Juggernaut Index, No. 17: The Philadelphia Eagles

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Andy Behrens
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The Juggernaut Index is our annual preseason ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FANTASY PURPOSES. This isn’t your standard power ranking. Here, we care only about yards and points, not wins and losses.

The Eagles are by far the most difficult NFL team to preview, because all we really have at this stage are assumptions and guesses and extrapolations. And questions — zillions of questions. Some about head coach Chip Kelly's playbook, others about personnel. Philadelphia is installing a radically different offense and an entirely new defense. Everything is different, it seems. Even the punter.

There's basically only one thing we can say with confidence about this team's offense in 2013: The Eagles will play fast. Land-speed-record fast. No huddling, no rest for opposing defenses. The worry in Philly is actually that NFL refs may not allow the Eagles to play as fast as they'd like.

Under Coach Kelly last season, the Oregon Ducks ran a ridiculous 82.8 total plays per game, ranking second in FBS in scoring (49.6 PPG) and fifth in yardage (537.4 YPG). Gameplans were tilted heavily in favor of the run — 52.7 attempts per game — as the Ducks finishing third in the nation in rushing yards (315.2).

If we assume that Kelly won't abandon the guiding principles of his crazy-tempo spread offense, then we can expect an inventive, run-heavy attack in Philadelphia this season. LeSean McCoy is such an obviously strong fantasy play that we shouldn't even need to discuss him. Shady's current Yahoo! ADP is 9.6, solidly in the first round, worth every auction penny. He's just a year removed from a 20-touchdown season, a terrific threat on the ground and as a receiver. Enough rushing scraps should be left over for fumbly-but-talented Bryce Brown, too (ADP 121.3). Philly will likely run all day when things are going according to script.

Here's how McCoy recently described the workload distribution in the Eagles' backfield:

“I know we’re going to split a lot of carries. In this offense you need to. Also I’m going to be touching the ball outside with catches, too. And Bryce (Brown) is going to be sharing the load in some sets where we’re passing the ball and we have two backs. It’s a guessing game for the defense."

Brown should see enough action to be flex-worthy depending on match-ups. He gave us back-to-back 30-point fantasy performances last season (Weeks 12-13), so no one should doubt his potential. If he can overcome the ball-security issues, he'll prove to be a useful fantasy asset at a no-risk price. And if he can't overcome his weaknesses, then Philadelphia has other a few other names on the depth chart. Chris Polk has generated camp buzz, seeing time with the second-team offense. Kelly is plenty familiar with Polk from their days in the Pac-12. Felix Jones is lurking here as well, for when the game situation absolutely demands a short gain that ends with a quad strain.

You might naturally think that a quarterback with Michael Vick's rushing talent would be an ideal fit for Kelly's offense, but things aren't quite that simple. Short-range accuracy and turnover avoidance are clear priorities here, and those aren't necessarily Vick's strengths. (He's really a triple-threat QB, exceptional at fumbling, tossing picks and getting injured.) Of course he's also an extraordinary runner gifted with a huge arm, so we always think ceiling when his name enters the fantasy conversation.

Still, Vick is involved in a three-way competition with second-year quarterback Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley. If first-team reps mean anything, then we'd have to give No. 7 the edge; he's seen more time with the varsity lately.

The following quote from Coach Kelly — from Chris Brown's must-read Grantland piece on the Oregon offense — should tell you some of what the Eagles are looking for in a QB:

"I look for a quarterback who can run and not a running back who can throw. I want a quarterback who can beat you with his arm," Kelly explained at a coaches clinic in the spring of 2011, emphatically adding, "We are not a Tim Tebow type of quarterback team. I am not going to run my quarterback 20 times on power runs."[...]

Kelly explained that he merely needs a quarterback who, if the defense "forces" him to run, "can do it effectively."

Much more recently, Kelly has said that a quarterback's ability to run is "an added bonus." So he clearly hasn't ruled out Foles on the basis of his relative immobility.

"If I call 20 read-options with Nick Foles in the game," Kelly has said, "you should fire me." This is a coach willing to tailor the playbook to his on-field personnel.

