2020 NFL Team Previews: Philadelphia Eagles
2020 NFL Team Previews
By Professor MJ
The Eagles have been a good model of consistency. Over the past 20 years, they have had just four losing seasons.
It wasn’t always pretty, but Philly managed to secure the NFC East title with a 9-7 record last year. They closed out the regular season with a four-game winning streak to edge the Cowboys atop the division.
Unfortunately, Carson Wentz exited the wildcard playoff game early and the team couldn’t overcome his absence in a 17-9 home loss to the Seahawks.
2. Offensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
2.1 Quarterbacks (QBs)
Carson Wentz needs to be applauded for his 2019 performance.
He had to deal with numerous injuries to his receiving corps and yet, he led the team to a playoff spot and he finished with a career-high in passing yards with 4,039. He threw 27 TD passes versus 7 interceptions, while playing all 16 games for the first time since his rookie season in 2016.
In the season finale, his top targets were Boston Scott, Dallas Goedert, Josh Perkins, Deontay Burnett and Greg Ward. Outside of Goedert, none is an established starter in the NFL. The Eagles still secured the NFC East title with a 34-17 road win in New York.
Philadelphia selected Jalen Hurts late in the second round of this year’s draft. He transferred from Alabama to Oklahoma for his senior year since Tua Tagovailoa was projected to be the starter. Hurst was actually replacing Kyler Murray who had just been taken as the number one overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft by the Cards.
Hurts did not disappoint in his lone season with the Sooners. He completed 237-of-340 passes (69.7%) with 3,851 passing yards, along with 32 TD passes and eight interceptions. He also rushed for 1,298 yards with 20 TDs on the ground!
His weaknesses are an average accuracy, inconsistent decision-making and a tendency to take off as a runner too often (sometimes when a receiver was open). He is likely to be used as a gadget player by Doug Pederson this year.
Nate Sudfeld will compete for the backup job. He missed the entire 2019 season due to a wrist injury he suffered during preseason. He was a sixth-round pick out of Indiana in the 2016 draft. He has attempted just 25 passes in the NFL in four years, so it’s hard to tell what to expect from him.
2.2 Running Backs (RBs)
Miles Sanders’ rookie season was a resounding success. He led all rookies with 1,327 yards from scrimmage.
He carried a heavier workload as the season went on. During the first eight games, he averaged 8.3 carries per game, as opposed to 14.1 over the last nine contests (including the playoff loss to the Seahawks).
Jordan Howard’s injury at midseason contributed to the increased usage of Sanders in the backfield. With Howard gone to Miami, the sky’s the limit for second-round pick out of Penn State.
Darren Sproles retired and Jay Ajayi was waived. That leaves the door wide open for third-year man Boston Scott. He flashed big time last year and unquestionably passed my eye test. The 5’6’’ back is very explosive.
Scott made a name for himself in Week #17 as he had to step in for Sanders who sprained an ankle in the first quarter against the Giants. Scott went on to rack up 138 total yards and three touchdowns.
2.3 Wide Receivers (WRs)
This unit was decimated by injuries last year. DeSean Jackson pretty much played just one game, while Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor missed six and five games, respectively.
Despite playing under his age-32 campaign, Jackson showed he still has field-stretching abilities in his lone meeting last year. He was spectacular with 8 catches for 154 yards and a couple of scores. He hasn’t played a full 16-game season very often in his career though.
Jeffery is another aging receiver coming off a significant injury. He underwent Lisfranc surgery, which requires a long rehab period. He’s questionable for the start of training camp.
Since two outstanding seasons in 2013 and 2014 with the Bears, Jeffery has missed four games per year on average, while showing signs of slowing down on the field as well. His 11.4 yards-per-catch average last year was a career low.
To be honest, I feel like Jeffery’s time in the league is coming to an end soon. Lisfranc injuries can be tricky for wide receivers, and full recovery is even more difficult for guys above 30 years of age.
Nelson Agholor was a younger WR who could have provided adequate depth, but he signed with the Raiders. The former first-rounder has not lived up to expectations, but he was still a decent pass catcher, albeit his drops were a big issue last year. Maybe a change of scenery will help rejuvenate his career.
