Eagles Wake-Up Call: Most Indispensable Players

Who can the Eagles least afford to lose to injury this year: Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks or Sam Bradford?

Ryan Mathews and Sam Bradford. (USA Today Sports)

Ryan Mathews and Sam Bradford. (USA Today Sports)

After the Fletcher Cox contract extension and Howie Roseman’s flurry of moves this offseason, talk surrounding the Eagles has understandably shifted to the future and how the Birds shape up longterm. But with all of Roseman’s major deals done and training camp (slowly) inching closer, let’s take a look at who the most indispensable Eagles are this season.

5. Ryan Mathews — It’s tough to leave out talented players like Malcolm Jenkins, and a role as important as pass rusher that Vinny Curry fills, but if Mathews is unavailable, the Eagles have an unimpressive group of backs to carry the load. And if Sam Bradford has no running game, how much success will the Birds have as a one-dimensional offense? Mathews is on this list because of how big of a drop-off there is without him; even if he doesn’t rank second in the NFL again with more than five yards per carry, he’ll still give you good production. His talent has never been in question — it’s always been about him staying healthy. Mathews ranked eighth in the NFL last season in rushing DYAR, Football Outsiders’ metric that values performance on a play where the running back touches the ball compared to the replacement level, adjusting for situation and opponent. Mathews’ rushing DYAR was 133, while Darren Sproles’ was 80, and Kenjon Barner’s was 30. (DeMarco Murray’s, in case you were curious, was -29, sixth-worst among players with at least 100 carries.)

4. Jordan Hicks — Joe Walker. That’s who would likely be the Eagles’ middle linebacker if Hicks isn’t on the field. When you add that to the importance of this position group Hicks is expected to lead, it’s difficult to not include Hicks on here. With the defensive line free to roam around and leave gaps unattended, the linebackers will have to do a good job of cleaning up behind them and thinking on their feet to plug running lanes. It seems like the expectations for Hicks only get higher and higher, despite him starting just five games in his career, but that’s what happens when you discard Kiko Alonso and DeMeco Ryans and don’t have much depth behind your starters.

3. Jason Peters — If Peters gets hurt, it would open up a can of worms for the Birds. He can still play at a pretty high level, and if he’s on the field healthy, he’ll make life a lot easier on whomever the starting left guard turns out to be. It’s unclear whether Matt Tobin, who appears to be the primary backup, would play left tackle, or if Lane Johnson would swing over to the right side. Regardless, a Peters injury would make things difficult on the weak link along the offensive line (the left guard), leaving Johnson to play on a side he’s not as comfortable with or leaving Tobin to protect the blindside of an injury prone quarterback.

2. Fletcher Cox — No matter who you ask, every Eagle who plays defense will tell you Jim Schwartz’s scheme is built around the defensive line, of which Cox is obviously the most important player. If the Pro Bowl defensive tackle lives up to the hype this season, he’ll take pressure off a couple of position groups with question marks: cornerback and linebacker. There’s no reason to think Cox won’t excel with this scheme change, and there’s every reason to believe he’ll be the most valuable player on the defense.

1. Sam Bradford — As much as Eagles fans probably don’t want to hear it, Bradford is the most important player on the team this season. Between the disproportionate value of the quarterback position and the drop-off after him (at least for this year), the Eagles’ already slim playoff hopes would diminish even further without Bradford.


Which rookies will see the most playing time in 2016?

“I’m trying to reduce my steps it takes me to break on the ball, because I was taking too many in the OTAs.” Eric Rowe on working with the “Footwork King.”


One of the biggest stories coming out of minicamp was Chris Pantale, who could make the team, writes Zach Berman of the Inquirer.

“If you stereotype a fullback, they are usually those short-neck guys that slam up in there and block linebackers,” [Doug] Pederson said. “But you know, I have to look at it from, how much are we going to use that position? [What’s] the value of that position, and if you’ve got four tight ends active on game day, that’s pretty good, because one of them can be a fullback, play special teams [and] all of that comes into play.

“But I’m not concerned with the size of him. Again, it goes back to once we get the pads on, I just want to see the physical nature of where he’s at.”

That’s the one caveat of the spring work – the players did not wear pads, and fullback is a position that cannot be properly evaluated until there’s hitting. The coaches have seen Pantale catch the ball coming out of the backfield, line up properly, and position his blocks. But the true test will be when he needs to take on an incoming linebacker.

“Right now is just knowing where to line up, alignment, responsibility, stuff like that,” Pantale said. “Right now you need to fit guys up. During training camp, they want to see, he can run around but can he actually make the play and be a football player, be aggressive and block and stuff like that.”

Vinny Curry is donating $200,000 to his alma mater, Marshall, to launch the Vinny Curry Project.

Curry is making a $200,000 donation to launch the Vinny Curry Project. Further details will be released Thursday, but Curry gave a statement used in an MU athletic department Twitter message.

“Marshall gave me the opportunity to play football and, most importantly, receive an education,” Curry said. “The $200,000 will help ensure that our football program will continue its winning tradition and endow a scholarship for a Marshall student-athlete in my mother’s name.

 “It means the world to me.”


Be sure to check out Bodner’s post-draft coverage over at Sixers Post today.

Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.