The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles – New and Improved?

I honestly (and only partially tongue-in-cheek) can’t wait for the inevitable 30 for 30 documentary on the 2015 Eagles offseason.  To be honest, if the Birds had traded up for Marcus Mariota in the draft, you could make a really good case for it being docu-worthy. But, in the end, we had just a run-of-the-mill offseason that consisted of a front office coup d’etat, a complete roster shake-up, racist-accusation-eliciting trades, standing ovations for a Our Lord and Savior disguised as a 4th-string H-back…I mean, quarterback…, and a couple of head-turning preseason performances. Are you ready for some football?!?

So, let us try and leave all the noise of the offseason behind us and focus on what we have on our football team right now. And, with the bottom line simply being wins and losses – what can we expect from this team this year?  I think one of the best references is to look at what they had last year and the circumstances surrounding that season and compare it to what they have right now.  Last year’s team was a 10-win team, so an improved roster/circumstances would lend one to think that 10 wins is the floor. Right?  So, I wanted to analyze each position group as they compare to last year’s and how deep they are.  But I also wanted to throw in an “upside” factor. In other words, I (like Chip and Sam Hinkie) believe that if you ain’t winning championships, you ain’t winning anything.  So, I want to look at this team in that light – the championship or bust mentality. Let’s call it an elite factor.

So, here we go – position by position.  The differences will be analyzed based on overall (the most likely outcome), depth/health risk (how well-equipped they are to handle injuries/issues), and elite factor (if everything goes perfectly, just how good they can be).

Quarterbacks
2014:  Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley
2015:  Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley/Tim Tebow

Overall:  Upgrade
We might as well start at the most important position in sports, right?  So, it’s abundantly clear that the Foles-for-Bradford move was either (a) a direct attempt to gather assets to go get Mariota, or (b) a blatant Plan B in case he didn’t get Mariota.  Or, most likely, both.  But, the bottom line is that Sam Bradford has all of the things that we loved about Nick Foles plus he is a much better quarterback.  The only question is his health – which is a big one – but let’s not pretend like Foles was Lou Gehrig or anything.  He has missed games due to injury in all 3 of his years in the NFL and missed half the season last year.  So, even if you only give me Bradford for 8 games, it’s still an upgrade because the other 8 are Sanchez again (who could be slightly better than last year with a year under his belt in the system – though, I’m not holding my breath).  We are not talking “good” or “bad” in a vacuum, we are just talking better or worse than last year, and it is hard to argue that the position isn’t upgraded over last year.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Downgrade
There is no denying the fact that Bradford has torn his ACL twice in his 5-year career, so it would be disingenuous to say that he is not more of an injury risk than Foles.  However, let me reiterate the fact that Foles isn’t exactly an iron man.  Out of the 35 games in which he was supposed to be the Eagles starting QB, Foles has missed 11 of them (31%) because of injury.  Even with Bradford missing the entire season last year, the percentage of teams starts that he has missed is only marginally higher (31 of 80, or 39%).

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Can anyone really argue that 16 healthy games of Sam Bradford isn’t a lot more tantalizing than 16 healthy games of Nick Foles?  Or, am I too enamored with the big armed #1 pick and am forgetting the 27/2 season just two years ago?  That’s possible, but I still think that the Bradford ceiling is worlds better than the Foles ceiling.

Running Backs
2014:  LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk
2015:  DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner/Ryan Mostert

