Dave Zangaro

Most important Eagles for 2020: Jason Kelce is the best center in football

Most important Eagles for 2020: Jason Kelce is the best center in football

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season. 

20. Nate Sudfeld 
19. Avonte Maddox
18. Nathan Gerry
17. Dallas Goedert  
16. Derek Barnett
15. Jalen Reagor 
14. Jalen Mills
13. Brandon Brooks
12. Rodney McLeod
11. Javon Hargrave
10. Miles Sanders  
9. Andre Dillard
8. Brandon Graham
7. Zach Ertz 
6. DeSean Jackson 
5. Lane Johnson
4. Darius Slay

3. Jason Kelce

You could certainly argue that Lane Johnson is the Eagles’ most important offensive lineman, but I’d give the edge to Jason Kelce. 

Kelce will turn 33 during this upcoming season and he isn’t going to play football forever, so the Eagles have to cherish their time with him. Kelce is going to go down as one of the greatest Eagles of all time and he’s quietly putting together a Hall of Fame case. 

This note from Reuben Frank back in April is pretty amazing: Kelce is one of six centers in NFL history to make first-team all-pro three straight years, the only one to do it in the last 20 years. All the others are Hall of Famers.

He has been an All-Pro in each of the last three seasons and has also been a Pro Bowler three times. Kelce hasn’t missed a game since 2014 and he didn’t miss a single snap in 2019. He also managed to stay much healthier in 2019 than he was in 2018 and was an All-Pro and a Pro Bowler in the same year for the first time in his career. Even though he was snubbed for the All-Decade team of the 2010s, he’s widely considered the best center in the NFL. 

Again in 2019, Kelce was ProFootballFocus’s top rated center for the third straight season. 

The center position is so important even at its most basic level. Kelce was of course the only offensive player to touch the ball on every offensive play last season. And the role he’s had in the development of Carson Wentz shouldn’t be overlooked.

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Most important Eagles for 2020: The man who could change the Eagles’ secondary

Most important Eagles for 2020: The man who could change the Eagles’ secondary

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be counting down the 20 most important Eagles for the 2020 season. 

20. Nate Sudfeld 
19. Avonte Maddox
18. Nathan Gerry
17. Dallas Goedert  
16. Derek Barnett
15. Jalen Reagor 
14. Jalen Mills
13. Brandon Brooks
12. Rodney McLeod
11. Javon Hargrave
10. Miles Sanders  
9. Andre Dillard
8. Brandon Graham
7. Zach Ertz 
6. DeSean Jackson 
5. Lane Johnson
4. Darius Slay

In the four years under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, there have been 17 different corners to get on the field for the Eagles. They’ve gotten by with Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Nolan Carroll, Leodis McKelvin and Dexter McDougle and a complete list of average to bad corners. 

The Eagles haven’t had an elite cornerback since Asante Samuel nearly a decade ago. 

They hope that’s about to change. 

This offseason, the Eagles shipped 3rd and 5th-round picks to the Lions for Darius Slay in March and then gave the 29-year-old a three-year extension with over $30 million guaranteed. The Eagles had no problem with that price because they believe they’re getting one of the best cornerbacks in the league. 

Slay has been a Pro Bowler in each of the last three seasons in Detroit. During those three seasons, he has 13 interceptions. During that same span every Eagles cornerback combined had  a total of 23.

During Schwartz’s time as DC in Philly he hasn’t used one corner to travel with top receivers, but that’s because he didn’t have a corner worthy of that responsibility. He does now. 

And Slay is ready for that. 

“Oh, I love the challenge,” Slay said this offseason. “I kind of ask for it a lot because of the fact that I want the game on me and I want to help win the game. If the best route to go about it is me traveling with a guy, then I’ll do it.”

Even though many considered Slay’s 2019 season to be a down years, according to ProFootballFocus, here’s how he performed against some of the NFL’s top receivers last season: 

Larry Fitzgerald: 1 target, 0 catches 
Keenan Allen: 11 targets, 6 catches, 81 yards, 1 INT, 1 PBU
Stefon Diggs (2 games): 8 target, 6 catch, 114 yards, 1 PBU
Adam Thielen: 2 targets, 1 catch, 25 yards, 1 TD
Allen Robinson (2 games): 9 targets, 5 catch, 74 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT 
Amari Cooper: 6 targets, 3 catches, 38 yards, 2 PBU 
Terry McLaurin: 10 targets, 3 catches, 42 yards, 1 PBU 
Chris Godwin: 2 targets, 1 catch, 6 yards
Davante Adams: 5 targets, 4 catches, 63 yards

That last note is particularly important for the Eagles, who will have to try to slow down Cooper for at least the next several years. 

Under Schwartz, the Eagles have been incredible against the run. In fact, they’re the NFL’s No. 1 run defense since 2016. But they’re 23rd against the pass. Having a stud cornerback like Slay could change all that. 

And if they have better corners, the pass rush will have more time to get to the quarterback. That could mean big things for the entire defense. 

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The Eagles all-time team: LeSean McCoy vs. Steve Van Buren

The Eagles all-time team: LeSean McCoy vs. Steve Van Buren

In the next few weeks, we will be unveiling our all-time Eagles team. 

We enlisted the help of Eagles reporters Reuben Frank and Dave Zangaro, Quick Slants hosts Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks and Quick Slants producer Mike Mulhern for voting. 

We asked each person to rank their top five players at 16 different positions. A 1st-place vote was worth five points, a 2nd-place vote was worth four, and so on. 

Up today: Running back

Complete voting: 

1. LeSean McCoy = 22
2. Steve Van Buren = 20
3. Wilbert Montgomery = 13
3. Brian Westbrook = 13
5. Duce Staley = 4
6. Ricky Watters = 3

The breakdown: 
Shady McCoy wasn’t unanimous but he did take home three 1st-place votes, a 2nd-place vote and a 3rd-place vote to take the crown. McCoy is the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher, but Van Buren was a great player in the 1940s. He was a five-time All-Pro and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame back in 1965. He was a big part of the 1948 and 1949 championship teams. 

Did we get it right? 

I think so. I voted for Shady with the top spot but I certainly understand why it wasn’t unanimous. Van Buren has a real case. This is a case where we have two completely different eras going head to head. The historians would put Van Buren at No. 1 and that would be hard to argue against. But McCoy is the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher (6,792 yards) and was truly a special player during his time in Philly. It’s a shame his time in Philly got cut short because he would have rushed for 10,000 yards with the Eagles if he stayed. 

The next four guys aren’t too shabby either. Montgomery was a two-time Pro Bowler and rushed for 1,000 yards three times with the Birds. Westbrook is probably underrated in the grand scheme of things; the dual threat was an All-Pro in 2007, when he set a then-Eagles record of 2,104 scrimmage yards. 

And then Duce and Watters deserved votes too. Staley had three 1,000-yard seasons in his seven years as an Eagle. And Watters played for the Eagle for just three seasons but went over 1,000 yards in all three and made two Pro Bowls, the last two Pro Bowls of his 11-year NFL career. 

Complete team: 
QB: Donovan McNabb 
RB: LeSean McCoy 

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