Philly drafted Jalen Reagor with the #21 pick overall last April. He’s a smallish deep threat who is at his best on straight routes. He was good with contested catches, but will it still be the case in the NFL given his size? That’s a big question mark.
Reagor opened a lot of eyes by scoring eight touchdowns as a freshman with TCU after being a high recruit out of high school. He followed up with a great 72-1061-9 receiving line as a sophomore.
Reagor’s numbers dropped quite a bit as a junior (43-611-5), but you can attribute that to having a freshman QB at the helm. He’s an electrifying player who can take it to the house every time he touches the ball.
The competition for the number three role is also likely to involve Greg Ward and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. These two guys have had completely different paths before making it to the NFL.
Ward went undrafted before joining the AAF. He eventually was added to the Eagles’ practice squad, and later on promoted to the 53-man roster until a depleted receiving corps forced him onto the field.
Meanwhile, Arcega-Whiteside had more of a “conventional” journey by being drafted in the second-round of the 2019 draft.
Such resumes would suggest Arcega-Whiteside would be the superior wideout, but that’s not what we saw on the field. He only caught 10-of-22 targets for a disappointing 45% catch rate. He was rarely targeted down the stretch, despite the numerous injuries at the position.
On the other hand, Ward filled in admirably late in the season. Over the final four meetings, including the playoff game, he caught 20-of-25 targets (an 80% catch rate). He clearly deserves a shot as a top reserve for the upcoming season.
2.4 Tight Ends (TEs)
The Eagles have a nice duo at the tight end position with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
Ertz is a true warrior. He hasn’t missed more than two games in each of his first seven season in the league. Last year, he played with two rib fractures one week after lacerating his kidney. Talk about a tough guy.
His numbers are also staggering. His lowest figures in terms of receptions and receiving yards over the past five years are 74 and 816. That’s truly remarkable! Please note that he’ll be turning 30 years old during the season.
Just like Ertz, Goedert is also a former second-rounder. However, he is four years younger. He caught 58 passes for 607 yards and 5 TDs, all career-highs. He was targeted 4 times per game on average before the team’s bye week versus an average of 7.9 for the remainder of the year. Granted, injuries to other targets probably boosted his numbers, but he still developed nice chemistry with Wentz.
2.5 Offensive Line (OL)
The Eagles have a heck of an offensive line.
You cannot blame Jason Kelce for anything over the past five years. He hasn’t missed any start, while consistently being one of the top centers in the league. As a matter of fact, he was rated as the #1 center in the NFL according to PFF grades last year. He’s now 32 years old.
Left tackle Jason Peters has been just as good as Kelce. He was nominated to nine Pro Bowls in his career and he finished as the number 6 tackle in the league with his 83.4 PFF mark. Unfortunately, the team decided to let the 38-year old hit the free agency market. EDIT: he was re-signed on July 14. He is projected to play guard instead of tackle.
Peters will be replaced with 2019 first-round pick, Andre Dillard. Is he ready to take on the full-time job? It remains to be seen, but it will be difficult to fill Peters’ shoes.
As for Lane Johnson, the right tackle finished as the 3rd-best tackle in the league based on the PFF grading system. He’s been very good throughout his seven-year career; the former #4 overall pick has not disappointed at all!
Brandon Brooks also had a huge 2019 season! He ended the year as the top guard in the NFL with a jaw-dropping 92.9 PFF mark. Much like Lane Johnson, Brooks is another player above 30 years old who’s been reliable his entire career.
Left guard Isaac Seumalo started all 16 games for the first time of his career. He’s the one that received the lowest grades on this OL, but finishing 17th out of 81 guards is nothing to be ashamed of! The former third-round pick from the 2016 draft is not as talented as his colleagues, but you could do worse than having him as one of your starters.
The team lost good depth with the departure of Halapoulivaati Vaitai to Detroit. The 2019 season was clearly his best year; it would have been nice to retain him but he signed a huge contract with the Lions.
2020 VS 2019 OFFENSE
When comparing the upcoming 2020 season with last year, there are some positives and some negatives.
