Fantasy Football 32: Philadelphia Eagles
Heading into the 2013 season, no one knew what to make of the Philadelphia Eagles offense. A new head coach, plenty of talent and speed, but still, no one was quite sure who would finish the season under center, or if Chip Kelly’s style of offense would transition well in the big leagues.
It was– and then some.
Philadelphia finished 4th in the league in points per game (27.6), total points (442) and second in yards per game (417.2). It was big play after big play for the Eagles, exciting Philly fans, and leading them to a division crown and postseason birth. Entering 2014, this offense will be one of the more fantasy friendly in all of football because while they may not get much better, they can get something else.
After taking over the starting quarterback job, second-year passer Nick Foles posted just that. He was insanely good, so good that it made good players look … not good. 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns in the air, three on the ground and an absurdly low, two interceptions. Are you kidding me? Foles was stellar, scoring the most fantasy points per game from weeks 9-17. That’s right. More than even the likes of Peyton Manning. Foles was a perfect fit for Kelly’s creative offense, and really reaped the benefits. He led all of football in passer rating (119.2), and the fact that he finished eighth in the league in touchdowns, despite starting just 10 games is incredibly impressive. And while Foles was outstanding for fantasy owners, serving as the waiver wire gem of the year, could regression be coming?
The answer to that riddle is yes, folks.
First of all, he’s not throwing two picks. That’s just– no. Philadelphia has weapons for him to use, but the loss of DeSean Jackson may be a bigger blow then some people realize. The Eagles led the league in pass plays of 20 yards or more with 80, and if you take the 11 in which the running backs produced, they would still lead the league with 69. And according to ESPN, Philly’s 70 stretch vertical passes were good for the 5th-most in football. Foles was also the top deep passer in football, according to Pro Football Focus, as 17.4 percent of his passes traveled 20 yards or more. But throughout the season, Jackson was his guy. He targeted him an insane 70 percent of the time, while completing over 70 percent of those passes towards him. He was clearly very reliant on Jackson in the passing game, and the loss of an explosive field-stretcher shouldn’t be overlooked too much. However, will it kill him?
No. No it will not.
Foles was all-around spectacular last year, and even without Jackson, there are enough weapons around him to keep him as a top-12 fantasy passer, or a QB1. Two capable 50-catch backs behind him, a very talented Jeremy Maclin, who developed a great rapport with Foles in 2012, an exciting rookie wideout and an emerging tight end. Not to mention the genius that is, Chip Kelly. But let’s remember. This is a run-first team, as only the Bills, 49ers and Seahawks ran the ball more times per Sunday than Philadelphia did last year (30.8) and no team averaged more yards per game on the ground than Philly (160.4). Still, Foles will have the numbers to float around the 8-12 range among quarterbacks at season’s end. Just don’t expect 40 touchdowns and five interceptions.
The best running back in the NFL, you say?
I’m more of an AP guy myself, but there’s no denying that LeSean McCoy could very well be the best back in fantasy football right now. Over the last three seasons, the only running back to accumulate more fantasy points than Shady is, well, Peterson, of course, But 2013 belonged to McCoy, as he won his first ever rushing title– by almost 300 yards. He was the ideal fit for Kelly’s offense, complimenting it like a glass of milk to an Oreo. Behind one of the top rushing teams in football, McCoy was nothing short of spectacular, finishing as a top-12 running back 93.8 percent of the time, meaning there was just one week where he failed to reach top-12 status. That’s elite, folks.
Playing behind perhaps the league’s best offensive line can’t hurt, either.
Last year, Philadelphia’s line started all 16 games together for the first time in forever. Jason Peters stayed healthy and dominated, while Jason Kelce continues to look like the best center in football. Pro Football Focus rated them as the top run-blocking unit in all of football.
The only knock on McCoy is his lack of carries from up close, and I’m truly nit-picking here. Last year, he only had 20 carries from inside an opponent’s 10-yard line, which ranked him 13th among running backs, while his red zone rushes ranked 10th. However, I think there is definite room for improvement. The Eagles want to run the ball among the league’s best, and Kelly wants to be even faster. Assuming he improves on his number 12 rank in offensive plays per game from year one (65.4), as well as the amount the Eagles get into the red zone, that shouldn’t be a problem for McCoy.
And while many are lower on McCoy because of the presence of Darren Sproles, I’m not too worried. Sproles is mainly going to serve as an option in the passing game, and I’d be surprised if he eclipsed 50 total carries for the year. Last year in New Orleans, he lined up as a receiver 40 percent of the time, and I’d expect that number to rise in Kelly’s spread attack.
Well, D-Jax is gone, and with him, so are his 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine scores. Is he a very good talent? Sure he is. Can he take the top off the defense? Of course. Can the Eagles live without him?
Yes they can.
Jeremy Maclin is making his return after tearing his ACL before the 2013 season, and he stated that he actually feels faster than before. That’s pretty exciting, and I’ve always felt that Maclin was the better all-around receiver than Jackson, anyway. In 2012, when Foles was under center for seven games, Maclin was targeted quite a lot, serving as the Eagles number one wideout during that span. End of 2012 Maclin had three top-10 finishes during the final seven weeks of the season with Foles under center, and the two developed a nice rapport.
And using the RotoViz Game Splits App (incredibly tool), it’s easy to see the positive impact Foles being under center has on Maclin’s fantasy value.
Maclin could be drafted as a wide receiver three in most leagues, and could end up being a tremendous draft day value. The number one receiver in a top-notch offense, Maclin could thrive. He’s only 26-years old, entering his prime.
Then there’s Riley Cooper, who, in my opinion, had an extremely fluky 2013 campaign. His 17.8 yards per catch were second among receivers with at least 40 grabs, tied for fifth in vertical scores and his eight touchdowns were quite a bit. Regression is going to hit him hard, as his value will most likely be tied to finding the end zone. Also, feel free to draft rookie wideout Jordan Matthews toward the back end of your draft. People in Philly are falling in love with this kid, who will operate out of the slot for the Eagles this year. He has a great combination of size and speed, not to mention freakishly large hands.
What a jerk.
Zach Ertz teased the fantasy landscape with some of his potential last year, catching 36 balls for 469 yards and four scores. However, fellow tight end Brent Celek still ran 66 more pass routes and Ertz played just half the snaps. Still, look for a breakout from Ertz, who is a great red zone target, and Celek is a way better blocker, who actually prefers the role. Ertz should transition into the pass-catching tight end, presenting this offense with even more upside.