By: Mario Puig
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
Although the Eagles have been perennial playoff factors for basically the entirety of the 2000's, it's probably safe to say that expectations have never been higher than they are for the 2011 season.
Even before the offseason, the team already boasted a potent offense. Michael Vick looked like a top-three quarterback in 2010, while the trio of running back LeSean McCoy and receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin teamed up with Vick to create an offense with perhaps unmatched big-play ability. Even the defense, despite its inability to regain the dominance it showed in the Jim Johnson days, had Pro Bowl talents in defensive end Trent Cole and cornerback Asante Samuel.
After giving the eventual Super Bowl champion Packers all they could take in the wildcard round of the playoffs, losing just 21-16, the Eagles seemed to only be a piece or two away from becoming preseason playoff favorites. The addition of free agent Nnamdi Asomugha alone probably would have been enough to start up the Super Bowl hype, but he was just one of many names added by Philadelphia in the offseason.
The team traded backup quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for a second-round pick and former Pro Bowl cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, giving the team what's easily the best cornerback lineup in the league. Cullen Jenkins was signed in free agency, giving the team a Pro Bowl candidate alongside the already formidable duo of Mike Patterson and Trevor Laws at defensive tackle. Former Titan Jason Babin was added at defensive end, and he's coming off a 12.5-sack season. The team even added five great depth signings in Vince Young at quarterback, Ronnie Brown at running back, Steven Smith (knee) at receiver and Ryan Harris and Evan Mathis on the offensive line.
Still, there's a reason why these super teams tend to not win the Super Bowl. The Eagles will have as many as nine new starters between center, right guard, right tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle, at least two linebacker spots, cornerback and strong safety- 10 if you count kicker, where fourth-round pick Alex Henery will replace long-time starter David Akers. That's a lot of new faces to deal with, particularly given the shortened offseason caused by the lockout. The Eagles will also be installing a new defense under the watch of new coordinator Juan Castillo, who hasn't called a defense since he was the defensive coordinator for Kingsville (TX) High School in 1989. He has otherwise been Philadelphia's offensive line coach since 1998, which makes for one of the oddest coaching transition experiments in a long time.
Even with all that turnover, the Eagles have a more immediate concern over the health of Maclin, who has a mysterious illness that basically seems to be causing him to lose weight. The issue has possibly been bothering him since the spring, when he was initially believed to have been suffering from mononucleosis. But with the symptoms lingering into the fall, there's just no guessing what the full story is with him. If he's out or even less effective when the regular season arrives, the Eagles might have trouble moving the chains in the passing game. Jackson is essentially a deep-route specialist, and Smith (knee) might be out the first six weeks as he recovers from a winter microfracture knee surgery.
In any case, the Eagles look like a near lock to have one of the league's best defenses (someone's getting fired if they don't, anyway), and Vick was an NFL offense in himself last year. It's Super Bowl or bust for the Eagles, who have gone all-in more than any team in recent memory.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (23) Danny Watkins, G, Baylor
The 26-year-old former firefighter from Canada will start at right guard.
2. (52) Jaiquawn Jarrett, S, Temple
Hard-hitter will compete with Kurt Coleman to start at strong safety.
3. (90) Curtis Marsh, CB, Utah State
Athletic specimen will be buried on depth chart as a rookie.
4. (116) Casey Matthews, LB, Oregon
Nothing like his brother Clay, but might start at OLB.
4. (120) Alex Henery, K, Nebraska
Could be a top fantasy kicker in David Akers' old role.
5. (149) Dion Lewis, RB, Pittsburgh
Tiny, but tough and elusive runner likely to be third running back.
5. (161) Julian Vandervelde, G, Iowa
Will compete for a roster spot at guard.
6. (191) Jason Kelce, C, Cincinnati
Training camp standout competing for starting center role.
6. (193) Brian Rolle, LB, Ohio State
Very small, but aggressive game fits Eagles' style of defense.
7. (237) Greg Lloyd, LB, Connecticut
Son of the former Pittsburgh great nowhere near father's level- just hoping to make the roster.
7. (240) Stanley Havili, FB, USC
Pass-catching specialist competing with Owen Schmitt for fullback role.
Nnamdi Asomugha, CB (Raiders)
Universally regarded as a top-three NFL corner, but not an IDP option.
Jason Babin, DE (Titans)
Pro Bowler under watch of DL coach Jim Washburn, who joined Philly in offseason.
Ronnie Brown, RB (Dolphins)
Injuries have taken a toll, but still a great backup option behind McCoy.
Ryan Harris, OT (Broncos)
Lots of starting experience-could usurp Winston Justice (knee) at RT.
