Donovan McNabb; a Defense of an Unappreciated HOFer and the Greatest Eagles QB Ever

Lot’s to talk about, but I’m going to limit today’s post to Donovan McNabb.  Given his “retirement” and the fact that others are running McNabb columns today, I figured the time was right to finally put my thoughts about McNabb into post form.  As I’ve alluded to before, I believe McNabb is the greatest Eagles QB ever AND a Hall of Fame caliber player. 

As usual, I will not be rehashing all the draft-day stuff or the TO event, you can go elsewhere for that.  Here, I’ll just give you what I believe is often missing from McNabb discussions: CONTEXT.  I have much more to say about all the external crap, but I’m already at 1500+ words, so that’ll have to wait.

The Stats

Given all the noise and drama surrounding McNabb’s career with the Eagles, it’s almost understandable that many commentators/fans don’t fully appreciate how good #5 was.  Here are some major statistics, followed by the comparable numbers for other QBs.  Again, just trying to provide objective context.

Career Record (regular season): 92-49-1, .647 win percentage

P. Manning with the Colts – .688 win percentage

B. Favre with the Packers – .632 win percentage

J. Elway with the Broncos – .641 win percentage

Passer Rating with the Eagles: 86.5

D. Marino – 86.4

B. Favre with GB – 85.8

J. Kelly – 84.4

T. Aikman – 81.6

– 9 Playoff Wins

P. Manning – 9

J. Kelly – 9

D. Marino – 8

– 2.16 TD/Int Ratio with the Eagles

P. Manning – 2.08

D. Brees – 1.96

J. Montana – 1.71

D. Marino – 1.66

Donovan McNabb’s career with the Eagles was among the best QB/Team runs of ALL-TIME.  Look at the names above and how McNabb with the Eagles compares.  My guess is that, if asked, most fans wouldn’t place #5’s run in this company.  However, it EASILY belongs, and in some cases exceeds the statistical greatness of some legendary players.

So what’s the problem?

I’m guessing most people don’t consider McNabb a HOFer because of the ridiculous concept of his “big-game” performance.  McNabb did not win a Super Bowl.  NFL writers typically cling to this criteria when measuring greatness, despite its obvious outrageousness.  First off, this is not basketball, one man can not win a ring single-handedly.  This should be obvious, but the importance of winning titles is so ingrained in hack-writing that it’s frequently glossed over.

Ascribing such importance to titles is how you get fans seriously arguing that Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman are among the best QBs ever.  It’s a complete joke, yet it will probably lead to a HOF that includes Eli Manning while excluding McNabb (also a complete joke).

However, regardless of how stupid I think it is, playoff performance is an important criteria for evaluating a QBs career.  Let’s look at McNabb’s.

“Big-Game” performance

As I showed above, McNabb has more playoff wins than Dan Marino and just as many as Peyton Manning and Jim Kelly.  Despite that, people cite McNabb’s “clutch” performance as among his biggest weaknesses, pointing to him throwing up in the Super Bowl and his empty ring finger as evidence of his shortcomings.  Once again, though, we need to put his performance in the correct context.

Donovan McNabb lost 7 postseason games.  Lets look at a few of them:

2001 – Eagles (11-5) lose to the Giants (12-4) by a score of 20-10.

This was McNabb’s first playoff lost, in his second playoff game.  The Eagles had defeated  the Bucs the week before.  In this game, McNabb passed for just 181 yards, with 1 touchdown and 1 interception.  Not very good numbers (though not terrible either).  How about that context?

– The Eagles rushed just 14 times for just 46 yards.  BTW, McNabb had 17 of those rushing yards.

– The Eagles offensive leaders (other than McNabb) were Charles Johnson, Brian Mitchell, and Torrance Small.

– The Giants went to the Super Bowl that year, losing to the Baltimore Ravens (the historically great defense).

2002 – Eagles (11-5) lost to the Rams (14-2) by a score of 29-24

Donovan McNabb passed for 171 yards, with 1 TD and 1 Int.  He also ran for 26 yards and a TD.  Not great numbers, but again, we need context:

– The Eagles had a lead at halftime.

– Kurt Warner passed for just 212 yards and 1 TD that day, meaning McNabb and Warner had extremely similar statistical games (McNabb had 1 more TD and 1 more Int).

