5 Eagles Who Need to Succeed in 2020 (if the season happens)
1. Carson Wentz
Let’s start with the most obvious. Unless Wentz goes down with the Eagles in prime playoff position and Jalen Hurts guides the team to a Super Bowl like Nick Foles, Carson’s success and the team’s will go hand-in-hand. Some fans believe Wentz has regressed since his near-MVP season that was cut short by his ACL injury, but the tape and the stats actually show a quarterback with good clutch decision making, a talented arm, and decent mobility doing all he can despite lacking a true healthy #1 receiver or a deep threat.
I’ll get to a few stats momentarily, but think about how well Wentz performs with anyone who remotely resembles a deep threat. During the 2017 Super Bowl campaign when he threw 33 touchdowns to just 7 interceptions he had Nelson Agholor and Torrey Smith healthy most of the season, and while Agholor mainly played in the slot their collective speed was enough to stretch defenses and create chunk plays.
Last season, with an aging DeSean Jackson healthy for basically a half of football, Wentz threw for 313 yards, 3 TDs, and no picks as the Eagles won the game and he recorded his highest passer rating of the 2019 season (121). Finally, Carson Wentz was the only QB last season who took his team to the playoffs without an 1,000-yard rusher or an 1,000-yard receiver.
Furthermore, you can only hope he keeps improving after missing an entire year due to a serious knee injury, and yes, Wentz regressed in terms of his QB rating and his completion percentage from 2018, but considering the Eagles’ offensive line and receiver woes I think that only a slight statistical regression is actually impressive.
TD/INT ratio is also one of the most important stats in the NFL and is often the difference between a win and a loss, and Wentz improved his in 2019 along with some other key stats as he threw 27 TDs and just 7 INTs compared with 21 TDs and the same 7 picks in 2018. If the Eagles want to get back to the Super Bowl, Wentz’s performance will likely be the determining factor.
2. Darius Slay
The Eagles defensive backfield has been an issue for seemingly at least three years during a time where passing dominates the NFL more each day, and if Nnamdi Asomugha and the “Dream Team” taught us anything it is that expensive free agents (especially corners) need to perform. Philadelphia’s 2019 CB group was also especially shallow and lacked a true #1 corner. Good news! Slay acted as the Lions unquestioned #1 corner for his entire career and has shown a remarkable ability to shadow the NFL’s most elite receivers.
Slay has a unique combination of awareness, speed, and ball-hawking skills. He also has the ability to stay step-for-step with receivers in man coverage, and constantly surprises quarterbacks with his awareness in zone coverage. The stats back Slay up too. Since 2015, the former second-round pick leads the NFL in pass breakups with 82 and made the Pro Bowl the last three years straight. Additionally, if the Eagles’ Super Bowl season proved anything it was that turnovers win Championships.
Slay has snagged 13 interceptions over the last three seasons including recording eight in 2017 alone, when he was named an All-Pro. At 29 years old, Slay is in the midst of his prime and is capable of blanketing opposing #1 wide receivers. The past two years he allowed completion rates of 46.8% (2018) and 55.9% (2019). The Eagles’ 2019 15th-ranked scoring defense could have used similar performances that would have made a significant difference in a nail-biting season.
Slay was in no cupcake division either and had to deal with NFC North match-ups with the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen, the Packers’ Davante Adams, and the Bears’ Allen Robinson. 19th in passing yards allowed per game in 2019, the Eagles defense has to hope Slay can prevent past torchings by the likes of Terry McLaurin and Amari Cooper from recurring.
3. Miles Sanders
A major reason Wentz struggled in 2019 was that the Eagles lacked a dominant–or even average–running game that could keep defenses honest. Miles Sanders making a big jump in his second season will be crucial for balancing the offensive attack. Ideally, he needs to maintain his big-play potential and receiving ability while continuing to progress as an NFL ball-carrier. While he flashed his explosion at Penn State, the youngster struggled with fumbles which was a major concern for teams during the Draft. In his rookie season, he fumbled twice on just under 200 carries which causes some concern, but he improved his ball security as the season went on and hopefully that will carry over into 2020.
