After Donovan McNabb was benched during a Week 12 loss to the Ravens, the Eagles were 5-5-1 and looked unlikely to make the playoffs. However, the team finished the season 4-1 and made a deep run in the postseason, ultimately losing to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship game. The one theme throughout the year was inconsistency, but when Philadelphia played to its potential, you were looking at one of the best teams in the league.
Philadelphia's defense was strong last year, holding opponents to just 3.5 YPC and 6.1 YPA - both in the top-five in the NFL. The team also registered the third most sacks in the league with 48 while also holding opposing passers to a 72.9 QB rating. The offense, however, was middling, getting just 6.7 YPA and 4.0 YPC. Still, McNabb finished strong after his benching, posting a 9:1 TD:INT ratio over the final five regular season games. Now at age 30, Brian Westbrook's best days appear to be behind him, but he played at significantly less than 100 percent for most of last year and after offseason knee surgery, should enter 2009 fully healthy. Moreover, DeSean Jackson emerged as a true playmaker as a rookie and should only improve during his sophomore campaign. Additionally, the Eagles made a big splash during the offseason by trading for left tackle Jason Peters, who when properly motivated can be one of the most dominant linemen in all of football.
The NFC East didn't send three teams to the playoffs last year like it did both in 2006 and 2007, but no team finished with a record under .500, and it figures to remain one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL this season. The Giants and Cowboys, in particular, figure to be two of the better teams in the entire conference, so Philadelphia will again be presented with heavy competition. Luckily, the Eagles have done an excellent job with continuity, as the team enters the coming year with familiar faces in Andy Reid as head coach, Marty Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator and Jim Johnson as defensive coordinator. It's rare in the NFL these days to have the same system for so long, and in this case, it's a good thing. McNabb and Westbrook staying healthy is paramount, and it's also somewhat unlikely. Last season was the first time McNabb played a 16-game schedule since 2003, while Westbrook has never done so during his seven-year career. Both enter 2009 on the wrong side of 30, so the team's window to win a championship is closing. Still, expect the Eagles to once again be in the thick of the playoff picture throughout the season.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (19) Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
Provides an explosive option on offense.
After his Week 12 benching, it was safe to question McNabb's future in Philadelphia. But after Kevin Kolb failed to impress, McNabb was right back starting the following week, leading the Eagles all the way to the NFC Championship game. He threw 23 touchdowns last season, his highest total since 2004 and the third most in his 10-year career. Of course, it was also the first season he didn't miss a game because of injury since 2003. McNabb clearly remains in the Eagles' plans, but he is unhappy with his contract and wants an extension. At 32 years old, he figures to have a handful of productive seasons left, although his YPA has dropped in each of the past two years. As long as the contract dispute doesn't linger, expect McNabb to remain the team's most important player, but continued health is a must.
HOW MUCH GAS DOES Brian Westbrook HAVE IN THE TANK?
Westbrook was slowed by ankle and knee injuries last season, resulting in him equaling the worst YPC mark (4.0) of his career. He's now missed at least one game during every season of his seven-year career. While 1,247 carries isn't a ton of mileage, Westbrook will be 30 when the season starts, and the team spent its second-round pick on RB LeSean McCoy, who totaled 1,488 yards with 21 touchdowns last year at Pitt. Westbrook underwent offseason surgery to remove bone spurs on the same ankle that plagued him throughout 2008, and while he's expected to be ready for Week 1, there's a chance he misses all of the preseason. Westbrook, who also had his left knee scoped in February, is a serious candidate to break down at this stage of his career.
The Eagles never expected Maclin to fall so far in the draft, so they decided to trade up from pick No. 21 to No. 19 to select the talented receiver out of Missouri. He has a similar skill set to DeSean Jackson, but, with Kevin Curtis and a bunch of mediocre options in the passing game, Maclin should immediately become a factor on offense. Like all rookie receivers, he'll undergo some growing pains while experiencing a learning curve, but the Eagles' system could lead to a productive first year, just like Jackson had last season.
THE JASON PETERS EFFECT
Peters gave up 11.5 sacks last season - the most by any left tackle in the NFL. And that was in just 13 games. Still, he's 27 years old and played at a Pro Bowl level before last year's decline, so it makes sense that the Eagles traded multiple draft picks, including a first-rounder this year, to acquire the lineman. Peters was unhappy with his contract last season and admits it may have affected his play. He has the physical tools to be a dominant force for years to come and should greatly improve Philadelphia's rushing attack and passing game.
Rising: DeSean Jackson, expected to be raw as a rookie, racked up 912 receiving yards with an impressive 14.7 yards per catch.
Declining: Brian Westbrook, once again slowed by injuries, averaged just 3.8 YPC over the second half of last season. Will turn 30 before the start of this season.
Sleeper: LeSean McCoy should step right in and become the backup running back. He fits Philadelphia's system well, and with Brian Westbrook aging and always an injury risk, McCoy has upside.
Supersleeper: Brent Celek impressed at the end of last season, scoring four touchdowns over the final four games including the postseason. Should start now that L.J. Smith is gone.
Trent Cole, DE
Took a step backward in the sack department last season but gets more tackles than most ends.
Stewart Bradley, LB
In just his second year in the league, racked up a team-leading 108 tackles last season.
Sean Jones, S
Will need to win starting job first but has plenty of upside coming over from Cleveland.