STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The 2011 season ended much sooner than expected for the Eagles. After a flashy offseason, featuring key free agent signings (Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins) and a major trade (acquiring Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie from Arizona), the Eagles were considered by many to be in possession of the most talented roster in the NFL and poised to make a run at the Super Bowl. After a 1-4 start those dreams quickly vanished into thin air, with questions swirling around the job security of coach Andy Reid and his ability to lead the Eagles back to prominence. The team rallied to finish the season 8-8 and just missed the playoffs by one game, while watching their divisional rival New York Giants hoist the Lombardi Trophy for the second time in five years.
The 2011 campaign once again proved that “human highlight reel” Michael Vick is indeed human. After throwing for 21 touchdowns vs. only six interceptions and rushing for nine more scores in 2010, Vick's numbers regressed significantly, as he recorded 18 passing touchdowns, while being intercepted 14 times. Perhaps most disappointing given his wheels, was that he only rushed for one touchdown in the 13 games he played in. Although the Eagles' aerial attack struggled at times, RB LeSean McCoy silenced the critics who said he was too small and wasn't durable enough to be an every-down back. McCoy recorded over 1,600 total yards, 20 TDs and caught the ball 48 times out of the backfield, while only fumbling once all year. The offensive line took a big hit this offseason with All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters tearing his Achilles' tendon – twice. However, even with the absence of Peters, the Eagles have personnel well-suited to offensive line coach Howard Mudd's zone-blocking scheme and should continue to open up running lanes for the slippery McCoy, while affording Vick enough time to find playmakers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin down the field.
The biggest problem the Eagles faced in 2011 was their inability to stop the run. The Eagles were gashed by big runs as indicated by the 4.4 YPC they surrendered last year, which ranked 20th in the NFL. To address the issue they went out and traded for former Pro Bowl LB DeMeco Ryans, who should provide a big middle linebacker upgrade as he returns to his much-preferred 4-3 defense. They also shored up their defensive front seven for the long-term by adding linebacker Mychal Kendricks and linemen Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry through the draft.
After reloading on defense and returning most of their playmakers on offense, the Eagles are poised to compete yet again for the NFC East crown in 2012. If the Eagles fail to make the postseason for the second consecutive year, however, the heat could again be on Reid.
DeMeco Ryans, LB (Texans)
Acted as Houston's defensive play-caller in the past, but can he anchor the middle of the Eagles defense?
Trent Edwards, QB (Bills)
He will need to beat Mike Kafka out for a roster spot, but with Vick's injury risk, QB pecking order is worth monitoring.
Demetress Bell, OT (Bills)
Bell should fill in nicely at left tackle in place of the injured
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi State (Round 1, 12th overall)
The best DT prospect in the draft, Cox will immediately make his presence felt.
Mychal Kendricks, LB, California (Round 2, 46th overall)
The second-rounder is extremely athletic and a likely starter at outside linebacker.
Nick Foles, QB, Arizona (Round 3, 88th overall)
A new quarterback project for coach Andy Reid, thus the possible successor to Michael Vick.
Vince Young, QB (Bills)
Played poorly in three starts and had a difficult time grasping Reid's playbook.
Asante Samuel, CB (Falcons)
The Eagles tried to unload him last year, but the asking price was too high and they only received a late-round pick from Atlanta in exchange.
TEAM NOTES WHICH DeSean Jackson WILL WE SEE?
Based on the promise and dynamic playmaking ability he displayed in his first two seasons in the league, plenty of fantasy owners drafted Jackson high last year and were burned for taking him. Yes, he was 39 yards off the 1,000-yard mark and led the team in targets (104), but just 58 of those targets were caught, and Jackson hauled in only four touchdowns on the season. He also recorded the lowest amount of punt return yards in his career, with 114, while failing to take one to the house as a returner. After holding out for a portion of training camp due to a contract dispute, which perhaps led to questionable in-season effort from Jackson, the wideout finally received the long-term deal he was looking for this offseason, inking a five-year, $51 million dollar extension. Jackson posted only two 100-yard receiving games last year, but has the potential to go off on any given week when healthy. Expect a better year from Jackson now that his contract isn't a distraction, but don't expect him to be a top-10 fantasy wideout.
CAN VICK LAST THE WHOLE SEASON?
Which Michael Vick will we see in the 2012 season? The Vick who turned the ball over 14 times during the Eagles' 3-6 start, or the Vick who threw seven touchdowns to only three interceptions while leading the Eagles to a four-game winning streak to close the year? Coach Andy Reid has publicly stated that the Eagles are urging Vick to play with more caution in the hopes that he can play a full 16 games (something that has only happened once in his nine-year career) and turn the ball over less in his third year as the Eagles' starter. The team's Super Bowl aspirations rest firmly on the shoulders of the electrifying Vick, who must somehow find the right balance between using his athleticism and arm strength to his advantage, without playing the sort of reckless brand of football that leads to frequent visits to the training room.
HOW SECURE IS ANDY REID'S JOB?
During his tenure in Philadelphia, Reid has compiled both the most regular season wins (120) and playoff victories (10) in team history. He has captured six division titles and earned five trips to the NFC Championship game. Since Reid was hired in 1999, no other franchise has earned more divisional playoff round appearances (seven) and only the Patriots have matched the Eagles in Conference Championship appearances. Reid is widely respected as one of the best talent evaluators in the NFL, but the fact remains that he has yet to win it all while assembling some of the most talented rosters in the league. The NFL is a “what have you done for me lately?” world and if Reid fails to make a deep playoff run this year, the Eagles may turn elsewhere in order to take it to the next level.
RISING: LeSean McCoy is a defensible No. 1 overall pick this year after scoring 20 times in 15 games in 2011.
DECLINING: Michael Vick ran for just one touchdown in 2011 after rushing for nine in only 12 games in 2010, with his durability being a constant concern.
SLEEPER: After a weak 2010 and a slow start to last year, Brent Celek finished 2011 with 738 yards and five scores over his last 11 games.
SUPER SLEEPER: Marvin McNutt fell to the sixth round of the draft, but the big wideout (6-3, 216 pounds) was very productive at Iowa.
DeMeco Ryans, LB
Back in the 4-3 alignment, look for Ryans to lead the Eagles in tackles this season.
Jason Babin, DE
Even after an 18-sack 2011, Eagles have too much DL talent for offenses to double Babin.
Trent Cole, DE
Recorded 11 sacks in only 14 games last year.
RotoWire Rank: 6