Friday, May 26, 2017

The Shining Stars in the Eagles' Recent OTA's

This is the time of the year when the long NFL offseason really heads into a lull. The height of the free agency signing period has come and gone and excitement of last month's draft in Philadelphia is starting to fade. We are still more than two months away from the start of training camp and the regular season opener the Sunday after Labor Day is hardly top of mind heading into the Memorial Day weekend.

The big thing going on this past week was the Eagles' recent OTA practices. The inside scoop from the good folks at Bleeding Green Nation, who actually go to things like this pointed to a couple of players who stood out from the rest based on their performance on the field. The ones that I would be the most interested in would be any of the new free agents as well as the Eagles' draft picks so it is good to hear that wide receiver Alshon Jeffery appears to be ready to make an instant impact in the passing game. Even better is the fact that they were also impressed with running back LeGarrette Blount as one of the newest birds in the nest. Both of these veterans have a chance to improve an offense that was ranked 22nd in the NFL last season in total yards per game.

On the defensive side of the ball, first round draft pick Derek Barnett received high grades from the BGN staff, but I am not really sure what for. These are practices without out pads probably run at three-quarter speed, but if those guys are excited about what they saw, then so am I. One of the most interesting takeaways was that third-year wide receiver and former No. 1 draft pick Nelson Agholor was also highly praised for his performance in the OTA's. It is amazing what someone can do when they are faced with the possibility of losing their spot on the roster. Maybe he is simply responding well to the Eagles' new wide receivers coach Mike Groh.

These early team activities are the first important steps toward building a winner in Philly, but it is hard to get all that excited because a professional football player catches the ball or looks sharp in a running drill. Right now, I am still much more focused on things such as getting my boat in the water or catching a ton of crabs for Sunday's dinner.

Friday, May 19, 2017

LaGarrette Blount Adds Some Much Needed Power to the Eagles’ Finesse-Style Ground Game

Last week in a post on Eagles Lincs, I talked about the team’s need to upgrade the running back position by signing LaGarrette Blount as a free agent after he played such an instrumental part in New England’s run to a Super Bowl title last season. I had no idea that my blog had so much influence on team vice president Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson, who both agreed with my stance by signing him to a one-year deal this week for a reported $2.8 million. Either that or common sense prevailed given what he brings to an offense that had major problems getting into the end zone running the ball last year.

The main reason why I was so high on Blount was the simple fact that he was the best option available at this point of the NFL’s offseason. There were trade rumors flying around for a number running backs including Mark Ingram from New Orleans, but none of these options appeared to be all that feasible when you consider what Philly would have had to give up in return.

The biggest benefit that Blount brings to the table as the newest Eagle is a power running game that can gain yards between the tackles, especially in short-yardage situations. The Birds still have Darren Sproles for outside speed and to catch the ball out of the backfield as well as Wendell Smallwood and rookie Donnel Pumphrey, who both mirror Sproles’ style of play. Signing Blount should give the Eagles’ rushing attack the balance it had been lacking the past few seasons.

With a solid ground game behind Carson Wentz and Philadelphia’s new-look passing attack that features both Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith as major upgrades at the wide receiver position, Roseman and Pederson get high marks from me for their offseason efforts to make this offense much more competitive against the likes of Dallas and New York in the NFC East. If some of their offseason moves on defense pan out as well, we could be looking at a legitimate run to actually winning a division title in 2017.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Eagles' Running Back Situation Still Needs an Upgrade

For the second year in a row under the Howie Roseman & Doug Pederson regime, the Eagles waited until the fourth round of the draft to address the team's pressing need at running back. They missed out on Christian McCaffrey in the first round and were unable to trade up in the second round to land Dalvin Cook. Instead, Philly used its second pick in the fourth round to select San Diego State's Donnel Pumphrey.

Last year the Eagles added Wendell Smallwood out of West Virginia in the fourth round and with what now appears to be a running back-by-committee approach to their ground game , you have to question what the overall plan is to bolster a rushing attack that has now become the team's biggest hole to fill on offense.

It appears that the Birds are going to part ways with last year's rushing leader Ryan Mathews (661 yards) given his current salary and his inability to stay healthy for an entire season. That would leave 13-year veteran Darren Sproles as the team's top rusher after gaining 438 yards on 94 carries last year. Sproles was never a lead back in the NFL even when he was tearing things up for San Diego early in his career and given that he will be 34 by the time the 2017 regular season gets underway, you have to wonder when Father Time will finally catch up with him.

I was really high on Smallwood coming into the 2016 season and he has demonstrated the ability to take another step forward this year after gaining 312 yards on 77 attempts in his rookie campaign. The jury is still out on Pumphrey making a significant contribution in his first season at this level and the only other player on the roster that you can work into this mix would be rookie Corey Clement out of Wisconsin, who was recently added as an undrafted free agent.