Overall:  Upgrade
Chip knows what he wants, and he goes and gets it.  And, what he wants in a RB is not exactly easy to find.  He wants that one-cut runner that hits the hole, hits it hard, and gets up, hands it to the ref and runs back the line to do it again.  But, he ALSO wants his RBs to be able to catch the ball of the backfield.  And, there are very few one-cut runners who are also excellent pass-catchers.  And, Chip went and got two of them in Murray and Mathews (incidentally, Frank Gore is another one of these unicorns and was also heavily pursued by the Chipper).  So, no matter who you slice it or how much you love Shady McCoy, I think that this running back corps is considerably better than it was last year.  Which is incredible because they traded, arguably, the league’s best RB for a linebacker.  But, they signed the reigning rushing champ in Murray and a former first-round pick with tantalizing ability in Mathews – both of whom fit this scheme a LOT better than McCoy (which has gotten a lot of play, but I don’t think it can be overstated).  Personally, I was growing tired of 2nd-and-12.  I think that the reduced number of 3-and-outs (which KILL this defense because a 3-and-out with this offense takes about 45 seconds) is well worth giving up the big-play ability of Shady.  Oh, and there’s this guy named Sproles that is still around, also, who can slip into the #3 slot and maybe save his legs a little for November and December.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
This is a tough one to really evaluate because on one hand, they are CLEARLY deeper this year from the sheer fact that they have another guy.  Sproles was the clear #2 guy last year (he racked up more carries last year, at the age of 31, than any year since his first year in New Orleans) and seemed to really slow down by the end of the year.  Now, he’s the clear #3 guy, which should really help his productivity all year.  But – and this is a big but – they traded McCoy, one of the most durable RBs in the league with almost 700 touches in the past two seasons, for Murray, who had an injury-plagued career until last year when he led all runner in carries by an enormous number, and Mathews, who hasn’t been able to stay healthy in any of his five seasons in San Diego.  Overall, I really think that the extra body is enough to call this an upgrade, but that can, obviously, go out the window pretty quickly.

Elite Factor:  Upgrade
Shady’s elite factor is about as high as any single RB in the league.  If all goes well for Shady in a given year, he is probably the best in the league.  But, honestly, let us dream for a minute about the ceiling for this RB corps.  I am salivating at the thought of 16 healthy games of Murray, Mathews, and Sproles, running defenses into the ground with this uptempo hard-hitting ground attack.

Wide Receivers
2014:  Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Jeff Maehl, Brad Smith
2015:  Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Miles Austin, Seyi Ajirotutu/Jeff Maehl/Rasheed Bailey 

Overall:  Even
Just the replacement of Maclin with the rookie Agholor and the over-the-hill veteran Austin is not why I am calling this a push.  Please don’t take this as any disrespect to Maclin’s ability.  He’s a very, very good receiver (not worth the money Coach Reid paid him in KC, but very good nonetheless).  And, I am not as bullish as some on the immediate returns from Agholor or much of a return from Austin.  But, where I am bullish – and where I believe they can make up for losing Maclin – is in the improvement of second-year WRs Matthews and, to a lesser degree, Huff.  The biggest jump for WRs is from Year One to Year Two, and I think Matthews is ready to take that leap into stardom.  Huff should jump to a pretty solid contributor.  Throw in a very polished rookie with explosive run-after-the-catch ability in Agholor and I think this group can come awfully close to making up for the loss of Maclin with the outside shot of being better, as a unit.

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Upgrade
But, either way, I really think the floor on this group is a LOT higher than it was a year ago.  Especially considering Maclin has already suffered a major second major injury, so who knows if he’ll make it through the year.  With the exception of Huff (and Austin), no one has shown any health issues in college or the pros.  Plus, the depth is much improved here this year – to the point where Jeff Maehl (the 5th wideout last year) is a total longshot to even make this roster.

 Elite Factor:  Slight Downgrade
I do have to say, though, that as good as I think Matthews might be, the loss of Maclin does take away slightly from the ceiling of this group.  There is a non-zero chance that Jeremy Maclin is a top-5 WR in the league this year (VERY unlikely, but possible), but I don’t think that’s possible for anyone on the 2015 roster.

