PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s fair to say the Philadelphia Eagles’ offense is certainly not the most attractive situation for fantasy football players.
But for Philly fans playing fantasy football, here are three Eagles that you can feel comfortable owning this season.
3. Defense/Special Teams
Only way to go is up
For all of their struggles last season — 401.6 yards per game allowed (30th), 267.1 passing yards per game allowed (28th), and 134.6 rushing yards allowed per game (32nd) — the Eagles defense still finished as the 13th best fantasy defense.
How? Turnovers and touchdowns. The Birds recorded 15 interceptions and 11 fumbles for 26 takeaways (t-9th). They also scored five touchdowns on defense and special teams, tied for second most in the NFL.
In 2016, the Eagles signed Rodney McLeod to pair with Malcolm Jenkins forming one of the best safety tandems in football. Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Connor Barwin, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Mychal Kendricks, and Jordan Hicks all return.
Darren Sproles returns as an electric punt returner.
And while the Eagles might be looking shaky at corner with ex-Bills No. 3 CB Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll, and a plethora unproven young players, new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz brings an aggressive style that is expected to create havoc on opposing QB’s.
Last season’s 37.0 sacks for Philly ranked 19th in the NFL, a number that should climb under Schwartz’s 4-3 defense.
2. Zach Ertz
For the third straight year, we’ve been saying it: This is the year Zach Ertz breaks out! OK, one more chance.
We constantly hear about Ertz’s “elite athleticism for a tight end,” but that’s because it’s TRUE! Ertz, at 6-5, 250-pounds, has an above 50-percentile score in basically every workout metric (per playerprofiler.com): 40-yard dash, height adjusted speed score, burst score, agility score, and catch radius.
Ertz continues to work on and improve his blocking as Brent Celek’s continues to age, which continues to increase Ertz’s snap count…which is good for fantasy football purposes. In 2014, Ertz played 53.5-percent of the snaps. Last season, his snap share climbed to an impressive 82.4-percent.
Durability and Value
Ertz, 25, has missed just one game in his three-year NFL career. His receptions have jumped from 36 as a rookie, to 58 in 2014, to last seasons’ 75 on 112 targets to go along with a career best 853 yards. Touchdowns have been Ertz’s demise in fantasy, as he has just nine for his career.
In comparison — under Doug Pederson in Kansas City coincidentally — Travis Kelce caught 72 balls on 100 targets for 875 yards and five touchdowns. Kelce is viewed as an elite fantasy tight end, going as TE No. 5 with an average draft position (ADP) of 81, per CBSSports.com. Ertz is going as the ninth TE off the board, around pick No. 108, a much better price for equal value and upside.
In an offense that lacks offensive weapons and dynamic play makers, targets will be plentiful for Ertz.
1. Ryan Mathews
Ryan Mathews, 28, is one of the best values in all of fantasy football.
Athletically, Mathews is elite. The 12th overall pick in 2010, Mathews dominated as a junior at Fresno State running for 1,808 yards (6.6 per carry) for 19 touchdowns before the age of 20. His 4.45 40-yard dash metric is 89th percentile and his 112.2 speed score is 92nd percentile. Playerprofiler.com says his best NFL comparison RB is Marshawn Lynch (seriously).
Last year, behind “poopy pants” DeMarco Murray, Mathews received just 26.1-percent of the Eagles’ snaps. Eventually, his 5.0 yards per carry (9th in NFL) was too spectacular to ignore and Mathews supplanted Murray as the Eagles’ lead back.
Now, there’s no Murray. Just a fifth-round rookie RB in Wendell Smallwood and an aging return specialist / scat back in Sproles. That’s it. Mathews is poised for just his third 200-plus carry season of his career. In his previous two 200-plus carry seasons, both with the Chargers, Mathews has rushed for over 1,000 yards and six touchdowns. For context, only seven running backs reach the 1,000 rushing yard plateau last season.
Despite a few bad drops last season, Mathews is also an above-average NFL pass catching running back. In 2011, to go along with 1,091 yards on the ground, Mathews caught 50 balls on 59 targets for 455 yards. That’s an 84.7-percent catch rate. For his career, Mathews has caught 166 of 213 passes (77.9-percent). He has caught at least 20 balls in every season where he has played in at least 12 games.
The number one concern of Mathews — and it’s a legitimate one — is his health. Mathews has played a full 16 games just once in his career. However, he’s only played less than 12 games once, in 2014, when he suffered his only serious knee injury (MCL).
His full injury history is here.
Because of the injury concerns, Mathews’ value is INSANELY cheap. For a clear lead dog back (a rarity in 2016) who averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2015, with elite athletic ability and above average pass catching skills, playing in an offense that is expected to run the ball and control the clock — CBSSports.com has Mathews as the 19th running back off the board with an ADP of 40.
RB’s like Eddie Lacy, Lamar Miller, Doug Martin, Thomas Rawls, Latavius Murray, Jeremy Hill, C.J. Anderson, Carlos Hyde, and Matt Forte are all going ahead of Mathews. I’d rather have Mathews than any of them.