As the Eagles' offensive machine continued to roll last season, the defense bottomed out. Their inability to slow down opponents cost the Eagles enough wins to make the playoffs, finishing without a winning record for just the fourth time in Andy Reid's 13 seasons in town. But despite an 8-8 finish, the Eagles were encouraged by a four-game winning streak to end the season where they beat their opponents by an average of 19.75 points per game.
With their offense in good shape following contracts given to LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the Eagles spent their offseason bulking up their defense. They added veteran middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans via trade from Houston along with selecting defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and outside linebacker Mychal Kendricks with their first two picks in the NFL Draft. All three should go a long way in cleaning up the Eagles' run defense, which allowed 112.6 rush yards per game.
The thinking goes: If the defense is better, the offense should be able to continue to thrive. That recipe worked at the end of last season and with an offseason of work put in by all the Eagles' star players, they should be in position to regain their postseason form.
Michael Vick especially has worked on improving his footwork and accuracy, with some people believing he'll try to curtail his running out of the pocket in exchange for being a better passer. While that might hurt his Fantasy prospects, it doesn't hurt his chances of playing a 16-game season for only the second time in his career. After being called everything from a solid Top-20 pick to a contender for the top overall pick in Fantasy drafts by pundits last season, it appears Vick is settling into a draft spot where the risk isn't too great for the potential reward.
That's a good thing -- the better Vick plays, the better everyone on the Eagles offense will play. And with the offense an annual producer of Fantasy statistics, that can only mean good things for the owners who "go green."
|Player||Draft Day value||Estimated round|
|ND - not expected to get drafted|
Bounce-back candidate ... Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver
Last summer, Maclin missed all of training camp with an illness and rejoined the Eagles several pounds lighter in late August. After a solid Week 2 where he scorched the Falcons for 171 yards and two touchdowns Maclin's production was very uneven. He had two more 100-yard games and scored three more touchdowns over his final 11 matchups, missing three starting in late November with shoulder and hamstring issues. Maclin has to stay healthy, a common denominator for every player, but with one game missed in his first two seasons it's not proper to slap the "injury prone" label on him just yet. If Maclin's healthy and we give him 16 games, he should be able to top 1,000 yards for the first time in his career and deliver plenty of touchdowns -- maybe as many as the 10 he recorded in 2010. The fourth-year receiver is a fantastic choice as a No. 2 receiver with a pick in late Round 4 or early Round 5.
Sleeper ... Brent Celek, tight end
Someone in every draft is going to have to settle for a tight end not named Graham, Gronkowski or Gates. If that's you, don't fret. One of the better mid-to-late round steals is Celek, who has at least 800 yards and five touchdowns in two of his last three seasons. He's over shoulder and hernia issues that plagued him for some time, saying that he's entering camp the healthiest he's ever been. And Vick ended last season leaning on Celek, connecting with him for touchdowns in each of his last three games. Though he might have to help left tackle Demetress Bell with superior pass rushers on some weeks, Celek should still be considered a quality Fantasy starter.
Keeper-league target ... Marvin McNutt, wide receiver
Jackson and Maclin have their spots locked up for as long as they're effective, but the third receiver role in Philadelphia is up in the air. Veteran Jason Avant turns 30 next year and has never broken out in six seasons. Riley Cooper has two touchdowns in two seasons and hasn't done a whole lot in the limited playing time he's earned. McNutt should push both players in camp and should eventually fit the mold of what the Eagles want in a third receiver: Big, good hands, runs good routes. He's an excellent draft pick in keeper leagues by owners with an eye toward the future.
We're going to find out quickly if the Eagles defense is as good as it was toward the end of last season as their hands will be full after Week 1. That could force the offense to stay aggressive but they'll see a lot of tough defenses for much of the first half of the year. Starting around Week 10 things will get a little easier for the Eagles, even with the last Thursday game of the year at their place against the Bengals. The late slate should make the skill-position players you drafted very valuable for the Fantasy playoffs.
Training camp topics
|LeSean McCoy||273 carries, 48 catches|
|DeSean Jackson||58 catches, 7 carries|
|Jeremy Maclin||63 catches, 1 carry|
|Brent Celek||62 catches|
|Jason Avant||52 catches|
There aren't many camp battles to focus on for Fantasy purposes, which only helps the Eagles' key players. Everyone you've got on your draft list has been in Philadelphia for at least three seasons and knows Andy Reid's playbook like the back of their hands. So long as no one gets seriously hurt, things should run smoothly.
That's not to say that everything is hunky-dory, though. Left tackle Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon and will miss the season. The Eagles replaced him with ex-Bills left tackle Demetress Bell and he'll have to get acclimated to the Eagles' scheme rather quickly. If not, Bell will be a liability that the Eagles will have to deal with.
Money was also thrown around Philly this offseason as both McCoy and Jackson landed long contract extensions with guaranteed cash. Though there is some concern that one or both of these guys could slow down now that they have fat pockets, the feeling here is that McCoy won't do such a thing given that he's a huge component of the offense and got paid without much complaining. Jackson had a terrible 2010, pouting because he didn't get paid. He finished last season strong, got some money and seems motivated to play well now that a contract situation isn't hanging over his head. Both should be fine and camp should illustrate their commitment.
On defense, everything has to click with Juan Castillo back as the defensive coordinator for the second year in a row. Much of the Eagles' problems last year stemmed from a run defense that couldn't slow down anyone, and they addressed that this offseason. Ryans should be an instant fix in that regard and if rookies Cox and Kendricks can claim regular playing time before Week 1, the unit should be decidedly better. Nnamdi Asomugha has adjusted to what's being asked of him in the secondary and underrated safety Nate Allen is entering camp healthy. The process of getting comfortable with each other in camp is paramount for the success of the Eagles defense in 2012.
Naturally, all eyes will be on Vick and whether or not he'll do anything to change his game in an effort to not miss any time. Vick addressed the topic in June, saying he's tired of talking about it. Perhaps we could construe that to mean he's tired of getting hurt, something he's struggled with for much of his career. Vick is 32 with most of the guaranteed money in his contract off the Eagles' books by the end of this season; failure to produce wins for the team could result in him getting cut. That sounds ridiculous given how Vick's performed when he's been healthy (15-9 in Eagles games he's started and played at least one half in with eye-popping stats), but after last season there's definite pressure on the Eagles to compete for a Super Bowl. The team made all the right moves on defense and have the talent on offense. Vick must stay healthy -- his backups are laughable -- in order for the Eagles to meet their goal. It could mean a more conservative Vick, and we might see that in practices right from the jump in camp.
Don't mistake that as a hint to pass on Vick in drafts -- his legs will still be a factor even if they're not used as frequently as they once were, but his arm should have a chance to give him stats that top his career highs in yardage (3,303, set last year) and touchdowns (21, set in 2010). Finding him in late Round 4 or early Round 5 on Draft Day is certainly a much better bargain compared to where owners found him in 2011.