All About the Passing Game

Posted: May 9th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 202 Comments »

Once the draft is over, I like to go back and look at the picks from a variety of angles. If you study them, you sometimes will see patterns emerge. I think I found one for this year.

My newest PE.com column is on how the Eagles used the 2016 draft to focus on the passing game, both on offense and defense.

Think about the 2015 Eagles. They had 23 TD passes. Opponents had 36. The Eagles had a QB rating of 85.6. Opponents were up at 92.8. Whether we are talking about volume or efficiency, the Eagles did not throw the ball well enough, nor did they defend the pass well enough.

Wentz is obvious.

Think about Seumalo. The Eagles took him over Le’Raven Clark, a player some thought might be a 1st round pick. Clark is an outstanding athlete and good run blocker, but he is highly erratic as a pass blocker. Instead, the Eagles took a G/C who is a good pass blocker. The Eagles also passed on C/G Graham Glasgow. He is a better run blocker than Seumalo, but isn’t as good a pass protector.

The Eagles took RB Wendell Smallwood in the 5th round. They passed on bigger or more physical RBs like Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, Kelvin Taylor and Darius Jackson. Smallwood caught 68 passes at WVa. He lined up in the slot or as an outside receiver at times. He also showed the ability to be a solid pass blocker. The other backs were good runners, but less proven in the passing game.

Big V was the next pick. He was an OT with good feet. The Eagles took him over Fahn Cooper, a RT from Ole Miss. They passed on Sebastian Tretola, an OG who is a mauling run blocker. Vadal Alexander could play RT or OG and was a terrific run blocker. The Eagles got Vaitai, with his outstanding feet and potential to become a starting LT.

The Eagles added a pair of versatile DBs in Blake Countess and Jalen Mills. Right now both are listed at Safety. The Eagles passed over Jeremy Cash, who was a terrific run defender and big SS. They ignored Tyvis Powell, who had cover skills and good size. The Eagles wanted Safeties with man cover skills.

I know a lot of fans were upset with the team for passing on Cash. I watched almost all of his games for the past 2 years. Cash is a gifted player, but is made for the NFL of 10 years ago, when a SS could live in the box and play a defined role. Think Mike Zordich. Cash doesn’t have the quickness, agility or man cover skills teams want these days. That said, I’m still shocked he wasn’t drafted.

The other picks were DE Alex McCalister and ILB Joe Walker. McCalister is a pass rusher that might be able to contribute right away. I’m sure the Eagles were happy he was still on the board at that point. The Eagles chose Walker over players like Dominique Alexander, Jared Norris, Eric Striker, Steve Longa and Terrance Smith. None of those players came close to his combination of size, speed and agility. Walker is more likely to help in the passing game than those players.

A lot of teams talked about wanting to get bigger and more physical during the draft. They focused on size, strength and power. The Eagles wanted athletes who could help the passing game or help stop the passing game. Based purely on picks, it looks like the Eagles did a good job. Now we have to see how the players perform.

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Versatility Ability

Posted: May 7th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 142 Comments »

Doug Pederson has mentioned versatility as a desired quality in his players more than once or twice. But most coaches mention that. It sounds great.

The Eagles really did focus on versatility with this group of rookies. Pederson seems to be a coach who genuinely means what he says.

Isaac Seumalo – Played all over the O-line in his college career. Can play any of the interior spots in the NFL. I don’t think he could play OT unless it was an emergency.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai – Started at RT and LT at TCU. Could play on either side in the NFL. Might be able to play OG as well, but more of a natural OT.

Wendell Smallwood – Can run, catch and throw. Used to line up in the slot early in his career. Lined up a bit outside in 2015. Also has some KOR experience.

That’s pretty good for a RB.

Blake Countess – So versatile he actually went to 2 colleges. Okay, maybe that doesn’t count. Did start at CB and S in his career. Could turn out to be the next Sheldon Brown, Brandon Boykin or Rodney McLeod. I think Safety might be the best spot for him.

Jalen Mills – 4-year starter at LSU who spent time at S and CB. Like Countess, can play all over in the NFL. Covers well enough for CB, but hits/tackles well enough for S. The Eagles have to figure out where he fits the best.

Joe Walker – More of a projection. Spent his entire college career playing ILB. The Eagles want him to compete for the backup MLB job right away. But also has the size and athleticism to play OLB. Walker is 6-2, 236. He ran 4.60 at his Pro Day. That could be a WLB or a SAM. His versatility could give the Eagles the option of only having 5 LBs dress on gameday, allowing them to have an extra DL or DB available. Walker has to show he can handle MLB first. I did find it interesting that the Eagles looked at some thumper type MLBs but ended up choosing an athletic guy who can play multiple spots.

Byron Marshall – More of a weapon than a position. Was a WR/RB/RS for Oregon. The Eagles are projecting him at RB for now. Marshall could be groomed to replace Darren Sproles in a year. Forget about what you call Marshall, just get him the ball in space and let him make plays for you.

Wow.