– St. Louis fumbled the ball twice, but recovered both of them.  The Eagles fumbled once, but lost it. (LUCK!!!)

– Putting up 24 points in a playoff game is a pretty good performance.

– The Rams were historically good on offense that year, scoring more than 500 points.  Warner, Faulk, Bruce, Holt, Hakim, etc…(as compared to McNabb, Staley, Buckhalter, Lewis,…)

– The Rams had the best point differential in the league that year and went to the Super Bowl, losing by 3 points to the Patriots, in what would mark Tom Brady’s arrival.

2003 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Bucs (12-4) by a score of 27-10

This is a VERY important game in the McNabb/Eagles canon.  The team, playing at home,  only put up 10 points.  Clearly a very disappointing game, and the finger was pointed directly at the offense, and obviously, at McNabb.  However, this game, more so than any other, is misunderstood.  McNabb went 26-49 for 243 yards, no TDs, and 1 interception.  He also fumbled twice.  A bad game, no way around it.  HOWEVER, the context:

– The 2002 Tampa Bay Bucs allowed just 196 points and are among the greatest defenses in recent NFL history.  The Bucs were 44% better than league average on defense that year, second only to the previously mentioned Ravens defense for the BEST in the last 12 years (likely longer than that as well).

– The Bucs defense had 5 Pro Bowlers that year and 3 1st-team All-Pros.  The roster included Derrick Brooks, Warren Sapp, Simeon Rice, John Lynch, as well as Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly (who had 8 INTs and 21 passes defensed that year).

– Against this defense, McNabb’s “weapons” consisted of Duce Staley, Todd Pinkston, James Thrash, and Antonio Freeman.  For the 2002 season, those were the Eagles leading offensive players.  Brian Westbrook was on the team, but did not yet feature in the offense.

Suddenly McNabb’s 243 yards and no TDs doesn’t look so bad.  The Eagles only chance in this game was for the DEFENSE (+31% that year) to shut down the Bucs offense as completely as the Bucs did to the Eagles.

This did not happen.

The Bucs did score on the 92 yard Int return by Ronde Barber, but neither of McNabb’s fumbles turned into Tampa Bay points.

Blaming McNabb for this loss is ridiculous.

2004 – The Eagles (12-4) lose to the Panthers (11-5) by a score of 14-3. 

This is the bad one.  This loss is the ONLY time during the “Peak” that the Eagles lost to a clearly inferior team.  McNabb passed for just 100 yards and had 3 interceptions and no TDs (obviously).

No real contextual mitigation here.  McNabb played terribly.  His supporting cast sucked (as usual), but that excuse doesn’t go anywhere near as far as would be needed to absolve #5 of his performance. UPDATE: I forgot that McNabb was injured during the 2nd quarter of this game and missed a play.  He remained in the game until midway through the 4th quarter.  Note that all 3 of his interceptions occurred after the injury.  

If you want to denigrate McNabb’s career, this is THE game to point to.  As I’ve shown above, the other losses aren’t nearly as bad as people remember them being.  This one, depending on how much leeway he gets for being injured, may be worse.

2005 – The Super Bowl.  The Eagles (13-3) lose to the Patriots (14-2) by a score of 24-21.

This, along with the previous 2 losses above, form the bulk of the anti-McNabb “evidence”.  McNabb threw up at the end of the game, and didn’t more the offense as quickly as the situation demanded.  That’s true.  However,

– McNabb threw for 357 yards.  He had 3 interceptions, but he also threw for 3 TDs.

– The Eagles rushed for just 45 yards, meaning McNabb was the entire offense.

– The Patriots had a point differential that year of +177, the 11th best measure over the past 10 seasons (out of 320 teams).

– The Patriots allowed just 16.2 points per game that season, the Eagles scored 21 against them.

– In the playoffs that year, Peyton Manning and the Colts put up just 3 points against the Patriots.

– The Patriots may have cheated (Spygate!!!).