Fantasy owners should hope that Vick claims this job with a strong camp and preseason. There's little question that a healthy, well-protected Mike Vick remains a dangerous fantasy weapon, the sort of player who'd get a handful of designed runs each game, plus a few unplanned carries. Philly's O-line was a wreck last season, but injuries were the story. The individual pieces are great; left tackle Jason Peters is back, as is guard Todd Herremans. If given time to work, Vick could have an entertaining season. If harassed, he could be a turnover machine. But you can safely assume that Kelly will want as many big-play threats on the field as possible, and Vick certainly fits that description. He's the only Eagles quarterback I've slotted in my fantasy ranks to this point, because he's the only one I'd seriously consider owning in standard leagues. Should Vick win the job, I'd bump him into the 10-14 range at his position. If it's Foles, we're talking 20-24.

I wish this team had a deeper receiving corps, but you can't have everything. Following the season-ending injury to Jeremy Maclin (ACL), DeSean Jackson is the only Eagles wide receiver you need to consider as a viable starter. His usage in 2013 is one of the more interesting and under-discussed storylines of Philly's season. If deployed as a running threat on occasion — not the nuttiest possibility in a Kelly scheme — Jackson would have a chance to pile up fantasy points. If he's strictly a pass-catcher in a run-heavy system, then he'll be a fantasy tease, a guy who has 3-4 big games and a dozen duds. There's a range of outcomes for D-Jax, but his ceiling is top-12 wide receiver, a must-start in any format. I love him at his current draft price (ADP 86.0), way down in Shorts-Jennings territory.

You can have the rest of these receivers; none of them are uncommonly talented. I'm a little surprised the Eagles didn't suspend or release Riley Cooper on Wednesday, after video surfaced of him being a racist tool. He's a thoroughly replaceable player. Vick handled the situation well; Kenny Chesney actually handled it well, too. Cooper is just extremely fortunate to remain employed. He's barely on my draft board, despite the opportunity created by Maclin's injury.

Offseason arrival Arrelious Benn could get moderately interesting if he could ever get moderately healthy. He's currently dealing with a hyper-extended knee. Damaris Johnson will see the field, but isn't going to emerge as a volume pass-catcher. Jason Avant is still around, looking to deliver another unspectacular 50-500-1 fantasy line. LSU rookie Russell Shepard has made some camp noise, but he has a long climb up the depth chart. Philly also has gigantic Ifeanya Momah in camp (6-7, 239), an interesting size/speed player with plenty to learn. In standard fantasy leagues, there's no need to draft any receiver mentioned in this paragraph.

It's expected the Eagles will use a fair number of two and three-tight end sets under Kelly, which explains the offseason additions of James Casey and Stanford rookie Zach Ertz. Brent Celek is still in the picture as well. Camp reports suggest that Celek is working in-line, with Ertz often split wide. It's tough to get too excited about the 2013 prospects of any single tight end in this offense, though the group as a whole should see a decent target total. Unless you play in a two-TE league, stay away from this bunch.

Philadelphia's defense allowed 27.8 points per game last season, they didn't generate takeaways (8 INTs, 9 forced fumbles), and they didn't sack opposing quarterbacks (30, tied for 25th in the league). So this unit has some work to do. The Eagles are transitioning to a 3-4 from a wide-nine, and it's not a given that they have the perfect pieces to make the switch. Here's Kelly:

"We haven't been drafting for this. We're converting some of the defensive ends [Cole, Graham and Phillip Hunt] to see what they can do. Our job is to see what they do best and play to those strengths. Where we land on that realm, I can't exactly tell you until we get a chance to see those guys."


"Brandon [Graham] dropped [into coverage] a little in college. Trent [Cole] dropped a little bit when Sean McDermott was here. But that was a long time ago."

So this D/ST is still figuring out exactly what it can be, what it can't, and what it needs. There's no obvious reason to draft this group. IDP owners should know LB DeMeco Ryans (113 tackles) and SS Patrick Chung, but I won't give you a hard sell on any other Eagles.

For fantasy purposes, it would actually be nice to see this defense struggle again in 2013, because Kelly's offense would then find itself in weekly shootouts. That's the dream.

2012 team stats: 17.5 points per game (29), 254.7 passing yards per game (11), 117.1 rushing yards per game (13)

Previous Juggernauts: 32. NY Jets, 31. Oakland, 30. Jacksonville, 29. Buffalo, 28. Cleveland, 27. Tennessee, 26. San Diego, 25. Miami, 24. St. Louis, 23. Pittsburgh, 22. Arizona, 21. Minnesota, 20. Kansas City, 19. Chicago, 18. Baltimore