Aziz Shittu – Played DT, DE and NT for Stanford. Will likely be a NT or DT for the Eagles, but could get the occasional look at DE. Has good quickness, but I’m not sure he has the speed for DE in the Wide 9 front. No matter where you lined him up in college, Shittu was disruptive.

Destiny Vaeao – Played DE and DT for Washington State. Can play NT or DT for the Eagles. Strong enough to be a stout run defender. Athletic enough to be disruptive when flying up the field.

Connor Wujciak – Played DT, NT and DE for Boston College. Ran 4.91 at the Combine, where he was 6-2, 291. For the sake of comparison, Fletcher Cox ran 4.79 at 6-4, 298. Wujciak had the highest SPARQ score of any major college DT. This kid is one heck of an athlete and you can bet Jim Schwartz will move him around to try and take advantage of that.

You can see that this group of rookies can play different roles. Just as importantly, the schemes allow for that. The 3-4 was more limiting in what players could do. Fletcher Cox can play all 4 spots in the 4-3. Jordan Hicks can play all the linebacker spots in the 4-3.

The offense will use more huddles and player changes. That allows role players to have more impact. Chip Kelly wanted speed. That mean having the same 11 guys out there as much as possible. Pederson will use tempo, but will also play more situational football.

There are plenty of versatile players who failed in the NFL so these rookies still have a major challenge in front of them. Some of the guys will be battling each other for roster spots and/or playing time. The more things a guy can do well, the better his chances of succeeding.

Oh yeah, it also wouldn’t hurt to be kinda decent on Special Teams as well.

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In-Depth: Wendell Smallwood

Posted: May 5th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 271 Comments »

The draft may be over, but I’ll be writing a lot about it for the next couple of months. I’ve got a lot of thoughts on the picks the Eagles made, both in terms of the players themselves and also how the moves make sense (or don’t) from the team’s perspective.

I haven’t said a lot about Carson Wentz in the past few days. He got a ton of coverage from the major media so I focused elsewhere. I’ll have plenty to say about Wentz, but let’s go elsewhere for now.

From my perspective, the two most interesting picks were RB Wendell Smallwood and DB Blake Countess. Smallwood is the more noteworthy player for now so we’ll start with him.

First, I liked Smallwood quite a bit. He came to my attention at the Scouting Combine and grew on me from there.

During the college season, I tend to focus on Seniors and elite Juniors. Smallwood, unlike Ezekiel Elliott and Derrick Henry, was not on my radar. I watched a bit of West Virginia, but simply wasn’t aware of him. I start checking out Juniors at the Combine.

I remember seeing RB22 going through the drills on the field and wondering who that was. The player was fluid and moved very naturally. He really impressed me. I figured out that was some guy named Wendell Smallwood. It didn’t take long before I found out he led the Big 12 in rushing in 2015 and suddenly I had to take him seriously as a prospect. Here’s the quick snippet I wrote on him back then.

RB Wendell Smallwood – Good showing. 5-10, 208. Ran 4.47 and posted great 3-cone time of 6.83. Only jumped 33.5 inches. I was impressed by him in the drills. Also looked good catching the ball.

Just for fun, here is LeSean McCoy’s Pro Day.

5-10, 204
4.50
VJ – 29
3C – 6.82

That’s pretty interesting, huh? No one is saying Smallwood will be Shady, Pt. 2. McCoy was a great college player and went in the 2nd round. Smallwood was a good college player and went in the 5th round. While similar in size and athleticism, they are different guys.

One thing they do have in common is the ability to make plays. Shady did a great job of that at the NFL level. For now, Smallwood has only done it in college. But he did lead the NCAA in runs of 10 or more yards in 2015. Smallwood averaged 6.4 yards per carry. He isn’t just going to move the chains. Smallwood can help you get chunk plays, something the Eagles offense lacked in 2015.

Let’s watch a bit of Smallwood in action. I think this game shows his overall skill set.   Read the rest of this entry »


Cool Feature

Posted: May 3rd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 422 Comments »

If you love the draft, you’re fascinated by “the war room”. The Eagles are too secretive to show much of theirs, but they did put together some photos from the draft. I thought it was pretty cool.

One thing stood out.

Goff-Wentz draft cards

Notice those cards?

There is the player, school, size, speed (40 time) and one other number. Took me a couple of minutes to figure that out, but it is the Wonderlic score. Goff got a 34. Wentz got a 40. You can see that more clearly on another picture that shows just his card.

If you have to reduce a player to minimal information, going with name, school, size, speed and brains is a pretty good way to do it. I’m not saying the Wonderlic is a true way of measuring intelligence, but it is a way to quantify and compare the relative intelligence of players. Imperfect? Yes, but likely better than nothing.

I do not know what the letter under the first name means (GW for Goff and G for Wentz). Any guesses?

*****

But Mueller was the FB, right?

He was a body. The team wanted to take a look at him. They did and decided to go in another direction. There is no guarantee the Eagles will spend a roster spot on a FB. They need someone who can fill that role during games for a play here and a play there. Trey Burton would make the most sense.

The Eagles will keep their eyes open. If the right guy is out there, they’ll sign him.