Fumbles aside, Sanders had one of the greatest rookie seasons of any Eagles running back and is the only Eagles rookie in history with at least 800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. He also accounted for more rushing yards (818), yards from scrimmage (1,327), and all-purpose yards (1,641) than any first-year player in team history. His 1,641 all-purpose yards led all NFL rookies and ranked eighth in the league (fifth in the NFC) and the 1,641 all-purpose yards were the most by any Eagles player since LeSean McCoy’s 2,146 in 2013. Additionally, Sanders’ 1,327 yards from scrimmage led all NFL rookies (worth noting five of the last six players to win Offensive Rookie of the Year led their class in scrimmage yards too).
Sanders can do it all. He can run between the tackles, catch passes out of the backfield, and has the athleticism to run by or crumple defenders in the open field. Head Coach Doug Pederson said it best when he mentioned last year, “He is an explosive guy when he has the football in his hands and we’re always looking for ways to get him more involved.”
Since 2007, Sanders is one of only three NFL rookies with at least 1,300 scrimmage yards and 300 return yards (joining Adrian Peterson and Alvin Kamara). He also took advantage of his expanded role towards the end of the year. Over the final seven weeks of the season, Sanders was one of just six players (and the only rookie) to post at least 650 scrimmage yards and four TDs. Moreover, Sanders is one of just seven rookies in NFL history to account for 800 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards (Gale Sayers, Marshall Faulk, and Saquon Barkley are three of those seven, no big deal).
Yards per carry/touch is an incredibly crucial stat when it comes to rushing success on a team and individual level. Among running backs with at least 200 touches, Sanders led all rookies with 5.8 yards per touch and came in third among all NFL backs. If this list harps on anything (and if Eagles fans learned anything from DeSean Jackson’s injury), it is that explosive plays are critical, and sanders’ 13 plays of 20 or more yards ranked tied for fourth among all NFL RBs.
Wentz buys time and delivers an absolute DIME to Miles Sanders!#PHIvsWAS | #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/6ENiCvEhBW
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) December 15, 2019
Finally, he led all NFL rookie backs with 50 catches, 509 receiving yards, and three receiving touchdowns. An effective and balanced running game will be key for a successful Philadelphia offensive attack in 2020, and Sanders is just the man for the job.
4. Fletcher Cox
It is no secret that it took Fletcher Cox a while to get going last year as his early-season struggles were constantly bemoaned by Eagles fans. Despite playing all 16 games, Cox ended the 2019 season with worse stats than 2018 in almost every category. In 2019, the versatile interior lineman recorded 3.5 sacks, five tackles for losses (TFLs), and ten QB hits while he finished 2018 with 10.5 sacks, 12 TFLs, and a whopping 34 QB hits.
.@MalcolmJenkins and Fletcher Cox combine on the @Eagles takeaway! ?
?: #PHIvsNYG on FOX
?: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app
Watch free on mobile: https://t.co/HYJhHN7b2Y pic.twitter.com/Hco24KKeMi
— NFL (@NFL) December 29, 2019
Is that decline due to worse individual performance in his eighth NFL season, injuries, more double-teams, or something else? For Philadelphia’s sake, the decline is hopefully the result of increased attention from opposing offensive coordinators and a league-wide recognition of his talent from his career-high 10.5-sack season.
Cox is likely one of the most talented interior lineman in the league (might even be #2 behind Aaron Donald) and he has a unique size/athleticism combination for a lineman that makes him both an elite pass-rusher and a smothering run-stopper. In fact, he is likely the best power-rusher in football and since 2015 is second to only Aaron Donald in total pressures among interior D-lineman. If it wasn’t for Donald’s own stellar 2018 season, Cox’s 2018 would have gone down as one of the single greatest seasons by an interior pass-rusher.
During his career, Cox has started 119 of 125 games played, and racked up 367 tackles, 48 sacks, 14 passes defended, and 11 forced fumbles along the way. He was also named an All-Pro four times, has made the Pro Bowl each of his last five seasons, and was recently named to Pro Football Focus’ All-Decade Top 101 list. PFF has Cox as the second highest-graded defensive lineman in the NFL since 2017 and ranks him No. 15 in their own top-50 rankings. This July, it was also announced that Cox made the NFL Network’s top-100 players list for the fifth consecutive season.