Conclusion

After looking at McNabb’s statistics, with the context I provided, it should be clear to any objective observer that #5’s career was remarkable and deserves to be celebrated to a much greater extent that it is.  The “big-game” performances that McNabb takes hits for were not as clear-cut as they seem.  As far as I can tell, there is just one game where McNabb clearly performed far below expectations (Carolina).  Just as evaluating an entire career based on Super Bowl wins is ridiculous, so is ascribing any more meaning to one playoff game versus all the rest.  Remember, I only covered the losses (most of them).  The only ones I excluded were the loss to the Cardinals (the Eagles scored 25 points and lost, again, to the NFC Super Bowl rep) and the 2010 loss to the Cowboys (which was an awful defensive performance and included some Mike Vick).

The man had a Hall Of Fame career, regardless of whether the hack-writers recognize it.   If you had the type of career #5 had and received the same amount of shit for it, you’d be bitter too.  I wish McNabb’s personality was more affable, but everything he’s upset about is 100% justifiable.  He doesn’t get the credit he deserves; not everyone (very few in fact) can be magnanimous enough to ignore that.

Look at the stats, watch the highlights; you’ll see an All-Time Great.  It’s time for everyone to agree on that.

Lastly:

 I’ve used this before, but here is Hall of Famer Jim Kelly compared to Donovan McNabb:

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Tell me how Kelly is a HOFer and McNabb isn’t?

Salary Cap and Roster Cuts

UPDATE:  I mentioned that GCobb had made a ridiculous assertion about Evan Mathis.  Turns out it was actually Denny Basens, who writes at GCobb.com, so adjust my previous point accordingly.

Focus has shifted to the roster and the salary cap, with everyone putting out a stay/go list and predicting who is going to stay.  Here is my take on it.  Sorry in advance for the lack of data.

First, everyone needs to understand that this is NOT a team that is one offseason away from seriously contending for a Super Bowl.  If everything goes right, the Eagles could certainly make the playoffs, but right now that’s the high-end of where the team can expect to be.

Understanding that, the team needs to be very careful with its salary cap space.  Right now, it’s more important to find the right pieces at GOOD VALUES then it is to pay up in free agency looking for impact players to help immediately turn the team around.

Free agency is essentially an auction, with all 32 teams valuing each player (obviously not all teams go after every player).  However, by definition, signing a FA means you are overpaying, in that you are valuing the player more highly than the rest of the market (winner’s curse).  It’s a dangerous game to play, as Eagles fans will know from recent “dream team” experience.  I believe the Eagles’ focus will (should) be on finding depth in free agency, with specific attention paid to “character” guys who will help Chip Kelly install his own atmosphere (Dennis Dixon seems like a prime example if he signs).

So don’t be disappointed if there are no huge player signings.  Conversely, if there is a big signing, remember it doesn’t always work out the way it seems (Nnamdi anyone?).  I’ll be much more excited with 4 or 5 low-profile “solid” signings than with 1 “big-time” addition.

In the meantime, who stays/goes?

I’ve had a lot of fun reading some articles that suggest nearly the entire defense will be released.  While few of them deserve to start, the fact is you still need to field a team, making it very difficult to cut EVERYONE.

Here is GCobb‘s.  Which is notable because he makes a ridiculous claim that Evan Mathis should go.  He believes that any player that doesn’t “dominate” should be replaced.  Ignoring the fact that Mathis was among the best guards in football this year (for those that actually watch the game), it’s outrageous to believe that any team subject to a salary cap could actually “dominate” at every position, especially at a relatively low-impact one like OG.  Needless to say, I won’t be taking anything GCobb Denny Basens at GCobb.com says seriously ever again, and I encourage all readers to do the same.

Before I go player-by-player, let me say something important when it comes to player evaluation.  As I just mentioned, you can’t expect EVERY player to be great.  The fact is, on a lot of good teams there are bad starters.  However, the overall talent allows the coaches to hide the weaknesses of these players.  The Eagles were so bad this season that there was no cover for anybody.  For example, on a good team, you might be able to sneak Akeem Jordan in there as a starter and compensate with a great MLB and strong D-Line.  So some of the players everyone is sick of may in fact be able to make contributions as role players once the rest of the roster gets upgraded.

Finally, here is my opinion on a selection of potential roster changes:

– Bell (already gone, but he was obvious)

– Nnamdi, an easy cut.  Rather than dissect what went wrong, I’d rather all Eagles writers/fans just agree never to speak of this signing again.

