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2014 Team Preview: Philadelphia Eagles

Chris Benzine

Chris Benzine

Chris Benzine writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

The Eagles' 2013 season was defined by transitions at important positions. Chip Kelly moved on from the University of Oregon to replace Philadelphia's long-time coach, Andy Reid. Kelly made a name with his team's high-powered offense at the collegiate level, and his system translated to the pros. The Eagles led the league in rushing (160.4 yards per game) and finished ninth in passing (256.9 yards per game). Kelly's offense also led to increased scoring, as the Eagles averaged 27.6 points per game, ranking fourth in the NFL, en route to a 10-6 record. Nick Foles also replaced an injured Michael Vick in Week 5, and turned the ball over only four times in 10 starts the rest of the way. He posted a phenomenal 27:2 TD:INT ratio for the season and took the Eagles to the playoffs, where they lost to the Saints in the Wild Card round. The move at signal-caller became permanent, and Foles will head into the 2014 season as the Eagles' undisputed starting quarterback.

The Eagles' offseason proved to be unexpectedly eventful, as the team released its biggest receiving threat from 2013, DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia thus had to look for wideout production elsewhere, and addressed the need by re-signing Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin and adding two more receivers (Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff) through the draft. The backup quarterback position also saw a swap, with Vick leaving for the Jets and Mark Sanchez signing with the Eagles.

Moreover, the addition of change-of-pace back Darren Sproles bolsters the Eagles' already potent rushing attack. LeSean McCoy played a huge role in the team's success last season, leading the league in rushing yards and tying for sixth in rushing touchdowns. Although McCoy remains the Eagles' primary back this season, the addition of Sproles (a pass-catching specialist out of the backfield) as a secondary option will be an upgrade and further offsets the loss of Jackson in the playmaking department. The team also made sure to pay the men paving the way for the backs by re-signing center Jason Kelce and Pro Bowl tackle Jason Peters. The signings should cement a formidable front line to open holes for the team's ball-carriers and to protect Foles.

The defense's struggle to contain the pass was the team's biggest weakness in 2013, with opponents averaging a league-high 289.8 yards per game through the air. The Eagles survived on turnover differential, however, as the offense under Foles rarely coughed up the ball and the defense forced 31 turnovers, en route to a plus-12 turnover differential, good for a fourth-place tie in the NFL with the 49ers. The Eagles added Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins in free agency and Jaylen Watkins and Ed Reynolds in the draft to help address their defensive backfield issues.

OFFSEASON MOVES

Key Acquisitions

Darren Sproles RB, Saints
His pass-catching/playmaking skills are nice resources in Chip Kelly's offense.

Jordan Matthews WR, Vanderbilt (Round 2, 42nd Overall)
While Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper man the outside, Matthews figures to work the slot in the Eagles' offense.

Mark Sanchez QB, Jets
Provides the Eagles with an experienced backup behind Nick Foles.

Marcus Smith LB, Louisville (Round 1, 26th Overall)
A pass-rushing specialist who should eventually take over as an every-down player.

Malcolm Jenkins S, Saints
Provides an upgrade at the safety position, which should help out against the pass.

Key Losses

DeSean Jackson WR, Redskins
Will now give opponents headaches while wearing a Washington uniform.

Michael Vick QB, Jets
Set to compete with Geno Smith for a starting job, with Foles locked in as Philly's top QB.

Bryce Brown RB, Bills
His departure bumps Chris Polk up a notch on the Eagles' depth chart.

TEAM NOTES

THE RETURN OF MACLIN
While the loss of DeSean Jackson received substantial media attention, the return of Jeremy Maclin has flown under the radar. Maclin led the team in receptions (69), receiving yards (857) and receiving touchdowns (seven) in 2012 and was set for another big year in 2013 before tearing his ACL in training camp. Questions still surround just how effective he will be returning from the injury, but if his knee proves sound, he figures to work as the team's No. 1 wideout. Meanwhile the Eagles re-signed Riley Cooper and added a pair of promising wide receivers in rounds two and three of the NFL Draft (Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff) to add needed depth in the passing game. Add two good pass-catching tight ends in Brent Celek and Zach Ertz to the mix, and the Eagles who boasted a top-10 passing attack in in 2013 appear ripe for another offensive outburst despite parting ways with one of the more dynamic receivers in the league.

FOLES' FIRST FULL SEASON
Nick Foles received his first opportunity under center during his 2012 rookie campaign, but struggled to take care of the ball. In seven games, he turned the ball over eight times, throwing five interceptions and losing three fumbles. He drew another chance to lead the team in Week 5 last season and didn't let go this time around, while significantly tightening things up on the turnover front. He also increased his completion percentage from 60.8 percent in 2012 to 64 percent in 2013 and saw his yards per attempt jump from 6.4 to 9.1. The quarterback played in an offense that struck quickly and often, and with another season under Chip Kelly's system ahead, Foles could be prepped for a top-5 season among fantasy quarterbacks in 2014.

RUNNING WILD
The Eagles' rushing game flourished in 2013 on the shoulders of the league's leading rusher, LeSean McCoy. After relying heavily on one running back last season, the addition of Darren Sproles should help diversify the team's backfield. While McCoy will continue to handle the bulk of the team's carries, it's not hard to imagine coach Chip Kelly finding plenty of ways to utilize the elusive Sproles (who averaged 77 catches in his three years with the Saints) in the Eagles' offense. The pair will give the Eagles one of the league's top pass-catching duos out of the backfield, as the two combined for 123 receptions in 2013. With Bryce Brown having been dealt to Buffalo, Chris Polk remains on hand to provide depth at the position, while the likes of Matthew Tucker and undrafted free agents David Fluellen and Henry Josey will try to crack the team's roster.

VALUE METER

Rising: Nick Foles, who is smart with the football and limits turnovers, will open the season with a new receiving weapon out of the backfield and multiple new options at wide receiver.

Declining: Brent Celek underperformed in 2013 and lost targets and receptions to Zach Ertz as the season progressed.

Sleeper: Zach Ertz is ready for an increased role in the offense, at Celek's expense.

Supersleeper: Jordan Matthews has a good combination of length and speed and the opportunity could be there for him to provide an instant impact.

IDP WATCH

Brandon Boykin - CB
Tied for second in the league with six interceptions in 2013.

DeMeco Ryans - LB
Led the team with 127 tackles and recorded four sacks in 2013.

Mychal Kendricks - LB
Among the team's leaders in tackles, sacks, interceptions and forced fumbles.

TEAM DEFENSE
RotoWire Rank: 25