Players go up and down from year to year. That’s part of football. That’s part of human nature. We’d love for Eagles players to all get better, but that’s just not reality. So let’s talk about some guys who could take a step back in 2014.
Riley Cooper – Any time a player has a breakout season you have to wonder if he can repeat it. The case for Cooper is that he didn’t do anything amazing in 2013. He was a good fit for the role and he finally got regular playing time. That led to the production. The case against Cooper works on a couple of levels. First, complacency. Cooper just got a big contract. Will he let up at all? He’s not talented enough to succeed without maximum effort and focus. The other factor is that DeSean Jackson is gone. His presence helped Cooper. Jeremy Maclin is a gifted WR, but he doesn’t scare defenses the same way Jackson did. There could be some situations where Maclin gets single-covered and Cooper gets doubled. Cooper isn’t likely to fare well in those situations. Not many WRs do, but some top guys are still good enough to win even when doubled.
Cedric Thornton – Another player coming off a breakout season, although Thornton showed good potential in 2012 as well. The big worry with Thornton is about his desire for a big deal. Thornton is a terrific run defender. Heck, Chip Kelly referred to him as the team’s best defensive player after multiple games. The problem is that Thornton is a marginal pass rusher. He needs to show progress there. You just don’t want that to hurt his run defense. If Thornton starts trying to get into the backfield, that would mean taking chances and not being as sound with his gap control, which is the whole point of using the 2-gap technique.
Todd Herremans – The move to RG did not go so well early in 2013. Herremans got more comfortable over time and made some technique adjustments that led to improved play down the stretch. The biggest issue now is age. All players hit a wall at some point in their career. Herremans is in terrific shape and hasn’t had major injury issues so he could last longer than some other players, but it is fair to wonder about his future.
DeMeco Ryans – See above for the age issue.
Nick Foles – This is the most complicated subject of them all. It is virtually impossible to imagine Foles numbers will be as good as in 2013. He finished with a rating of 119.2. He threw 27 TDs and only 2 INTs. Those are freaky stats. If Foles throws 38 TDs and 10 INTs, I wouldn’t consider that a step back. He would still be playing at a very high level, even if his numbers technically were a step back.
For me to think of Foles as really regressing, he would have to look significantly different. There isn’t a specific stat line, but imagine if he threw 30 TDs and 16 INTs. That would show minimal positive increase, but a large negative increase. Clearly something like that would be a step back. This isn’t all just about TDs and INTs. Completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating are all important stats for judging Foles level of play. It really will be interesting to see how he plays.
Beyond just Foles stats, the offense could be less productive. That’s a really complicated subject because there are so many factors that go into the success of an offense. We’ll have to judge that as the season goes along.
Brent Celek – Another player where age could start to be a factor. The Eagles used Celek in a specific way last year so I tend to think he’ll be good again this season. He is a blocker and complementary receiver. He is in excellent shape and has the skills to handle that role well.
Cary Williams – Williams is an overachiever type so any decline in his physical abilities will hurt him more than someone who is very naturally gifted.
Trent Cole – You will never question the effort of Trent Cole, but his effectiveness as a pass rusher is fair game. From early 2012 to mid-2013, there was a stretch of 21 games where Cole had just 1 sack. That’s really hard to believe. He then racked up 8 sacks in the final 8 games of 2013. Cole is going to get pressure even when he doesn’t get sacks, but the ROLB needs to be a playmaker and not just a guy who gets close.
Cole could be better in 2014 now that he’s used to playing LB. He also could be improved from Kelly’s training program. Or age plus wear and tear could finally take their toll on him.
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Any other players you think are candidates?