Sources reported earlier this week that Philadelphia Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug and will likely be suspended for four games this season. If Johnson does indeed miss the first four games in 2014, his absence will affect the performance of other Eagles players. Here’s what changes from a fantasy football perspective.
Pro Football Focus ranked Philadelphia’s offensive line as the best in the league in 2013. The Eagles have a number of options to replace Johnson, the most likely being veteran lineman Allen Barbre, who filled in admirably at left tackle last year Week 10 against the Green Bay Packers. Barbre received a three-year contract extension in June just for cases like these.
While the line may be downgraded slightly by Johnson’s absence, this news comes early enough for the Eagles to prepare his replacement during training camp. It’s not as if there will be a last-minute substitution in the preseason or for Week 1.
That being said, I’m not at all worried about RB LeSean McCoy. McCoy is still second overall in my rankings for two reasons. First, the offensive line should still be strong barring any further injuries or disciplinary actions. Second, McCoy is talented enough to still succeed even behind a modestly capable line and will have more than enough help to produce in 2014.
However, I am a little worried about QB Nick Foles. To be honest, though, I have never been a big Foles believer. I think that he got a little lucky last year with some of his deeper throws due to poor defense, and defensive coordinators will have had all offseason to account for some of Chip Kelly’s play calls.
Any downgrade in the offensive line could really hurt Foles. 2014 will be the first year when Foles starts at the beginning of the season, and the pressure will be mostly on his shoulders to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke. Good blocking and pass protection will be crucial in giving him a good start and could dictate how the rest of his season progresses.
While the stats didn’t necessarily show it last year, Foles showed tendencies that should be cause for concern. His 27-2 TD-to-INT ratio was the best in the league, but this is flawed. Looking at the game tape, a few of his deep passes and at least two or three of his TD passes should’ve been batted down or intercepted were it not for exceptionally poor defensive play.
Moreover, when pressured, Foles seemed lost at times. Foles lost two fumbles and was sacked 28 times in 2013 despite only playing a significant amount of snaps in 11 games. Any breakdown in blocking up front could see Foles regress due to some bad habits, including holding onto the ball for far too long.
In summary, McCoy is mostly idiot-proof at this point in the offseason. The absence of Johnson shouldn’t diminish his value all that much given his track record and the support from the rest of the offensive line. However, even if you are a Foles believer, his risk has never been higher. A bad start to the season could derail his confidence and production for the rest of the year. He may finish as a top-5 QB in 2014, but he may not. Draft Foles with caution.