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PFF’s worst 5 graded Eagles through the first half

Do you hate PFF? Well they hate these players more...

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NFL: Carolina Panthers at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Feeling good after reading about the top 5 graded players on the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles? Good. Now let’s get angry.

This list of Pro Football Focus’ worst 5 graded Eagles has some names you would expect and a serious surprise on it. I, for one, am going to write them a strongly worded letter to show my displeasure.

Going from not-so-worst to worst with a minimum of 150 total snaps, here are the five Eagles that PFF hates.

(You can learn more about the PFF grading system here.)

Jalen Mills - 57.2 (88th, CB)

According to PFF, Jalen Mills has been targeted 49 times (10th most), for 32 receptions (t-7th), 516 yards (t-2nd). Coverage stats, more than many others, need additional context. For instance, his sole score conceded was the 75-yard touchdown by DeSean Jackson in Week 2, for which Malcolm Jenkins claimed responsibility. There’s also confusion on who to blame for the Tennessee Titans’ yards allowed due to the overuse of a cover 3 robber deployment.

That said, there’s no question that Mills has struggled to put together complete games. It’s clear that offensive coordinators know they can grab a chunk gain off his bad habits and plan as such.

Conversely, he has been very competent in the red zone and shows good technique and route recognition when there’s less grass to cover and long speed matters less. This has kept his touchdown number to what I would argue should be zero.

Despite all of his success in the red zone, Mills’ weakness for double moves is a potentially fatal flaw for his game. B.F. Skinner taught his rats to avoid an electric current by turning on a light which precluded the shock. Here’s hoping the light comes on for Mills.

Corey Clement - 56.8 (57th, RB)

The darling of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run, there’s clearly something missing from Corey Clement’s game this year. The coaching staff insists he’s healthy now, but a quad injury landed him on the injury report for weeks and the hope is that finally clears up over the bye week. If that’s not the issue, then we have bigger problems.

Clement has had plenty of opportunities to carve out a role considering the season-ending injury to Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles not sniffing the field. In turn, he’s averaged 3.3 yards per carry, has 12 yards on his last 12 runs, and his targets in the last four weeks look like a time bomb (4 > 3 > 2 > 1).

Adding to concern about his game is the lack of use on third downs. Pass blocking was an area of strength for him last year and not being able to win those snaps over Wendell Smallwood is a damning sign of the coaching staff’s lack of trust in him, despite their flowery words.

The Eagles’ approach at running back should be to go with the hot hand, in that moment. Clement needs to turn the burner on and get to work to earn more snaps.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai - 55.9 (64th, T)

With Lane Johnson nursing an MCL spain and Jason Peters perpetually subbing in and out of games, Vaitai’s “development” being non-existent and/or downwards is a major concern for the offense. The third-year tackle has continued on his streak of bad play after being taken to the woodshed in the preseason.

Vaitai’s 93.7 pass blocking efficiency ranks t-72nd out of 75. In just 104 pass blocking snaps, he’s surrendered 9 pressures and 4 sacks. To put that into context, his 4 sacks are tied for 8th most and he’s reached that number in 111 snaps less than the other tackles in that range. It’s the league’s worst sack rate.

Considering their current predicament, expect the Eagles to devote resources that mask Vaitai, much like they did in his confusingly lauded 2017 campaign. This means running back releases that impact the path edge defenders can take, tight end alignments to his side, and more chips than a poker tournament.

Sidney Jones - 54.4 (95th, CB)

And we have our first serious disagreement! PFF has Sidney Jones’ grade above above 65.0 in his first three games. In the next three games he doesn’t top 45.0. So it’s not that he played poorly all season in their eyes, it’s that he hit high and low levels of play in two separate stretches.

In the first three games, Jones allowed only 6 catches for 25 yards and an average of 0.30 yards per coverage snap (2nd best). In the next three they credit him with giving up 10 catches for 101 yards, a touchdown, and 1.63 yards per coverage snap (27th). I’ll concede that there were more plays I marked Jones negatively for in that second stretch, but this overall grade seems wild.

Perhaps it’s something to look into with a more critical eye, and I likely will. Perhaps it’s due to the small sample size. Perhaps they’re right about the drop off. Maybe the truth is somewhere in the middle of me and them. But let’s put this in perspective. Dexter McDougle (56.4) didn’t qualify due to a lack of snaps, but the fact that he’s graded higher than Jones has my instincts telling me what to do with this. Get me some bleach, some hydrogen peroxide and a crapload of lime.

Avonte Maddox - 49.6 (83rd, S)

Let’s get all the qualifiers out of the way now: He’s a fourth-round rookie being forced to start at a position he’s never played until the week leading up to his first start. That’s nowhere near close to ideal. He’s also been praised heavily, some of which is certainly deserved, some of which I feel is a bit overblown.

With that out of the way, this, and the Jones grade, is where I find use from PFF’s grades. You won’t see me citing their number grades in evidence to defend any of my arguments. What I will do is find grades that I disagree with and use that as a reason to challenge my own belief. If that means watching a bundle of Maddox’s snaps and applying my grading system that I learned at the Scouting Academy, then so be it.

That’s the case with Maddox. While I understand there are holes in his game from a processing standpoint, and understandably so, I believe he’s played better than what this grade would represent. One negative I’ve noticed about his game is his tendency to get dragged around by a quarterback’s eyes, making highly manipulable. Again, you can understand why.

Overall, I believe he’s done an admirable job and I’m excited about the versatility and depth this learning experiment at safety can bring the team long term. He’s also responsible for 2 takeaways on a defense severely lacking them and his forced fumble against the Jacksonville Jaguars played a huge role in their win in Week 8. His development in the second half of the season will be fascinating to track.

Worst of the Rest

Corey Graham (60.8) is responsible for two massive busts and doesn’t bring enough (or any) upside to mitigate those breakdowns. The fact that he’s the fourth defensive back in this list tells you how valuable the defensive line and linebackers has been to the defense.

It’s hard to tell if Isaac Seumalo’s grade (59.7) is being watered down by his snaps at tackle, because he’s played decent at guard, but it may not matter because an extended run at tackle is another Jason Peters injury away from being a frightening reality.

There’s a reason the Eagles were poking around the running back market before the trade deadline. Part of it has to do with the aforementioned injuries and Clement’s poor play, but it also has to do with Wendell Smallwood (57.3) being the epitome of a “get what you block for back” that is responsible for several pass protection breakdowns.

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