Tight Ends
2014:  Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, James Casey, Trey Burton
2015:  Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton/Eric Tomlinson

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
This is pretty much the same unit only likely to only be 3 instead of 4 (meaning room for an extra RB, most likely), which is very rare for such a tumultuous offseason.  But, I think another year for our two TEs is – in aggregate – a good thing.  Ertz is on the upswing and only improving (I would have left out the “slight” if Ertz was fully healthy), while Celek is the opposite, but shouldn’t lose too much as a predominantly blocking TE going into his 9th season.  On the whole, assuming Ertz is healthy and ready to go at some point in the early season, this group should be better because Ertz is ready to break out.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Downgrade
Ertz is already hurt, so there is a chance of it lingering, and Celek being a year older is probably not great for his durability.  And, with Casey gone, they lose a little depth, though I think that can be offset by the rookie that they brought in (and will presumably have on the practice squad), Eric Tomlinson.  (NOTE:  Justin Tukes and Andrew Gleichert are also longshots to make the team/practice squad, but I like Tomlinson the best of the bunch and I can’t imagine they keep more than one of them).

Elite Factor:  Slight Upgrade
Before the injury, I might say that the elite factor is definitely higher this year because I really did think that Ertz was poised for a big year.  That’s still a possibility, though the ceiling might be a bit lower with the late start he’s getting and lack of work with Bradford.  But, would anyone be surprised if he racks up 500+ receiving yards in the second half of the season?

Offensive Tackles
2014:  Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Wade Smith
2015:  Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly

Overall:  Even
The O-tackles remain the same.  And, that is awesome because Jason Peters is an absolute monster.  Phillymag did a great job breaking down some of the plays in the preseason game against the Ravens.  That post showed the TD runs by Mathews and Murray (2nd and 4th plays broken down).  Check out the beast that is #71 on each play.  On the Mathews TD, Peters chipped the DE and then annihilated the LB clearing the way for an easy TD.  Then, on the Murray TD, he pushed the 300-lb DT all the way into the end zone like he was on skates.  Stories of the Jason Peters demise are not exaggerated – they’re fabricated.  He’s still incredible and is on his way to Canton.  And, Lane Johnson, now in his 3rd year, should only be getting better on the other side.

Depth/Health Risk:  Even
The extra year on Peters does equate to a slightly higher injury risk, but he has been really durable in his career, so it’s hard to think he won’t be again this year.  And, any added injury risk is more than negated by the fact that Lane Johnson missed 4 games due to PED suspension last year, whereas this year, we should be able to pencil him in for 16.  The one issue here, though, is that if either of these guys go down, there isn’t a great option.  Last year, Herremans slid over to RT when Johnson was out, but he’s gone, and I wouldn’t have the same comfort level with Barbre or Kelly or Tobin stepping in.  But, again, 4 extra games of Johnson kind of makes it all a wash.

Elite Factor:  Slight Upgrade
We hear a lot about which Eagle is going to make the leap this year from good to great.  We hear about Josh Huff (I’m a little leery), Zach Ertz (more likely), and my pick to explode – Benny Logan (more on him later), but no one is talking about Lane Johnson.  And, I get it because O-tackle isn’t sexy, but now entering his 3rd year, he is certainly a candidate to take the next step in his progression and maybe even enter the realm of stardom.  I am not counting on it, but it is certainly not impossible that he becomes a borderline elite RT, right?

Interior O-Linemen
2014:  Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Todd Herremans, Matt Tobin, Andrew Gardner, David Molk
2015:  Jason Kelce, Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner, John Moffitt, Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde/David Molk/Brett Boyko/Malcolm Bunche 

Overall:  Slight Downgrade
This is probably the biggest question mark on the team right now, and I am not overly concerned, to be honest.  I think the downgrade seems a lot bigger because of the losses of Herremans and Mathis, who were both veterans and (particularly Herremans) provided some real leadership and veteran savvy on the inside of that line.  But, let’s not forget that last year’s team only had Herremans missed 8 games (plus 4 of his healthy games were at tackle), Mathis missed 7, and Kelce missed 4.  So, the 3 interior starting linemen only made 25 of a possible 48 starts across the 3 positions inside.  And, that doesn’t even include the 16 lost games for next guy up, Barbre.  So, while you can make the case (rather easily) that the overall talent level has diminished from last year, it is not hard to overstate just how much they lost.  And, with Herremans and Mathis another year older, who knows how many more games they’d miss this year.  I am cautiously optimistic that a fully-healthy Kelce can lead the guard combo of Barbre and Gardner to at least what we got last year inside.  But, to be fair, you have to consider it at least a slight downgrade if you are looking at the most likely scenario.

