Couldn't agree more. Berman is one of the top 10 (wait...let's double check ESPN's roster...), top 5 talents ESPN has. In fact, I propose a White House petition to bring back, back, back, back, back the Berman/Jackson NFL Primetime.
QB Dog Killer, FB Leonard Weaver, OT/G Stacy Andrews, DE Jason Babin, ILB Matt Wilhelm, S Sean Jones.
WR Jeremy Maclin, RB LeSean McCoy, TE Cornelius Ingram, CB/S Victor Harris, OT Fenuki Tupou, WR Brandon Gibson, G Paul Fanaika, OLB Moise Fokou.
RB Correll Buckhalter, TE L.J. Smith, OT William Tra Thomas, OT Jon Runyan, FS Brian Dawkins, ST Sean Considine.
2009 Philadelphia Eagles Offense:
I live in Philly, so everywhere I go, the first question I've been asked the past few months has to do with Brian Westbrook's health. "Will Westbrook's ankle going to hold up?" "What are the chances that Westbrook is healthy by Week 1?" "Will the universe implode if Westbrook misses significant time this year?"
I'll give you the same answer I tell everyone else. There's no way of knowing for sure. There have been conflicting reports regarding Westbrook's status; some say he'll be fine, while others are much more pessimistic.
This is the way I look at it - if Andy Reid were really concerned regarding Westbrook's status, wouldn't he have signed someone like Edgerrin James already? Sure, Reid selected the elusive LeSean McCoy in the second round of the 2009 NFL Draft, but that was more for the future. Reid is a stubborn man, and he's not going to play a running back until he can block effectively. Blocking happens to be McCoy's current weakness.
So, with that in mind, the Eagles will need Westbrook on the field to succceed. Westbrook has literally carried the Eagles' offense ever since Terrell Owens was kicked off the team. In the past three seasons, Westbrook has averaged 1,162 rushing yards, 74 catches and 624 receiving yards. In the four games Westbrook has missed in that span, the team is just 2-2. The Eagles are 25-18-1 otherwise.
Aside from Westbrook's surgically repaired ankle, the talk of the town has been centered around Donovan McNabb's contract. McNabb was awarded a 2-year, $24.5 million deal on June 11. McNabb played really well down the stretch of the 2008 campaign, but was benched in the middle of the season. McNabb demanded an apology from Reid, but the move was completely justified. In the questioned two-game stretch, McNabb was 36-of-76 (47.4 completion) for 398 yards (5.2 YPA), one touchdown and five picks.
Though Reid never came out and publicly apologized for the move, Philadelphia's offseason maneuvering apparently made it seem as if the front office was truly remorseful. In addition to obtaining McCoy, Reid spent a first-round selection on Jeremy Maclin. Looking at his size, speed and skills, once might mistake Maclin for Chad Johnson, minus all of the drama. However, Maclin played in a goofy Missouri offense that doesn't translate well to the NFL. The 6-foot, 200-pound wideout will have to learn how to run pro routes, which is a lot tougher than it sounds.
I don't expect Maclin to breach the starting lineup this season. Instead, the two starting receivers will once again be DeSean Jackson and Kevin Curtis. Jackson, who played in a much more NFL-friendly pro-style offense at Cal, was able to excel immediately. Jackson caught 62 balls for 912 yards and two scores as a rookie. Meanwhile, Curtis registered just 33 receptions for 390 yards in 2008 because he missed seven contests with a sports hernia. Curtis is now completely healthy.
At tight end, L.J. Smith is finally gone. Eagles fans can now rejoice, as Smith thrived as the team's pass-dropping specialist. Taking over for Smith is Brent Celek, who garnered 10 receptions for 83 yards and two scores in a loss at Arizona in the NFC Championship. Celek couldn't win the starting job last year because he struggled as a blocker. He'll be better in that department in 2009.
