Eagles Year in Review
2015 Pass Attempts Rank: 6th (623)
2015 Rush Attempts Rank: 11th (442)
2015 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 2nd (1,102)
2015 Yards Per Play Rank: 24th (5.3)
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Projected Starting Lineup
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Passing Game Outlook
Perennial underachiever Sam Bradford once again fell well short of expectations last season, pathetically finishing as the QB29 in fantasy points per game despite career-high averages in completions (25) and pass attempts (38) in Chip Kelly's high-percentage, up-tempo offense. Bradford committed 17 turnovers in 14 starts, fumbling 10 times. There have been no shortage of excuses made for Bradford, who broke into the league as a legitimately special college prospect by any impartial measure but has devolved into a sub-baseline NFL athlete who gets jittery in the pocket, torpedoing his accuracy. After somewhat curiously re-signing Bradford to a two-year, $36 million deal in March, the Eagles added Doug Pederson pupil Chase Daniel on a three-year, $21 million pact and traded up to draft Carson Wentz at No. 2 overall. Bradford has the contract of a locked-in starter, and outwardly the Eagles say he is secure as their first-string quarterback. The team's offseason actions suggest Bradford will be on a short leash. It's also likely that Bradford lost locker room support by throwing a temper tantrum after the Wentz deal, conspiring with agent Tom Condon to demand a trade in an unsuccessful and ultimately embarrassing plot to end up in Denver. Bradford has never been a useful fantasy quarterback. That shouldn't be expected to change in a low-volume offense with middling weapons and job security concerns. Bradford's fantasy ceiling is an in-season streamer against weak defenses.
One of the biggest concerns for 2016 Eagles skill players is the loss of volume and its resulting opportunities. Whereas Kelly's offenses ranked first and second in plays per game the past two years, Pederson and Andy Reid's Chiefs were 29th and 31st. An underrated Philly defense now coordinated by Jim Schwartz should keep games close enough for Pederson to continue to play slow and balanced. The lone Eagles wideout with a chance to become useful in re-draft leagues is Jordan Matthews, who has two straight top-25 fantasy receiver finishes and enters his third season with target monster potential. Although Matthews' tryout as a perimeter wideout was short lived, he should be an every-down player as a Z receiver who kicks into the slot in sub-packages. While his on-field play isn't always pretty, Matthews has trended upward from a production standpoint and just turned 24. Matthews is easily the Eagles' best passing-game option in scoring position, having impressively converted 11 of his 30 career red-zone targets into touchdowns. What continuing to run far more slot than intermediate and vertical routes will limit is Matthews' yardage upside. Still the likeliest Philly receiver to withstand an inevitable dip in team pass attempts, Matthews is in a quietly-good position to beat his WR26-30 ADP.
An argument can be made that the Eagles have a bottom-five wide receiving group. Behind Matthews, Rueben Randle and Nelson Agholor will compete for No. 2 duties in camp. After an inefficient rookie season, Agholor struggled at OTAs and was accused of sexual assault in June, although charges were never brought. One beat writer predicted Randle will beat out Agholor to start in two-wide sets on a team that may not use three receivers much in an effort to play Zach Ertz and Brent Celek together consistently. Agholor is still my bet to start, at least partly because I'm not convinced we should dismiss him for his rookie year. Agholor suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 5, missed two games, and wasn't the same the rest of the way. As ESPN's Mike Clay has noted, Agholor faced one of the toughest wide receiver schedules in the league as a rookie, drawing the opposing top corner on over 80% of his snaps. Agholor played on the perimeter and Bradford is a checkdown-oriented passer, ranking 29th among quarterbacks in percentage of passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield (10.2%). Agholor was targeted on just 10% of his routes, which paled in comparison to Matthews (21%) and Zach Ertz (22%). Trouble is, many of those obstacles aren't going away. Agholor is a Hail Mary at the end of drafts.