Depth/Health Risk:  Upgrade
However, if we are talking depth/injury risk, I can’t imagine that – even after jettisoning your two starting guard – the depth and injury issues will be anything close to what they were last year.  The interior of the line was a revolving door last year due to a ridiculous rash of injuries (to older players who are now gone), and you have to think that there will be more continuity this year, even if you would argue that the talent is diminished.

Elite Factor:  Downgrade
All the optimistic arguments I made above cannot discount the fact that, at their best, Barbre and Gardner (or, Moffitt, if we’re talking “best-case”) are anywhere near what Herremans and Mathis would be if everything came together.  Herremans and Mathis, when healthy and at their best – even at this age – would clearly be better than anything the 2015 team has.

Defensive Tackles
2014:  Benny Logan, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair
2015:  Benny Logan, Beau Allen, Brandon Bair

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
Same players a year older – that is a good thing when the players in question are in their 2nd and 3rd years in the league.  I am convinced that Benny Logan is poised for a monster breakout season, but even if he takes the standard progressive step, he is at the point in his career where each year should be better than the one before.  Allen and Bair are both probably good enough to start on a couple teams in this league and are clearly top-notch second- and third-stringers.  This position is in really good shape.

Depth/Health Risk:  Even
They had no real injury problems here last year, as all 3 guys played in all 16 games.  That is not something we should be counting on, but with the exception of a major injury to Logan, I think that the progression of these three guys makes the group as a whole more capable to handle a minor injury.  So, while we’re not counting on 48 games played between these three, I think the step-down options are only stronger with another year under their belts.

Elite Factor:  Upgrade
It took all my willpower not to say “major upgrade” here just because I am so bullish on Logan this year.  But, we can’t exactly expect the leap to stardom before it happens.  But, keep an eye on just how disruptive he is in the middle of the line this year.  And, if he does take that leap – watch out – because offenses will have nightmares trying to figure out how to find enough bodies to block Logan and Cox without giving guys like Barwin, Graham, and Curry free runs off the edge.

Defensive Ends
2014:  Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry
2015:  Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart/Brian Mihalik/Travis Raciti

Overall:  Slight Upgrade
Like the DTs, this is pretty much the same bunch, except that Taylor Hart is healthy now.  It would be unfair to expect Cox and Thornton to get any better since they pretty incredible last year, but the addition of a healthy Hart and another year in the system for the two emerging stars can only be a good thing.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
Again, like the tackles, we got 16 games each from Cox, Thornton, and Curry last year.  Can’t expect that kind of health every year, but with Hart in the mix and a couple intriguing practice squad options (including 7th-round pick and giant of a man, Mihalik, and interesting undrafted guy, Raciti), the talent pool is only increasing here.

Elite Factor:  Even
Like I said above, it would be unfair to expect these guys to hit even higher levels than they did last year.  Personally, I think Fletcher Cox cemented himself as one of the best D-linemen in the league last year, so I already think he was elite.  And, Ced Thornton was pretty close to elite and I would take that kind of production again this year in a heartbeat.  There is no need for this group to get better – just give me another 2014, please.

Outside Linebackers
2014:  Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman
2015:  Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman, Brad Jones

Overall:  Downgrade
Trent Cole, who actually acquitted himself pretty well after some early growing pains as a stand-up LB, is gone to Indy.  And, no one is here to replace him, so everyone just moves up a spot.  I am a little concerned about Brandon Graham keeping anywhere near his production as he goes from about 60% of the snaps to almost 100%.  That is a big step.  If I had to bet, I would say that he will do well, but no one really knows for sure, and that is a little concerning.  And, that is where the loss of Cole (and, for the record, I agreed with letting him walk for the money, but he is a big loss) will show up the most – not in transfer of Cole’s snaps to Graham (hell, that is probably a slight upgrade), but in the transfer of Graham’s snaps to whomever…

