By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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Super. Bowl. Champions. I’ve been waiting all summer to type that in this section. I mean, we had to save the best for last, right? Carson Wentz, before his injury, was well on his way to winning the league’s MVP award and likely would have been fantasy’s number one QB. Despite missing the last 3 games of the 2017 season, he finished 2nd in the league in passing TDs, one behind eventual leader Russell Wilson. And he wasn’t even likely to surpass 4,000 passing yards, that’s how amazing Wentz’s season was. Only one of his weapons — Zach Ertz — was top 10 at their respective positions. After LeGarrette Blount was largely unproductive — only 2 rushing TDs after having 18 in New England the year before — the Eagles acquired Jay Ajayi for a 4th round pick midseason. He had only 1 TD for the Eagles but averaged 5.8 yards per rush. The Eagles, for what it’s worth, had the league’s 3rd best rushing offense last year.
Free agent acquisition Alshon Jeffery became the number one option the Eagles have lacked in recent years. He had his first year with more than 100 targets since 2014 in Chicago and had 9 TDs. The biggest surprise on offense? How about the emergence of WR Nelson Agholor? After two disappointing seasons for the former first round pick, Agholor took over the slot from the departed Jordan Matthews and absolutely owned it, finishing 2nd on the team in receptions, 3rd in receiving yards, and tied for 2nd with 8 TDs. Ertz from the TE position led the team across the board in receiving but no one topped 1,000 yards, showcasing Wentz’s ability to spread the ball around and keep defenses honest. That may be great for the team, but largely frustrating for fantasy owners.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|TE2||(R) Dallas Goedert||N/A||N/A|
The Eagles may have the best quarterback room in the league. It’s rare a team can say that they have a promising franchise QB entering his third season and Super Bowl MVP QB and they be two different people. But that’s the 2018 Eagles right now. As I mentioned above, Wentz was well on his way to the league’s MVP before a torn ACL and LCL derailed his season. Would the Eagles have still won the Super Bowl if he was fully healthy? It’s a fun question to ask but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t matter. Wentz didn’t play in the Super Bowl and got to see his team celebrate the city’s first Super Bowl without him throwing a pass in the playoffs. That’s the kind of thing that drives a man to be better.
So how much better can Wentz be in 2018? For starters, he can get healthy. Early video of Wentz in offseason workouts suggest he’s well on the way to being just that. He could also stand to increase his completion percentage. At 60.2%, a QB of his caliber should be completing more passes, especially when he had a higher completion percentage with a less talented receiver corps in 2016. Even his adjusted completion percentage of 69.6 ranked 30th in the league. That tells me the results are more because of him than the ability of his playmakers.
Now for the good. A full season likely gets Wentz in the 3,700+ range of passing yards. If Jeffery, Ertz, Agholor, and new addition Mike Wallace do what they’re capable of, Wentz likely tops 30 TDs once again. Wentz finished tied for 3rd in the league with 10 TD passes on throws travelling more than 20 yards downfield. He had the 5th highest percentage of play action passes in the league. On such throws, Wentz had 6 TDs and 2 INTs. Without play action, Wentz had 27 TDs and 5 INTs. What that tells me is that Wentz doesn’t need his stand out running game to open up the passing game. If head coach Doug Pederson lets him pass a few more times, Wentz has a chance to top 4,000 yards and 30 TDs. Wentz is a QB1 if he proves to be healthy coming back from his knee injury and I’ve seen nothing to date that tells me he won’t be back by Week 1. Draft with confidence.
In the event the Eagles decide to hold Wentz back a week or two to start the season or he reinjures the knee, Nick Foles should have no problem holding his own as the QB in this offense. As witnessed by his Week 15 performance and the Eagles’ playoff run, Foles knows what he’s doing. I don’t think Foles is a QB1, but he’s certainly a spot starter and a top 20 QB.
