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ESPN insiders discuss Top 100; Eagles players cause debate

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Two underrated. One overrated. One ready to break onto next season’s list.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

How do you accurately rank NFL players across different positions? I don’t think you do, but the reality is this: if you try it, and then publish it, people will click on it. So NFL Network does it, CBS Sports does it, and ESPN does it.

But something I really like is that ESPN also had some of their NFL analysts read over the list and acknowledge its failures from their personal perspective. It serves as a good reminder that lists like these will never be perfect, and that acknowledging that is fine.

The analysts were asked five questions — and four different Eagles showed up in the responses. Seven Eagles originally made the list (T-1st with Minnesota): Carson Wentz (17), Fletcher Cox (29), Lane Johnson (54), Malcolm Jenkins (56), Zach Ertz (79), Brandon Graham (94), and Jason Kelce (98). Notably omitted is Jason Peters, despite the fact that this list intended on projecting who will be the best 100 players in 2018. But whatever.

When asked who came in too low, Matt Bowen circled Zach Ertz, who was strikingly outdistanced by New England’s Rob Gronkowski (12) and Kansas City’s Travis Kelce (22) in the rankings. To his point, Bowen said:

The Eagles tight end is one of the best route runners at the position and the matchup ability is there, too. Do me a favor: Go turn on the tape and watch Ertz set up defenders in the pass game. He’s a great fit for Doug Pederson’s offense due to his formation versatility, Ertz totaled 74 grabs in ‘17 to go along with eight touchdowns. And he also showed up on the game’s biggest stage, catching seven passes for 67 yards and a score in the Eagles’ Super Bowl win over the Patriots. We need to bump him up in the ranks.

Brandon Graham was the other Eagle identified as an under-appreciated player, this time by Mike Clay, who aptly noted that Graham remains “one of the game’s most underrated players.” Graham was the last of 14 defensive ends listed, behind players such as Cleveland’s Myles Garrett, Jacksonville’s Yannick Ngakoue, and Minnesota’s Danielle Hunter.

When asked about overrated players, however, things took a turn: Kevin Seifert circled Carson Wentz’s 17th overall rank as too rich for 2018.

Maybe I’m too cautious. But I’m not assuming that Wentz will pick up where he left off after a December ACL tear, especially when at least some of his success can be attributed to movement in and out of the pocket. It’s reasonable to expect at least some regression in the initial months after returning from an ACL tear. It happens to many players. There is every reason to think he’ll eventually make a full recovery, but I don’t think he’ll have a better 2018 season than Ben Roethlisberger, Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, all of whom rank below Wentz (No. 17) on this list.

I dunno, man. If there’s every reason to believe he’ll make a full recovery, then we’re looking at an MVP-caliber 2017 player who comes into 2018 with better offensive weapons and a stronger offensive line. Unless you’re assuming that the road to recovery will limit Carson’s movement skills for a significant chunk of 2018’s season — and having watched camp work, I’d argue strongly against that claim — it seems at least reasonably optimistic to me, projecting Carson to be the 4th-best quarterback in the league.

Also, Ben is 18th, Wilson is 19th, and Ryan is 21st. Moving Wentz down five slots doesn’t scream ‘overrated’ to me.

Lastly, a surprise nugget that I like a lot: a very smart analyst who we should trust implicitly named Kevin Seifert (question nothing) circled Dallas Goedert as the player most likely to join Saquon Barkley as members of the 2018 rookie class on the list (Barkley made it at 87). The other players selected were Denzel Ward (4th overall selection), Quenton Nelson (5th overall selection, and Roquan Smith (8th overall selection). I like that Dallas, a second-rounder, was selected to breakout — and given his prominent role in an elite passing attack, it’s not a farfetched assumption.