One thing that will restrict Philadelphia's scoring attack from being one of the league's elite is the offensive line. While many applauded the Eagles for acquiring Jason Peters from the Bills, the left tackle surrendered 11.5 sacks and was called for eigth penalties in 2008. There's no doubt that the talent is there; two years ago, Peters was regarded as one of the top blind-side protectors in the league. However, Peters is a Derrick Coleman-like lazy sloth. If he's motivated, he'll dominate opposing pass rushers. But he's seldom motivated, and I doubt the $25 million guaranteed he received in late April will help matters.
The Eagles also acquired Stacy Andrews this offseason - another move I criticized. Stacy, brother of long-time Eagle Shawn, yielded 9.5 sacks last year and never really lived up to the potential all the scouts said that he maintained. While it was speculated that Stacy would play at right tackle, Philadelphia actually has him penciled in at right guard. Shawn, who battled depression last year and consequently played in just two contests, will be the new right tackle. Shawn is one of the more talented linemen in the league, but depression is not something that simply goes away after a while. It can linger and manifest itself at any moment.
Rounding out the front-line blockers, Todd Herremans (0.75 sacks allowed in 2008) will once again be effective at left guard. At center, Jamaal Jackson will have to fend off Nick Cole, who played brilliantly down the stretch at right guard last season.
2009 Philadelphia Eagles Defense:
Though Westbrook's ankle injury is a major concern for many Eagles fans, it's peanuts compared to what defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is going through. Johnson, one of the top coordinators in the NFL, has been forced to take a leave of absence, as he's beginning his second round of chemotherapy to treat cancer. Secondary coach Sean McDermott will be Johnson's replacement in the interim.
Johnson's absence will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the Eagles, who were fourth in points allowed (18.1 ppg), third in yardage surrendered, seventh versus the rush (3.7 YPC) and fourth against the pass (6.1 YPA) in 2008. Still, a coach can only do so much, and it would be foolish to suggest that the players had nothing to do with those prolific numbers.
Aside from the Giants, Philadelphia has the deepest defensive line in the league. The team mustered 48 sacks last season, led by Darren Howard's 10 and Trent Cole's nine. The Eagles still don't have an every-down left end - Juqua Parker and Victor Abiamiri will compete for the right to start across from Cole - but along with Cole and Howard, Parker and Chris Clemons are more than capable of generating tons of pressure on the quarterback.
In the middle, Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are a very capable duo. On passing downs, Howard plays inside, and as indicated, he wreaked havoc upon opposing passers in 2008.
With such a deep front four, Philadelphia's secondary is able to create turnovers, which would explain the 15 interceptions and two pick-sixes it generated last year. Asante Samuel, who led the team with four picks, signed a 6-year, $57.14 million contract last February. Samuel was very effective in his first season as an Eagle, but he wasn't nearly as dominant as Sheldon Brown, who surrendered only one touchdown during the entire 2008 campaign, which happened to be a fade to Larry Fitzgerald in the NFC Championship - a pass that neither Deion Sanders nor Nnamdi Asomugha could have broken up.
Elsewhere at corner, the Eagles traded for Ellis Hobbs, who has been a starter for the Patriots the past two seasons. Meanwhile, Joselio Hanson is one of the better nickel corners in the league. Hanson was rewarded with a 5-year, $21 million contract this offseason.
Amid controversy, Brian Dawkins signed with the Broncos, leaving the Eagles with a void next to strong safety Quintin Mikell, who was voted as a second-team All-Pro. Philadelphia signed Sean Jones, but like Mikell, he's best at strong safety. If neither can transition over to free safety, the Eagles will be forced to go with Quintin Demps, who would be a major liability in the secondary.
The linebacking corps is Philadelphia's weakest defensive unit, but only by default. Stewart Bradley, stationed in the middle, is a talented and very athletic defender. He notched 108 tackles in his first year as a starter. Chris Gocong is solid at strongside linebacker, while the team's weakside 'backer, Omar Gaither, was benched in favor of Akeem Jordan late last season. Jordan played extremely well after the move, though the fact remains that he has just 10 starts on his resume.
