What They’re Saying About the Eagles

Also: Will Carson Wentz get any playing time in 2016?

Jordan Matthews. (Jeff Fusco)

Jordan Matthews. (Jeff Fusco)

This week’s roundup of the best Eagles links around the web.

Jordan Matthews is the fourth-best slot receiver in the entire league, according to Doug Farrar of SI.com.

No receiver has been more prolific in the slot over the last two years than Matthews, who was handed that role from Day 1 of his 2014 rookie season by then-coach Chip Kelly. He caught a league-leading 81 passes from the slot on 114 targets for 972 yards and eight touchdowns in 2015. It remains to be seen what the post-Kelly regime will do with him, though early returns indicate that head coach Doug Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich see Matthews as an inside guy in more of a West Coast offense prototype.

Matthews is smooth on the run, but not terribly quick, and he does tend to tackle too easily—an issue that goes back to his college days. But he will beat the occasional cornerback over the top, and he’s got a nice sense for timing on the kinds of routes that bedevil linebackers and box safeties in the middle of the field. Most likely, he’s going to be a leader in slot categories for a number of years, and in today’s game, that’s not a bad thing at all.

But Matthews and the rest of the pass catchers are at the bottom of the league, 29th to be exact, according to Gordon McGuinness of Pro Football Focus.

Projected starters: WR Jordan Matthews, WR Chris Givens, WR Nelson Agholor, TE Zach Ertz

Key depth: WR Rueben Randle, WR Josh Huff, TE Brent Celek

Key stat: Rookie Nelson Agholor was the lowest-graded wide receiver in the entire NFL last season.

The Eagles boast two of the top-19 tight ends in terms of 2015 overall grade, with both Zach Ertz and Brent Celek making an impact. Celek had the more reliable hands, with no drops from 27 catchable passes, while Ertz recorded 75 catches for 853 yards, but dropped seven passes. At wide receiver, Nelson Agholor really needs to improve in a hurry. His rookie season was a disaster, dropping four of the 27 catchable passes thrown his way, and putting up just 283 yards. With 85 receptions for 997 yards, Jordan Matthews is the team’s top receiver at this point, but didn’t wow anyone in 2015.

Meanwhile, there’s not a lot of Eagles worth picking in your fantasy leagues, opines Evan Silva of Rotoworld.

One of the biggest concerns for 2016 Eagles skill players is the loss of volume and its resulting opportunities. Whereas Kelly’s offenses ranked first and second in plays per game the past two years, Pederson and Andy Reid‘s Chiefs were 29th and 31st. An underrated Philly defense now coordinated by Jim Schwartz should keep games close enough for Pederson to continue to play slow and balanced. The lone Eagles wideout with a chance to become useful in re-draft leagues is Jordan Matthews, who has two straight top-25 fantasy receiver finishes and enters his third season with target monster potential. Although Matthews’ tryout as a perimeter wideout was short lived, he should be an every-down player as a Z receiver who kicks into the slot in sub-packages. While his on-field play isn’t always pretty, Matthews has trended upward from a production standpoint and just turned 24. Matthews is easily the Eagles’ best passing-game option in scoring position, having impressively converted 11 of his 30 career red-zone targets into touchdowns. What continuing to run far more slot than intermediate and vertical routes will limit is Matthews’ yardage upside. Still the likeliest Philly receiver to withstand an inevitable dip in team pass attempts, Matthews is in a quietly-good position to beat his WR26-30 ADP.

An argument can be made that the Eagles have a bottom-five wide receiving group. Behind Matthews, Rueben Randle and Nelson Agholor will compete for No. 2 duties in camp. After an inefficient rookie season, Agholor struggled at OTAs and was accused of sexual assault in June, although charges were never brought. One beat writer predicted Randle will beat out Agholor to start in two-wide sets on a team that may not use three receivers much in an effort to play Zach Ertz and Brent Celek together consistently. Agholor is still my bet to start, at least partly because I’m not convinced we should dismiss him for his rookie year. Agholor suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 5, missed two games, and wasn’t the same the rest of the way. As ESPN’s Mike Clay has noted, Agholor faced one of the toughest wide receiver schedules in the league as a rookie, drawing the opposing top corner on over 80% of his snaps. Agholor played on the perimeter and [Sam] Bradford is a checkdown-oriented passer, ranking 29th among quarterbacks in percentage of passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield (10.2%). Agholor was targeted on just 10% of his routes, which paled in comparison to Matthews (21%) and Zach Ertz (22%). Trouble is, many of those obstacles aren’t going away. Agholor is a Hail Mary at the end of drafts.

Andrew Potter of Football Outsiders takes a look at the team’s low use of two-back sets during 2015.

At the opposite end of the table, Philadelphia yet again ran from two-back sets less than 5 percent of the time, though the nine two-back runs they had in 2015 was still more than four times the total they had in 2014. Two of those nine runs came in Week 17, after Chip Kelly was removed as head coach; from Weeks 1 to 16 the Eagles yet again averaged less than one two-back rush every two games. If Kelly continues to rely on one-back sets with his new team in San Francisco, 2016 is set to be an extended offseason for Bruce Miller. Miami was the only other team to average less than one two-back rushing attempt per game, and Denver the third to average less than two.

