It goes without saying Eagles QB Carson Wentz is the most important player on this or any other year’s roster. Every quarterback is the most important player on their respective teams because in almost every case, that team’s success or failure will be largely dependent on how healthy or consistent their signal-caller is during the course of the season.
If Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, Tom Brady or Patrick Mahomes goes down, their teams are drastically different and, most likely, far worse without them. It’s the same with the Eagles and Wentz, especially given the unproven Nate Sudfeld is their back-up QB.
So, outside of Wentz, who are the most important Eagles? Which players most need to perform at or above expectations in order for this team to be considered a Super Bowl contender? For the first time since they beat Brady and the New England Patriots in Super Bowl 52, the expectations for the 2020 Eagles aren’t Super Bowl-or-bust, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be if these five players don’t step up, stay healthy and play well this year.
Last year about this time, I wrote a piece entitled “Why DeSean Jackson is the most important Eagle not named Carson Wentz,” and here is part of what I wrote then.
If DeSean goes down, the Birds will once again be devoid of a big play weapon and become the plodding, move-the-sticks operation they were last season. His skillset is unique. He is the only one who can do what he does.
The Eagles can win without Jackson, but they are far more dynamic with him, and no one else can do what he does.
The Eagles’ offense was struggling in their opening week contest against the Washington Football Team last year until Carson Wentz connected with Jackson for two long touchdown bombs that turned things around and led to a Birds 32-27 victory. DeSean hauled in eight balls for 154 yards and two touchdowns in that contest and then wasn’t heard from again as he missed almost all of the rest of the ‘19 campaign with an injury to his core muscles.
And as I predicted last summer, the Eagles’ offense did become a plodding, move-the-sticks operation, all because they lost their lone big-play threat. GM Howie Roseman hopes the addition of first round pick Jalen Raegor will act as insurance against another DeSean injury, but there really is no replacing Jackson’s skill set and experience. If he goes down again, Doug Pederson may be able to manage a bit better than last year, but Jackson is still the one guy the Birds can least afford to lose this season.
The biggest off-season acquisition was former Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay, who by all reports will shadow opposing teams’ wide receivers and provide the the secondary has needed for years. Slay’s presence allows the Eagles to experiment with Jalen Mills at safety and also means Jim Schwartz’ other cornerbacks — Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’von LeBlanc, and Rasul Douglas — can all slide down the depth chart.
Obviously the Eagles need at least one of Maddox, Jones or LeBlanc to step up and be a capable No. 2 corner. Most teams have two good wide receivers, and in the case of the Dallas Cowboys, three. In some ways, the emergence of Maddox or Jones as a true No. 2 corner may be slightly more important than Slay, but the entire secondary falls apart if Slay gets hurt or underperforms.
When 26-year-old Jatavis Brown retired last week, the Eagles already-weak linebacking corps got even weaker. Nathan Gerry, the team’s “No. 1” linebacker, will be counted on even more moving forward, as will T.J. Edwards, whom the Eagles signed as an undrafted free agent after the draft last season.
Edwards will be expected to hold the down the “mike” spot, an important position that was handled ably by Nigel Bradham and Jordan Hicks in recent seasons. Linebackers are not a priority for this team (obviously) and yet, they are still employed by every team in the NFL so they apparently serve some purpose. Edwards doesn’t have to be a Pro Bowler in order for this defense to work, but with a glaring lack of depth at that position, he needs to be a competent starter in the NFL.
It feels like we say this every year about the Eagles former first round pick, and the 2020 season is no different. Derek Barnett has yet to fully “break out,” although he did have a career high 6.5 sacks last season, but it’s still not the production one would hope to receive from a former first rounder in his third season. With more help at the defensive tackle position and an aging Brandon Graham on the other side of the line, Barnett’s ability to generate pressure at the other edge could be the difference between this defensive line being a top-five unit and being a no-frills, middle-of-the-pack unit. And as everyone knows, the name of the game in today’s NFL is the ability to rush the passer and, you know, tackle him to the ground.
It’s fair to say the success of the Eagles’ offensive line and, perhaps even the offense itself, rests on the shoulders of last year’s first round pick, who is expected to take over for Jason Peters at left tackle.
Dillard’s issues with toughness are well documented and there’s no doubt there will be some growing pains in his first season as the Eagles’ starter at that position. Peters will be the team’s right guard and serve as a back-up plan in case Dillard struggles, although that would likely weaken the team at guard with Brandon Brooks out for the season.
Dillard was drafted to be the team’s franchise left tackle for the next five to seven years. His emergence as that type of player is vital to this team’s success, both in 2020 and beyond.
Who do you think is the Eagles’ most important player not named Carson Wentz?
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