Let’s discuss the negative stuff first. I do expect a downgrade on the offensive line. They played at an extremely high level last year with four guys finishing among the 6 players at their respective position (based on PFF rankings). That’s unlikely to happen again, especially with three linemen aged 30 years or above.
Also, second-year man Andre Dillard has good potential, but it will be difficult to match Jason Peters’ 2019 performance. I do expect a drop-off here.
At quarterback and tight end, the situation remains stable.
At the running back position, losing Jordan Howard to free agency won’t hurt too much with the emergence of electrifying Boston Scott. Also, Miles Sanders is expected to take a leap in his sophomore season.
Finally, how could you not expect better production from the WR group? They were hit by the injury bug a lot last year. Agholor’s departure is a moderate blow; getting DeSean Jackson back is a bonus! Hopefully, speedy rookie Jalen Reagor can provide a spark to an offense that sorely missed game breakers last year.
The Eagles offense scored the 12th-highest number of points last year. My final conclusion, based on the arguments above, is that I expect similar production in 2020.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
3. Defensive Position-by-Position Breakdown
3.1 Defensive Linemen (DLs)
Fletcher Cox is an animal. Plain and simple.
Despite posting his second-lowest sack output of his illustrious eight-year career, he still graded as the 4th-best interior defenders in the NFL based on PFF rankings. On average, he has recorded 6 sacks per year (he only got 3.5 last year)
He has also been very durable; he’s missed just three games out 128. He still has good years to come at age 29.
Tim Jernigan was a decent starter next to Cox, but he clearly wasn’t needed on the team anymore after the Eagles signed stud DT Javon Hargrave. The former Steeler showed steady improvement in each of his first four years in the NFL. His 83.4 PFF mark last year put him in the 8th spot out of 114 DLs.
With Hargrave entering his prime years and Fletcher Cox being a perennial beast, good luck running the ball inside the tackles against the Eagles in 2020.
After playing three years in Indy, Hassan Ridgeway had a below-average season in his first year with the Eagles. He’s more of a rotational player, whom you hope won’t be needed as a starter.
3.2 Defensive Ends (DEs) / Edge Rushers (ED)
Brandon Graham is 32 years old, but he refuses to slow down. He led the team with 8.5 sacks last year, and he has averaged six sacks over an eight-year period!
The guy also finds a way to stay on the field. Can you believe he has missed a single game in eight years! He’s been consistently good and remains a force, both against the run and rushing the passer.
Derek Barnett is a former first-rounder coming off a career-high in sacks with 6.5. However, his 2019 PFF grade was the lowest of his three-year stint in the NFL and he finished as the number 83 edge defender out of 107 qualifiers. He’s an “okay” player.
Vinny Curry played 38% of the snaps last year, but it does not appear like he will be back with the team. At the time of writing, he was still a free agent. He did pick up five sacks last year, but teams seem reluctant to sign him because he’ll be playing his age-32 campaign. He actually played pretty well when called upon.
With Curry gone, the team must hope Josh Sweat will elevate his game. The 2018 fourth-round selection posted his first four sacks of his career last year, but his 62.5 overall PFF mark ranked him as the 76th-best edge defender out of 107 guys.
3.3 Linebackers (LBs)
After playing four years in Buffalo and four years in Philly, Nigel Bradham was cut by the Eagles, mainly for cap reasons. He provided average play at the LB position; he was good in coverage, but he was a liability defending the run.
The team also lost Kamu Grugier-Hill, who signed with the Dolphins. You could characterize him as a decent player, albeit far from being great.
That leaves the team pretty thin at the position.
Nathan Gerry is the lone 2019 starter that is still with the team. He ranked as the 34th-best linebacker out of 89 players. He does not offer much upside, though. It would be stunning to see him crack the top 25 someday.
Can Duke Riley and/or T.J Edwards crack the starting lineup? Neither seem to be an up-and-coming star. Riley was acquired for peanuts prior to last year and he played 35 snaps. As for Edwards, he was an undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin that did well in limited time last year. He proved to be stout against the run.
3.4 Cornerbacks (CBs)
Philly’s back end has been revamped for the upcoming 2020 season.