– Vick, yet another easy one.  For those still thinking he might be on the team, please remember that HE IS NOT A GOOD QUARTERBACK and now he’s old with an extensive history of injuries.  Not happening.

– Jenkins.  Ideally Jenkins would be plugged in as a 3-4 end in the new system, and I’d be happy if that happened, but all current accounts say he has an attitude problem and will complicate the coaching transition.  Normally I discount such things, but with a new coaching regime, it’s perhaps the only chance to complete a wholesale atmospheric change of the team.  If Jenkins isn’t a good soldier, he’s gone without a second thought.

– Peters stays, provided his rehab is on schedule.  This is becoming a popular suggestion for a potential cut, since his cap hit is around $11 million.  However, with the above cuts, the Eagles will have plenty of cap space.  Also, a healthy Peters (even if he comes back at 80% of what he was) is a BIG help to the offense.  While he clearly isn’t a long-term solution, it gives the Eagles an OT bridge until they can get a younger starter in there.  For example, keeping Peters would allow the team to draft Lotulelei and worry about OT either later in the draft (where I’ve shown they can find a starter) or next year.

– Demeco stays.  He is overpaid ($6.7 mil hit I think), but he is definitely a “character” guy and another veteran the Eagles can count on for one more year while they fill other roster holes.

– Trent Cole.  This is definitely the highest potential for “surprise cut”.  His contract makes that difficult, but judged purely on his play, Cole’s not going to win many fans among the new coaches.  Can he transition to a rush-linebacker?  Maybe, but I think Graham is better suited to that role.  Cole might end up staying, but probably gets shifted to a situational player rather than an every-down lineman (a near-lock if the team goes 100% to the 3-4).

– Invisible Man, Akeem Jordan, Casey Matthews.  Pick two of them to get rid of, doesn’t really matter which ones, though Jordan occasionally contributed on special teams in the past.  Only reason you keep one is so you don’t have so many holes to fill.  Matthews may get the nod because of his Oregon ties.

– DRC.  Anyone suggesting DRC should go is out of their mind.  He is inconsistent and will command a big salary, but the Eagles need to keep him (franchise tag if necessary).  It’s hard enough to replace one starting corner (and both safeties), but replacing the entire defensive backfield is a recipe for disaster.  Also, DRC is one of only a few guys in the league that can actually check some of the big superstar receivers in the league.  If I’m going against a Megatron or Brandon Marshall-type, I want DRC on my team.

– Colt Anderson.  This is a surprisingly tough decision, but I say he stays on one condition: He never steps foot on the field as a defensive player.  As a special-teamer and a locker-room guy, I love Colt.  However, he’s shown he clearly doesn’t have the ability to play on defense.  Some teams keep a roster spot for a “special teams ace”.  If Kelly decides to, then Colt stays.  Otherwise, goodbye Colt.

– Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman.  Love to see both of them go, but this will be a case of what’s available.  Most likely scenario is the Eagles sign a safety and draft one, then let everyone battle it out and pick the least-terrible option.  It’s just not easy to go out and find a starting-quality safety now that the NFL is so pass-happy.  I will say that I’d be OK with Allen as a back-up for a year, while I think Kurt Coleman’s weaknesses have been so clearly exposed that he shouldn’t be on the field.

One final point – I cannot overemphasize how important the #4 pick in the draft is, and not just because it needs to be an All-Pro.  Shifting to the 3-4 seems like a foregone conclusion, but the Eagles do NOT have anyone on the roster that can play NT.  That means if the team does not draft Lotulelei, it needs to either sign a FA (only real fit is Kemoeatu of the Ravens, and he’s 34 years old) or hope one of the other NT prospects falls to the 2nd round, which is unlikely.  If the team cannot find a NT, I have no idea what it will do, but odds are it won’t be pretty.

Team Construction: Eagles vs Ravens/Falcons

Now that we know the Super Bowl participants, I thought it might be instructive to examine how each team was constructed and compare it to the Eagles current roster.

I used the depth charts from ESPN for each team, though with the Eagles I put the injured OL and DeSean back in.  Before we pick it apart, here is each starting line-up, with the source of each player listed.  As we’ve discussed, elite players come almost exclusively from the 1st and 2nd round, so I’ve bolded each player that was acquired with either a 1st or 2nd round pick (either through the draft or via trade).

