Contributions from Joshua Hudson, Chris Molina, Chris Tyler, & Joe Zollo
As the 2019 NFL Draft approached, Howie Roseman talked about how deep the draft was in defensive talent. That led many, myself included, to believe the Eagles would add pieces to a defense that needed some upgrades — 23rd in Total Defense and 30th in Passing Defense. Then the draft began and Roseman did what Roseman does — he pivoted. Quickly. He traded up in the first round to get in front of the Texans (who desperately needed offensive line help) to snag Andre Dillard, effectively tapping him as Jason Peters’ heir apparent at Left Tackle. Then he moved up in the second round to select Penn State RB Miles Sanders, potentially giving the Eagles the three-down back they’ve lacked since Chip Kelly dealt LeSean McCoy to Buffalo prior to the 2015 season. (I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Sanders was taken in the same round with the same pick that McCoy was back in 2009. Of course not.) Then four picks later, Stanford’s JJ Arcega-Whiteside, one of Pro Football Focus’s top options at WR, is scooped up by Roseman, giving the Eagles the potential to line up four guys over 6’3” in the red zone (Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and JJAW). Roseman later selected DE Shareef Miller from Penn State to not fully neglect the defense, but Roseman made his statement in the first two rounds — Carson Wentz is our quarterback and we’re going to make damn certain he succeeds. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Speaking of Carson Wentz, after failing to finish the 2017 and 2018 seasons with a torn ACL and a fractured back, respectively, he finds himself with the keys to the kingdom after former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles signed a free agent deal to be the new starting quarterback in Jacksonville. Talent has never been the issue with Wentz — had he not missed the end of 2017, he was well on his way to winning his 1st MVP and leading the Eagles to the playoffs. But with the moves Roseman has made over the last couple of years, Wentz is in prime position to return to form. Zach Ertz catches everything thrown their way — Ertz set the NFL record for receptions by a TE — and Alshon Jeffery is reliable as a pass catcher, NFC Divisional game against the Saints notwithstanding. Nelson Agholor has transformed his career after a move to the slot and is able to display his speed after the catch. Then Roseman went out and brought back DeSean Jackson, who is the gold standard for deep threats in the league. (Early impressions from camp say that DJax and Wentz are a match made in heaven.) Roseman brought in Jordan Howard to handle early down work, or handle starting duties until rookie Miles Sanders gets up to speed and, pardon my horrible puns, runs with it. Add in Dallas Goedert to assist in 12 and 22 personnel sets and Wentz may have the best set of offensive weapons in the league. As an Eagles fan, I’m a little biased — they’re the best in the league. – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
In 2017, Carson Wentz played 13 games and finished as QB3 in Club Fantasy scoring. 67% of his weeks were spent as a QB1 (top 12). In fact, Wentz had only one week — excluding Weeks 15 & 16 when he didn’t play — where he ranked lower than QB15 (Week 3). 53% of the time, Wentz was a top 5 QB. He did all this while finishing with a 60.2% completion percentage (25th in the NFL). It was fair to assume that Wentz’s star was destined to continue shining in 2018. His fantasy numbers may have been a flop (QB20, only 46.7% of his weeks as a QB1) but his NFL numbers were spectacular.
Wentz was better in 2018 on most of the advanced metrics you can imagine. His numbers on play action passes are especially fantastic — 4th highest completion percentage, 3rd highest number of play action passes, tied for 5th in yards per attempt — but the area he regressed most was in his deep passing metrics. In 2017, the Eagles employed Torrey Smith to be their outside receiver opposite Alshon Jeffery. Smith’s season wasn’t overly impressive (67 targets, 36 receptions, 430 yards, and 2 touchdowns) but his presence opened up the rest of the field. Over the games that Wentz started, Smith saw 15 targets that went 20 or more yards downfield. He only caught five of them, but it opened up the field for guys like Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor, and Jeffery. In fact, Agholor ran 85.7% of his routes from the slot in 2017, and led the Eagles in receptions, yards, and touchdowns on passes 20 or more yards downfield. Fast forward to 2018. The Eagles traded Smith to Carolina and signed Mike Wallace to be their deep threat. He played in only two games — both with Foles at quarterback while Wentz worked his way back from an ACL injury — and had only three targets. All three were of more than 20 yards downfield. Without Wallace, Wentz had to make due. Agholor again led the team in receptions, yards, and touchdowns on passes more than 20 yards downfield, but did so with far less routes from the slot (59.8%). Wentz’s percentage of deep ball passes fell from 14.8% (5th in 2017) to 11.2% (20th in 2018) and his QB rating on deep passes fell from 100.2 (10th) to 70.8 (25th, tied with Ryan Tannehill). Enter DeSean Jackson.
