Philadelphia Eagles State of the Nest: Part I

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The Philadelphia Eagles were a disappointment in 2016. While the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants both made the NFC playoffs, Philly was held out of the race by an offense lacking in firepower and a defense without cornerbacks. 2017 offers something else entirely. The Eagles had a fantastic draft (at least thus far) and signed several great free agents. With that in mind, the Eagles writers here at Last Word on Pro Football pooled together and came up with some predictions for the 2017 season in our first iteration of our new Eagles series, State of the Nest!

(For @LWOSmattharvey’s take, look here!)

Philadelphia Eagles State of the Nest: @ChrisSkylerLWOS

Which position will show the most improvement in 2017?

This one’s probably a given, but the Eagles added a lot of talent to their wide receiver corps. In 2016, Jordan Matthews was the top wideout – and he had a whopping 804 yards and three touchdowns. Yeah, three. Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham were, for lack of a nicer phrase, even less effective.

2017 should have a different narrative. Philly brought in free agent receivers Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith then drafted Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Jeffrey is a true number one option, while Smith is a solid deep threat. Hollins has been a stud thus far in training camp, more than making up for the poor performances by his draft-mate, Gibson. Better yet, Agholor has been earning a lot of praise in training camp too. It’s easy to forget that the Eagles once drafted him with a first round pick; so having a receiver worthy of that pedigree would be fantastic.

Ironically, the Eagles might have gone from having one of the worst wide receiver groups to one of the best.

Which position became weaker?

Last year, the Eagles’ cornerback group was easily the team’s biggest weakness. Leodis McKelvin and Nolan Carroll were a terrible duo and the Eagles defense struggled because of them. Neither of the two are on the team now. And the Eagles drafted quality replacements. The problem? With the exception of Patrick Robinson and Ron Brooks, the Eagles are now too young at corner.

The depth chart will definitely see a lot of shaking up before the regular season; but there’s a scenario where the starting corners are Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, and Jalen Mills. Only Mills has prior NFL experience. Obviously, this is speculation; but even if Brooks and Robinson hold onto the starting spots they’re hardly elite.

The Eagles upgraded their cornerback group of the future – 2017 is too soon to realistically expect Pro Bowl seasons out of rookies.

Which rookie are you most excited for?

This is the year to be excited in an Eagles rookie class. Derek Barnett might have been the best pure rushing lineman coming out of this draft, and Sidney Jones was rated as a first round corner before getting injured. But Donnel Pumphrey might be the real surprise here. In a draft with Dalvin Cook and Leonard Fournette, it’s hard to be excited for a late-round, seemingly one-dimensional halfback. But, everything coming out of OTAs suggests Pumphrey might have been a steal.

Pumphrey has lined up as both a wide receiver and running back, while also fielding punts. Essentially, he’s Darren Sproles insurance – which is a lot harder to find than you’d think. Sproles is probably the gadget player in the NFL, so finding a player that at least appears to be a (somewhat smaller) Sproles clone is like winning the special teams lottery.

The Eagles have had an incredible special teams unit under Dave Fipp – and a lot of that has to do with Sproles. If Pumphrey can capture any of that magic, he’ll be an awesome asset for Philadelphia for years.

Who will be the Eagles’ MVP in 2017?

Carson Wentz was given a lot of surrounding talent this offseason and there’s a lot of optimism going around that he’ll be way better in year two. That being said, quarterbacking in the NFL is tough and sometimes it can take three or four years before one really hits his prime. So why not Alshon Jeffery as the hero the Eagles need in 2017. And that’s by a very narrow margin because Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Jordan Hicks all have a shot at being the Eagles’ MVP this season.

Why Jeffery? He’s put up big numbers in the past and like Carson Wentz, he has a lot of talent around him that will help him find his peak. For one, Torrey Smith and Jordan Matthews are very capable receivers. Expect a bit of a Torrey Smith renaissance after he had some pathetic years in San Francisco (though hardly his fault). Matthews, though mediocre last year, was pretty good during the Chip Kelly era. And if for some reason his production falls off this year, Nelson Agholor may be a quality replacement. Agholor’s reportedly been solid coming out of the slot this offseason.

Thus, Jeffrey can do his thing while the others draw coverage. It’s easy to forget that Jeffrey’s best seasons came when Brandon Marshall was his wing man. That doesn’t even mention a stellar tight ends corps or an improved run-game – Jeffrey should be set.

Projected record for 2017?

The Eagles have a weird schedule this season. Depending on the success of a few other teams, the Eagles could have a surprisingly-high ceiling – or a pretty mediocre one.

We’ll start with NFC East. Expect the Giants to perform as well, if not better than last season. That being said, the Eagles have been an Achilles’ heel for New York the past few seasons. It wouldn’t surprise me if an average Eagles team swept them. The Cowboys are different. It’s not likely that Dallas repeats their 2016 success. The offensive line took a hit and the defense managed to get worse. Even still, underwhelming Philly nearly swept Dallas last year. If not for a careless fumble, the Eagles would have beaten Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in AT&T Stadium. Finally, you have the Redskins. Jay Gruden is good as a head coach but Washington has had an awful offseason thus far. That often translates into the regular season.

What about the rest of the Eagle’s opponents? At Kansas City, at Seattle, and Oakland are hard matches and it’s hard to see Philly coming out on top. Otherwise, the Eagles face declining Arizona and Denver at home, rebuilding San Francisco and Chicago, and both LA teams, none of which strike fear into the Eagles faithful. At a (probably unrealistic) high, the Eagles go 13-3 and play in January. At worst, the Eagles build upon Carson Wentz’ first year but narrowly miss a wild card spot at 9-7.