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– We can immediately see the importance of hitting on your 1st round draft picks.  The Falcons have 7 starters who were acquired with 1st round picks.  The Ravens have 5.  The Eagles have just 3 4 (Peters should be listed as “Trade (1)”.  Needless to say, this year’s top pick is hugely important .

– The next BIG difference is the number of starters drafted in the 4th round or lower.  The Falcons have just 3 such players, the Ravens just 4 (including undrafted FAs).  The Eagles have 8!  As we’ve seen, late round picks provide depth players, not stars.  On average, these guys should not be starting.  Looking at the Ravens and Falcons starters, they are either high draft picks or free agents.  (Yes, some of the FAs were originally drafted with late round picks, but the idea is the teams only picked these players up after it was clear they were good.)

– This brings me to a big lesson for every fan.  Over the past few years, coming out of training camp, Eagles fans have gotten excited because a late-round pick has made the starting line-up (Matthews, Chaney, Coleman, Harris….)  Let’s stop that nonsense.  From now on I want everyone to try to remember:  If a rookie chosen with a late-round pick is starting out of camp, it’s much more likely that it is a glaring weakness than a “draft steal”.  

– The most unfortunate part of this examination is that it appears as though the Eagles will need at least 2-3 years to put a Super Bowl roster together, and that’s assuming they hit on almost every 1st and 2nd round pick.  Roseman really needs to be as good at talent evaluation as Lurie believes he is, because the Eagles can’t afford to waste any more top picks.

Chip Kelly effects…

To date, I’ve avoided most coaching discussion, especially when it comes to comparing candidates.  The fact is, the only people who can begin to have an educated opinion on that subject are those who personally know each candidate.

Needless to say, I don’t have that knowledge, and neither to almost all of the sports writers who have been profiling the coaches.  Ignore everything you hear about who made the best hire…nobody in the press has any real knowledge of how each new coach will do.

However, now that a new coach has been found, we can talk a little about what it means for the team.

Immediately after Chip Kelly was hired, the discussion turned towards the QB situation.  For some reason (likely the need for a column topic), many commentators seem to believe that this somehow complicates the Eagles QB options.  It doesn’t.

– Michael Vick will NOT be the Eagles QB next year.  Much is being made of Kelly’s desire for mobile QBs, particularly those that can run an option-based scheme.  Those making this argument then jump to “Vick is a good runner so maybe Kelly will want him”.  This jump ignores a few aspects that each preclude Vick from being a “Chip Kelly” QB:

Vick takes a lot of sacks and has very poor pocket awareness.

Vick is one of the least accurate QBs in the league.

Vick turns the ball over a relatively high rate.

Ignoring Vick’s contract situation and age, I am confident that Kelly will review game tape of Vick and decide that he isn’t the guy to go with.  Anyone suggesting otherwise is, in my opinion, struggling to come up with things to talk about.

– This is NOT the end of Nick Foles.  While I don’t know how Kelly will adapt his offensive system in the NFL, my guess is that it will be a balanced (run-pass) but very fast paced scheme, much like the NE Patriots run.

People think of New England as a Pass-Heavy offense; this year they ranked 4th in the league in passing yards.  However, the Patriots also ranked 7th in the league in rushing yards.  

Also note that Tom Brady is one of the slowest QBs in the league and does not contribute anything significant to that rushing rank.  Yet, Brady is a perfect QB for that system because he:

– is very accurate with the ball and almost never throws an interception.  His 2.1% interception rate is the second lowest EVER. (Aaron Rodgers is 1st with a ridiculous 1.7% rate.)

– makes good decisions quickly, rarely forcing anything and consistently making the optimal read.

– has limited mobility but excellent pocket awareness, with a sack rate of just 4.84% (20th all-time).

While Nick Foles is obviously not as good as Tom Brady, he has a similar skill set.  As such, there is no reason to believe he can’t run a fast-paced, balanced offensive system (which I believe Kelly will attempt).  Also, with the RB talent that the Eagles have, I’m hopeful that Kelly will be able to construct a playbook that takes a lot of the pressure away from Foles.  I think there is a strong chance that Kelly reviews Foles’ performance this year and decides to make a go of it with him.