2009 Philadelphia Eagles Schedule and Intangibles:
Any Donovan McNabb detractor will continuously joke about McNabb's literal choke job in the Super Bowl. Any anti-Andy Reid comments will begin with his inability to make smart decisions in the clutch. Based on Philadelphia's records in close games, you'd have to say that the criticism is legitimate; the Eagles are a pitiful 1-8-1 in the last 10 games that have been decided by four points or less.
Philadelphia's special teams were an abomination in 2007. Reid repaired the unit a year ago, which paid dividends. DeSean Jackson and Quintin Demps combined for two touchdowns. The Eagles surrendered one score. Jeremy Maclin, who took two returns back to the house at Missouri last season, will get some opportunities with his new team.
David Akers also improved. In 2007, Akers was just 2-of-10 from 40-plus. Last season, Akers was 33-of-40, including 8-of-10 from 40-49 and 2-of-5 from 50-plus. The 2008 campaign marked the first time since 2004 that Akers hit at least two 50-yarders the same season.
Punter Sav Rocca was mediocre last year, maintaining a 43.3 average. He sank 24-of-77 kicks inside the 20.
In addition to six tough NFC East battles, the Eagles also get the Panthers, Saints, Falcons and Chargers. Luckily, they should be able to beat up on the Chiefs, Buccaneers, Broncos, Raiders and 49ers.
2009 Philadelphia Eagles Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2009 Philadelphia Eagles Analysis: Assuming Brian Westbrook doesn't miss too much time, the Eagles have to be in the Super Bowl discussion. Aside from the offensive line and the free safety position, there are no weaknesses on this team.
The Eagles would actually be one of my Super Bowl favorites if Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb didn't have a tendency to choke in the clutch. You can credit the pair for reaching the NFC Championship five times in 10 years - and I'll always maintain that what they've done in Philadelphia has been amazing - but the fact remains that they're just 1-4 in the penultimate game of the NFL postseason.
Chris Park, who does a great job running the mock draft databases on this Web site, is an avid Eagles fan. Upon seeing my individual draft grades for the team, he was shocked. "This is the first time you haven't bashed Andy Reid's picks," he said.
I'm pretty sure he's right. Quite frankly, I was a bit surprised to see Reid make such great selections in terms of taking draft value and filling needs.
Jeremy Maclin will have to adjust to a pro-style offense, but he's really talented. LeSean McCoy, a projected first-round pick before the Combine, is a great insurance policy for the oft-banged-up Brian Westbrook.
On Day 2, Cornelius Ingram provided the Eagles with a great gamble. Ingram is really talented but coming off a nasty injury. Another selection worth noting is Victor Harris, a fringe second-round prospect, who could step in as the starting free safety in 2010.
I also have to note that the Eagles traded for Ellis Hobbs, who will allow the team to trade Sheldon Brown. Hobbs has been a solid starting corner for the Patriots the past two years.
