2012 Fantasy Football Preview: Philadelphia Eagles
Those hoping for a repeat performance from Comeback Player of the Year Michael Vick in 2011 were a tad disappointed.
After playing himself into Kevin Kolb’s starting role in 2010, leading the Eagles to their third straight playoff appearance, Vick would go 3-6 in his first nine games in 2011, throwing as many touchdowns (11) as he did interceptions. Despite averaging a shade under 60 rushing yards a game, Vick had no touchdowns on the ground to show for his scrambles.
Vick would miss three games in mid-season with broken ribs, returning on December 11 against the Dolphins. With the team now 4-8, Vick would lead the Eagles to a strong finish, winning all four games. During the stretch, which included the Jets and Cowboys, both fighting for their playoff lives, Vick threw 1110 yards, or 277.5 per game. That’s considerably up from the 243.6 average he maintained in his first nine games. His TD-to-INT ratio improved, throwing for 7 scores, against 3 picks.
The only downside from a fantasy standpoint is that Vick’s rushing numbers were dramatically reduced during that four game stretch. Either due to lingering rib pain, or a renewed sense of comfort behind a now-sturdy offensive line (the group started slow earlier in the season), Vick only ran 11 times for 54 yards, and one touchdown. That’s 13.5 yards a game. Even the total rushing yards equal less than the AVERAGE Vick had per his first nine games.
As is the case with Michael Vick in any season, his output holds a vast range. Injuries are a concern due to his physical style and age (32), and he’s missed 8 out of a possible 32 games in the last two seasons (one game, he was withheld while the backups played).
With a full offseason to prepare, and an apparent commitment to restoring his pocket presence (especially with a synced-up offensive line, barring any weakness from Jason Peters’ fill-in Demetress Bell), expect Vick’s passing numbers to be more 2010 than 2011. If he’s feeling healthy, he’ll likely run more as the season goes on, and he feels more comfortable behind the line.
If Vick goes down due to injury, third-year understudy Mike Kafka will step in. Kafka’s sole experience was in 2011, playing in relief of Vick, who sustained a head injury, against the Falcons in week two. Kafka went 7 for 9 for 72 yards, and almost led the comeback. The following week, Vick went out again, and Kafka went 4 for 7, but heaved two interceptions.
Thus far in OTAs, it’s said that Kafka has shown crisp accuracy and a marked improvement from even a year ago. If Vick gets hurt, it’ll remain to be seen if that translates to success on the field.
LeSean McCoy was my first round pick last year and, as an Eagles fan, it was nice having two reasons to cheer for “Shady”
The bad: one fumble.
The good: 1309 yards on 273 carries (4.8 YPC), 17 rushing touchdowns (an Eagles record), 315 receiving yards on 48 catches, and 3 receiving touchdowns.
The even-better: McCoy signed a five year, $45M contract extension this offseason, thus removing the distraction of negotiations from the regular season.
Back to the bad: McCoy’s favorite blocker likely won’t play in 2012.
Running behind left tackle Jason Peters, McCoy’s average jumped to 7.5 yards a carry. Even back-up Ronnie Brown, who struggled last season in limited action, found 6.0 yards per carry running behind Peters.
Twice this offseason, Jason Peters injured his Achilles: once in a workout mishap, and again when his support apparatus broke beneath his weight. He’s a near-lock to miss the entire season.
The man who ultimately replaced Peters in Buffalo in 2009, Demetress Bell, is skillfull in the running game, but doesn’t quite bring the bite like a five-time Pro Bowler in Peters. It should be noted, however, that in Buffalo, running back Fred Jackson has put up three straight seasons of 900 yards or more with Bell in Peters’ place.
Also to be considered: last year, the offensive line was completely different than the 2010 line, save for Peters. As they struggled to find, and eventually found, a rhythm, McCoy still thrived. Among the changes: Evan Mathis (free agent), Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins (both rookies who didn’t have a full off-season), and Todd Herremans (moved from left guard to right tackle).
And McCoy still put up a Pro Bowl season behind it. If Bell avoids injury himself (he missed nine games in 2011), McCoy will be running behind a line that is more solidified than it was a year ago. And if he himself avoids injuries? He may break some of his best career marks.
With Ronnie Brown cast off, eventually signing in San Diego, the Eagles have a trio of youth behind McCoy. Second year player Dion Lewis struggled in the return game last season, and only saw significant action at running back in the finale (a respectable 12 carries, 58 yards, 1 touchdown) when McCoy sat with a bad ankle.
Competing for the No. 3 spot are rookies Bryce Brown and Chris Polk. Brown, a seventh round pick, missed lots of time playing college ball in Tennessee and Kansas State for controversial reasons, and isn’t a lock to make the roster.
Polk was undrafted, after initially being projected as a future first rounder a year ago. In 2011, Polk ran for 1488 yards and 12 touchdowns for Washington. However, questions about a shoulder condition lowered his draft stock dramatically. If Polk remains healthy, it’s expected that he’ll beat Brown for the final halfback spot, and could even overtake Lewis at No. 2. It’s something to monitor through the summer.