The dreaded committee. Cole and I have written about plenty of them throughout the summer and the fact of the matter is, you’re likely to end up with a few RBs on your team that are part of one. The goal is to find ones in fantasy friendly offenses. The Eagles fit that description. The upside? The Eagles rushing attack was 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards (2,115) and 6th in attempts (473). Jay Ajayi is the lead dog in this backfield. The Eagles brought him over before the trade deadline last year and he immediately made his presence felt. He rushed for only 408 yards in 7 games — 58.29 yards/game — but he averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Over a full season, Ajayi still approaches 1,000 yards. At the very least, the Eagles have the kind of offensive line that can help him get there with only 190 carries. Ajayi also is one of the best in the league at generating yards after contact. He averaged 2.77 yards/attempt in 2017, 3.47 in 2016 (best in the league), and 3.35 in 2015 (rookie year). With a full year behind the best offensive line in football (according to Pro Football Focus so you know it’s not coming from this very biased columnist), Ajayi should easily approach 1,000 yards and get close to his 2016 prominence. I look for about 220 carries, 1,125 yards and 7 TDs from Ajayi which will easily make him a RB2 in fantasy. You just won’t be thrilled about owning him because of who’s chomping at the bit for carries behind him.
Corey Clement burst onto the scene late last year after going undrafted out of Wisconsin. He even showed his worth in the passing game after Wendell Smallwood couldn’t handle the role. Clement averaged 12.3 yards per catch, including 2 TDs in the regular season and had 100 yards on 4 catches and a TD in the Super Bowl. He also chipped in 74 rushing attempts and 4 TDs on the ground. This is why people are scared of the Eagles RB corps. Clement could easily have over 100 rushing attempts and another 30 receptions, putting him in the RB3/FLEX category in most weeks. But the Eagles didn’t give up a 4th round pick to acquire Clement. I think Clement will get around 85 carries for 365 yards and another 250 yards receiving on 22 catches and 5 total TDs. Not enough to warrant strong fantasy consideration — think top 40 numbers — but enough to be drafted and enough to sway people from trusting Ajayi.
Returning from injury for his final season in the NFL, Darren Sproles will be the pass catching back in this offense. He was injured early in the season — he tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play — and was a big reason why we even know Clement’s name. With Sproles returning, this is a three-headed monster in the Eagles backfield. Sproles is 8th in NFL history in total yards and is arguably the best pass catching RB in the league. He’s also 35. Pederson will work the three of these backs in a healthy rotation with Ajayi receiving most of the work on early downs with Clement and Sproles splitting passing downs. I can see Sproles with about 40 rushes and another 35 receptions but you’re likely bypassing him on draft day unless Ajayi or Clement get injured.
Donnel Pumphrey, the 2nd year back from San Diego State who injured his hamstring in training camp and was lost for the season, will find himself fighting for touches behind Sproles. The Eagles drafted him as the heir apparent to the 3rd down back role in their backfield but didn’t impress in camp prior to his injury. He’ll have this summer to prove he belongs as Wendell Smallwood, his main competition for the role of 4th RB, has done little to prove he belongs. Pumphrey is a name to know in Dynasty leagues because as mentioned above, this is Sproles’ last year.
Alshon Jeffery helped solidify this unit a year ago and looks to take the next step in becoming Wentz’s most trusted target on the outside. His team-leading 9 TDs was a good first step. The most concerning numbers? Jeffery had 120 targets and only 57 receptions last year. That’s not great efficiency. Much of the beginning of the season was Wentz and Jeffery building chemistry and timing — Jeffery had 4 games before the team’s Week 10 bye with single digit fantasy points. Wentz had only a 96.1 QB rating when targeting Jeffery, good for 37th in the league among WRs. For comparison, Wentz had a 114.2 rating when targeting Nelson Agholor. Still, Jeffery had the fewest drops among qualified WRs on the team with 3, a far cry from Wentz’s rookie year when no receiver had less than 6. In year two with Wentz, I think Jeffery further solidifies himself as the number one option in the passing game, eclipsing 1,000 yards for the first time since 2014. He should chip in 8 TDs and 75 catches, making him a solid WR2.