Fletcher Cox ?pic.twitter.com/kXgDvfPOIC
— PFF (@PFF) January 5, 2020
Despite his lackluster 2019, Cox has all the talent in the world to continue being the dominating force in the center of the Eagles defense that helps DBs with his pass-rushing abilities, LBs with his run-stopping, and fellow D-lineman with his sheer overpowering of opposing match-ups which forces double-teams.
Over the past three seasons, Cox has 202 total pressures — the second most in the league among interior pass rushers — and the sixth most in the league among all players, and it is also worth noting he finished 2019 leading all interior D-lineman in forced fumbles with three. He is a wrecking machine inside, and the entire Eagles D will have a better performance if he returns to 2018 form.
5. Jalen Reagor
Yes, at this point Reagor isn’t exactly the #1 receiver many feel Philadelphia needs and is essentially just a screen/bomb threat, but with the Eagles’ duo of tight ends eating up the middle of the field, Reagor’s outside abilities are what the Eagles need to stretch defenses. He showcased those abilities on one of FBS’ worst passing offenses as TCU saw five different mediocre QBs start during Reagor’s 2019 slump.
Jalen Reagor could not be stopped on this 65-yard TCU touchdown ?
(? @Carhartt) pic.twitter.com/BzBjnvMAFX
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) November 17, 2018
Also, PFF reported just 61% of his targets since 2018 were catchable, ranking 3rd lowest in this draft class. While Reagor had an underwhelming 2019, he had 1,231 scrimmage yards and 11 TDs in 2018 (including 170 rushing yards, two rushing TDs, and a 20.8 punt return average). The speedster was also named to the All-Big 12 2nd-Team two years in a row.
Jalen Reagor fights for 50/50 balls, has phenomenal field-vision, and is built like a smaller running back as he’s 5′ 11″ but 205 lbs of solid muscle. A frequent end-around threat, he can outrun anyone to the sideline and fights through tackles. He has electric speed and agility, and his short-area quickness is likely the best on the offensive side of the Eagles’ roster outside of Miles Sanders or former Olympian Marquise Goodwin. Furthermore, Reagor has effortless speed on film and he’s got that Shady McCoy in him where he doesn’t seem to lose much speed (if any) when changing directions.
At this point in DeSean Jackson’s and Marquise Goodwin’s careers, Reagor likely edges them out as the team’s speediest deep threat, and we all saw what Wentz was able to do with a briefly healthy Jackson. Could you imagine how this offense could look with a healthy Reagor, Jackson, and Goodwin?
Reagor showed off his explosive athleticism at the combine too with a 42” vertical jump and an 11’6” broad jump, both of which which ranked second-best amongst all 2020 receivers. He also confirmed his blazing game speed for NFL execs when he ran a 4.47 40-yard dash. On an Eagles offense that had no receivers with 500 yards, Reagor will get his share of opportunities to show his talent, and his TCU averages back up his explosiveness as he averaged an impressive 15.2 yards per reception and 9.3 yards per carry in his career. While Reagor struggled at times with holding onto passes in traffic, his drops rarely came in clutch moments as PFF reported Reagor never dropped a pass in the red zone.
In addition to a deep-threat with incredible leaping ability, the Eagles also picked one of the draft’s most versatile players as Reagor is a former high school long-jump champion who has played nearly every offensive skill position over the course of his football life including quarterback, running back, and kick/punt returner.
YOU'RE NOT GONNA CATCH HIM. @TCUfootball's Jalen Reagor takes it 83 yards for his second TD of the game. pic.twitter.com/qllBr6m6tv
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) November 25, 2018
If Reagor had a legit quarterback at TCU the wideout would be on a lot more radars right now. His combination of elite speed (27 catches of 15-plus yards) with elusiveness (11 broken tackles on 71 catches) and physicality at the catch point (15-of-31 on contested catches) should have Eagles fans watering at the mouth for the 2020 season to begin.