Is there anything in football more divisive than Pro Football Focus grades? No? Good. Fact is, you either hate them or love them, but I do believe that they serve as a solid guide and are necessary to their business model.
With that in mind, let’s see who PFF has as the top 5 graded players on the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles halfway through the season.
(you can learn more about the PFF grading system here)
Fletcher Cox – 92.4 (2nd, IDL)
Cox is putting together his best season in his quest for hardware and is the Eagles’ most consistent performer week-to-week. His 49 pressures rank 2nd among all defenders and he’s on pace for 8 sacks on the season, a large number for an interior defender.
He’s doing this while constantly receiving extra attention and center slides that free up his running mates to inflict damage on enemy quarterbacks. For example, in the Atlanta Falcons Week 1 game I charted his 46 pass rushes and found that he received a double or meaningful contact from a second blocker on 59% of those snaps.
He’s also been a force in the middle on the Eagles’ 4th ranked run defense.
Fletcher Cox vs Patrick Omameh, gonna have a bad time... pic.twitter.com/qDgbjnitHU— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) October 13, 2018
Outside of Aaron Donald, no defensive lineman is putting together the complete season Cox has to this point.
Brandon Graham - 90.3 (3rd, EDGE)
Stop me if you’ve heard this before: the sack number (1.5) isn’t reflecting how well Brandon Graham is playing. Graham has accumulated 24 pressures, second on the team to Cox, and ranks 15th in PFF’s pass rush productivity metric for edge defenders. That said, there’s a discussion to be had about if the lack of finishes from Graham is due to a lack of juice caused by his long recovery from an ankle injury suffered last year.
Putting that aside, he’s still been impactful in all areas of the game. A dog against the run and a match-up problem when kicked inside against the pass, Graham has a complete, steady game and is capable from rushing the passer and stopping the run from all alignments.
November 1, 2018
As an aside, is it actually a good thing for the Eagles that Graham’s sack numbers aren’t reflecting his level of play? It could come into play when Howie Roseman sits down with Graham at the negotiation table. Just a thought.
Carson Wentz - 83.9 (9th, QB)
We can bicker about his ranking, but here’s what matters: Wentz is back and he is the same franchise quarterback that he was before his injury. After knocking off some rust in a tight contest against the Indianapolis Colts, Wentz’s terrific play since returning has quieted the lazy off-season media talk that he might be the next Robert Griffin III.
His trademark escapability has remained a key part of his game and remains a plus for him despite the occasional slips into unnecessary hero ball. His ability to extend plays has led to some key plays for the Eagles and even garnered the praise of Jacksonville Jaguars’ lineman Calais Campbell.
Calais Campbell was very impressed with that move by @cj_wentz @Campbell93 pic.twitter.com/SPavio5nwA— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 1, 2018
Wentz has thrown for multiple touchdowns in 5 straight games while only throwing 2 interceptions this season. He’s completing 70.7% of his passes, a feat made only more impressive considering his yards per attempt are up from last year (7.5 > 7.9). A lot of this has to do with his excellent ability to place balls in tight windows which has been aided by the return of Alshon Jeffery.
Goodness Wentz, placement from this angle is even better - pic.twitter.com/Er8boCt3JR— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) October 2, 2018
As fans, we have an anxiety-filled second half of the season ahead of us, but having Wentz for that stretch and beyond makes things a little easier. Warts and all, there’s not many quarterbacks in the league that can play at his level.
Jason Kelce - 81.0 (1st, C)
There wasn’t a better center in the league last year than Jason Kelce and the same can be said for this year. To be clear, Kelce hasn’t been as dominant as last year, but his current standing among centers reflects how magnificent he was in 2017. He hasn’t shown up on any injury reports, but he has worn a brace on his knee and there’s been talk of him getting extra rest during the week to ensure he’s as close to 100% as possible on game day.
Injury or not, he’s the catalyst for the Eagles’ offense and allows them to be so diverse in their schemes. His work in space is elite and he consistently gets to the second level of the defense to seal off linebackers.
I was recently asked to explain why it's beneficial having an athletic line like the Eagles have.. look at Jason Kelce get to Ray-Ray in space and you have your answer - pic.twitter.com/1xllt2PVKc— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) October 13, 2018
He’s also been stout as a pass protector. Kelce is a much needed anchor in the middle of a line that has surrendered far too many sacks this year. His 99.3 pass blocking efficiency ranks 3rd among all centers and he’s allowed 0 sacks and only 5 pressures on the year.
Kelce always had an excellent all-around game, but in the last two years he’s avoided the drive-crippling penalties and snap blunders that plagued his game in the past. This has allowed him to showcase the full range of his game without a frustrating shadow looming over it. Plus, he will live forever in Eagles’ and NFL lore for the greatest Super Bowl parade speech of all-time.
Lane Johnson - 77.9 (9th, T)
I’ll admit, I was surprised when I saw how high Lane Johnson ranked despite mine and Benjamin Solak’s protestations that he wasn’t nearly as bad as some were making him out to be earlier in the season. There’s no question that he has been beat clean more than we are accustomed to seeing, but Wentz’s ball security issues and some bad luck also exacerbated those plays and blew them up to be more than what they were.
GOOD GOD LINVAL pic.twitter.com/ylpH0VjINV— Arif Hasan (@ArifHasanNFL) October 7, 2018
That’s an opinion, one you may disagree with, and that’s fine. I’ll concede he definitely wasn’t playing at the level we expected, but the rumblings about benching him was a bridge too far. We also can’t ignore his contributions in the run game, which bolster his grade.
What I think we can all agree on is that Johnson returning as soon as possible from his MCL sprain is critical to this offensive line. Jason Peters has struggled and will be on the injury report for every remaining week this year. That fact, coupled with Johnson’s injury, is going to lead to some weird configurations along a thin offensive line that could prove disastrous.
After surrendering 19 pressures and 4 sacks in the first four games of the season, Johnson rebounded and spent the next four games allowing only 7 pressures and 1 sack. This was done while battling through a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 5. It’s not often you see a struggling player turn his season around while hobbled, but the talk around Johnson has shifted from one of concern about his play, to one of concern about him not playing.
The Best of the Rest
With the off-season injury to Timmy Jernigan and in-season injury of Derek Barnett, Michael Bennett (77.7) has proven to be a key addition and an absolute terror. Alshon Jeffery’s return (76.7) has been crucial for an offense that lacked outside weapons to start the season. The 33-year old Chris Long (76.5) continues to play at a high level and his contributions will be even more important moving forward.