Philadelphia hit the lowest-ever single-season two-back DVOA mark of -66.6% on a paltry six attempts in 2013, then set the highest-ever mark of 56.3% on two attempts in 2014. Their overall running game was far more efficient in 2013 than 2014. Small samples, y’all.

Doug Pederson seems to be following a blueprint that Andy Reid had when both arrived in Philadelphia in 1999, writes Phil Sheridan of ESPN.com.

Pederson was a 31-year-old who had never started an NFL game when the Eagles signed him to a three-year contract. Reid decreed that Pederson would start the season behind center and that [Donovan] McNabb would get playing time as he earned it.

Part of the idea was that Pederson would help the other offensive players get acclimated to Reid’s offense. He could call plays and correct mistakes on the field, tasks that would be challenging for a rookie. Reid also believed Pederson would prove that he was a starting-caliber quarterback who had just happened to be behind Dan Marino and Brett Favre during his career.

That’s where the plan broke down. Reid overestimated the talent levels of both Pederson and the rest of the Eagles roster. Pederson went 2-7 as a starter with a passer rating of 62.7. He threw nine interceptions and seven touchdown passes.

Reid decided to start McNabb in the 10th game of the season, against Washington. Pederson went to the sideline. When McNabb missed a December game with a sprained knee, Reid turned to Koy Detmer. Pederson did not play again.

Will the Eagles make Carson Wentz inactive for the entire season? Matt Borcas of The Ringer explores that question.

On the one hand, Pederson’s caution is understandable. Despite Wentz’s ghostwritten protestations, transitioning from the FCS to the NFL won’t be easy, and an especially patient approach could help him maximize his potential. If the team tempers expectations now, fans and media members will be less likely to assume something is wrong when Wentz starts the season in street clothes, and Pederson won’t feel forced to put Wentz in a position where he’s unlikely to succeed. And hell, maybe Sam Bradford (or expensive backup Chase Daniel) will play well while enough while keeping Wentz’s seat warm to become a moderately valuable trade chip. Crazier things have happened … I think.

But when you surrender a boatload of future picks to move up in the first round and select a quarterback, you’d better really believe in that quarterback’s potential — and not just in the long term. Of the 16 quarterbacks drafted in the top 10 from 2006 to 2015, only JaMarcus Russell and Jake Locker started fewer than 10 games as rookies. Accordingly, it’s hard not to raise an eyebrow at Pederson’s extreme caution regarding Wentz. If the Eagles felt strongly enough about Wentz to mortgage their future for him in the draft, why are they so keen on reiterating that he doesn’t possess the ability to rise above Bradford and Daniel on the depth chart this year?

While giving Wentz a redshirt season makes sense in theory, there’s a fine line between patience and procrastination, and Pederson seems to be leaning perilously toward the latter. Revealing this plan in July ignores the realities of the NFL in general and Philadelphia in particular, where success is expected — nay, demanded — immediately. Head-coaching tenures are shorter than ever, and quarterbacks drafted at the top of the first round are rarely given much time to demonstrate a sufficient return on investment. Maybe the Eagles will prove to be an exception, but as Sam Hinkie can attest, Philly fans aren’t a particularly patient bunch. This isn’t Jacksonville, where Jaguars owner Shahid Khan can grant head man Gus Bradley and quarterback Blake Bortles unusually long leashes. If Pederson is already beseeching Eagles fans to blindly trust his process, we know how this story is going to end.

Elliot Harrison from NFL.com thinks that Wentz will see the field this season, but only for garbage time.

Say what?! Fans think the Eagles’ brass wants to get the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft — given that Philly paid through the nose to select him — on the field rather soon. But what if veteran quarterback Sam Bradford earns every stinking penny of the $22 million he’s guaranteed? What if Philadelphia stays afloat in a division that most assuredly will be captured by a team with 10 wins (if not less)? The Eagles finish the regular season at home against the Cowboys, while the Giants will be in Washington in Week 17. It’s very possible the NFC East will be decided then. Wentz will not be the one of the QBs doing the deciding.

Former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho organized an event between ex-Longhorn athletes and Austin police officers in the wake of events around the nation for the past two weeks, as Robert Klemko of the MMQB reports.

Former Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho organized the event in the wake of the shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge two weeks ago, igniting protests in that city and across the country, followed by the death of another black man, Philando Castile in Minnesota, at the hands of a police officer, and two mass shootings that killed eight police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Acho invited close friend and current Panthers running back Fozzy Whittaker along with Olympic gold medal-winning sprinter Natasha Hastings and Prof. Louis Harrison Jr. to join a panel with [Art] Acevedo and members of his staff. Acho, just returned from a medical mission trip to Nigeria, had private-messaged Acevedo on Twitter: “This won’t happen to our city.”

“The biggest thing for me was that I was tired of seeing the hopelessness the despair in the tweets, the Facebook posts. People said, ‘I don’t know where to go from here,’ ” Acho says. “And my athletic background has told me if you have a problem with something you fix it, you don’t sit there and complain about it. I hope this was the beginning of fixing it.”