Grade given on 4/27/09: A+
2009 NFL Draft Picks:
19. Jeremy Maclin, WR, Missouri
The Eagles picked in the first round? No way. Jeremy Maclin is talented and pairs well with DeSean Jackson. Philadelphia needed a possession receiver in the end zone. Maclin is a great fit and also provides added value as a kick-returner. (Pick Grade: A)
53. LeSean McCoy, RB, Pittsburgh
LeSean McCoy was a first-round prospect before the Combine, so Philadelphia is getting great value here. McCoy fits the Eagles' offense and fills a need as a successor to Brian Westbrook. Outstanding selection. (Pick Grade: A)
153. Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
Cornelius Ingram is a late first-round talent. He suffered massive knee injuries during his collegiate career, so he's a high-risk, high-reward player. Taking him in the fifth round is a nice gamble. (Pick Grade: A)
157. Victor Harris, CB/S, Virginia Tech
The Eagles obtained outstanding value with Victor Harris, a second-round prospect. Philadelphia has now acquired two defensive backs in the draft (they traded for Ellis Hobbs), so you have to wonder if they envision Harris as their free safety of the future. (Pick Grade: A)
159. Fenuki Tupou, OT, Oregon
Andy Reid gets his lineman. You can never have enough depth up front. Will Fenuki Tupou knock Winston Justice off the roster? (Pick Grade: B)
194. Brandon Gibson, WR, Washington State
Matt loves Brandon Gibson. I love his value here. Gibson should have been drafted a couple of rounds earlier. (Pick Grade: A)
213. Paul Fanaika, G, Arizona State
You win football games in the trenches, and Andy Reid knows that. Reid obtained very solid value for Paul Fanaika in the seventh round. (Pick Grade: B)
230. Moise Fokou, OLB, Maryland
Not much value here, but it's the seventh round. The Eagles needed some competition at linebacker. (Pick Grade: B)
The Eagles are probably the easiest team in the NFL to figure out. If the fans are on their side, they lose games they should win. Once the fans give up on them, and call for Andy Reid's firing and Donovan McNabb's dismissal, they start beating everyone. And when the fans start believing again, the Eagles choke like dogs. Philadelphians thought it would be different this year; Reid even killed a small animal, shaved it and glued its hair onto his face, but the Eagles pulled through and lost to the Cardinals in the NFC Championship. Gotta love consistency.
Eagles sign TE Tony Curtis
Raiders sign S Rashad Baker
Eagles cut S Rashad Baker
Eagles sign QB Dog Killer
Eagles sign DE Jason Babin
Eagles sign ILB Matt Wilhelm
Eagles acquire CB Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots
Eagles re-sign WR Hank Baskett
Eagles acquire OT Jason Peters from Bills for pick No. 28, fourth-round pick and conditional 2010 pick
Eagles re-sign G Nick Cole
Eagles sign FB Leonard Weaver
Ravens sign TE L.J. Smith
Eagles sign S Rashad Baker
Jaguars sign OT William Tra Thomas
Eagles sign S Sean Jones
Patriots acquire WR Greg Lewis from Eagles for 2009 fifth-round pick and an undisclosed 2010 pick
Jets acquire CB Lito Sheppard from Eagles for a 2009 5th-round pick and a conditional 2010 pick
Broncos sign FS Brian Dawkins
Jaguars sign SS Sean Considine
Broncos sign RB Correll Buckhalter
Eagles sign OT Stacy Andrews
Eagles re-sign CB Joselio Hanson
Two Offensive Linemen: The Eagles need two offensive linemen. William Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan are both in their mid-30s. Runyan's play really fell off in 2008, and Thomas, a year younger than Runyan, will likely regress just as much next year. Meanwhile, former Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews missed the entire season with a mental illness. He's now down to 250 pounds and he even dyed his hair red. That can't be good.
Philadelphia needs a right tackle to take over for Runyan. They also need a left tackle or a left guard (getting the latter would allow Todd Herremans, the team's top lineman, to bounce outside). A center wouldn't hurt either, but that's not as great a priority. Traded for Jason Peters; signed Stacy Andrews; drafted Fenuki Tupou and Paul Fanaika
Running Back: The Eagles need a power running back who can pick up fourth-and-ones. Poor Andy Reid became so desperate to convert those situations that he started calling Hail Marys at one point. Many mocks have the Eagles taking Chris Wells, but I'm not sure he'll be there. Drafted LeSean McCoy
Free Safety: Brian Dawkins, who turns 36 in October, really struggled in coverage in 2008. He won't be any better next year. Dawkins will still start, but look for the Eagles to find his successor early in the 2009 NFL Draft. Signed Sean Jones and Rashad Baker
Possession Receiver: This can come in the form of a wideout or a tight end. The Eagles lack a large touchdown target, which is one of the many reasons they struggled in the red zone this season. Drafted Jeremy Maclin and Brandon Gibson
Left Defensive End: This isn't a top need, but the Eagles could use an every-down left defensive end to play across from Trent Cole.