The Eagles signed one of the best slot corners in the league: Nickell Robey-Coleman. He has received consistently good grades from ProFootballFocus over the past four years. At 5’8’’ he is pretty small, but you couldn’t tell from the quality of his game. He’s a nice addition.
Philly also acquired Darius “Big Play” Slay, who played the first seven years of his career with the Lions. He had a down year in 2019, but I’m not worried he can rebound in a new environment. He’s been covering opponent’s top receivers for a while in this league, and he’s done a good job at it. He has 19 career interceptions.
Ronald Darby’s career has been plagued with injuries recently and he was let go during the offseason. His PFF grade took an enormous drop last year, all the way from a respectable 70.6 in 2018 down to an abysmal 44.8 last year. He signed a one-year deal with the Redskins.
Rasul Douglas and Avonte Maddox are still on the team, but neither has proven to be an impactful contributor. Both graded as very below-average corners in 2019.
3.5 Safeties (S)
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod both played the entire 2019 season. They ranked as the 32nd- and 52nd-best out of a bunch of 87 safeties.
The organization and Jenkins couldn’t agree on a deal, so the Eagles had to let him go after six very successful seasons. He picked off 11 passes during his six-year stint in Philly. He signed with the Saints, with which he spent the first five seasons of his career. Even though he wasn’t getting any younger, his present will be missed.
McLeod’s 2019 PFF grade was the lowest he had obtained over the past five years, but he still did a decent job.
Jalen Mills will be one piece of the puzzle in replacing Jenkins. But let’s face the reality: he has been pretty awful throughout his four-year career, except 2017 where he did better.
Another option will be newly acquired Will Parks, who is coming over from Denver. However, he’s clearly not a long-term solution either. He’s pretty versatile, but he’s a below-average player.
2020 VS 2019 DEFENSE
This unit was upgraded quite a bit during the offseason at two positions, but it also suffered a severe downgrade at a couple others.
First, acquiring Javon Hargrave to team up with Fletcher Cox on the interior of the line was big! At CB, getting Darius Slay and Nickell Robey-Coleman will provide much needed help at a position that has caused headaches for years in Philly.
Unfortunately, the defense lost its best safety when Malcolm Jenkins signed with the Saints. Also, even though none of them was a true difference maker, losing linebackers Nigel Bradham and Kamu Grugier-Hill creates a hole.
Since the team acquired some big time players while losing good/average players, I envision a small improvement. In 2019, the Eagles finished in the middle of the pack in terms of points allowed per game (15th out of 32 teams). I envision Philly finishing around the #10-#13 spot this year.
Final call (2020 vs 2019):
Big downgrade-Moderate downgrade-Small downgrade-Stable-Small upgrade-Moderate upgrade-Big upgrade
4. Regular Season Wins
According to sportsbooks, the Eagles are expected to win 9.5 games this season. Should we bet the “over” or the “under”?
Here is the methodology I used in order to answer this vital question:
- Use BetOnline.ag’s point spreads on all 256 regular season games.
- Convert those point spreads into win probabilities.
- Simulate each of the 256 games, according to those win probabilities, via the R statistical software.
- Repeat the previous step one million times (you get 1M simulated seasons).
- Count the proportion of seasons where the Eagles won more or less than 9.5 games.
Here are the results:
- Tip: Bet UNDER 9.5 wins
- Return On Investment (ROI): +13.7%
- Rank: 19th-highest ROI out of 32 teams
- Minimum odds required to bet (i.e. ROI = 0%): -136
Here are BetOnline’s point spreads for the Eagles’ 16 regular season games:
- HOME: +2 vs BAL, -10 vs CIN, -2.5 vs DAL, -4 vs LAR, 0 vs NO, -5 vs NYG, -2 vs SEA, -10.5 vs WAS.
- ROAD: +1.5 @ ARI, 0 @ CLE, +2 @ DAL, +2.5 @ GB, -3.5 @ NYG, +1.5 @ PIT, +5.5 @ SF, -6 @ WAS.
Note: The “Best odds” from the table above were obtained after looking at 13 well-known online sportsbooks on May 18th, 2020.
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