– Root for Geno Smith…but not for that reason.  Geno Smith has also begun to gain some traction with Eagles’ writers. Fortunately, by now most have dispelled the notion that Smith is a “running” QB.  He isn’t, although his race appears to be obscuring that fact for some.  However, he is very accurate, and has the size/athleticism/reputation that NFL teams love.  Therefore, with strong pre-draft workouts or a good combine performance, he has the potential to move up draft boards.  If he gets taken in the top 3, that means the Eagles have an excellent chance to get one of the two best fits for the team (Joeckel and Lotulelei, IMO).  Without a QB moving into the top 3, it gets a bit dicey and, as currently projected, there’s probably even odds that both Joeckel and Lotulelei are gone by #4.

If the current rumors regarding a move to a 3-4 defense are true, then missing out on both Lotulelei (the NT we’d need to run that scheme) and Joeckel would be a terrible outcome (fit wise).  Hopefully whoever the Eagles draft will be an impact player, but getting an impact player at a true position of need obviously will lead to a much quicker turnaround for the team.

So every Eagles fan should hope to see very positive Geno Smith stories between now and the draft.  As it happens, Smith’s skill-set would appear to be a great match for Andy Reid’s system, and we all know that Reid started his last job by drafting a QB with a top 5 pick.

P.S. now that I’ve offered completely subjective opinions/predictions, I’m sure Kelly will trade Foles, sign Vick to a long-term deal, and draft Smith to be a wildcat specialist…

More on Foles

After putting yesterday’s post together and getting a helpful twitter suggestion, I decided to take a look at how Foles stacked up against a larger sample of rookie quarterbacks.

I pulled together the rookie stats for every quarterback drafted in the first round since 1999.  Including Nick Foles (I realize he wasn’t a first round pick), that gave me 38 QBs.  I then eliminated 7 QBs that played in fewer than 5 games in their rookie seasons (Losman, Russell, Grossman, Rodgers, Pennington, Rivers, Quinn.)  I did not include this year’s other rookies, as we don’t know yet how their career’s will progress, though it certainly looks like each will be successful.

That leaves us with 31 QB’s.  Here is the sample charted by rookie Passer Rating, with Nick Foles in red:

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The interesting takeaway is that there are very few “false positives”.  Of the 8 QBs with higher rookie ratings than Foles, the closest there is to a “bust” is Tim Tebow, who is still relatively young and has a chance (however slight) to turn his career around.  Jake Locker doesn’t really impress me, but he did make progress this year and it’s fair to say the jury is still out on him (also note that he played in just 5 games his rookie year, the minimum for the sample.)

Other notes from that chart:

-Eli Manning’s rookie rating, with 9 games played, was just 55.4.

-Donovan McNabb’s was just 60.1.

Now let’s look at completion percentage:

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We see a similar story as with the Rating graph.  Only Big Ben, Culpepper, Matt Ryan, and Carson Palmer completed a higher percentage of throws in their rookie seasons.

If Foles had been taken in the first round, there wouldn’t be any talk of even looking at other potential quarterbacks heading into next year.  Additionally, he would have played a much larger role in the head coaching search, and we’d be hearing stories of how “Coach X is really excited to work with Foles”.

The fact is, statistically, Foles had a VERY strong rookie season, especially when one considers the patchwork O-Line he was playing behind.

Now I’ll get back to the draft…

 

Guess who…

Let’s take a break from the draft research and play a quick game.  See if you can identify the following three quarterbacks.

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Better yet, with no additional information, which one would you choose?

Any answer is right, because there is almost nothing there to differentiate the three players.   So who are they?

Most serious Eagles fans will know that Player B is Nick Foles.  His 6/5 td-int ratio is a giveaway.

The other two players will both be leading their teams this weekend in the NFC/AFC title games.  Player A is Joe Flacco, player C is Matt Ryan.

Anyone out there who doesn’t want Nick Foles to start next year?  Otherwise, feel free to join me on the bandwagon.  Still plenty of room.

Illustrating the Roster

Everyone likes graphics, so I put one together showing the holes in the current Eagles roster (only starters.)  I realize not every player will return, but as of this moment, this is what it looks like. First, the offense:

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There’s going to be some disagreement, but on the whole most of the Eagles are easy to pin.

