The Eagles were the best team in the NFL in 2017 for a variety of reasons. Some of those were due to outstanding seasons by key players. For 2018, we should expect some of those players to take a step back. There’s nothing wrong with that. For example had he not been injured, Carson Wentz probably would have won MVP. If he’s merely the 3rd best QB in 2018, that’s both a step back and a hell of a season. So this isn’t doom and gloom, it’s busting a few myths before they occur.
Players who should regress
Carson Wentz and his unsustainable TD rate
How good was Carson Wentz in 2017? His league leading 7.5 TD% was the 5th best mark in the past 10 seasons. So right away, we should expect it to drop in 2018. But by how much?
In a 10 year span from 2007-2016, 31 quarterbacks who qualified for the passing title (224 attempts, 14 per game) had a TD% of 6+ and qualified the following season. All but two saw their rate drop, some marginally, some severely.
Year 1/Year 2 TD%
This table has the whole spectrum of seasons: consistent greatness by great players, fluke seasons by okay ones, and really good players having career years. No matter who it is, the results are nearly universally the same: regression, an average drop off of 1.8 percentage points.
But that’s okay. Wentz’s 7.5 TD% was exceptional. A 5.7 TD% would have been 5th best in 2017, ahead of MVP Tom Brady. A drop off of 2.5 percentage points would still put him in the top 10. Simply put, Wentz was so good that even a significant decline would still be a pretty good season.
Additionally, the Eagles were 24th with 9 rushing touchdowns. He’s going to get some opportunities for TDs vultured. And all of this is assuming he picks up where he left off with no signs of having been injured.
Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor, through no fault of their own
Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor had tremendous seasons in 2017. 2018 might not be so kind, but not because of the players. We should expect Alshon Jeffery to improve this season (more on that later). His expected increase in catches have to come from somewhere, as do the expected improvement of Mike Wallace over Torrey Smith’s 36 receptions. Some of that should be just from improvement from Wentz, whose 60.2 completion percentage was 24th in the league. Give Wentz one more completion a game and it jumps to 63.2, which would be 13th. But some of it will be transferred to teammates. In 2017 Jeffery and Smith accounted for just 27% of team receptions and 31% of receiving yards. Jeffery and Wallace should haul in a larger share in 2018, in which case everyone else is going to suffer as there’s only one ball to go around. Given how good of a season Ertz and Agholor had, they can have a drop off and still be very productive.
Further, if Darren Sproles is still the same old Darren Sproles, he’s going to take away some catches as well. Eagles RBs totaled 40 receptions in 2017, Sproles passed that threshold himself from 2009-2016. It’s also possible that Dallas Goedert and possibly Richard Rogers will feature more than Trey Burton and Brent Celek did as receivers, eating up more chances.
Nelson Agholor and Zach Ertz might be even better with the ball in their hands in 2018. But with Wentz looking to have even more opportunities to spread the ball around, they might find the ball in their hands fewer times. Keep that in mind when your fantasy draft comes around.
The Eagles have some old players. They happen to be really good at their roles, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are old, and old players decline. Only the Raiders and Saints have more players who are 30+, and if Corey Graham re-signs, they’ll tie the Saints.
Fortunately for the Eagles, they’ve already got good replacements for several of these players, and a majority of them didn’t play in the Super Bowl.
Jason Peters is the oldest at 36, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai filled in capably for him. Chris Long is 33 and Michael Bennett is 32, and the Eagles heavy rotation of pass rushers should keep them fresh and productive. But if age catches up with either, Derek Barnett has shown that he is ready for a larger role, and Brandon Graham only played 69% of snaps last year after two straight seasons above 70%, he should be easily be able to take on a larger load if need be, though he too is in the 30+ club. Mike Wallace is 31 and as noted above should be an improvement on Torrey Smith, but if the wheels fall off the team has Mack Brown and Shelton Gibson in the fold.
The Eagles don’t have any ready replacements for Darren Sproles or Chris Maragos, but they also just won the Super Bowl without them. More worrying is that Jason Kelce, Malcolm Jenkins and Haloti Ngata are all 30+ and there are no surefire replacements on the roster.
Players who should/could improve
Alshon Jeffery was the only pass catcher on the Eagles to start 16 games. He was third on the team in receptions. Little did we know at the time that he was hurt, which contributed to his worst reception and yardage total since his rookie season (when he started only 6 games), and the worst catch rate of his career.
With all of those factors in mind, there is every reason to expect him to be even better in 2018. It won’t take much for Jeffery to kick into another gear. His 13.8 yards per reception was the second worst of his career and 1.2 yards/rec worse than his career average in Chicago, but even at that rate giving him just 8 more receptions in 2017 gives him 65 catches for 899 yards, the 3rd best season of his career. Other than TDs the stats didn’t show Jeffery being the defense altering #1 receiver he was in 2017, with health and another season with Wentz (the duo got better as the season progressed), his stats should reflect his status.
Jake Elliott, maybe
This one could go either way, but let’s lean towards improvement. Jake Elliott missed at least one field goal or extra point in 9 of his 18 games in 2017. That’s obviously not going to cut it going forward.
Elliott made only 57% of his field goal attempts from 30-39 yards, the second worst mark of any full time kicker in 2017. But his 92.3% on attempts from 40-49 yards was 4th best among full time kickers. He had a weird season, and that should smooth out in 2018.
The somewhat good news for Elliott is that field goal percentage fluxuates, while kickoff distance is more consistent. Among full time kickers in 2017, he was 16th in average kickoff distance, and had the 8th longest kickoff. Not great numbers, but indicative that an improvement is there to be made. That, along with Elliott being reliable from deep, is reason to believe that he should connect on a few more shorter kicks, but like Elliott from 34 yards, that’s not automatic.