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Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Philadelphia Eagles team preview

The Eagles' Nick Foles was the surprise performer of the NFL last year, as he exploded offensively in his 11 starts at QB. Can he repeat those numbers in 2014? Photo: Al Tielemans/SI

The Eagles' Nick Foles was the surprise performer of the NFL last year, as he exploded offensively in his 11 starts at QB. Can he repeat those numbers in 2014?

Names can often get in the way of honest player evaluation. Whether or not we want to admit it, we all have our biases and no matter how hard we try to ignore them, they occasionally influence the way we value a player. Rather than starting this team preview with names, then, let’s begin with nice, concrete, truth-telling numbers. We can lie to ourselves when names are in the mix, but numbers force us to face facts.

Last year, our quarterback-to-be-named-in-a-few-paragraphs had a great season. He racked up 2,891 yards, 9.12 yards per attempt and 27 touchdowns against just two interceptions in 13 games (yes, some of you now know who we’re talking about, but keep it to yourself). He also ran for 225 yards and three scores. If you checked out a box score after his average game, it looked like this:

222.38 passing yards, 9.12 YPA, 2.08 passing touchdowns, 0.15 interceptions, 17.31 rushing yards, 0.23 rushing touchdowns.

If you add them up, those numbers translate to 20.18 fantasy points per game in standard-scoring leagues. Here’s one hint: He isn’t Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton. Let’s use those guys as comparison models, though. Stafford averaged 18.87 points per game, while Newton checked in with 19.55 points per game. Our to-be-named QB was better on a per-game basis than the fourth- and fifth-highest scoring fantasy quarterbacks a season ago. And yet, he still finds himself ranked sixth among quarterbacks in average draft position, trailing, among others, Stafford. Ready to find out who it is?

Our mystery man is Nick Foles. After starting the year as Michael Vick’s backup, Foles took over as the starter in Week 5. While Foles played in 13 games total, he started just 11. If we take his stats only for the games after he supplanted Vick as the starter, he doesn’t just compare favorably with the Staffords and Newtons of the world. His 23.28 points per game in starts is on par with Drew Brees (23.37). Foles was an absolute stud last season.

Now the unquestioned starter for the Eagles, Foles enters the season not as an unknown quantity, but as the most important player on the defending NFC East champions. At 25 years old, the third-year man out of Arizona looks like the one quarterback who can truly make the leap this season. Of course, it helps to have one of the best running backs in the league behind you.

LeSean McCoy doesn’t just take a ton of attention off Foles. He provides the quarterback with a lethal weapon out of the backfield. The Eagles lost DeSean Jackson, easily Foles’ favorite receiver, when they released him (he then signed with the Redskins). However, Jeremy Maclin is healthy after tearing his ACL in training camp last year, and the team should get more from the tight end position with an increased role for Zach Ertz in his second season. Chip Kelly’s offense was a smashing success in its first year in the NFL. In a league that requires constant adjustment, Kelly and Foles proved the doubters wrong. It would be silly to bet against them this year.

Foles is unlikely to put up a 13.5 TD/INT ratio again this season, but he should also start five more games, sending his stats skyrocketing. Somehow, he’s coming off the board 21 picks later than Stafford and 14 picks after Andrew Luck in standard drafts. At his current average draft position, Foles is the best quarterback to take after the Rodgers-Manning-Brees trio.

Most overvalued player

Riley Cooper, WR

Consistency is the greatest currency in fantasy leagues. Sure, it’s fun when a receiver of yours goes for 200 yards and three touchdowns, but chances are you still would have won if he had 150 yards and two scores. A lack of consistency is why it’s hard to trust Cooper as anything more than a WR4 this year. He posted easily the best season of his career in 2013, catching 47 passes for 835 yards and eight scores. However, in his three best games, he had a total of 361 yards and six touchdowns. Those three contests represent 43.2 percent of his full-season yardage total and 75 percent of his touchdowns. In the 13 other games, he scored more than eight fantasy points just three times.

Most undervalued player

Jordan Matthews, WR

Coming off the board nearly 50 picks after Cooper in an average draft is the only Philadelphia receiver other than Maclin that you actually want to own. The Eagles selected Matthews in the second round with the 42nd overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. As a senior at Vanderbilt last year, the 6-foot-3, 206-pound Matthews caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and seven touchdowns. He is considered a major threat in the red zone and has leaping ability that neither Maclin nor Cooper brings to the table. He isn’t a burner, so he won’t replace that element the team lost when it let Jackson go, but he does give Foles a reliable target with great hands. He’s also Jerry Rice’s cousin, so that has to be worth a little something. Best of all, Matthews will only cost you about a 12th-round pick in a 12-team league. He’s a major sleeper.

Depth chart

QB: Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley

RB: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker

WR: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Brad Smith, Josh Huff, Arrelious Benn

TE: Zach Ertz, Emil Igwenagu

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points Allowed

NFL rank
29th 32nd 10th t-17th
  vs. QB vs. RB vs. WR vs. TE
Fantasy rank 28th 12th 32nd 9th

The overall stats suggest otherwise, but the Eagles were not a complete train wreck of a defense last year. They were merely below average, but still not worth selecting. Pro Football Focus’ metrics graded them as the 20th-ranked overall defense, 14th against the run, 21st in pass rush and 22nd in pass coverage. They had just 19 takeaways and 37 sacks, both of which ranked in the bottom half of the league. This was not a defense fantasy owners needed to have on their radars last year.

Defensive coordinator Bill Davis and his 3-4 scheme are back for a second year, and so are most of the players who made this a sub-par unit. The only new guys who should see significant time on the field are strong safety Nate Allen, free safety Malcolm Jenkins, cornerback Nolan Carroll and rookie linebacker Marcus Smith, whom the Eagles selected out of Louisville with the 26th overall pick in last May’s draft. The complete re-tooling of the secondary was necessary, after the Eagles allowed an astounding 289.8 passing yards per game. Still, unless the front seven can generate more rush than it did a year ago, the reinforcements brought in this season are likely to be in trouble.

Most of the individual defensive players' skill on this team is in the middle of the defense. Linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are likely the two most worthy players of IDP consideration. Ryans, in particular, had a solid 2013 campaign, notching 127 tackles, four sacks and two interceptions. Outside of those two, however, owners in IDP leagues may be able to ignore this defense.

Owners in leagues that use team defense can feel free to ignore the Eagles as well. Picking a team defense is a crapshoot to begin with, and the Eagles didn’t do enough this offseason to convince owners that the unit will be any better than it was last year.

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