- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
The Philadelphia Eagles have had a very interesting offseason, and it sure seems that’s how coach Chip Kelly intended it. Like a fantasy owner aiming to make whatever changes possible, Kelly found a way to punt his starting quarterback, running back and top wide receiver in a short amount of time, and this is even more notable because of the high-octane style of offense he runs. After all, the Eagles have ranked among the top offenses in yards and scoring in each of Kelly’s two 10-win seasons, in part due to scheme and volume of plays, but also due to the talented individuals leading the offense.
In case you missed it, the key individuals have moved on. Quarterback Nick Foles is with the St. Louis Rams. Running back LeSean McCoy is with the Buffalo Bills. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has reunited with former coach Andy Reid on the Kansas City Chiefs. Newcomers include Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and a wide receiver to be named later from the draft, we presume.
Are the Eagles better? Well, it depends on whom you ask, but they’re certainly different, and fantasy numbers were affected. Here’s a way-too-early Eagles stock watch, because it’s always football season and the moves really never stop coming.
Zach Ertz, TE: Yep, he’s still there and he’s still being recommended, even though his 2014 campaign was a bit disappointing. Ertz’s problem last season, his second in the NFL, was obvious. He’s not a good blocker, or at least not nearly as good as starter Brent Celek, who was on the field a lot more. Plus, eventual starting quarterback Mark Sanchez couldn’t get the ball downfield, and that didn’t help anyone who could create matchup problems deep. Ertz can’t do what Maclin did on the outside, but he’s fast and athletic and linebackers can’t deal with him, and the lack of a go-to wide receiver -- at least as of now -- bodes well for his production. The Eagles claim to want to run more, which should mean more of Ertz and Celek playing together. It wouldn’t be surprising if Ertz leads the team in receptions and touchdown catches in 2015, and he will be a top-10 tight end, so I’m ranking him that way.
Sam Bradford, QB: It’s not that moving to a new team will suddenly make his battered ACLs stronger and more resistant to imploding, but the Eagles do figure to protect him better and surround him with better skill players. The Eagles are loaded at running back, and even with the loss of Maclin, Bradford’s receiving options are no worse than they were in St. Louis, where the wide receivers were young and inexperienced. Let’s put it this way: Bradford is a superior talent to Sanchez, who can’t throw deep and is seriously mistake-prone. And Sanchez managed to post four games with 19 or more standard fantasy points in the final two months, twice as many as Peyton Manning. Bradford is better when upright and the Eagles shouldn’t want him throwing 40 times per game. His upside is a top-10 quarterback, and he makes for an interesting backup if your starter is durable. For now, I’m ranking him just outside the top 15 quarterbacks.
Jordan Matthews, WR: It’s almost by default at this point, as Riley Cooper is more blocker than touchdown maker and Matthews is surely capable of more than slot duty, but if you’re selecting one Philly wide receiver, this is the guy. Just don’t reach too far for him. Mathews is a borderline top-20 wide receiver, and I might be generous there. While he’s more polished and reliable than Josh Huff, who figures to emerge in his second season, Matthews should also see more defensive attention this season. Expect more receptions and yards, but the Eagles do plan to run more as Kelly aims to run his offense like he did at Oregon. For now, I view the Eagles' starting wideouts as Matthews and Cooper, with Huff in the slot, and free-agent additions Miles Austin and Seyi Ajirotutu not mattering.
Darren Sproles, RB: Perhaps Sproles belongs in the next group, but it’s hard to view him as more than a point-per-reception flex option to start with, so his value really hasn’t changed much. He wasn’t expected to pile on the rushing attempts anyway. Frankly, I could see the Eagles lining Sproles up as a wide receiver to exploit matchups, but this is not someone you target unless it’s a PPR format, and even then, not among the top 20 running backs.
DeMarco Murray, RB: Well, in a way he had nowhere to go but down, because he totaled more than 2,200 yards from scrimmage and 13 touchdowns last season for the Dallas Cowboys, leading all non-quarterbacks in standard fantasy scoring. Just be prepared to knock 100 or so touches off his ledger. In an odd way, I’m OK with that. Murray leaves the excellent Cowboys offensive line for a solid unit. Perhaps this is a good thing for quality of touches, but not quantity. The Eagles seem to know Murray was overused. I think they will keep his touches in the low 300s, but Murray will remain productive enough to be a borderline top-10 running back, more than capable of getting his 80 rushing yards per game and scoring double-digit touchdowns. That’s how I rank him anyway.
Ryan Mathews, RB: I don’t think his value drops quite as much as most believe, which is why he remains among my top 25 running backs for now, at least until the NFL draft and we see if a rookie or two lands in an amenable situation. Sure, it’s going to be tough for Mathews to earn a ton of touches unless Murray gets hurt, but the Eagles will also run more plays than most, if not all, other teams. We spent so much time last season dreaming of what someone like Chiefs backup Knile Davis would do should Jamaal Charles go down, and that’s Mathews. And there will be some games in which he is flex-worthy. Last season, the Eagles ran more plays than any other offense, and if they attempt more running plays, which seems plausible with the personnel, I could see Mathews getting double-digit touches per game. Still, that’s not good value compared to his San Diego Chargers days. Mathews is a top handcuff, though.
Eric Karabell breaks down the new Eagles offense, with several players gaining value and others losing value