Held scoreless over his first ten games with a pathetic 36.6-yard average in the first 11, Zach Ertz promptly teased with another small-sample breakout. With Agholor (ankle) hobbled and the Eagles throwing a ton -- Bradford averaged 43.3 pass attempts per game in the final month -- Ertz posted weekly PPR finishes of TE7, TE2, TE2, and TE1 in Weeks 14-17, and among tight ends was outscored during that stretch by only Jordan Reed. A flash player, Ertz has not established himself as a consistent fantasy contributor through three NFL seasons. His biggest deficiency is in the touchdown-scoring department. A better open-field seam stretcher than physical dominator in tight quarters, Ertz converted just 1-of-10 red-zone targets into touchdowns last year and is 5-of-28 for his career. Ertz has never scored more than four TDs in a season. He topped out at six TDs at Stanford. Ertz is a good bet to finish second on the Eagles in targets and has an outside chance to finish first. The key to Ertz becoming more than a fringe TE1 will be his performance in the paint. In the middle rounds, I like Coby Fleener, Tyler Eifert, Antonio Gates, Ladarius Green, Gary Barnidge, Delanie Walker, and Julius Thomas to outscore Ertz this year.
Running Game Outlook
Although beat writers seem convinced the Philly backfield will become a committee, Ryan Mathews will enter camp as the lead back in an offense that will likely strive for balance based on Pederson's track record and a potentially volatile quarterback situation. Long an efficient runner whose main flaw has been durability, Mathews has a career yards-per-carry average of 4.47 and posted a career-best 5.04 YPC last year, suggesting he has lots of gas in the tank going on age 29. Mathews is slightly less appealing in PPR leagues, where pass-game specialist Darren Sproles and versatile rookie Wendell Smallwood cap his ceiling. Even so, Mathews' RB25 Average Draft Position is affordable enough that he is plenty worthy of a sixth-round risk across formats. He is a capable receiving back and should have a firm grip on the Eagles' goal-line carries. Philadelphia has the makings of a strong run-blocking line, enhanced by the addition of 343-pound RG Brandon Brooks. Assuming August goes smoothly, Mathews will be a borderline RB1 when he takes the field Week 1 versus the Browns. He'll smash his ADP if he stays healthy.
One of my expectations when evaluating Eagles skill-position players is that this will be a competitive team whose defense keeps them in games, even if they don't win many. There is also a plausible scenario in which the Eagles are a legitimately bad team in Pederson's first year, cycling through quarterbacks and getting torched in the passing game, where Philly's cornerback situation is one of the worst in football. Lost in the relentless spring hype of Wendell Smallwood was the fact that Darren Sproles is likely to maintain a prominent role in Pederson's offense, which will throw more if the Eagles are indeed a bad 2016 team. Even if they are only mediocre, Sproles could still be a major PPR bargain at his near-nonexistent ADP; he often lasts until the 16th and 17th rounds in best-ball MFL10s and is the RB49 and falling on Fantasy Football Calculator. Sproles has at least 55 catches in five of the last six seasons and is pretty clearly undervalued due to the public's focus on Smallwood. In their specific roles, I like Mathews and Sproles to finish first and second on the Eagles in running back touches. As Philly Voice's Jimmy Kempski has noted, Smallwood will have to learn how to pass protect from scratch after rarely being asked to do so in a pro-style sense at West Virginia. His rookie-year playing time is a crapshoot.
2016 Vegas Win Total
The Eagles' Win Total opened at 7.5 but has been bet down to 7.0. Not helping matters is a schedule Warren Sharp evaluated as the NFL's fifth toughest. Add in a probable quarterback controversy and you have the recipe for a team the public will pound on the under. This is a situation where I'm going to hedge a bit, taking the under on 7.0 but with a willingness to move onto the over if Philly's Win Total drops again to 6.5. The passing game is a major concern, but the Eagles could quietly have one of the better running games in the league and their defensive front seven and safety play should be ferocious under Schwartz. I think this is a 6-8 win team.