Five Questions Heading into Eagles Training Camp:
Each year brings new opportunity, and with new opportunity comes question marks. As we prepare for the start of Eagles training camp this season, here are the questions I’m hoping get answered during the month of August in Philly.
1. Who will win the battle for the #2 spot on the WR depth chart?
After being one of the league’s worst WR corps in the league in 2016, the Eagles went out and made it a priority to address the position this off-season, signing Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. With Alshon locked in as the #1 in Philly, the #2 WR role will likely be a battle between incumbent Jordan Matthews and newcomer Torrey Smith. After a down year in 2016 playing on the outside, Matthews seemed to struggle on the outside as the team’s #1 wide out. Personally, I’ve never seen Matthews as a true #1 wide out, and I think last year proved this. This season, he will likely move back into the slot, where he spent most of his time during his first two seasons in the NFL. Smith figures to see the first shot as the second outside receiver across from Jeffery, with Nelson Agholor and rookies, Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson likely playing supporting roles. I like the addition of Smith for Wentz, as it gives this team the deep threat they so desperately need. While the past two seasons were the worst of his career in San Francisco, this seems like an obvious bounce back year for the veteran. In Smith’s most productive year in Baltimore in which he put up his only 1,000 yard season of his career, he averaged 17.4 yards per catch. Smith has speed to burn, and his downfield presence could be exactly what this team has been missing since the release of DeSean Jackson in 2013. Will Wentz favor his new deep threat or check it down to his security blanket in the slot in 2017?
2. Who is #3 on the RB depth chart?
With Blount set to take over short yardage and early down work (assuming Ryan Mathews gets cut), Darren Sproles will certainly retain his role as the team’s third down back and continue to be used as a weapon in the offense. The third spot on the depth chart is not so clear. With rookie Donnell Pumphrey and last year’s 5th round pick, Wendell Smallwood, likely the next two backs in line for work, it will be interesting to see who secures the #3 spot on this RB depth chart. The Birds may have drafted Pumphrey to be their next Sproles, so it is possible he also sees some 3rd down work this season in order to prep him for that workload next season. There were also some reports out of OTA’s of Pumphrey returning punts and kicks, so he could even have a role on special teams. Smallwood on the other hand, likely figures to only see the field if there is an injury to Blount. For now, I’ve penciled in Pumphrey as the #3, but Smallwood could be thrust into an early down role should last year’s TD machine go down with an injury.
3. Can the offensive line live up to the hype?
Last season the Birds lost starting right tackle, Lane Johnson, to a 10-game PED suspension. This, along with multiple injuries to the guys in the trenches left the Eagles struggling to find consistency along the O-line. In fact, in the first three weeks of 2016 with Johnson in the lineup, the Eagles averaged 30.7 points per game, and in weeks 4-15, without Johnson, they averaged just 20.3 points per game. Without a doubt, this offense will perform better with Johnson in the lineup. GM, Howie Roseman, made an effort to address the offense line this season, adding Chance Warmack on a one-year deal and signing Stefen Wisniewski to an extension. Three locked in starters include Jason Peters at left tackle, Lane Johnson at right tackle, and Brandon Brooks at right guard. Warmack, Allen Barbre, Isaac Seumalo, and Wisniewski will all compete for the left guard spot while Jason Kelce figures to start at center, though he will likely need to compete with Seumalo and Wisniewski to retain his starting gig. Ranking as #1 according to Pro Football Focus heading into 2017, the offensive line will have to gel during camp if we expect big things from this Eagles offense.
4. How will Carson Wentz gel with his new weapons?
As discussed above, the Eagles had one of, if not, the worst WR corps in the NFL in 2016. With Alshon Jeffery locked in as the #1, Wentz will have a legitimate stud WR at his disposal this season. He retains his favorite two weapons from 2016 in Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews while getting new weapons in the form of Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, and Shelton Gibson. Nelson Agholor has flashed here and there during his short NFL career, but there is a reason he was drafted in the first round back in 2015. Entering year two, Wentz will look to build off his 3,782, 16 TD performance in 2016. He certainly has the physical tools to take a step forward in 2017, but can he develop the chemistry with his new teammates in camp?
5. What will LeGarrette Blount’s role be with his new team?
Last season, Blount enjoyed his best NFL season of his 7-year NFL career, rushing for an astounding 18 TD’s in 2016 on his way to a Super Bowl with the Patriots. He had a clearly defined role in New England as the early down bruiser and goal line back. After receiving little interest in free agency, the Eagles swooped in and signed Blount to likely to be their early down back. However, with several other RB’s on the roster, his role is not guaranteed. Technically, Ryan Mathews is still on the roster (though he is expected to be cut), and the Eagles still have Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles on the roster. Last season, the team employed a committee at the position. Will this happen again in 2017, or will Blount be locked in as the 1st and 2nd down back?
For more updated news, notes and analysis on the Eagles training camp, check out PhiladelphiaEagles.com and follow the team writers as they break down the above issues and many others. Don’t forget to check out the rest of The Fantasy Authority’s training camp previews here.