Fullback: The Eagles were rotating guys in and out at this position all year. They need to secure a reliable, punishing lead blocker. Signed Leonard Weaver
2009 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Leonard Weaver, FB, Seahawks. Age: 26. Signed with Eagles (1 year, $1.75 million)
One of the top young fullbacks in the league. The Seahawks need to re-sign him.
Sean Jones, S, Browns. Age: 27. Signed with Eagles (1 year)
Normally, strong safety is one of the few positions that's not a weakness on Cleveland's defense. However, Jones was banged up all year despite never missing a start prior to the 2008 campaign.
Stacy Andrews, OT, Bengals. Age: 28. Signed with Eagles
Stacy Andrews tore his ACL and MCL, and there is no reason to believe that he'll be ready for the 2009 opener. Andrews was a mediocre player before the injury; he gave up 9.5 sacks in 15 games last year.
Jason Babin, DE, Chiefs. Age: 29. Signed with Eagles
Believe it or not, Jason Babin had 20 percent of Kansas City's sack total in 2008. Babin had a whopping two sacks in the final three games of the year.
Matt Wilhelm, ILB, Chargers. Age: 28. - Signed with Eagles
Tony Curtis, TE, Chiefs. Age: 26. - Signed with Eagles
QB Dog Killer, QB, Falcons. Age: 29. Signed with Eagles
Being out of football for two years is never good for any player, especially a quarterback. On the bright side, if opposing defensive coordinators use dogs as their defensive ends, QB Dog Killer will know how to dispose of them.
Philadelphia Eagles Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 7): $25 million
Nick Cole (RFA), G. Age: 25. Re-signed with Eagles (1 year, $1.545 million)
Starting in relief of Max Jean-Gilles, Nick Cole has played pretty well during Philadelphia's postseason run. At just 25, the 350-pound Cole has shown too much promise not to be retained.
William Tra Thomas, Eagles. Age: 34. Signed with Jaguars (3 years)
William Tra Thomas turns 35 in November. He played really well this season, surrendering just two sacks, but he's a huge risk because of his age.
Joselio Hanson, CB. Age: 27. Re-signed with Eagles: 5 years, $21 million; $6.4 million guaranteed
One of the top nickel corners in the league, Joselio Hanson played in front of Lito Sheppard toward the end of the season.
Brian Dawkins, FS. Age: 35. Signed with Broncos (5 years, $17 million; $7.2 million guaranteed)
A sure-fire Hall of Famer in about a decade, Weapon X struggled in coverage this year, but was very effective near the line of scrimmage. He's a tremendous leader and the Eagles need him in the locker room.
Correll Buckhalter, RB. Age: 30. Signed with Broncos
Correll Buckhalter has an extensive injury history and can't be a starter in the NFL. He's a solid backup.
Jon Runyan, OT. Age: 35.
After an OK start, Jon Runyan really struggled down the stretch. Perhaps he can bribe Andy Reid with a few cheesesteaks and receive a short-term deal, but he's playing on his last legs right now.
L.J. Smith, TE. Age: 29. Signed with Ravens (1 year, $1.5 million)
Tough choice... no, I'm not talking about anyone signing L.J. Smith or not; I'm deciding on whether or not to call him the "King of the Dropped Pass;" the "Sultan of False Starts" or the "Emperor of Stealing Money from the Philadelphia Eagles."
Divisional Rival History: Dallas Cowboys: The Eagles usually dominate their divisional opponents. They've won 13 of the past
18 matchups against the Cowboys, including a 44-6 debaclation of Dallas in the final game of the season. New York Giants: The Giants were 3-0 against the Eagles with Steve Spagnuolo. However, everything changed when Plaxico Burress shot himself. New York lost to the Eagles as a pretty big home favorite twice late in the year - one of which was a playoff contest. Washington Redskins: Remember what I said about the Eagles losing games they should win? Well, they were large favorites over the Redskins twice in 2008. They lost both games.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2009 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)