It’s summertime, baby.
So let’s get right to it. As the 2018 season approaches, here’s a look at some Birds that are underrated, really underrated and maybe overrated entering the new year:
RB Jay Ajayi
How many of you, on draft day, really wanted the Eagles to land Derrius Guice, Sony Michel or another big name? Keep those hands up. Look, a splashy rookie would’ve been good for the long term, and Ajayi’s got two intermittent problems — fumbles and his knees. But when football disappears for months, sometimes you forget things, and it’s easy to forget this man was a legitimate breakaway threat every time he touched the ball. After arriving as a luxurious mid-season prize, he averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Even with Darren Sproles back and Corey Clement locked in, he offers 1,000-yard-caliber talent.
MLB Jordan Hicks
It’s fair to be skeptical of his durability, but when he’s been healthy, he’s at times been the team’s top defensive play-maker — more so than Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham and Malcolm Jenkins. Some people unnecessarily harped on Mychal Kendricks’ “big plays” (or lack thereof) to justify his departure, but if you play that game, you’ll lose when looking at Hicks. Over his young career, this guy’s averaged an interception every four games, and he doesn’t lack for instincts, toughness and locker-room respect. Maybe he won’t be an Eagle beyond 2018, but the Eagles could easily be overjoyed he’s with them in 2018.
QB Carson Wentz
No, this isn’t a misprint. Unlike most cases, Wentz hasn’t been overvalued by biased Eagles fans, earning MVP consideration in 2017 and landing all the way at No. 3 in NFL Network’s annual Top 100 ranking. But for as much love as he gets on a national stage, he also falls a little bit into the Ajayi category in that some of us may have forgotten just how ridiculous his last season was. Whether or not his historic numbers (33 TDs) regress, Wentz showcased enough otherworldly poise and talent in 2017 to overcome doubts about his durability. Rehab and all, it’d be an upset if he didn’t go for 3,900 yards, 30 TDs and another Pro Bowl.
WR Alshon Jeffery
If you watched him in the postseason, there’s no excuse for underrating him except maybe the fact he’ll be coming off surgery. But remember he also went clutch mode while playing through the injury for which he had surgery. Detractors point to his tame 2017 numbers, and he did start slow as an Eagle, but take yourself to 2016, when Philly was starting Bryce Treggs and Dorial Green-Beckham, then try to convince yourself this man isn’t a No. 1. There are far too many mouths to feed for Jeffery to replicate his 1,400-yard days, but let’s not forget he was a touchdown machine — and dependable when needed most — in his debut.
WR Mike Wallace
Torrey Smith came up big as the playoffs wore on, but his drops and occasional ghost act out wide probably have a few people skeptical of Wallace’s ceiling as a No. 2 or 3 option, especially since he’s built from a similar mold and is coming from a Baltimore Ravens team that desperately needed WRs entering the offseason. Set aside the fact Wallace was an absolute steal in free agency, though, and you’ve still got a guy who’s always been a better all-around wideout than Smith. With so many high-caliber pieces around him, he should be in line for one of the best non-1,000-yard years of his career catching passes from Wentz.
SS Rodney McLeod
Picking on Rodney seems like a popular late-season thing to do among select fans and media, and some of that criticism is warranted, like when McLeod seemed iffy in his tackling at the tail end of 2016. But just because he plays alongside a perennial Pro Bowl-caliber leader in Malcolm Jenkins doesn’t mean he’s expendable like so many of the safeties that came and went post-Brian Dawkins. Like Hicks, he could be due for departure after 2018, but for now, he’s still one of the best top-to-bottom No. 2 safeties you could have.
CB Sidney Jones
The beauty of owning a Super Bowl-winning roster — and then bettering that roster — is a glaring lack of overrated players, especially after 2017 saw even “down” Eagles like Nelson Agholor explode into prominence. So the only obvious candidate here might be Jones, if only because his first-round pedigree and long-anticipated full-season debut consist more of mystery than of substance. If Jones is who most draft experts thought he was in 2017, the Eagles are in for a treat at corner, but we’ve seen almost nothing out of him thus far, so penciling him in starting lineups and guaranteeing lock-down material seems premature.