ESPN Future Power Rankings: Eagles have the best outlook in the NFC East

Rich Schultz

The Philadelphia Eagles are pegged way ahead of their NFC East rivals in ESPN's Future Power Rankings.

ESPN has released their annual NFL Future Power Rankings (In$ider) which aim to project how all teams will fare over the course of the next three seasons. The rankings are based off of a panel that consists of ESPN personalities John Clayton, Louis Riddick, Mel Kiper Jr., and Mike Sando.

Unlike last year when the Eagles ranked 17th with a score of 62.71 (out of 100), the panel is now much more optimistic about Philadelphia's football franchise. This time around the Eagles rank at 8th overall with a score of 79.75. Only four NFC teams finished above the Eagles: Seattle Seahawks (1), Green Bay Packers (2), San Francisco 49ers (3), and the New Orleans Saints (6).

The Eagles are far and away the team with the best outlook in the NFC East. The New York Giants (18th), the Washington Redskins (24th), and the Dallas Cowboys (28th) all finished below the league average. The Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders were the only two NFL teams that ranked among the NFL's five worst in four of the five categories.

Here's how the Eagles ranked in all five categories. The number in parentheses represents how the score has improved since 2013.

Roster - 8.0/10 (+1.7)

QB - 7.9/10 (+2.4)

Draft - 7.4/10 (+0.9)

Front Office - 8.0 (+1.5)

Coaching - 8.6 (+2.1)

The two biggest improvements came in the form of coaching (Chip Kelly) and quarterback (Nick Foles). The Eagles will definitely be in good shape if both Kelly and Foles can prove to be successful as they were in 2013. Plus Foles may even be a little underrated as it stands now.

This is the general overview of the Eagles that ESPN gave. You can see that they believe the Eagles are a team on the rise.

Is Nick Foles the answer at QB? Our analysts think so, to some extent. Philadelphia jumped eight spots to No. 12 at the position, which puts the Eagles ahead of teams with some of Foles' 2012 draft classmates, including Washington (Robert Griffin III) and Miami (Ryan Tannehill). Foles has 33 TD passes with only seven INTs to this point in his career. He has a 9-7 starting record and a passer rating in triple digits. The rest of Philly's roster ranked fifth, and it's fair to say coach Chip Kelly has won over some skeptics. The Eagles moved up eight spots to No. 9 in coaching, the third-highest gain in that category. The drafting outlook fell three spots to 17th, but that isn't a significant change. The Eagles improved in every other category. This looks like a team on the rise.

So with all this optimism, there must be a catch, right? Right. Here's where ESPN presents skepticism.

Kelly is a program-builder, and he made a big decision this offseason in releasing DeSean Jackson. It's a move that could help define the team's success the next three years. Will there be addition by subtraction for this offensive unit? Also, did the Eagles do enough defensively to make them a more explosive team in regard to sacking the QB (31st in sacks per attempt in 2013) and defending the pass? First-round pick OLB Marcus Smith will be under the microscope from day one to see whether he is the right kind of piece for Kelly's program going forward.

The Jackson move is obviously one that people won't be quick to forget about, especially if the Eagles struggle. We know the Eagles felt they would be fine without him.

The question about the pass rush is a fair concern. The Eagles don't really have a stud pass rusher on their roster yet again. Trent Cole is coming off a season where he finished hot, so perhaps that bodes well for the future. And maybe Marcus Smith can make an impact off the bench in his rookie season. But it's a wait-and-see kind of feeling for now.

Speaking of Smith, Kiper evaluated the status of the Eagles young prospects.

Kelly's offense was good enough in 2013 that many would believe he can get it done with just about anybody, but the draft proved that Kelly and GM Howie Roseman aren't similarly convinced. I believe 2014 second-rounder Jordan Matthews has the potential to overtake Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin as the top option in the passing game over the next season-plus, and 2014 third-rounder Josh Huff is a competitive, tough runner after the catch who could (again) thrive in Kelly's offense -- and soon.

The hype surrounding Matthews has already been discussed at length. The rookie wide receiver from Vanderbilt definitely has the opportunity to make an impact from the slot position. I'm not so sure I share Kiper's view on Huff. I see Huff as a limited contributor and special teams player to start. He'll earn his way into a larger offensive role in future seasons.

Overall, I think this ESPN's assessment is fairly accurate. I'm just not sure why the Pittsburgh Steelers (7th) are ahead of them. You also have to wonder about the Denver Broncos (4) and New England Patriots (5) with regards to their quarterbacks and age. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are still some of the best for now, but when will they drop off? In any case, it's good to not be in company with the Oakland Raiders all the way down at 32.

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