After their Sunday night dismantling of the Cowboys, I thought I would take a minute to list the top ten players currently on the Eagles roster. These guys have all been productive this year and will be key players in Philly’s quest to win the NFC East. This is simply my opinion of a player’s current ability and value, not a “who would you build a team around list”. Without further adieu, the top 10 players on the Eagles roster in 2011:
#10. Jason Babin
Babin has 9 sacks on the year, which leads the team. He is also tied for third in the NFL behind Jared Allen, DeMarcus Ware, and LaMarr Woodley. Under the tutelage of defensive line coach Jim Washburn, Babin has racked up 21.5 sacks over his last 23 games. He is playing at a pro-bowl level right now, providing elite pass-rushing ability for the Eagles. His aggressiveness has hurt him a bit against the run, as we’ve seen him over-pursue the quarterback on occasion, but I have this summer’s free agent addition as the tenth best player on the Eagles right now.
#9. Todd Herremans
Herremans is playing as well as he ever has for the Eagles right now. Although offensive linemen are sometimes difficult to judge because they don’t produce traditional statistics, Herremans has provided immense value to the Eagles this year. Not only does he know Andy Reid’s system inside and out, he has also bounced around between the tackle and guard positions, as well as the right and left side of the line, filling in as sort of a “band-aid” O-lineman for injured players throughout the year. His best performance of the year came when the Eagles needed him most–last week against the Redskins–where he displayed dominant blocks and a solid push off the line all game long.
#8. DeSean Jackson
Yes, DeSean Jackson is my boy, and yes I own his jersey, but no this isn’t my list of favorite players. So far this year, DeSean is averaging about 4 catches and 70 yards a game, with only two touchdowns on the year. He is on pace to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving for the third straight year (he had 912 yards his rookie season), but the big-play-making-ability that has defined his career has been absent this year. With LeSean McCoy’s emergence and Andy Reid’s surprising willingness to run, it seems as though there have been less targets to go around. DeSean is on pace for 114 targets this year, however, which would eclipse the 97 he received in 2010. He is also catching 54% of the passes thrown his way, up from last year’s 48%. Overall, DeSean is on pace to barely surpass last year’s receptions and yards total but fall short of the 6 TD’s he put up. I’ve read that DeSean spent the off-season working on his route running, and he appears to be making crisper cuts on the field. As the Eagles continue to regain their confidence, I expect Jaccpot to put up a few of the big play TDs that we all crave. He is still feared as the fastest player in the NFL and often his affect on the game is not properly noticed because of the double teams he draws, which opens up opportunities for other players. His elite speed, quickness, and acceleration, coupled with his above average hands and improved route running, easily make DeSean a top 15 wide receiver in the league and an extremely valuable asset of the Eagles offense. Oh, and did I mention he returns punts?
#7. Asante Samuel
Coming off a solid four tackle performance against the Cowboys, Asante Samuel is one of the NFL’s best corner backs. Since 2006, he has more interceptions than any other player in the league. Last year, he grabbed 7 INTs even after missing five games and with quarterbacks generally avoiding throwing towards him when he was playing. This year, despite only one interception, Samuel remains a threat to jump a route at any given moment. He is a veteran with excellent instincts and has partnered with Asomugha to thwart opposing team’s passing attacks this year. I expect he’ll end up with a few more interceptions by year’s end, but as long as he remains a shutdown corner in this league, I’m happy to have him on our team as my 7th ranked Eagle.
#6. Jeremy Maclin
Ranking Jeremy Maclin ahead of DeSean Jackson does not mean I think D-Jacc is by any means an expendable member of this offense. It does, however, mean that I think Maclin is a more complete player, albeit with slightly less big play-making ability. In lieu of DeSean’s elite shiftiness, Maclin is two inches taller and twenty pounds heavier, making him a larger, more durable target across the middle of the field, as well as a more reliable red zone target. Maclin was praised for his elite fundamentals and route-running coming out of college, leading to his #19 overall selection in the first round. Like DeSean, Maclin also returns punts and can rush the ball on an end-around or cause trouble for a defense with a catch-and-go screen route. Maclin is a more prototypical #1 wide receiver in this league and, like DeSean, is a top 15 or even top 10 WR in the NFL. Together, they are the most dangerous WR tandem in the league, but in terms of the overall package, my nod goes to Maclin.
#5. Jason Peters
In 2009, the Eagles gave up a 1st round pick to acquire Jason Peters from the Bills. Over two years later, it appears the trade has worked out. Peters has struggled occasionally throughout his tenure with the Eagles, but for the most part, he’s been one of the most dominant left tackles in the league. His value has taken a slight hit when Vick took over at QB, because he no longer protects the blindside, but he has still excelled against some of the leagues top pass rushers and is the most talented offensive lineman on the Eagles roster right now. This year especially, Peters has excelled in Howard Mudd’s system. Evan at 6’4”, 340 lbs., Peters moves surprisingly well, which Mudd loves. Peters has shown an ability to get down the field and block on a WR screen, as well as step back and protect the quarterback. Against the Cowboys last week, he helped open running lanes for McCoy’s 180 rushing yards. Peters continues to play at or near a Pro-Bowl level and is, in my opinion, the fifth best player on the Eagles roster.