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Downgrade
And, then there is the depth question.  This is probably the scariest part of the team when you think about injury.  If Graham or, god forbid, Barwin were to go down, is Marcus Smith II your starting OLB?  It is scary.  I like Braman, but he’s more of a special-teamer and think he’d be incredibly exposed playing every down.  And, Brad Jones is a nice versatile player (who should make the team), but is more of an inside guy.  The thing I keep coming back to is – in an emergency – moving Kendricks (or Kiko) to the outside, but that would be potentially weakening two positions.  Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that and that Barwin and Graham stay healthy and MS2 gives us relatively useful specialty snaps.

Elite Factor:  Slight Downgrade
If all goes perfectly, I think last year’s group would have a slightly higher ceiling than this year’s.  I still think Cole is a very valuable player and person to this team, and he’s gone.  And, I do think that Graham might be an upgrade to Cole, but I don’t think there’s any chance that the 3rd OLB gives even remotely what Graham gave in that role last year.  The two starters could be better, but the group as a whole has a lower ceiling after the loss of the franchise’s all-time sack leader.

Inside Linebackers
2014:  DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Casey Matthews, Emmanuel Acho
2015:  Kiko Alonso, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jordan Hicks, Emmanuel Acho, Najee Goode

Overall: Major Upgrade
I am not sure people fully realize just how great Kiko Alonso was as a rookie with the Bills in 2013.  And, by all accounts, he looks fully healthy and ready to go.  If he’s anywhere near his 2013 form, he steps in right away as the best ILB on this team, which is a pretty nice compliment considering how good I think Ryans and Kendricks are.  But, adding Alonso is absolutely huge.  Now, instead of Casey Matthews as the #3, it’s a guy who had a good argument for the Pro Bowl last year in Kendricks.  I am a little bearish on Ryans at 31 years old coming off a second Achilles tear, but it’s nowhere near as big an issue now with the talent and depth they have at this position

Depth/Health Risk:  Major Upgrade
This might be the biggest upgrade of any category of any position.  They went from WOEFULLY thin last year (Casey Matthews made ELEVEN freaking starts) to embarrassingly deep.  So deep, in fact, that BOTH Emmanuel Acho and Najee Goode are in jeopardy of not making the team.  Aside from the 3 studs, the Birds also added 3rd-round pick, Jordan Hicks and Goode is back from a season-ending injury last year in the opener.  And, I didn’t even list Brad Jones up top because I think he’s more likely to slide over to the middle because of the lack of depth there.  Both Acho and Goode are really solid LBs who could probably start in this league for a handful of teams.  And, both may be cut.  Wow.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
If Alonso and Ryans are fully healthy, this group can rival any group of ILBs in the league.  Throw in Kendricks – a borderline Pro Bowler last year who, at 24, is only getting better – and you have yourself a stable of studs.

Cornerbacks
2014:  Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
2015:  Byron Maxwell, Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe, E.J. Biggers, Jaylen Watkins, Randall Evans/Denzell Rice/Marc Anthony

Overall:  Major Upgrade
I am actually not as high on the upgrade from Williams to Maxwell as most people are.  I think that Cary Williams got a bad rap in this town (legitimately) for his idiotic comments under the excuse of “keeping it real.”  Ya, Cary, you are just keeping it real – we aren’t judging you because you have the balls to speak your mind; we’re judging you on what you REALLY FEEL.  I get it – your daughter’s dance recital is more important than OTAs, but do you have to flaunt it like you don’t care (I won’t get into the sconces)?  And, then to complain publically that you’re being worked too hard after blowing several coverages?  Anyway, I don’t want to digress here…  The point is that I think Cary Williams was an adequate corner not a total debacle like you might believe listening to most Eagles fans.  And, I don’t think Maxwell is a savior.  I think he’s very good, but not an elite corner.  That said, even with those opinions, there is no doubt that he is a significant upgrade over Williams on that side.  And, then there’s the other side.  As much as I defend Williams, there is absolutely NO defense for Bradley Fletcher.  He was an out-and-out disaster.  And, now that he’s replaced by Nolan Carroll (who, irritatingly, was on the roster LAST YEAR, yet no one thought to put him in there even when Fletcher was routinely costing us ballgames), which I am excited about.  I think Carroll is a decent corner and should be an enormous upgrade from the debacle that was Bradley Fletcher.  Yes, the Boykin trade hurts because he was a pretty good nickel corner, but I think he was a little overrated, to be honest.  I don’t think there will be all that significant of a downgrade there from Boykin to Rowe or Biggers (whom I love as a nickel or dimeback) or Watkins.