Nelson Agholor took a giant step forward in 2017. One of his biggest assets is his speed as he led the team in yards after catch (YAC). He had the most receptions (7), yards (311), and TDs (3) on the team on passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield. He also ran 86% of his routes from the slot. 86%! Agholor even cut his drops from 7 in 2016 to 5 in 2017. His move to the slot in the Eagles offense seems to have helped Agholor rejuvenate his career. He also finished as fantasy’s 18th best WR as a result. The biggest question facing Agholor: can he do it again? As much as I’d love for him to, I don’t think so. Wentz seems to trust him and has a good rapport so I believe he’ll eclipse 600 yards in this offense, but what will keep the Eagles offense in the conversation of best offenses in the league is if Jeffery takes a big leap forward. I think Agholor will get left in the dust as Jeffery ascends, meaning his fantasy stock won’t be near as high in 2018. Don’t hesitate to draft Agholor, but he’s a rounds 11-14 guy, not a 4-7 guy after his top 20 finish in 2017.
The newest addition is Mike Wallace, coming over from the Ravens. Wallace had been the Ravens’ number one option and will look to exceed the production of the man he’s replacing, the departed Torrey Smith. Wallace had 9 catches for 329 yards on passes traveling 20 or more yards downfield. He also had zero drops. Torrey Smith had 5 catches for 175 yards and 3 drops. Basically, the Eagles are spending less on Wallace to get better production. Just another reason why I don’t think Agholor repeats his stellar 2017. Wallace is the deep threat in this offense but he won’t be on fantasy radars like he was when he was the number one option in Baltimore. Look for something like 40 catches for 575 yards and 4 TDs from Wallace. Rosterable, but hardly worth a weekly start.
Then there are the 2nd year guys, Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson. Hollins looks like a clone of Jeffery, but with more speed. He looked like he would have an opportunity to claim the outside spot opposite Jeffery before the Eagles brought in Wallace. All the Eagles are doing is delaying the inevitable. Hollins will continue to contribute on special teams and chip in with 20 catches for 200+ yards while waiting his turn. Stash Hollins in Dynasty as his ascension begins in 2019. Gibson is a speedster who knows how to scoot. He has an issue with drops (much like Smith did/does) and because of the depth at the position was relegated strictly to special teams work. Wallace is one of the best deep threats in the game and Gibson should be able to learn a thing or two. Much like with Hollins, Gibson’s time is 2019 and beyond.
When I said Zach Ertz would be a top 5 option at TE last year, people laughed at me, calling me a homer. I had my reasons and dammit if I didn’t look like a genius. Ertz led the team in receptions, receiving yards, and tied for 2nd with 8 TDs en route to a TE3 finish. If not for missing two games with injury, he could have challenged Travis Kelce as the top TE in Fantasy. What will he do for an encore? Much of the same. I have Ertz as my number 2 TE heading into this season and I don’t see any type of regression unless he gets hurt. He has a great rapport with Wentz and is his biggest safety blanket, as 46 of his receptions went for a 1st down. Ertz was even the team’s second most prolific receiver on passes traveling 20 or more yards downfield (7 catches for 209 yards and 2 TDs). Draft Ertz with confidence but be prepared to invest a high draft pick in him — think between rounds 3 and 5.
Backing up Ertz will be rookie TE Dallas Goedert. The Eagles drafted Goedert in the 2nd round after Trey Burton signed a free agent deal with the Bears. Goedert comes from South Dakota State where he had back to back seasons of over 1,000 yards receiving. Basically, if the Eagles wanted to replicate the Patriots 2-TE success from earlier this decade, they could do it with Ertz and Goedert. I’m thinking much more conservative numbers, something like 20 catches for 250 yards and 2 TDs from the rookie. But if Ertz misses any time, look for Goedert to be a top 10 TE in those weeks.
