Each player had a full offseason to work with his position coach. There were no holdouts. Multiple stars received offseason contract extensions. There are no free agent acquisitions looking for a one-year stint to improve their career. Even the incompetent defensive coordinator has had an offseason–his first, actually–to learn the x’s and o’s of coaching an NFL defense.
The purpose of this upcoming series is to rank the 10 most important players to the 2012 Eagles. These players were chosen for a number of reasons. Obviously they are all talented starters. But it’s also worth looking at the backups. If this player goes down for the year in week three, who will step up and perform?
As all of my lists go, this one will begin at the bottom and work its way to the top. Click here to see my number 10 player and my number nine player and number eight player and number seven player and number six player.
5. Nate Allen
The decision by the Eagles to let 35-year old free safety Brian Dawkins leave via free agency after the 2008 season was probably the most unpopular decision that Andy Reid has ever made as a head coach, even more so than his decision to move lifetime offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator.
Dawkins is arguably the most popular player in franchise history. Yes, he had lost a step the previous year or two, but he still had plenty left in the tank, and he proved it when he earned Pro Bowl selections with the Denver Broncos in both 2009 and 2011.
The Eagles attempted to replace Dawkins with Macho Harris, a fifth round pick in the ’09 draft. He started all year, and although he was a great tackler, he allowed a 140.2 passer rating. After the season, the Eagles released Harris and drafted Nate Allen in the second round of the 2010 draft with the pick they got in the Donovan McNabb trade.
Allen burst onto the season, winning NFL Defensive Player of the Month honors in September. But he rates as just the 64th best safety out of 85 qualifiers, with his major weakness in pass coverage. He also suffered a torn patellar tendon against the New York Giants in December.
The injury continued to hamper Allen at the beginning of the 2011 season. He was benched two games into the year but the Eagles were forced to bring him back after seeing how awful Jarrad Page was playing.
Allen receives a lot of blame for playing poorly in 2011. I don’t think that’s fair. The Eagles had a lot of issues with pass coverage. Nnamdi Asomguha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were not being used properly (I guess that’s what happens when you make an offensive line coach as your defensive coordinator), and Kurt Coleman’s incredible success as a tackler from 2010 somehow completely disappeared.
But Allen had a good year. It wasn’t great but it was good.
He rated as the 15th best safety out of 86 qualifiers, and he allowed a passer rating of 48.8, a significant improvement over his rookie year. Most fans will remember that he was torched against the New England Patriots, but few remember how impressive he played in the season’s final four games, likely when he was more healthy than the beginning of the season.
Perhaps I am a little too optimistic, but I think Allen will have a Pro Bowl-caliber season. (I’m not necessarily saying he’ll earn a selection, but that award is extremely overrated.) I expect him to rank as a top 10 safety, according to PFF, with about 60 tackles at a 90 percent success rate, four to five interceptions, and a passer rating around 55 or 60.
It’s going to help that Asomugha will be back playing on the outside. Rodgers-Cromartie is a starter, as he should be. Coleman is a year older and wiser. And new secondary coach Todd Bowles is miles ahead of last year’s coach Johnnie Lynn.
Allen’s success is absolutely vital to the Eagles too. Kurt Coleman is a below average starting safety, and the Eagles have no depth at all at safety. Veteran OJ Atogwe was cut after an injury-plagued preseason, second-year player Jaiquawn Jarrett is showing signs that he may be a bust, and newly signed David Sims from the Cleveland Browns isn’t going to solve the Eagles’ problems.
Allen is somewhat similar to Brandon Graham. Both players were selected very high in the 2010 draft, showed potential as a rookie, but suffered late-season injuries that affected them throughout most of 2011.
I expect both to break out in 2012, especially Allen. It would be great if Allen turned into the next Brian Dawkins, but even if he became the next Quintin Mikell or Michael Lewis, the Eagles would be more than satisfied.
This article was written by Bryn Swartz, the top writer for the Philadelphia Eagles and a featured NFL columnist on Rant Sports. Bryn has written more than 1000 articles in less than two years as a member of Rant Sports. His blog, Eagles Central, was named the 2010 Ballhyped Sports Blog of the Year. To read a portfolio of Bryn’s best work, click here.