Depth/Health Risk:  Upgrade
Hard to imagine that the depth is better after losing your top 3 corners from a year ago and losing a potentially valuable piece (JaCorey Shepherd) to a season-ending injury in training camp.  But, it is.  For one, they obviously added Maxwell, who will play every defensive snap for which he is healthy.  And, then they added Eric Rowe with their 2nd-round pick, who should see significant time either on the outside or in the slot.  They also brought in, in a very underrated move, a solid, veteran corner, who has started at various points in each of his 5 seasons in the league (3 with Tampa and the last 2 with Washington).  Also new in the fold are 6th-round pick from K-State, Randall Evans, and undrafted but promising, Denzell Rice, who was a Coastal Carolina Chanticleer last year.  Add in another year of seasoning for last year’s a raw 4th-rounder, Jaylen Watkins, and the presumptive starter, Nolan Carroll, and there is a lot of depth here.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Bradley Fletcher was abysmal with little upside of anything else.  Cary Williams probably played as well as could have been expected – he is what he is – not quite good enough to be a #1, but a little too mouthy to be anything but.  But, his ceiling is about what we saw the past 2 years.  And while I don’t think Maxwell is elite, he certainly could be.  There is a nonzero chance that he turns into a Top 5 to 10 corner in this league, and there was NO chance that anyone on last year’s roster became that.  I also think that the ceiling for Carroll is higher than it was for Fletcher, and guys like Rowe and Watkins have major breakout potential.  The loss of Boykin does hurt because he also has some serious upside, but I think we’re fine here and a 4th-round pick is a really nice return on a guy who was out the door for nothing 6 months from now.

Safeties
2014:  Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski
2015:  Malcolm Jenkins, Walter Thurmond, Ed Reynolds, Chris Maragos/Chris Prosinski

Overall:  Upgrade
While I tried to be conservative on most of these evaluations, I have to admit a bit of a bias here because I thought Nate Allen (seemingly a pretty good dude) was a terrible safety.  So, I would consider any replacement for him an upgrade – even a converted nickel corner, which is exactly what Walter Thurmond is.  But, I actually think Thurmond is a nice addition to the secondary at safety because his corner experience will enable Billy Davis to do a lot of different things with the same personnel.  Plus, he comes with some swagger, a willingness to drop the hammer, and a real ability to ballhawk.  For what he may lack in experience at the position, he should more than make up for his playmaking ability in the defensive backfield.  It would be hard to imagine Jenkins having a better year than he had last year (he may even take a small step back), but I think, as a whole, our pair of safeties this year is better than the pair that played a year ago.

Depth/Health Risk:  Slight Upgrade
The main changes are subbing Thurmond for Allen and Reynolds for Wolff.  While Allen tended to be nicked up from time to time, he was generally reliable.  Thurmond, on the other hand, has had a couple major injuries, including a season-ending injury last year in Week 2.  And, we all know about how brittle Earl Wolff is, but Ed Reynolds is coming off of a rookie season that was lost entirely to injury.  So, while the talent level has clearly increased, the injury risk has probably increased a little, as well.  However, the reason I consider this a slight up-grade is because of the safety experience of Biggers, Rowe (3 years in college as a safety), and Watkins.  So, if something does happen to Thurmond or – ugh – Jenkins, it might not be as dire as it otherwise seems because I could see any of those three corners sliding right into the starting safety spot and not having to rely on Reynolds to start.