Doug Pederson realizes that keeping a pure FB is a bit of a luxury. He pointed out this spring that the player would be a good STer more than anything. Maybe they will consider converting a LB. Bryan Braman is a good athlete and STer. I’d prefer to keep him on defense since he can be an effective pass rusher in blowout situations when the other team throws the ball over and over.

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An Overview

Posted: May 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Philadelphia Eagles | 365 Comments »

We now know the team. Let’s look at the updated depth chart.

QB – Sam Bradford … Chase Daniel … Carson Wentz … McLeod Bethel-Thompson
RB – Ryan Mathews … Darren Sproles … Kenjon Barner … Wendell Smallwood
WR – Nelson Agholor … Rueben Randle … Jonathan Krause ,,, Cayleb Jones
WR – Jordan Matthews … Chris Givens … Xavier Rush … Marcus Johnson
WR – Josh Huff … T.J. Graham … Byron Marshall … Hunter Sharp
TE – Brent Celek … Zach Ertz … Trey Burton … Chris Pantale …. Dillon Gordon
LT – Jason Peters … Halavoulivaati Vaitai … Brett Boyko
LG – Alan Barbre … Stefen Wisniewski… Malcolm Bunche … Isaac Seumalo
OC – Jason Kelce … Josh Andrews … Barrett Jones … Bruce Johnson
RG – Brandon Brooks  … Matt Tobin … Darrell Greene
RT – Lane Johnson … Dennis Kelly … Andrew Gardner

DE – Vinny Curry … Connor Barwin … Travis Long … Alex McCalister
NT – Bennie Logan … Beau Allen … Mike Martin … Connor Wujciak
DT – Fletcher Cox  … Taylor Hart … Travis Raciti … Destiny Vaeao … Aziz Shittu
DE – Brandon Graham … Marcus Smith … Bryan Braman … Steven Means
WLB – Mychal Kendricks … Najee Goode … Myke Tavarres
MLB – Jordan Hicks … Joe Walker … Deontae Skinner
SLB – Nigel Bradham … Brandon Hepburn … Quentin Gause
SS – Malcolm Jenkins … Ed Reynolds … Jalen Mills
FS – Rodney McLeod … Chris Maragos … Blake Countess
CB – Eric Rowe …. Nolan Carroll … Denzel Rice
CB – Leodis McKelvin … Ron Brooks … Jaylen Watkins … C.J. Smith
NB – JaCorey Shepherd … Randall Evans … Aaron Grymes

P – Donnie Jones …Ryan Quigley
K – Cody Parkey … Caleb Sturgis
LS – Jon Dorenbos … John DePalma

I left off a WR / RB or two to save space. But these are the key players listed.

Overall, this is a solid roster. There are holes to be sure, but there is also plenty of talent. Don’t read too much into the order of players. This is a guess on my part. The players will set the depth chart with their performance.

I’ve also guessed at some positions. Stefen Wisniewski could play LG or C. Josh Andrews and Barrett Jones could also play G or C. I don’t know if Blake Countess is going to play CB, S or the slot. With so few Safeties on the roster, I went ahead and put him there.

Look back to last spring and check out the roster.

The big difference to me is summed up in one word…competition.

The LG was basically given to Allen Barbre last year after Evan Mathis was released. Riley Cooper wasn’t pushed at WR despite coming off a disappointing 2014 season. Vinny Curry was a key player, but couldn’t push for a starting role because he didn’t fit the base scheme.

This year feels different.

Sam Bradford is going to be pushed by Chase Daniel and Carson Wentz.

The Eagles added young veteran WRs Rueben Randle, Chris Givens and T.J. Graham to fight for roster spots and/or playing time.

OL depth is greatly increased with 2 draft picks and 2 good free agent additions. There will be true competition this year.

There should be good competition for the backup DE and DT spots.

CB is wide open. There will be competition for the starting roles as well as backup spot.

Some spots are weaker than others. There isn’t great depth at LB. The Eagles like a trio of rookies that they brought in, but it isn’t ideal to have that much youth at one spot.

*****

Too bad about Couplin. I thought he had a chance to play this year. Injuries got the best of him last year and the position was upgraded this year.

*****

Howie Roseman had some interesting things to say about the draft.

His take on rounds 5-7.

Interview with Dave Spadaro.

Both videos are worth watching.

*****

Sam Bradford isn’t generating a whole lot of support for his recent actions. Brandon Lee Gowton has the story on Sam’s current situation, which is best described as twisting in the wind.

The Eagles have said all the right things publicly. They have tried to make contact with Bradford. He’s not responding.

I don’t know where he thinks he’s going at this point. The Eagles might be willing to trade him if the right situation came up, but it isn’t here now.

Bradford needs to handle this the right way. He’s made his feelings known. Now he needs to show up and start getting on with the business of football. If he’s dealt, he’ll be more ready for his new team. If he sticks around, he’ll be ready for the Eagles.

The big thing Bradford seems to want is a long term home. The best way to get that is to play well in 2016. If he’s up and down like previous years, he won’t be getting a long deal anywhere.

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