As the Eagles get ready for the 2020 season, there are again high expectations. And why wouldn’t there be? The Birds have a talented roster and they’ve made the playoffs in each of the last three seasons.
In its annual ranking of the 32 rosters across the NFL, ProFootballFocus ranks the Eagles at No. 9.
Here’s what PFF said about the 2020 Eagles:
Biggest strength: The Eagles are one of the strongest teams in the NFL in the trenches. As a team, they finished the season with PFF's highest-graded offensive line, and their defensive line ranked fourth behind only the Steelers, 49ers and Rams. The defensive line is a group that should continue to improve with the additions of Javon Hargrave and a healthy Malik Jackson.
Biggest weakness: Linebacker is still a question mark for Philadelphia. Nathan Gerry figures to be atop the depth chart after more than 600 snaps of average play in 2019, but there's much less clarity behind him. Can T.J. Edwards break out after earning an 83.4 overall grade on just over 100 snaps last season? Will Jatavis Brown win a starting job after shaky play led to his role getting significantly reduced in 2019 with the Chargers? Rookie Davion Taylor will have a chance at playing time early, too. It's a group that still doesn't have much definition on what should be an improved defense overall.
X factor for 2020: Darius Slay‘s PFF grade in 2019 doesn't represent the kind of player that he has been throughout his career. The first thing to note is that he played a difficult role in Detroit, consistently shadowing the opposing team's best receiver in man coverage. Despite that, Slay came in as the fourth-most valuable cornerback in the NFL in 2014-18 per PFF WAR (wins above replacement), and his 74 forced incompletions over that stretch were the most in the NFL. Expect him to bounce back and give a big boost to that secondary.
The Eagles were the fifth-ranked team in the NFC behind the Saints, 49ers, Buccaneers and Cowboys. In fact, here are the eight spots before them:
Let’s take a look at each of those sections in the Eagles’ blurb from PFF:
Strength: This will make Howie Roseman and the front office happy. They build this team with the lines in mind and it shows. With the addition of Hargrave — and with Malik Jackson coming back — that defensive line has some real potential in 2020. If you’re looking at other strengths, the Eagles obviously have one at the tight end position. They have the best 1-2 combo in the NFL. They also have a quarterback who was playing at an extremely high level late last season and a running back primed to have a huge second season.
Weakness: Yeah, it’s fair to say the linebacker position is a question mark. But the Eagles would argue that in the modern NFL they rarely have three linebackers on the field and more and more they don’t even have two. Linebacker is a concession by this front office; they chose to use money in other areas. They might lack there right now but Davion Taylor has huge potential as a raw third-rounder. If you’re looking at other weaknesses, the loss of Brandon Brooks is huge. He was PFF’s top-ranked offensive lineman last year and they’re likely replacing him with Matt Pryor, who doesn’t have much experience. And losing Malcolm Jenkins is a big deal as well.
X-factor 2020: Yeah, the addition of Slay is a huge one, but so is the addition of Hargrave. Those two could really help the Eagles defense force more turnovers in 2020.
So are the Eagles in the right spot?
Yeah, I think they’re in about the right spot. But you can certainly argue about the other teams around them.
If you were looking at this like a power ranking, you have other teams in the NFC that could be ahead of the Eagles. The Packers and Seahawks, specifically, come to mind. And if this was a power ranking, the fact that the Eagles are coming off three straight playoff appearances should matter too.
The big question with this is about the NFC East. PFF ranks the Cowboys at 6 and the Eagles at 9. Are the Cowboys really more talented than the Eagles? That’s a tough sell for me, especially when you consider that in last year’s rankings, PFF had the Eagles at 4 and the Cowboys at 12. The Eagles split with the Cowboys last year but beat them in December on their way to winning the division.
This offseason, I think the Eagles improved more. Sure the Eagles lost Malcolm Jenkins, Jordan Howard, Ronald Darby and Kamu Grugier-Hill. But they also added Javon Hargrave, Darius Slay, are expected to get a healthy DeSean Jackson back and they made 10 draft picks. The Cowboys lost Byron Jones, Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb. I like CeeDee Lamb, but the Eagles got a first-round receiver too.
I know this ranking is purely about roster talent, so coaching staff doesn’t play a role. But that’s another important thing to remember about the NFC East in 2020. The Eagles bring back their head coach/play caller and their defensive coordinator. The other three teams in the division are starting fresh.
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