Elite Factor:  Major Upgrade
Again, this might be colored by my somewhat exaggerated feelings about Nate Allen, but I am pretty excited about the upside of this pair of safeties.  I think if Thurmond can take to the position comfortably, he adds an incredible presence to the backend of this defense that we haven’t had in a while.  He loves to chase the ball and should come up with a couple INTs, and he also isn’t afraid to lower the boom.  If he can avoid big mistakes, I think he could be a really, really good safety.  And, I never thought anything of the sort about Mr. Allen.

BOTTOM LINE

Here’s a snapshot look at the changes:

Foles -> Bradford
McCoy -> Murray & Mathews
Maclin -> Agholor
Herremans & Mathis -> Barbre & Gardner/Moffitt
Cole -> Alonso (different positions in the linebacking corps, so you could say Cole is unreplaced and Alonso is “pure profit”)
Williams, Fletcher & Boykin -> Maxwell, Rowe & Biggers
Allen -> Thurmond

In my opinion, the QB, RB, CB, and S changes are SLAM DUNK upgrades.  The Kiko for Cole swap is more complicated because, while Kiko is clearly the better player, the position scarcity at OLB and depth at ILB make it harder to judge, but the talent is better.  Losing Maclin hurts, but adding Agholor helps mitigate that, as well as the potential emergence of second-year WRs Matthews and Huff.  And, the two guards leaving is probably a downgrade, but they were expensive, aging, and injury-prone, so they weren’t guaranteed to be major performers anyway.  So, the changes seem like a huge net-positive.

And, as for the holdovers (as few as there are), they are obviously not the same players as they were a year ago.  In a football life, a year older can run the gamut from really good to really bad.  And, with this group, which is generally pretty young, and this system/culture, which should only improve with more familiarity, I think another year is another overall net-positive.  I think another year of improvement is a no-brainer expectation for a bunch of core guys like Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff (23 years old), Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, and Zach Ertz (24), and Bennie Logan and Lane Johnson (25) – all of whom have fewer than 4 years experience in the league should still be ascending talents.  In fact, the only main guys for whom another year might be a negative are Jason Peters (33), Darren Sproles (32), DeMeco Ryans (31), and Brent Celek (30), but with the exception of our future Hall of Fame left tackle, these guys all have replacements either ready to go or have already taken their spots.

Okay, what about the schedule difference?  Well, last year the schedule featured non-divisional road games at Indy, San Fran, Arizona, Houston, and Green Bay.  Houston was the only game in which they weren’t a decided underdog.  Throw in their home underdog game with Seattle and the game at Dallas, and the Eagles were an underdog at least 6 times last year.  This year their non-divisional road games are Atlanta, NY Jets, Carolina, Detroit, and New England.  With the exception of that game at Foxborough, I think they will likely be favored in every one of these games.  And, their home games are incredibly manageable with New Orleans, Miami, Tampa, Buffalo, and Arizona.  Honestly, I only see two games where the Eagles won’t be favored – at New England (which is on 10 days’ rest) and at Dallas (14 days rest off the bye).  The schedule is WORLDS easier than last year.

So, the additions are better than the subtractions, and the holdovers should mostly benefit greatly from another year of seasoning and experience.  And, the schedule looks to be incredibly softer this year (though, obviously, a lot can change with that – it always does).  And, this off of a 10-win season?!?

The sky’s the limit, folks, at least that’s what the analysis says.

One Reply to “The 2015 Philadelphia Eagles – New and Improved?”

  1. My 4 questions for the season are:

    1. How much will Bradford play? Will it be closer to 4, 8, or 16 games?
    2. Kiko Alonso, let’s see what you got coming back, and coming here.
    3. Demarco Murray: how much was him, how much was the Cowboys’ monster OL, and how much regression are we going to see?
    4. Will this be the year that the safeties don’t make me think we might actually be better off just lining up with a cardboard cutout of Brian Dawkins?

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