrasing, Kelly cut the reporter off, saying, "One more time. My theory is the best players always play. It's not fair to the rest of the guys on the team if the best players aren't playing. It's not fair to this city, it's not fair to the staff and it's not fair to anybody, if the best players aren’t playing and the best players are always going to play."
The Eagles invested a second-round pick, Nick Foles, and draft position to acquire Sam Bradford, and they're paying him $13 million. Bradford is on a one-year deal, so if he were to lose a quarterback competition, the Eagles would have given away a lot of resources in the form of a player, draft picks, and money for a backup who would likely find himself on a new team the following offseason.
Meanwhile, Mark Sanchez is absolutely a quality backup, but it is wholly unrealistic to believe he's leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl. Bradford clearly has the much higher upside between he and Sanchez. It would obviously be a complete and total waste of the heavy resources expended on Bradford if he doesn't play.
Bradford would have to be absolutely horrific in training camp and the preseason, and Sanchez would have to look like the next coming of Joe Montana for Sanchez to win the job. The notion that any "competition" wouldn't be heavily biased toward Bradford is ridiculous.
What the Eagles have done at running back is very intriguing. They have two big and fast runners in DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews who get north and south and punish opposing tacklers. Then if the Eagles so choose to infuse him into the offense more than they have in the past, they have the shiftiest of all shifty runners in Darren Sproles to use as a change-up. In my opinion, it's the best trio of running backs in the NFL by a wide margin.
If the Eagles can find a good balance of how much Murray, Mathews and Sproles are used, they can keep all three players fresh for 16 games and beyond. With the Eagles' fast paced offense, if they have their run game going, tired opposing defenses are going to be susceptible to big plays in the run game in the second half of games. I think it's pretty clear the Eagles are going to run the crap out of the ball this season, and their effectiveness in that regard will be the key to whether or not they can put big numbers on the scoreboard.
There are some who believe that Jordan Matthews isn't fast, or that he can't get separation from defenders. I don't buy either or those two notions for a second. While Matthews isn't a flashy burner like DeSean Jackson, he has good speed and he runs good routes that get him separation. And the proof is in the numbers.
Consider this stat -- In 2014, including Matthews, there were 36 wide receivers with at least 65 catches last season. Only two of them had a better yards after the catch average than Matthews, who averaged 6.2 yards after the catch. Now, the obvious rebuttal to that may be that Chip Kelly's spread offense gives Matthews an advantage over other receivers to rack up more yards after the catch. I would certainly agree to some degree with that contention. It is also an advantage for Matthews that he played solely out of the slot, and as a result the sidelines were rarely "tackling him."
However, when you consider that the guy that Matthews replaced in the slot, Jason Avant, had a paltry yards after the catch average of 2.4 yards after the catch in Kelly's system, you see the real difference between a player capable of making things happen once they have the ball in their hands and one who can't. Matthews' ability as a playmaker with the ball in his hands is underrated.
He just should. Next.
With the release of Evan Mathis, the Eagles will be moving from Mathis to Allen Barbre at LG. That is, in my opinion, a downgrade. For some people, that's where the discussion ends. However, it's the trickle-down effect that could be more harmful to the Eagles' offensive line.
This time last year, I would have ranked the importance of the Eagles' offensive linemen who made the 53-man roster like so: Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly.
Let's compare where the Eagles were in "OL importance ranking" last year with where they are this year, in chart form.
|Jimmy's OL importance ranking||2014||2015 (projected)|
|1||Jason Peters||Jason Peters|
|2||Jason Kelce||Jason Kelce|
|3||Lane Johnson||Lane Johnson|
|4||Evan Mathis||Allen Barbre|
|5||Todd Herremans||Matt Tobin|
|6||Allen Barbre||Andrew Gardner|
|7||Matt Tobin||David Molk|
|8||David Molk||Dennis Kelly|
|9||Andrew Gardner||Kevin Graf?|
As my highly scientific chart shows, the 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th most important offensive linemen a year ago are now the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th most important, which is a fancier way of simply stating that the Eagles have significantly depleted their OL depth.
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