In light of current situation at this position, I cannot help but think that Philly should continue to scan the free agent market for a veteran player that can come in and fill that role of an every down back. Trade rumors heated up with New Orleans about the prospect of adding Mark Ingram to the mix, but I do not think that the Saints are ready to go all-in on newly acquired running back Adrian Peterson as their full-time starter. Other possible candidates that have supposedly drawn attention via a trade are San Francisco's Carlos Hyde and Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill, but coming up with a workable deal for either one would be a longshot at best.

The one running back that would make the most sense is LaGarrette Blount, who is currently a free agent after his current contract with New England expired at the end of the 2016 season. Due to the Patriots employing a tender offer to try and resign him, Blount would now come at a price including a compensatory pick in next year's draft. DeAngelo Williams is still out there, but much like Sproles at 34-years old, he would only fill a specialty role in this offense. Some of the other available running backs include Rashad Jennings and Karlos Williams, but there are plenty of issues with both of these players to keep them off Philly's short list of options.

Short of an unknown trade or another free agent signing of a player not on the list above, I believe that Blount is the Eagles' best option to plug this hole. The guy ran for 1,161 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for the Patriots last season and at 30-years old he should still have enough gas in the tank to anchor the Eagles' running game for the 2017 season.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Eagles Look to Beat the Odds to a Winning Season in 2017

Heading into Doug Pederson's first season at the helm as the Eagles' new head coach, the Oddsmakers in Las Vegas had the Eagles pegged as a seven-win team when it came to their projected win totals for the 2016 regular season. The Birds held true to form with a 7-9 record on the year. Some of the top books in the sports gambling capital of the world recently released their win total projections for the upcoming season and Philly's total climbed to 8.5.

When you look how this projected win total compares to the rest of the teams in the NFC East, the Eagles appear to be in position to seriously compete for a NFC East Division title in 2017. Washington went 8-7-1 last season and its projected win total for next season actually dropped to 7.5 for 2017. The New York Giants clinched a wild card spot in the playoffs last season with a regular season record of 9-7 and they are expected to match that mark again in 2017 with a projected win total of nine wins. Dallas turned things around in a big way after sinking to just four wins in 2015 by posting the best record in the NFC last season at 13-3. The Oddsmakers are looking for Dallas to take a step backwards next season with a projected win total of 9.5.

Based on these numbers, the race to the 2017 NFC East title should be a good one that might just go down to the final week of the regular season when the Eagles play host to the Cowboys and the Redskins go on the road to face the Giants. I quickly went through Philly's regular-season schedule when it was first released in early April and came up with a projected record of 7-9, but following a fairly productive draft and a favorable stance from Las Vegas when it came to its win total projections, I am amending my prediction to 9-7. That may or may not be enough to land the Eagles back into the playoffs for the first time since 2013, but either way I do feel confident that they will remain right in the mix with New York and Dallas in the division title race.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Eagles Get Defensive in the NFL Draft

The speculation over which player Philadelphia would select in the opening round of this year's draft in front of the raucous home-town crowd continued all the way to Thursday night when Cleveland went on the clock with the No. 1 overall pick. A few mock drafts had the Birds adding another wide receiver with their 14th pick, but once Mike Williams and John Ross came off the board in the first 10 picks that plan came to an end.

Running back was another position the Eagles were looking to fill heading into the draft, but Leonard Fournette went to Jacksonville at No. 4 and Christian McCaffrey went to Carolina four picks later as the two top prospects in this year's class. There was some speculation that they would take former Florida State standout Dalvin Cook, but he remains on the board heading into Friday night's second round.

Everyone knew that Philly needed some help in their defensive secondary and both Marlon Humphrey and Adoree' Jackson were still on the board when the Eagles went on the clock at No. 14. However, team vice president Howie Roseman and head coach Doug Pederson decided to go in a slightly different direction. It was no big surprise that they went with former Tennessee defensive end Derek Barnett with that pick since he had been linked to Eagles throughout the entire draft process. He had a stellar three-year career as a Volunteer that was highlighted by breaking Reggie White's career record for sacks with 32.

The lone caveat to this pick was the fact that former Alabama defensive tackle Jonathan Allen was still on the board at 14 and he eventually went to division rival Washington with the 17th overall pick. Looking back at most of the player rankings coming into this draft, Allen was expected to go in the first 10 picks. There was no real explanation why he dropped so far down in the opening round, but maybe the Eagles knew something that all the draft experts overlooked.

Both players are outstanding additions to their respective new defense and they are sure to be compared to one another over the next few seasons given that they will both be playing in the NFC East. Let hope that Barnett can continue to follow in the larger-than-life footsteps of No. 92 by breaking his NFL sack total someday.