Jackson has been the premiere deep threat in the NFL since he came into the league in 2008. His career average of 17.4 yards per reception is the highest among active players. Last year, Jackson led the league with 18.9 yards per reception. Digging a little deeper, Jackson led the NFL in aDOT last season (18.9), was 3rd in 2017 (16.1), and 4th in 2016 (14.9). I could keep going but this isn’t anything new for DJax. He’s always had top end speed, even now at age 33. Wentz’s aDOT in 2017 was 9.9. For comparison’s sake, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Wentz’s 2016 draft counterparts — Jared Goff and Dak Prescott — have never had a season with an aDOT of 9.9 or higher. Wentz can and will throw it deep and having a dangerous weapon like DeSean Jackson to further open up the offense should do wonders for Wentz’s fantasy production.
If you take what Wentz was able to do in 2018 — 69.6% completion, 2nd highest completion % from a clean pocket (75.2%), 4th highest completion percentage on play action passes (74.8%), tied for 5th in yards per attempt on play action passes (9.9) — with his MVP-caliber production of 2017 (with Torrey Smith as a deep threat), Wentz is primed for a 2019 explosion. The weapons he has at his disposal — TEs Zach Ertz & Dallas Goedert, WRs Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, & Nelson Agholor, and RBs Jordan Howard & rookie Miles Sanders — there’s no reason Wentz can’t finish in the top 5 at quarterback this season. You saw what he did in 2017 and that was when he couldn’t hit the ocean with a beach ball while standing on a boat in water. With the injuries behind him, Wentz is a bargain at his current ADP of QB8 in the 8th round (or 7th, depending on your league size). – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
After shooting out a cannon his rookie year in 2016, and providing a solid sophomore campaign in 2017, Jordan Howard fell out of favor in Chicago in 2018 and was shipped off to Philadelphia for a fresh start. It may very well have been in an alternate universe that didn’t see the Eagles draft Penn State standout Miles Sanders in the 2nd round. But in this reality, they did, and Howard’s expiration date as a feature back in the NFL may have already expired.
Howard’s current ADP on Sleeper is RB32. Since he is “technically” the starter going into the season, that’s a fair price. The Eagles have consistently run a committee approach with their backs since Doug Pederson became the head coach simply because they haven’t had one guy who could handle all three downs. In 2017, they had LeGarrette Blount on early downs, then replaced him with Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline, and incorporated Corey Clement on passing downs once Darren Sproles succumbed to injury. 2018 saw a similar approach with less efficiency. Ajayi started as the early down back, blew out his knee, and was replaced by the likes of undrafted rookie Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, and Clement. Sproles was injured early in the season, Clement was in and out of the lineup, and the Eagles were forced to throw the ball more than usual. They will go into 2019 with Howard as the early down back — he has missed only one game in his three year career — with Corey Clement as the 3rd down back. Sanders, as he picks up the offense, will spell both in certain situations. By midseason, we could see yet another scenario where the Eagles shift from the back who was their early down runner to start the season (in this case, Howard) to another back who can do that and more (in this case, Sanders).
Howard’s yards per carry average has declined over three straight years — 5.2 to 4.1 to 3.7. His missed tackles forced totals have also declined — 52 to 38 to 23. His rushing yards, despite his total carries never falling below 250 attempts per season, have gone from 1,313 to 1,122 to 935. Matt Nagy, the Bears head coach in 2018, is a disciple of the Andy Reid coaching tree. He was the Chiefs offensive coordinator before that, replacing Doug Pederson, now the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. Pederson and Nagy run a similar style of offense. If Howard couldn’t succeed in Nagy’s offense in 2018, what gives you an inkling that he’ll succeed in Pederson’s in 2019, especially given the presence of 2nd round pick, Miles Sanders? Howard’s draft price isn’t terrible but that’s close to his ceiling — he finished as RB25 a year ago. Much of Howard’s 2019 lies in Sanders’ ability to pick up the offense. If he can, Howard will be nothing more than a short yardage back — back-to-back years with 9 rushing touchdowns. If he can’t, well, do you really think Howard rushes for 1,300 yards and 11 touchdowns, numbers he’d need to be a top 15 RB in PPR formats? Your answer should indubitably be, “no.” – The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson
Who here has a friend that they trust with anything? If you raised your hand, then you will already know what I’m talking about when I compare that friend to Zach Ertz. If you failed to raise that hand, then let me explain why you can trust the Philadelphia Eagles tight end with your life. The tight end put up an absurd 116 receptions last year, on 156 targets, for 1,163 yards, and 8 touchdowns. That landed him the honor of being the #2 TE in fantasy football last year between weeks 1-16. He finished closer to Travis Kelce (TE1) than George Kittle (TE3) finished to Ertz. There aren’t many players you can trust more than Zach Ertz.
