I was flipping through the Eagles 1997 Calendar this morning (like normal people should) when I saw a photo of Chris T. Jones. That name won’t mean anything to young fans, but some of us remember just how much talent he had.
Jones was a 3rd round pick in 1995, but barely played. The Eagles had veterans Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. Those guys left after the season. The Eagles needed bigger, more physical receivers for Jon Gruden’s WCO. Irving Fryar was signed as a free agent. And Jones, 6-3, 209, was promoted to starter.
Fryar and Jones were terrific in 1996. Jones was especially effective on slants. He finished the year 70-859-5. The future for the passing game looked pretty bright. Unfortunately Jones hurt his knee in August 1997. He reportedly “strained a ligament” and then tried to play through it, but the knee was continually swelling up. Jones played 4 games that year and caught just 5 passes. He obviously damaged the knee since Jones never played in another NFL game. He had a very promising career cut short.
Let’s take a look at some Eagles of the last 20 or so years who had careers ruined by injury after just a season or two.
QB – There is no QB that we’ve lost to injury, unless you call Andy Hall getting smacked in the face by reality an injury.
RB Heath Sherman – I’m cheating with this choice. Heath played 5 years in the NFL. The first 3 were pretty non-descript. He had a breakout season in 1992. He averaged 5.2 ypc. He ran for 5 TDs. He caught a 75-yard TD pass. In the playoff win over the Saints, Sherman was 21-105-1. He also caught 3 passes. I was optimistic that he and Herschel Walker would be a good 1-2 duo for a few years.
Sadly, Sherman’s extremely physical and aggressive style of running caught up to him. He played in 1993, but posted marginal numbers. He had 2 TDs and averaged 3.5 ypc. His long run was just 19 yards. Sherman was a compact, punishing runner that was fun to watch, but that style led to injuries that shortened his career.
TE Cornelius Ingram – Ingram never even played in an NFL game. He was a star at Florida, but tore his ACL. He declared for the draft and looked good in his workouts. Teams were concerned that his ACL hadn’t been properly repaired, though, and he fell to the 5th round. Ingram was a revelation in Training Camp. He looked like another offensive weapon for Donovan McNabb. Until those worries came true and Ingram re-tore his ACL. He came back the next year, but just wasn’t the same player.
WR Chris T. Jones
OL Bernard Williams – Is smoking pot and liking to play basketball an injury? Only the Eagles could lose a franchise LT to such a dumb decision. Other teams have players that you have to drag off the field. We had a star in the making, but he was too busy dreaming of jump shots and bong hits.
I considered listing Bubba Miller and Shawn Andrews. Miller was a backup for 3 years and then became the starting C in 2000. He got hurt in the summer of 2001 and never played again. I just don’t remember if Bubba was an adequate starter or player that had a chance to get better. As for Kid…his situation is complex and confusing. He did have legit injuries, but also wanted out of football. He loved the perks (fame and money), but wasn’t so keen on actually playing the game.
DE Jerome McDougle – It is easy to make fun of Jerome since he was so unproductive, but people forget that he got hurt in the preseason of his rookie year. We never once saw the real Jerome McDougle. We saw flashes. If you watch the GB or NO games from 2003, you’ll see hints of his explosive pass rush ability. That’s it. His hip and ankle injuries ruined him that year and the future was even worse. McDougle was unblockable in the Penn State-Miami game of 2001. I know he had some serious ability. Eagles fans just never got to see it.
DT Sam Rayburn – Truckdriver, as he was affectionately known, was very much a player on the rise. He had 6 sacks one year. How many people remember that Rayburn is the guy that SF wanted in the TO trade? The Eagles said “No way”. Unfortunately, Rayburn had shoulder injuries that ruined his career. He later developed an addiction to painkillers.
LB Ray Farmer – NFC Defensive Player of the Week in early December of 1996. The Eagles shut out the Giants, 24-0. Farmer had an INT, a sack, 2 FFs and a FR. I think that is more takeaways than the 2012 defense had all year. Farmer started 11 games as a rookie, 5 the next year and none after that. He only played in a couple of games in 1998. A knee injury took away his athleticism, which was a huge part of his game. Farmer was a SS in college and didn’t have the bulk to be a physical LB. He was a speed guy…without the speed.
ILB Stewart Bradley – It really is torturous to think about Disco Stu. He played sparingly as a rookie in 2007 and then lit it up in 2008. He showed the traits of being a Pro Bowl MLB. He then tore his ACL at Flight Night in 2009 and missed the year. He came back in 2010, but wasn’t the same player. He was tentative in terms of cutting on his knee, but also in terms of contact. He seemed nervous about anyone hitting him in the lower body. The 2009-2011 period could have looked a lot better with a healthy Stu at MLB.
S JR Reed – Showed so much promise in 2004. Outstanding KOR. Looked like he could play FS as well. And then he jumped a fence to get away from a dog. That tore a nerve in the back of his knee and Reed has never been the same. He did make it back to the NFL and that alone makes him an inspiration, but his speed and agility were limited.
CB Ben Smith – Buddy Ryan never got the Eagles defense where he wanted it. He built a great DL. He had very good LBs (Willie T. was added after Buddy was fired). He had a great CB/SS/FS…but he never found the other CB. Smith might have been that CB. Buddy drafted him as a Safety and that’s where Smith started as a rookie in 1990. About midseason Smith was moved to CB. He played there the rest of the year and in 1991, when Gang Green was so great. Smith tore up his knee 10 games into the 1991 season and was never the same. He missed all of 1992. He started 3 games in 1993. He then spent time in Denver and Arizona, but was a mediocre player.
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Did I miss anybody?
I’m not counting guys like Andy Harmon and Byron Evans that were established star players. I was focused on young guys that had that good year or two and that’s it.