Which receivers were truly most effective with the ball in their hands last season? We look at the leaders in YAC+ for 2014 and the last nine years.
20 Apr 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
It’s a new day in Philadelphia. Football America –- college and pro alike –- is eager to see how well Chip Kelly’s rapid-paced offense can work in the NFL. Kelly’s spread, space-oriented zone concepts are an extreme version of what a lot of the league is trending towards right now. We know those extremes work well against college defensive players and schemes. What will it take for them to successfully translate to the pros?
QB: Michael Vick, Dennis Dixon, Nick Foles; Lost: Trent Edwards
RB: LeSean McCoy, Bryce Brown, Stanley Havili (FB); Lost: Dion Lewis
In Kelly’s system, the quarterback must be mobile. That’s non-negotiable, and it’s the reason why Foles will not win the starting job here. The question is whether Vick can handle the reins. He’s not as explosive as he once was, but he obviously remains one of the most mobile signal-callers in the game. Simply being able to run around is not enough, though. Kelly’s quarterback must make multiple reads on the move and disciplined decisions. Sound mechanics are usually needed to facilitate this. There’s no sense debating whether Vick can perform this role. His past three years as the starter in Philly, as well as his body of work before that, provide a clear answer: no –- not overall, anyway. Sometimes, Vick can thrive in Kelly’s system. More often than not, he’ll be erratic or injured.
A player who will thrive in this system is McCoy. His stop/start quickness and agile change-of-direction make him an ideal fit. Behind McCoy, Brown is a very good downhill runner who surprises by having enough speed to turn the corner. He needs to look to turn the corner less often, though. He abandoned too many inside play designs last season and also fumbled way too much.
WR: DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Arrelious Benn, Greg Salas
TE: Brent Celek, James Casey, Clay Harbor
Jackson and Maclin are both shifty, space-oriented receivers, but they’re not perfect fits for the scheme. as both are much better vertically than horizontally. Neither is a particularly enthusiastic blocker, which will hurt the run game. This isn’t to say they are an inadequate duo –- we’re talking about two talented players, after all. But Kelly will likely be frustrated with them at times. It was a little curious for the Eagles to acquire Benn considering they already had a superior possession target in Avant. The veteran slot man will play a prominent role in this system. So will Celek and Casey, as short area receivers, anyway. (Neither will be counted on to block much.) Celek is more accomplished, but Casey may prove to be the better player in this system, as he’s a little more flexible in his movement running underneath routes.
LT: Jason Peters LG: Evan Mathis C: Jason Kelce RG: Dennis Kelly RT: Todd Herremans
Backups: Danny Watkins, Dallas Reynolds; Lost: King Dunlap, Demetress Bell
Peters and Kelce are potential Pro Bowlers coming off very serious injuries. There’s a rumor that Mathis is an upper-tier guard. In reality, he’s average, thanks mainly to having only average power. The Mathis rumor was probably started by the same impressionable people who believe that, just because Danny Watkins was a "blue-collar firefighter" and way too old to warrant a first-round pick, he was guaranteed to step in and immediately succeed at right guard. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case. Kelly has an intriguing foundation of raw talent in regards to playing the right side; it’s a matter of whether that talent can be cultivated. Herremans is a classic "solid-but-not-spectacular" guy.
Last season’s disaster is in the past. The cornerbacking trio that once defined this "Dream Team" has completely dissipated, as Asante Samuel, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha all wound up leaving on disappointing notes. New coordinator Billy Davis is installing a fresh 3-4 scheme, which makes sense considering Philly’s abundance of athletic edge rushers. In all likelihood, Davis’ 3-4 will feature a lot of 4-3 tactics, as most 3-4’s these days like to use one-gap concepts. Of course, it won’t matter what Davis does if the Eagles’ secondary isn’t good enough to stay above water.
DE: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Clifton Geathers Lost: Darryl Tapp, Cullen Jenkins
DT: Isaac Sopoaga, Antonio Dixon; Lost: Derek Landri, Mike Patterson
Cox and Thornton are young, but there’s a lot to like about them. Cox has the sleek and powerful build to play a J.J. Watt-type role (though obviously he likely will not be as dominant as Watt). Thornton brings good strength and burst to the table. Sopoaga is a natural clogger who can move. The only concern up front –- and it’s a valid one –- is depth.
OLB: Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Emmanuel Acho
ILB: DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Jason Phillips, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney; Lost: Akeem Jordan
Cole has never played out of a two-point stance, but the unknown there doesn’t outweigh his well-known body of work. He’s been as impressive an all-around force as any edge player in the game over the past five years. Barwin proved his mettle in this scheme as a member of the Texans. If for some reason he doesn’t pan out, Graham has flashed star-level talent, while Curry has second-round talent that he’s eager to show off. Inside, there has to be some concern about Ryans. If he were great in a 3-4, Houston would have never traded him to Philadelphia in the first place. Kendricks is an impressive space-oriented player, but can he take on blocks and be physical between the hash marks? More importantly, will he be a sound cover artist inside? As a rookie he was impressive on the outside in this department early on, but stumbled a bit down the stretch.
CB: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh; Lost: Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
S: Kenny Phillips, Patrick Chung, Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson, Nate Allen
Well, at least members of this group weren’t acquired for tens of millions or high draft picks. Williams’ only chance at prospering as the leading corner is if he’s behind a potent pass rush. The later in the down it gets, the more likely he is to give up separation, particularly on comebackers outside. (This is true with all corners, of course, but especially true with him.) Fletcher was iffy as a No. 3 in St. Louis, so why would anyone expect him to be adequate as a No. 2 here? Boykin has the potential to be a fine slot defender. At safety, Phillips and Chung are both hard hitters, but prone to getting hurt while they throw their bodies around. If one goes down, Anderson should get the nod. He was actually much better than Coleman and Allen last season.
K: Alex Henery; P: Donnie Jones; Lost: Mat McBriar
Last year when David Akers set the all-time record for hitting field goals, Eagles fans were pretty angry that the team had let Akers go and drafted Henery to replace him. How are they feeling now?
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