– Kelce is a question-mark because of his injury, but he certainly has the potential to be an above-average center.

– Celek is a bit of a fan favorite, but the fact is there is a clear upper-echelon among league TEs and he isn’t among them.

– Foles is an unknown, but I see no reason why he can’t be at least a league-average QB.  Obviously it’s hard to win if that spot isn’t green, but that’s a separate issue.

– Kelly made some progress, but I don’t see his ceiling as anything higher than league average and think it’s more likely he ends up as a career depth player.

Overall, a pretty good lineup, and the biggest reason why the Eagles have a chance to rebound quickly from this year.

Unfortunately, we do have to look at the defense:

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Much more to debate here, but at the very least, there is far too much red in this picture.

– Kendricks gets a rainbow because he’s shown signs of being everything from a scrub to a pro bowler.  I think it’s likely he ends up as a slightly above-average LB, maybe more, but he has some big weaknesses that could hold him back.

– Can’t believe Nnamdi gets the yellow/red, but there’s really no way around it after the season he had.  Maybe he bounces back, but it won’t be for the Eagles.

– This is the first time since 2006 that Cole doesn’t grade as well above-average, but he had a very quiet year.  Showed very little ability to beat his man one-on-one (which he used to be great at.)  Let’s hope it was a fluke, but at age 30 (31 next year) that may be wishful thinking.

Now look at both pictures and it should be pretty easy to see why I’d like the Eagles to use the #4 pick on the best defensive player available (hopefully the DT.)  As nice as a stud OT would be, the talent level on defense is far too low.  Unfortunately, there’s no top safety or corner this year, so we could be looking at a trade down situation.

New coach might like to make a splash with such a high draft pick, but the best way to build the team could very well be moving down, picking up extra picks, then drafting a safety/lb/corner where it makes sense.  It’d be a very unsatisfying use of the #4 overall pick, but then again, watching a similarly bad defense next year would be far worse than unsatisfying.

Fitting End For The Youngsters

First off,  happy holidays to everyone.  Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope everyone was able to enjoy a few days off with friends and family.

Unfortunately, the news for several Eagles rookies over the weekend was not good.  Foles broke his hand and Cox/Kendricks were both concussed against the Redskins.  I don’t expect any of them to play in the final game (Foles is definitely out, still waiting for info on Cox/Kendricks, but why play them?).

Therefore, I thought a quick note reflecting on each of their performances this year was in order:

Nick Foles – Foles is garnering a lot of attention, and for good reason.  Here are Foles’ final numbers for this year:

60.8% Completion percentage

1,699 yards passing, 6 TD/5 INTs

79.1 QB Rating.

Rushed 11 times, picking up 5 first downs.

Overall, I think there is plenty of reason to be excited about Foles and do not understand the detractors.  I believe a large part of the negative analysis is the performances being made by the Luck/Griffin/Wilson combo, to which Foles does not compare.  However, in general, Foles performed very well for a rookie, especially given the circumstances surrounding the team.  (See the post from last week showing the rookie performances of some other current NFL QBs.)

His accuracy, pocket awareness, work ethic (anecdotally), and poise all appear to be strong.  His only big weakness thus far has been the deep ball accuracy and perhaps a reluctance to throw into tight windows (tough to grade him down on that.)

Though there is still one game to review (full Rewind will be posted tomorrow or Friday), I’ve seen more than enough to feel comfortable with Foles heading into next year.  There is no QB in the draft worth the #3-#4 pick, and there is little sense in bringing in a mediocre veteran, so the best use off assets for the Eagles is to commit to Foles for next year, rebuild the rest of the team, and see where that gets them.

Behind a strong OL (a possibility for next year) and with McCoy/Brown (if the team doesn’t ignore him), Foles has a chance to be a very productive QB.

Cox As most readers can probably tell, I am very excited about Cox.  It’s rare to find a DT with the pass-rushing skills this kid has, and he plays with energy every play.  He’s got some work to do against the run, but the talent is there and he has the potential to be a real force for the Eagles for a long time.  A lot will depend on the next coaching regime, but if he’s allowed to attack and put with the right players (perhaps a gap-filling NT….Lotulelei?), he’s gonna wreak havoc on opposing QBs.