Zach Ertz’s career average, since Carson Wentz was a rookie (last three years), is 89 receptions, on 124 targets, for 934 yards, and 7 touchdowns per season. This average would still have still yielded him enough fantasy points to be TE3 last season. The TE3 this season is projected to be George Kittle, and George Kittle is going towards the end of the 3rd round in mock drafts. Ertz is going towards the beginning of 3rd rounds as the TE2. It would not be that much of a drop off even if he regressed all the way to his 70-reception seasons before last season. That’s because with Wentz, he will likely see more touchdown opportunities, a higher yards-per-reception, and at least 20% of his team’s market share of targets.
The Philadelphia Eagles added Miles Sanders, DeSean Jackson, and JJ-Arcega-Whiteside, but Ertz’s market share of targets is not going to decline as much as people think. Zach Ertz’s market share of targets last season was 26%. The Eagles threw 599 passes. Ertz will likely be the #1 target again for the Eagles. #1 targets average a 20% market share on their team. A 20% market share for Ertz in another 600-pass attempt season for the Eagles would still yield 119 targets (despite the 6% decrease). 119 targets, at his career catch %, would put him at 82 receptions. At his career yards-per-reception, those 82 receptions turn into 908 yards. However, Wentz has a higher depth of target and yards per catch rate than Foles does. Foles threw 1/3 of the Eagles pass attempts from last season, and Ertz subsequently had the lowest yards-per-catch rate in his career. A full season from Wentz likely puts Ertz closer to 1,000 yards instead of 900 (give him 950). Finally, there will also likely be more touchdowns available in Philadelphia, as they were only 13th last year with Foles and Wentz rotating as QBs. A modest 5.5% touchdown rate, on 600 attempts, is 33 touchdowns. Therefore, Ertz’s 8 touchdowns, from a year ago, should be a floor. Trust the huge advantage you will get at TE despite the round 3 cost.
This is especially true when you consider who Zach Ertz is being drafted around. You will likely be deciding between TY Hilton, Amari Cooper, AJ Green, and Zach Ertz at that position in the third round. Over 50% of TY Hilton’s weeks, in the last three years, are spent as a WR3 or worse. Over 50% of Amari Cooper’s weeks, in the same three-year window, are spent as a WR4 or worse. AJ Green has spent 60% of his time as a WR1 or WR2, but he has missed 17 games in his last three years. Zach Ertz has only missed four games in the last three years. During those three years, Zach Ertz has spent 75% of his weeks as a TE1 (highest % amongst TEs). He’s also spent over 50% of his games as a top 6 TE, which is the second highest rate in that time span (Travis Kelce).
Long story short? Trust him like the friend you thought of at the beginning of this article. If you didn’t have one of those friends, then make Zach Ertz your first one. He won’t let you down. – Chris Molina
Hailing from the Penn State University, this “do-it-all” back is a beast in development. Miles Sanders ran for 1,274 yards with 9 touchdowns and 139 receiving yards in 2018. Sanders has good size at 5’11’’ 215 pounds. At the NFL Combine, he ran a solid 4.49 forty yard dash. He’s a mix of power and speed. With the pick up of Jordan Howard in the offseason, Sanders will start as the RB2 and that’s totally fine because after Howard beats up on people, Sanders comes in and kills them with his quickness. Where Sanders is going to excel is in the passing game. Sanders is the perfect check down for Carson Wentz. He has the vision and elusiveness to be a dangerous receiver in passing situation, not to mention solid hands too. When picking your line up for the 2019 season, remember the name Miles Sanders because during the season you’re going to regret not having him as an RB2.
With most of the talent on the team being taken too high, second-year tight end Dallas Goedert should excel behind the husband of Julie Ertz. Goedert showed flashes of being a very good tight end in the league in several games last season and was able to provide decent fantasy value in those games. He had four touchdowns and 334 yards, while showcasing his talent in a limited capacity behind a Pro Bowl tight end.
Goedert finished the season TE22 and is being drafted at TE23, right around the area many expect he would be. I believe he can be a solid backup on your team and fill in when necessary but cannot be a starter for obvious reasons that don’t need to be stated (Julie Ertz’s husband). – Joe Zollo
Fletcher Cox is a powerhouse of a defensive linemen but has not finished high enough to be considered an elite fantasy football player since 2015. There is no high-level Linebacker that can take up a spot on your team so that leaves us in the secondary with one of the most consistently prolific safeties in the league, Malcolm Jenkins.
Jenkins will be 31 going into the season and is most likely nearing the end of his career but that has not slowed him down. He can do a bit of everything and is not afraid to get in the box and make the hard-hitting play on a running back or crossing wide receiver. The best thing about Jenkins is that he has never missed a game since becoming an Eagle in 2014. You can always rely on him to be in your lineup and that could free up a roster spot for you to add another receiver or running back to your team. Jenkins finished as DB11 last season and will most likely end up as a high DB2 or low DB1 with his floor being a very low DB2. – Joe Zollo