Eagles Mailbag: Who Will Play A Lot More In 2016?

Some obvious defensive candidates, plus a couple of sneaky options on offense.

Jordan Hicks. (Jeff Fusco)

Jordan Hicks. (Jeff Fusco)

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You can make good arguments for each of those guys.

Ryan Mathews’ injury history suggests he’ll likely miss a few games, but he did rank second among running backs in yards per carry last season (5.1). While I think it’s highly unlikely he reaches that number again, he displayed the talent that makes him worthy of being a feature back. I’m not sold he can stay healthy enough for that, but it’s difficult to envision a scenario in which he doesn’t play a lot more than 21 percent of the offense’s snaps, as he did in 2015.

Even if Marcus Smith fits perfectly in Jim Schwartz’s scheme, and he develops into a good situational pass rusher, he’ll still be the fourth-best defensive end in the rotation. I think he’ll end up playing more than 10 percent of the snaps (his 2015 mark), but I don’t think it’ll be the most drastic difference on the team.

Vinny Curry is a safe bet to play a lot more than 35 percent of the snaps as it appears he’ll start, although Schwartz really likes to rotate his defensive linemen. That’s why Connor Barwin could be the guy who has his snaps decrease the most. Barwin played 87 percent of the defense’s snaps last year, and while he’s currently the starter opposite of Curry, Brandon Graham will rotate in a lot. Another defensive end like Smith could chip into some of his snaps as well.

Eric Rowe seems like a good candidate for one of the two outside starting corner jobs, so he could make a big jump up from 41 percent. While I doubt Trey Burton plays enough to have the biggest differential, I’m curious to see what his role is. Burton played just five percent of the offense’s snaps last year, and Doug Pederson has talked about wanting to try Burton out at fullback. I also thought the number of three tight end sets the Eagles used in OTAs last Tuesday was interesting, but it’s very possible Pederson will rarely employ those formations in a game.

Andrew Gardner could be interesting under-the-radar choice, as he played just 15 percent of the offense’s snaps last season. He has a shot at winning the starting left guard job, and even if he doesn’t, he could potentially be the first guy off of the bench.

Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce each played 100 percent of the snaps last season, and they both played through some pretty serious pain, but Jason Peters missed one-third of the snaps, and it’s reasonable to expect the 34-year-old to miss time this year. It’s unclear how the offensive line would shift with Peters out, but maybe it would benefit Gardner.

With all of that being said, I’ll take Jordan Hicks. Barring an injury, he’s going to make a huge jump up from 37 percent. The Eagles have very little depth at linebacker, and while Najee Goode could be Hicks’ backup, I doubt Schwartz will want to take Hicks off of the field much.