PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — We’re just four days away from the start of another Eagles season.
There are many things to be excited about: Year two of Carson Wentz and Doug Pederson; the additions of Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, LeGarrette Blount, Chris Long, and Tim Jernigan; the debut for Derek Barnett and Mack Hollins; and the potential (hopeful?) emergence of Nelson Agholor.
Here are five bold predictions for the 2017 season.
1. LeGarrette Blount rushes for less than 700 yards
Blount has hit the 800 rushing yard mark just twice in his seven year NFL Career, and in both of those seasons he carried the ball at least 200 times — the only seasons he did so. Bovada LV set his over/under yardage total at 700.
Now, at 30, Blount is coming off a season where he tallied over 330 touches including the playoffs. On 299 regular season carries in 2016, Blount rushed for just 3.9 yards per attempt – the second lowest mark of his career. His 44% success rate, a stat by Football Outsiders which measures successful runs, was his lowest mark in the past three seasons and just 28th among NFL RBs.
At 6’0”, Blount runs a 4.70 40-yard dash – one of the slower runners in the NFL. Now he hits the RB downfall age of 30 and goes from New England’s offense to Philly’s.
The Eagles signed him to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. The Patriots let him go for Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead.
Stick a fork in Blount.
2. Darren Sproles will see 90+ rushing attempts and 90+ targets for the first time in his career
Sproles played 34% of offensive snaps in 2015 and only 28.7% in 2014. In 2013, his final season with the Saints, Sproles played 31.7% of offensive snaps. Last season under Doug Pederson? He played 45% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps! Pederson is going to continue to use Sproles.
Let’s start with targets. The Eagles threw the ball 609 times last season, sixth most in the NFL. Assuming the Eagles want to be more run oriented and have more positive game scripts – as they’re projected to win 8.5 games by Vegas – let’s reduce that number to 580. That would have put them around 15th in the NFL, based on last season.
Jordan Matthews’ 117 targets and Dorial Green-Beckham’s 74 targets are gone. That’s about 30% of the market share, or 191 targets.
Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith average 135 and 96 targets per season, respectively. Assuming they both play a full 16 game slate, something Jeffery has done just twice in his career — that’s 231 targets.
Zach Ertz saw 106 targets last year while competing with J-Matt for the middle of the field. That’s all his now. Ertz had 112 targets in 2015. He’s essentially a lock for 110-plus target. I’ll give him 125 to be safe.
We’re at 356 now, with 224 to go.
Nelson Agholor had 70 last year, but I expect that number to decrease as he will no longer see a starters snap share. Let’s say Agholor, Mack Hollins, Trey Burton (60 last year), and Brent Celek (19 last year) combine for 100 targets. That means there are still 124 targets remaining for the running backs.
LeGarrette Blount has seen more than 12 targets just once in his career, but I’ll give him 12. Smallwood saw 12 last year, so I’ll give him 12 too.
That leaves 100 targets for Darren Sproles, a number he eclipsed in 2011 and 2012 with the Saints.
As for the rushing attempts, the Eagles ran the ball 438 times in 2016 – 10th in the NFL. Assuming they’re slightly more run heavy in 2017, let’s give them 458 attempts.
Ryan Mathews’ 155 attempts are gone, and most of which will go to LeGarrette Blount. Still, Sproles saw 94 attempts last year and Smallwood saw 77.
Blount has carried the ball 175+ times in a season just three times in his career and two of those campaigns were his first two in the NFL. Blount, now 30, is coming off a season where he rushed 299 times averaging 3.9 yards per carry. So even if the 30-year-old plodder, who was reportedly a cut candidate this summer, gets all of Mathews’ carries (155) – which would give him appropriately around 620 rushing yards on 4.0 yards/carry to go along with the first bold prediction — there are still 303 to around.
If we assume a bigger role for Smallwood on the ground and give him 125 carries, there are still 175 carries available. Sproles seems like a lock for 90 attempts.
3. Torrey Smith will have 50+ catches
Torrey Smith is a deep threat, not a volume wide receiver. He’s caught 50 or more balls just twice in his career. However, as previously mentioned, we’re looking at around 90 to 100 targets for Smith, a number he hasn’t seen since 2014 in Baltimore.
Smith is now the Eagles’ clear WR2 facing very minimal competition for snaps, if any, with Matthews in Buffalo – a similar role as his one in Baltimore.
During his time with the Ravens, Smith averaged 53.25 catches per season on 109.25 targets over four seasons. I expect him to hit those marks.
4. Carson Wentz will throw less than 21 touchdown passes
Many expect a big leap for Wentz in year two, which is certainly plausible, but I don’t expect it come in the touchdown passing department. Bovada LV lists his touchdown over/under total at 20.5.
Wentz threw just 16 touchdowns in 16 games last year, and just five in his last six games. He did not have any three touchdown games as a rookie.
J-Matt’s 19 touchdowns in three seasons are gone. Ertz has never caught more than four scores in a season, Smith has caught more than four tuddy’s just once since 2013, and Sproles has just three career TD receptions as an Eagle.
Plus, the Eagles now have a true goal-line running back in Blount, who scored 18 times on the ground last year. While he’s certainly not very good between the 20’s, Blount is a weapon the Eagles will likely utilize in the red zone.
Lastly, the Eagles showed in their wins last season that their formula for success should be running the ball and controlling the clock. I do not see them being a fast paced, explosive team in 2017.
5. Ronald Darby will be semi-disappointing
I think Ronald Darby is a good NFL cornerback, don’t get me wrong, but that doesn’t always matter in the NFL. There is a lot of pressure on Darby this season as the Eagles’ No. 1 corner. Opposite him is 7th round pick Jalen Mills.
Darby is presumably going to have to shut down, or at least slow down: Terrelle Pryor (twice), Odell Beckham Jr. (twice), Dez Bryant (twice), Keenan Allen, Kelvin Benjamin, Demaryius Thomas, and Amari Cooper.
Darby is 5’11”. Last season he had no interceptions and just 12 passes defended with the Bills. In 2016 he was burned seven times for passes of more than 30 yards and gave up a passer rating of 104.8 when targeted per Pro Football Focus — a site that ranked the Eagled dead last among NFL secondary’s before the Darby trade.
The Eagles’ pass rush, which finished last season t-16th in the NFL with 34.0 sacks in 2016, didn’t get all that better so there will still be pressure on the Eagles’ secondary. They added a rookie in Derek Barnett, a veteran in Chris Long, and Tim Jernigan. But they also lost Connor Barwin and Bennie Logan. Their defensive front is strong, led by Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, but it’s not an elite front and we can’t expect dominant numbers from Barnett in his rookie season.
I think the expectations for Darby skyrocketed when he was acquired followed by a preseason pick to start his Eagles’ tenure, but we may have gotten a little carried away.