Juggernaut Index, No. 6: The Philadelphia Eagles

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Juggernaut Index, No. 6: The Philadelphia Eagles
Juggernaut Index, No. 6: The Philadelphia Eagles

We all expected a blistering pace from the Philadelphia Eagles in Chip Kelly's first pro season, and the team didn't disappoint. Philly's offense operated at an unmatched tempo, at times limited only by the speed of NFL officiating crews.

All things considered, it was an impressive show.

Philadelphia ranked fourth in the league in scoring (27.6 PPG), second in total yards (417.3 YPG) and first in rushing (160.4 YPG). This offense was a machine, and it was at its best in the second half of the season. The Eagles averaged 22.0 points per game over the first eight weeks, then 33.25 thereafter.

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For all the odd formations and unique flourishes in Kelly's system, the whole thing is underpinned by basic, sensible principles. Philadelphia creates man-advantages, then exploits them. The team spreads out defenses, then attacks with exceptional skill players.

Here's an insane stat regarding the Eagles running game, via PFF's Mike Clay: 76 percent of Philly's rushing attempts last season were against nickel and dime defenses. NFL average was 40 percent, according to Clay's data. So that seems borderline unfair. Not only does this offense feature one of the most dangerous backs in football, LeSean McCoy, but opposing defenses can't (or don't) overload to stop him. Kelly simply plays the numbers/space game beautifully — as well or better than any coach.

It helps, of course, that McCoy is a player of rare ability. Shady is a live-wire-quick runner, elusive and freakishly agile, capable of shredding any defensive front. He routinely elicits comparisons to Barry Sanders, and those comps actually don't seem crazy. We've had a few small injury scares with McCoy during the preseason (thumb, toe), but he's practicing and on track for a full workload in the opener. If he's not your top overall pick, he should fall no further than No. 3 in any format. He's an All-Pro in his prime, coming off a season in which he led the league in rushing (1607), scrimmage yards (2146) and carries (314).

Also, McCoy actively wants to be taken at the top of your draft, so the man has fantasy intangibles...

Philly signed Darren Sproles to a three-year deal back in March, so that's another ridiculous chess piece for Kelly. Sproles landed in the one spot where he can approach his Saints-era value. Expect to see him in a supporting role, perhaps finishing with 45-55 carries and 60-70 receptions. He'll remain a PPR factor, no question, but he's not a straight handcuff. That role likely belongs to third-year back Chris Polk, though he's dealt with a hamstring injury throughout the preseason. I'm not a committed handcuffer, so I won't give you a hard-sell on backing up McCoy with another Eagles back.

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Quarterback Nick Foles was a gift from the waiver wire last season, a massive success story. He passed for 2891 yards and produced the eighth highest touchdown total in the league (27), despite making only 10 starts. And somehow, even though he's painfully slow, he rushed for 221 yards and three TDs — in fact, he finished with more rushing scores than interceptions (2). It was basically a miraculous season for Foles.

So can he repeat?

The short answer is this: HELL NO HE CAN'T REPEAT. Don't be ridiculous.

But you already knew that. Quarterbacks don't maintain touchdown-to-interception ratios of 27-to-2. The question isn't whether Foles' production will dip, but to what extent. As good as he was last year, we should acknowledge that he made a few poor/ill-advised throws, yet was often rewarded for them. Here's an extreme example. If defensive backs weren't falling down (the Oakland game was a comedy), then they were swatting passes into the hands of Eagles receivers. Foles lived a charmed life, is what I'm saying.

Nick Foles, waiver wire legend. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Nick Foles, waiver wire legend. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

However, that's not to suggest he wasn't also very good. Foles' season was full of smart decisions, quick reads, accurate throws and big plays. I don't dislike him. He's entering his second season at the controls of an inventive offense, and his last dozen games have been mostly excellent. Just please don't assume his remarkable single-season TD and INT rates are sustainable. (We all remember that Josh Freeman once delivered a 25-TD, 6-pick season, right? Good.) No one should be terribly disappointed if Foles gives us, say, 3900 yards, 28 touchdowns and 14 INTs. Draft accordingly.

Philadelphia's receiving corps took a self-inflicted hit — at least in terms of talent — when DeSean Jackson was released in March. D-Jax may have his shortcomings, but he's an elite vertical threat with high-end speed, and he's one of the few receivers in the game capable of making insane plays like this one. Jackson gained 1332 yards and found the end-zone nine times last season on 82 catches. If you don't think his departure is significant ... well, every Foles owner hopes you're right.

Obviously the return of Jeremy Maclin is a plus, even if he's not quite in Jackson's class as a big-play threat. The pre-injury version of Maclin was awfully good; he produced three straight 60-catch, 850-yard seasons from 2010-2012. Assuming he's back at full capacity, he figures to lead this team in receiving, though perhaps not by a wide margin. I wouldn't call Maclin a steal at his ADP (65.8), not while he's going well ahead of Edelman, Colston, Decker, Wayne, Tate, Sanders, and various other same-tier receivers. Philly seems likely to feature a different pass-catcher each week, ultimately giving us a large collection of players who finish with 45-65 receptions.

Riley Cooper remains in the team picture, following a season in which he crammed a crazy percentage of his overall production into three big weeks. Cooper had nine games with less than 40 receiving yards last year. In the three mega-weeks, he delivered 361 yards and six TDs. (Season totals: 835 and 8.) While there's certainly a place for a guy like that in fantasy, you'd prefer to use him as a bye-week crutch, or a deeper-league WR3/flex. He can't be drafted as a starter in 10-team formats.

Vanderbilt rookie Jordan Matthews was a buzzy player throughout the offseason, and Philly's front office was reportedly jacked to land him in the second round...

Matthews is a slot receiver with size (6-foot-3, 212), another potential red-zone weapon for a dangerous passing game. It's a stretch, however, to think he'll seriously feast in this offense in his first NFL season, unless injuries clear a path.

Stanford tight end Zach Ertz enters his second season as an obvious breakout candidate, a guy who was so universally beloved as a sleeper that he's no longer sleeping. If you want him in a competitive league, you'll need to target him in Rounds 8-10. He doesn't make it to the end-game. Ertz made noise down the stretch as a rook, with four touchdowns over his final six games, playoffs included. He's a versatile, high-ceiling player with great size (6-foot-5) tied to a high-scoring offense. I feel I may regret not owning more shares. Brent Celek is still in the mix, but Ertz is clearly the more relevant player in our game. And don't worry about these guys splitting snaps — Kelly will occasionally break out a four-tight end double-stack formation, so two TEs is nothin'.

The Eagles defense should be worth owning for the opener against Jacksonville, but this isn't a D you'll need to roster throughout the year. Philly allowed 394.0 yards per game last season, ranking 29th in the league, and the team was merely middle-of-the-pack for fantasy purposes. LBs Mychal Kendricks and DeMeco Ryans are the IDPs to own, if you aren't willing to go Eagleless.

2013 team stats: 27.6 PPG (NFL rank 4), 275.4 pass YPG (8), 32 pass TDs (5), 160.4 rush YPG (1), 31.3 rush attempts per game (4), 31.8 pass attempts per game (27)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta, 12. Cincinnati, 11. Washington, 10. New England, 9. Indianapolis, 8. New Orleans, 7. Seattle

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