Kendricks  Kendricks will probably end up as one of the bigger disappointments of the season.  He started the year with a few strong performances, and it looked like Eagles had found a playmaker at LB. However, his play tailed off as the season progressed.  He did rebound in the past two weeks when he was switched back to the WILL spot, but overall a very inconsistent year.  Still looks like he has the potential to be a good LB, but there are definitely some holes in his game that will need to be addressed (both tackling and reading.)

In total though, this Eagles rookie class looks stronger than any they’ve had in while.  I’ll add some more color once I review the Redskins game, but fans should be encouraged by the overall play of the rookies (we’ll do a full rookie breakdown after the season), especially in comparison to other recent draft classes.

 

Nick Foles Perspective

Sensing a few people jumping off the Foles bandwagon.  He had a rough game against a good defense, but let’s not get crazy (i.e. suggesting a trade for Kirk Cousins.)  Figured I’d add a little perspective on what rookie QBs often look like.  Below are the first year QB ratings and TD/INT ratios for each QB (first year = first year with significant playing time).

Alex Smith – 74.8 rating, 16/16

Peyton Manning – 71.2, 26/28

Drew Brees – 76.9, 17/16

Joe Flacco – 80.3, 14/12

Eli Manning – 75.9, 24/17

Obviously there are first year QBs that have done much better, but the point is that it really isn’t rare for QBs to improve dramatically from their early performance.  I’m not suggesting Foles is going to be Manning/Brees, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest that giving Foles the starting gig next year is a smart play (not just because he is the only real option).

At this point, here’s what we know:

Foles has prototypical size for a QB.  He is very accurate on short-medium throws. He has trouble spotting his deep throws.  He’s very slow but moves very well in the pocket.

It’s not much, but it’s enough that I’m intrigued to see what he can do with an upgraded line and starting-caliber weapons.  He’s obviously going to be a focus of the Game Rewind the next two weeks, but for now there’s no reason to be anything but hopeful about his potential.

Does Nick Foles = Bobby Hoying 2.0?

(See today’s Philly.com article by Phil Sheridan)

Short Answer:  I don’t think so.

Longer Answer: While there are some eerie similarities, there is a large piece of evidence that points to Nick Foles having a higher probability of long-term success than Bobby Hoying had after his promising start.

Phil Sheridan points to the team adversity as a reason for Hoying’s failure.  Although that didn’t help, perhaps a larger factor was the accuracy of Hoying.  There are a number of attributes necessary for QB success, but accuracy is among the most important (if you don’t believe me please look at the current leaderboard).  While completion percentage is an imperfect measure (not accounting for drops, distance, throwaways, etc…), it still provides a decent indication of how good a QB is at getting the ball to where he wants it to go.  Furthermore, it is a measure that is rarely every significantly improved upon by players making the jump to the pro’s, that is, completion percentage in college is a good indication a player’s potential professional completion percentage.

Bobby Hoying’s college completion percentage was 58%, which is not terrible for college, but a very weak measure for aspiring pro’s (there are currently only two starting NFL QB’s with worse, Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford).

Nick Foles’ college completion percentage was 66.9%. (Of note: Michael Vick’s was 56.5%, which would be by far the worst in the league if he was still starting).

Counterpoint: There is a substantial (and obvious) flaw in the direct comparison of Foles to Hoying: Time.  NFL passing offenses have grown significantly in scale/importance/sophistication since Hoying played, and QB performance has risen substantially.  Hoying’s rookie year, the average NFL completion percentage was just 56%.  The current average for starting QBs is 61.62%.  However, there is a strong case to be made that as teams have emphasized passing, they have changed the methods for scouting QBs, weighing things like completion percentage more heavily than in the past (while lessening the attention paid to “intangibles”).  I believe its fair to say that overall QB play in today’s game is substantially better than in 1997 (Hoying’s rookie year).  In fact, it’s likely that if Hoying’s college career was evaluated for the draft today, he would be a much lower draft choice than #85 (if he was drafted at all).

Regardless, the relative comparison of each player’s college completion percentage to the league at the time of their respective rookie year’s suggests Foles has much more potential for success (relative to league average).