Rookie to Watch
I’m sure you are wondering who Dallas Goedert is. He’s a tight end from South Dakota State. What is so special about this kid? In back to back seasons, Goedert had over 1,000 yards receiving. His career receiving mark of 2,988 yards is impressive from the tight end position. Goedert can catch the ball at all three levels, fight for the 50/50 ball, and he’s also a great blocker. Philadelphia has Zach Ertz so Goedert won’t be the immediate starter but as a second round pick he will see the field and will make big plays come Sundays. – Chris Tyler
He didn’t start a single game last season but dazzled in the Super Bowl. He played his college ball at Wisconsin and now Corey Clement will work his way into a starting role with the Eagles. Jay Ajayi runs like he is hauling an anchor and has never been known for his pass catching ability. Darren Sproles is 35 and coming off a major injury and Donnel Pumphrey is no threat to Clement. Look for Clement to be someone you can stash on your bench until he takes off and proves he will be the number one option in the backfield for the reigning Super Bowl champions. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The two biggest questions for the Eagles heading into 2018: Will Wentz be healthy by Week 1? Will the team suffer a Super Bowl hangover? Both are legitimate questions but as an unbiased fan — do those even exist? — I say yes and no. In that order. Wentz will be fine and the Eagles will be primed to once again be a top team in the league. They won the Super Bowl after losing their star left tackle, best pass catching running back, their starting middle linebacker, and their QB for the playoffs. They’re deep and it shows up in Fantasy. It’s also what limits some of their playmakers’ potential for your roster. The must haves are Wentz and Ertz, both top 5 options at QB and TE, respectively. Jeffery, Ajayi, Agholor, and Clement should all be owned, in that order. Jeffery and Ajayi have top 10 upside if the offense would focus on them but solid enough floors to keep them in your starting lineup. Agholor and Clement could easily be top 20 options if the guys in front of them go down but should be able to deliver top 40 numbers at worst. The Eagles D/ST finished 4th in 2017, its third straight year as a top 11 option. They should once again be a top 5 option with their ability to generate sacks with arguably the deepest defensive line in football. K Jake Elliott — my official man crush — made his presence felt in the Eagles early season win against the Giants with a game-winning 61-yard FG and finished 12th among kickers. In a high scoring offense, Elliott should be a top 10 option in 2018. The downside to winning the Super Bowl? The following year’s schedule. They get the AFC South and the NFC South plus the Vikings and Rams, both of which loaded up in the offseason. During the Fantasy playoffs, the Eagles face the Cowboys, Rams, and Texans, with the first two on the road. That’s at worst one solid defense, potentially two. (Texans are all about health with Watt coming back from injury.) Plan accordingly. Here are some other bits of information I dug up while researching the Super Bowl winning Philadelphia Eagles:
- Carson Wentz has the 4th highest QB Rating when not facing pressure in 2017 (110.3). He also had the 4th highest QB rating when facing pressure (81.7). The pressure didn’t faze him as he had the highest TD:INT ratio in the league with pressure in his face (8:1).
- Jay Ajayi’s 5.8 yards per carry in Philly would’ve ranked 2nd in the league last year behind Alvin Kamara’s 6.1.
- No wide receiver on the Eagles finished in the top 40 of yards per route run. The highest was Nelson Agholor at 1.6.
- Alshon Jeffery ran the 9th most routes on passing plays in the league last year (549). He finished with the lowest yardage total among WRs in the top 10 and the second lowest yards per route run (1.44).
- Zach Ertz was the only pass catcher on the Eagles to reach 2.00 yards per route run in 2017 (exactly 2.00). That was also 4th best among TEs in the league.
- The Eagles defense had 38 sacks and 19 INTs a year ago. That’s good for an additional 114 fantasy points. They also had 0 return TDs. They had 2 each in 2015 and 2016. Welcome back, Darren Sproles.