Cullen Jenkins, DT (Packers)
Standout interior pass rusher could be team's top DT option.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB (Cardinals)
Part of the Kolb trade, he will serve as third CB if Samuel sticks with team.
Steven Smith, WR (Giants)
Coming off microfracture knee surgery, role and effectiveness are unclear.
David Akers, K (49ers)
Eagles made decision to move on from long-time standout.
Stewart Bradley, LB (Cardinals)
Huge linebacker cost too much for Philly's taste.
Jerome Harrison, RB (Lions)
Effective when on the field, but rarely played for the Eagles.
Quintin Mikell, S (Rams)
A long-time standout for Eagles-loss of leadership hurts.
Johnnie Lee Higgins
Johnnie Lee Higgins
Jeremy Maclin'S HEALTH
There might not be a more frustrating situation for fantasy drafters at the moment than Maclin's ongoing health issue. He's not practicing and he has clearly lost weight, but no one can figure out why.
The Eagles have been saying all this time that Maclin should be ready for Week 1, and Maclin himself is shrugging off suggestions that his health is cause for concern. But it's impossible for fantasy owners to be casually dismissive when a player can't practice and no one knows why.
If Maclin's issue isn't resolved by Week 1 and he misses any regular season time due to complications of the illness, expect Jason Avant, not Smith (knee), to be the primary beneficiary. Smith has a knee issue to get over before the question of learning the team's system even comes up, so expect the experienced Avant to be the primary chain-mover when the Eagles throw the ball if Maclin misses any time.
HIGH EXPECTATIONS ON DEFENSE
Although the Eagles are very unproven at linebacker, where Jamar Chaney (two starts in 2010) is the most proven player, the team's additions at cornerback and on the defensive line mean that anything less than a top-10 finish on defense would be classified as a big failure.
The main reason for the high hopes is the arrival of Asomugha, who is expected to shut down whoever he's lined up against. But besides Asomugha, there's also the addition of Rodgers-Cromartie in the secondary. He should serve as a more opportunistic gambler while Asomugha fills the role of the responsible cover corner. And that's not even mentioning Asante Samuel, who is clearly one of the league's elite cornerbacks when healthy.
But cornerback wasn't the only position that Eagles invested in this offseason. Jenkins' addition gives the Eagles one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the league, and Babin is coming off a Pro Bowl season in Tennessee. Even Tony Hargrove was a nice addition in the front four. The arrival of respected defensive line coach Jim Washburn, formerly of the Titans, means that the whole defensive line is expected to look better in 2011.
DEALING WITH ROSTER TURNOVER
While there's no questioning the fact that the Eagles added a rather staggering amount of talent this offseason, talent doesn't necessarily equal production, especially right away.
Each addition requires a transition, which means the Eagles have a whole lot of transitioning to do. And due to the lockout, they'll have less time than ever to get it done. The team will be plugging in new starters for at least seven positions, eight if you count nickel back and nine if you count kicker. That's not even counting center, where rookie Jason Kelce is taking long-time starter Jamaal Jackson to the wire, nor right tackle, where Ryan Harris is loosely expected to displace Winston Justice (knee).
All in all, no one should be surprised if the Eagles have new faces at all of center, right guard, right tackle, defensive end, defensive tackle, both outside linebacker spots, cornerback (starting and nickel) and strong safety. That's nearly half of the team's 22 starters on offense and defense. And of course, this isn't even considering the effect of installing a new defensive scheme from a first-time NFL defensive coordinator (Juan Castillo).
In short, no one should doubt the fact that the Eagles can match up with any team in the league, but they shouldn't expect them to hit full stride for a while, either.
Rising: Michael Vick isn't any more valuable now than he was earlier in the offseason, but relative to a year ago, there might not be another player in the league whose value has seen a bigger increase.
Declining: Jeremy Maclin would have been a great bet to hit 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2011, but his mystery illness makes it feel increasingly as if nothing is guaranteed. It's just next to impossible to tell what kind of value he holds right now.
Sleeper: Jason Avant isn't anything special, but he is reliable. And if Maclin misses any time or just isn't up to the task, Avant instantly would become the best chain mover among Philadelphia's pass catchers, which would make him a surprisingly strong target in PPR scenarios.
Supersleeper: Riley Cooper has more playmaking ability than Avant, so there's an outside chance that he'd benefit the most from a hypothetical Maclin absence. Cooper has the size and athleticism to both move the chains and make big plays, but his relevance mostly depends on whether he shows progress in training camp.
Jamar Chaney, LB
Fast steal from the 2010 draft figures to start at MLB.
Jason Babin, DE
Jim Washburn coached Babin to a breakout year in 2010, and now both are in PHI.
Jaiquawn Jarrett, SS
Second-round pick could post good tackle numbers if he starts.
RotoWire Rank: 11