#4. LeSean McCoy
What superlatives can be said about Shady McCoy that haven’t already been said this week? After one of the most dominant efforts of his career, it appears the national media is ready to finally embrace McCoy as perhaps the best running back in the league. Having lived in the shadow of Brian Westbrook his rookie year, while learning the ins and outs of being a running back in the NFL, McCoy has developed into the complete package. He blocks well, he catches the ball, he can run with power in between the tackles, or bounce it outside down the sideline. With his elite speed, he has that home run ability every time he touches the ball. At the age of 23, Eagles fans expect more great things to come from this young man. We must hope that Andy Reid continues to give him carries, even when the running game isn’t clicking on all cylinders, because he gives the Eagles a great chance to control the clock and win any game.
#3. Nnamdi Asomugha
The prized free agent of this past summer’s abbreviated offseason landed in Philadelphia and immediately became one of the Eagles’ best all-around players. At 6’2”, Asomugha is considerably taller than you’re average corner back. When you look at him on the field, all you see are arms and legs. He uses these long arms to control wide-receivers at the line, then uses his quick hips and long strides to take them out of the play down the field. He has incredible reflexes and great veteran instincts. Asomugha doesn’t put up tons of stats, mostly because QBs don’t throw in his direction. He is a very solid tackler, though, and won’t drop an interception if it comes his way. Although Nnamdi has been occasionally out of position this year as the Eagles defense continues to gel, he has generally shut down opposing team’s number one receiving option. Against the Cowboys, Juan Castillo effectively employed the “Charles Woodson” strategy (finally), having Nnamdi patrol various parts of the field, sometimes in the slot or guarding TE Jason Witten. As the defense continues to mesh, Nnamdi’s effect will be felt even more as we better utilize his impressive skill set. Many regard Darrelle Revis and Asomugha as the 1A and 1B top corners in the league. Despite all the talented corners in the NFL, I must agree that Asomguha is one of the very best, and the third most valuable member of the 2011 Eagles.
#2. Mike Vick
Although his surface numbers suggest he is having a down year, upon further review we might find that if it weren’t for a few very unfortunate bad breaks, Vick could be surpassing the numbers that he shocked the league with last year. Andy Reid has proven that his system can be handled by less talented quarterbacks. Vick, however, possesses more than a few abilities that set him apart. First, the obvious one is that he can run like no quarterback we’ve ever seen. He worked rigorously after the 2009 season to regain the burst that made him an NFL superstar before prison. In 2010, he had a field day against NFL defenses, rushing for almost 700 yards and 9 TDs in only 12 games. His ability to scramble for a first down on a tricky third and long is an enormous luxury for the offense. He can also maneuver out of trouble behind the line of scrimmage and complete a big pass play on the run. McNabb, Garcia, and Kolb were all mobile in their own right, but they’re not in the same league as Vick. Second, although it’s a small detail, Vick is a lefty. I’m pretty sure Tim Tebow is the only other left-handed QB in the league, so defenses aren’t quite as familiar going against a lefty. It’s just one aspect that makes Vick a bit harder to defend. Third, Vick’s arm strength is about as good as anyone in the NFL right now. His accuracy, as well, has been solid–you don’t see him throwing high or low, or behind his receivers too often. Most of his picks have come from tipped balls or jump balls this year, otherwise he has been very precise. Finally, what really sets him apart is his dedication to mastering Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinweg’s playbook. Twice this past week ee made audibles against Dallas that went for touchdowns. He is reading defenses right now better than McNabb ever did. Currently, he is the complete package and despite the offense’s ability to probably remain competent without him, his presence is what makes that unit truly elite. He is the most valuable member of the offense, a team leader, and I may as well mention he’s an all-around great guy. Number two on my list.
#1. Trent Cole
The best word to describe Trent Cole is tenacious. This guy has been my number one for some time now. Maybe it’s because he’s been one of the most perennially underrated players in the league. Or maybe it’s because he’s just the best all-around player on the Eagles roster. What’s so great about him then? Glad you asked–let’s start with the sacks. Between 2006 and 2010, Cole has racked up 52 sacks, averaging over 10 sacks a year for five straight seasons. This year, he has four, despite playing in only five of the Eagles seven games. He is on pace for just over 11 sacks in 2011. He regularly finishes top ten in more advanced statistical categories as well, specifically “stuffs” and “tackles for loss”. This year, he is ranked sixth in the league with seven tackles for loss, despite playing in three fewer games than most of the guys ahead of him. In addition to bringing down quarterbacks and running backs behind the line of scrimmage, Cole has also been one of the most complete sideline to sideline defenders in the league. He never gives up on a play and is probably the Eagles best tackler. Against the run, Cole is equally gifted, having racked up an average of 66 tackles per season over the last 5 years. Between 2008-2010, Pro Football Focus ranked him the best 4-3 DE in the league and in 2009 and 2010, they say he was the best defensive end in the league against the run, regardless of scheme. It’s worth noting that Cole can also drop in coverage if needed, although it’s not his strongest suite (thanks though, Sean McDermott). Under Washburn in 2011, Cole has been a constant harasser of the quarterback, attracting double-teams and causing disruptions in the backfield. Now that he’s healthy and the Eagles have regained their confidence, opposing offenses better watch out.
Still underrated in my book, Trent Cole is the Eagles’ best player.
Honorable mentions, in no particular order:
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Cullen Jenkins, Nate Allen, Brandon Graham, Mike Patterson, Jamar Chaney, Danny Watkins, Brent Celek, Kurt Coleman, Jason Avant, Antonio Dixon