Every diehard Eagles fan is poring over lists of free agents and draft picks, looking for the perfect pieces to complete this Super Bowl puzzle. But we might be forgetting several of the Birds' best prospects -- guys who are already on the roster, ready to emerge as major players on this team.
I don't mean people like Zach Ertz or Brandon Boykin, even though I expect them to step up their games in a major way, because they are already well known. Or even James Casey, Chris Polk and Brad Smith, three other players who could explode but have gotten a bit of attention and some prime time snaps. I'm talking about the forgotten guys on the margins, clinging to the practice squad or buried deep on the depth chart.
One of the pleasant surprises of watching a good team grow is subtraction by addition. There are only so many snaps, even on an up-tempo team, and losing players can be the key to success -- if it opens up opportunities for players languishing behind them on the bench.
Be honest -- did you really think Bennie Logan was an NFL starter last September and October? No one really knew how solid this third round pick would be until the Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga away, and created space for him. It's sad truth that there are probably guys who could have been NFL stars but never got off the bench, and quietly drifted out of the league. So figuring out who to release, trade or bench might be just as important to the Eagles' future as acquiring new talent.
Here are three Eagles I think could do great things with more playing time, whether that comes from injuries, trades or losing free agents.
1. Najee Goode
The Packers' Eddie Lacy was the hottest RB in the league for the five games before they played Philadelphia, as Geoff Mosher observed, so naturally Eagles' fans were worried when Mychal Kendricks went down in the first quarter of that game. No problem. Najee Goode -- a 5th round pick waived by Tampa Bay -- finished out that game and started against the Redskins the following week, and the team hardly noticed the difference.
He made some plays -- 4 solo tackles, 3 pass deflections and a sack -- but mostly he was rock solid, as the Birds held Lacy to 73 yards (in a game where Green Bay had little passing game due to Aaron Rodgers' injury). The coach was impressed: he thought Goode was "an extremely hard worker" and "a real smart guy. I think he was an industrial mechanical engineer major. He has a really good grasp." When Chip Kelly thinks you're smart and hard-working, that's really saying something.
Demeco Ryans is scheduled to earn $6.8 million next year, and while he and Mychal Kendricks had over 200 tackles between them, they didn't really make as many big plays as you'd like in a 3-4 designed for LB impact. With other more pressing needs for the draft and free agency than ILB, Najee might be the answer. (BTW, I want some credit for avoiding the corny "Najee B Goode" joke for two whole paragraphs. Well, almost two.)
2. Arrelious Benn
Maclin and Cooper are both free agents, as you've heard dozens of times. How about a 6'2", 225 lb WR who's athletic, fast, and great on both jump balls and YAC? Plus he has one of the coolest first names ever.
Benn was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2010, three spots ahead of Rob Gronkowski, but has produced slightly less than Gronk since then. The Eagles had high hopes for him as both WR and kick returner but he blew out his knee (for the second time in 4 years) in training camp. (Remember last August when the Eagles seemed to have a million ACL injuries, and the Novacare rug was being investigated?)
Still, Benn is only 25 and he should be motivated -- this may be his last shot to stick with an NFL squad.
3. Matt Tobin
This 6'6", 303 lb offensive lineman was only activated for the last two games last year as a rookie UDFA, but players and coaches keep bringing up his name as a great player who's advancing rapidly. Evan Mathis had a ton of praise for him in Mike Kaye's recent interview:
He learned the techniques and assignments as fast as I've ever seen anyone learn them. He has great feet that allow him to execute the techniques with good athleticism. Jeff Stoutland has done a great job grooming Matt and I expect steady improvement over time.
Tobin is reportedly working out as guard as well as tackle, that versatility that Chip Kelly loves, and he passed Dennis Kelly on the Eagles' depth chart. The main thing holding him back was the strength and health of the Birds' front line, which played together all 17 games and only missed 100 snaps combined all season
Still, Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans are all over 30 so there should be plenty of opportunity for Tobin going forward. Even if they stay healthy, the coaches need to think about working in some depth players to have an alternative ready. Allen Barbre played very well during Evan Mathis' brief injury last year, too, but at 29 the journeyman is not the Bird's answer to an aging OL.
There are other prospects who are more raw -- Michael Bamiro, for example -- and some depth players who don't look that promising. (Roc Carnichael was picked on by QBs, and kicked away a punt that could have been downed at the 1-yard-line). But these three guys look like they could contribute in a big way this year.