DeSean Jackson had a down year by his standards (58 catches, 961 yards, 4 TD), but it wasn’t without incident. While griping openly for a new contract, Jackson’s focus seemed to be in disarray.
A number of drops led to his commitment being questioned, and he was even deactivated for a game against Arizona in November for missing a team meeting. He was even pulled from a game against the Patriots after he dropped two sure-touchdown passes.
It seemed certain that “Action Jackson” would flee after the 2011 season, with the Eagles’ saying ‘good riddance.’ However, the team exercised its franchise tag on Jackson earlier this year, and the explosive deep threat would sign a five year deal in March to stick around.
With that distraction wiped away, and with Vick in position to play better, expect DeSean Jackson to return to his best form in 2012.
But some fantasy outlets (ESPN included) have Jackson ranked a few spots overall behind Jeremy Maclin, who has yet to have a thousand-yard receiving season. Maclin peaked in 2010 with 964 yards and 10 touchdowns, but dropped to 859 yards and 5 scores a year ago.
In addition to the overall descent for the Eagles’ passing game, Maclin also had a tumultuous offseason, where he was plagued with an illness that had the qualities of lymphoma. It was ultimately revealed to be an inflammatory virus, but Maclin missed the entire (limited) training camp and pre-season with the scare. Whether the associated down-time had any effect on his performance in 2011 is for one to speculate.
With a clean bill of health headed into 2012, Maclin will likely put up his usual numbers, perhaps better if Vick’s game, in his reliable No. 2 role.
Making up the rest of the four receiver sets are Jason Avant (not many touchdowns, but a reliable third down target if you can’t get anyone else) and Riley Cooper (6’3” jump ball threat who has yet to break out).
Behind them for now are Marvin McNutt (6’4” rookie sixth rounder who comes off a school’s-best year at Iowa), and perhaps Chad Hall (likely practice squad denizen who has shown Danny Woodhead/Dexter McCluster-like flashes in limited action).
Of the quartet, none are likely to be drafted in your league, and Avant’s the only one that is guaranteed to make some kind of dent for your team.
With the proliferation of New England’s “Boston TE Party” in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, not to mention Green Bay’s employ of about twelve tight ends at once, double pass-catching tight-end sets are becoming a trend. After all, both teams have made it to the Super Bowl in the last couple seasons.
Last season, Andy Reid used more double tight end sets than he ever has, even going back to the days of Chad Lewis and LJ Smith. Brent Celek has been the ace of the pair, putting up 811 yards and 5 touchdowns on 62 catches in 2011 (one short of the team high set by Maclin).
Celek’s overall fantasy value took a hit in 2010 as Vick wasn’t exactly targeting him. It took a while for the duo to wind up on the same page, but by year’s end, they had a connection going. Still, 42 catches for 511 yards and 4 scores that season ranks as Celek’s worst as the full-time starter.
With Vick relying more on him in 2011, especially as Jackson regressed, there lies a great chance that Vick now has maximized faith in his durable end. With Jackson and Maclin stretching the field, Celek will certainly get more opportunities over the middle.
As for his back-up, Clay Harbor’s numbers may not stand out as Aaron Hernandez’s might (22 catches, 235 yards, 2 TD in his first two seasons), but with Reid using Harbor more in blocking situations, opportunities will open for the former fourth rounder to nab more receptions.
It’s still far too early to draft him even in your fifteenth or sixteenth round, but if Celek gets hurt for a stretch of time, sign Harbor quick. His deceptive speed for a 250 pounder will tempt Reid greatly if Harbor assumes the role of full-time tight end in Celek’s absence.
Potential Sleeper/Breakout Rookie: Chris Polk
I decided to combine the two categories, since Polk’s the man in both instances. As mentioned earlier, his only downside hinges on the possibility, the chance, that his shoulder may not be up for the rigors of NFL play.
But in two great final seasons at Washington, Polk racked up 2903 yards on the ground, with 21 touchdowns. The Sporting News called him the “best undrafted player” in the 2012 NFL Draft. Since Reid likes to be careful with the health of his running backs, it’s possible that Polk may spell McCoy quite a bit in 2012, especially if he can do so safely.
Must Have Handcuff: Clay Harbor
It’s all a matter of giving Vick depth to go with his physical skills, and since Reid’s moving toward those double TE sets as mentioned, this could be the year he explores his faith in Harbor more. Brent Celek will still get his catches, but he’ll also make a good decoy against average-to-poor linebacker groups. With the focus on Celek, Harbor may reap the benefits.
If you have both Celek and Harbor on your roster, it becomes a matter of managing situations. Unless your league allows for a flex player that can be a tight end (mine does, and this should become more commonplace as the league evolves), then you’d use Celek against a team like Baltimore or Pittsburgh or Washington.
But when Philly squares off with teams that really have one-or-less true shutdown linebacker (Detroit, Arizona, Cleveland, and even Cincinnati), those are ideal times to unleash Harbor, since the Eagles will as well.