6 Players that are due to Breakout this year for the Eagles
24 July 2020 Eagles News
Every year, there always seems to be a breakout specifically from 2nd and 3rd year guys on a football team. It just seems to make sense that as they acclimate more and more to their surroundings and what it means to be a professional football player, these young players get more confident and as such, turn in huge breakout seasons. Now that doesn’t mean a 1st year player can’t break out, just look at Odell Beckham in 2014: 91 receptions on 130 targets for 1,305 yards and 12 TD’s. That’s pretty superb, but you can also have guys like DeVante Parker, who just last year finally broke out in his 5th season with 72 receptions for 1,202 yards and 9 TD’s. The usual breakout candidates tend to be in the middle of this spectrum, as there tends to be an uptick in snaps and playing time from your rookie seasons as you adjust to the league. For the sake of this exercise I want to look at 6 total players from both sides of the ball in their 2nd-4th years who seem to be on the verge of a breakout season for our Philadelphia Eagles.
Jones has been a polarizing prospect almost from the moment we drafted him. Knowing he had a blown Achilles, the Eagles still went and took him with the 43rd pick in the draft 3 years ago. It’s worth noting that they were so high on them many analysts pegged him to go to Philly with the 14th pick before he suffered the injury, after which we drafted Derek Barnett. In any case, Jones has not been particularly spectacular in his time in Philly, as he started with a red-shirt season recovering from the injury and hasn’t got on the field a ton since. At the end of last season though, he started to show serious flashes of the star player we all though he could be, as he was responsible for the coverage on that last Eagles/Cowboys play and made the PBU(pass broken up) in the end zone. According to Pro Football Focus, Jones was the highest graded Eagle CB last year, both in pass coverage and overall defensive grade, grading out 5 and 11 points higher, respectively, over the next closest cornerback. It’s also true that in the wild card loss, Jim Schwartz didn’t put him on the field for a single defensive snap, which brings up the question, will he even get a shot this year? I think it’s as good a time as any, as the 2nd CB position is not solidified, with only Avonte Maddox in his way. I believe that this is the true make it or break it year for Jones, and he certainly can go up and get it.
Mannn is this kid fun to watch or what?! Highly touted out of nearby Penn State, Sanders was the former backup to Saquon Barkley and he definitely did not disappoint in year one, racking up over 1300 scrimmage yards. Truthfully though, he could’ve easily gotten more, as he wasn’t fully unleashed until halfway through the season when Jordan Howard got injured, and he also left the final game of the regular season early with an injury. Adding to his case, Howard didn’t return, and now the backfield contains only Sanders, Boston Scott, and Corey Clement, with 2 former UDFA’s in Elijah Holyfield and Michael Warren on the back-burners. This only means that Sanders has the possibility to wreak havoc on opposing defenses this year, and the stage is set for him to be a true 3 down back in this offense. I know that saying someone who just had 1300 scrimmage yards and 6 TD’s isn’t technically a “breakout candidate”, but the ceiling for Sanders, even if they bring in a complement, could honestly be near 2,000 scrimmage yards. It’s not out of the question anymore, especially after seeing guys like Alvin Kamara do the same thing with a complementary piece alongside them.
A name that not many people outside of the state of Wisconsin knew prior to the NFL Draft, Edwards was a UDFA last year. What most people may not know, is that the Eagles value him extremely high. They valued him enough that he was their first call after the draft, and they gave him $87,500, the most they gave to any of their undrafted free agents last year. As a UDFA, his path to playing time was undoubtedly going to be more difficult, but Edwards persevered, and down the stretch played a key role for us. Even though he only saw a total of 110 snaps last year, Edwards had the highest tackle rate among linebackers with a minimum of 100 snaps in the NFL(20%, or 22 over 110 snaps) and the second-best run defense grade among linebackers in the NFL per PFF’s grading system (90.3), per Cynthia Frelund. It’s no secret that the Eagles have one of the worst LB groups on paper in the NFL, but this kid could be a MAJOR star for us going into this season.
GREG WARD JR.
Greg Ward definitely hadn’t moved the needle much since he was a UDFA out of Houston. How could he? He, like Terrelle Pryor before him, was an outrageously successful dual threat QB in college that was prodded to switch positions to wide receiver upon moving to the NFL. After all, he is only 5’10 and 190 lbs, and doesn’t at all strike you as a QB just by looking at him. So he went and made the switch. After that, he was cut and resigned, cut and resigned. So many times was he cut and resigned that many Eagles fans didn’t really ever think that he would stick. But then last year happened, and the Eagles got hit with the worst injury bug at the WR position that I have ever seen. They were putting 3 practice squad guys out there every week for the last several weeks! One of those guys was Ward, and boy, did he impress. Playing only the last 7 games of the season, Ward put up relatively pedestrian numbers, 28 catches for 254 yards and 1 touchdown, but these numbers mattered. They mattered because he was consistent: at least 4 catches in 6 of the last 7 games, including a game-winning TD in Washington in week 15. Outside of Ward, right now we really don’t have another TRUE slot receiver, and he deserves a true shot. I believe he’ll get one, and will be our starting slot guy in 2020.
— Jonny Page (@JonnyPage9) May 28, 2020
As you can see above,(Creds to https://twitter.com/JonnyPage9) Sweat is a bonafide star in the making. After being drafted in round 4 in 2018 even though he had clear 1st round talent and potential, Sweat blazed his way onto the radar and put up 4 sacks, 21 tackles, 7 TFLs and 10 QB hits as the 4th DE option, behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Vinny Curry. Curry is now gone, and with a mix of unproven players behind him, Sweat has a real shot to put up big numbers this year as a rotational piece. If you remember, Chris Long and Curry were both able to put up great numbers as rotational pieces due to how often the Eagles swap players in and out of games. Sweat also put on close to 20 lbs before last year which helped him become more powerful and now that he has had a year to get adjusted to and to play at that weight, he should be more fluid and explosive this year as well while getting more playing time. I think he has a real chance to unseat Derek Barnett as the starting DE by the end of the year, which would of course make Barnett expendable and allow Sweat to step in as the starter in 2021.
BONUS: JJ ARCEGA WHITESIDE
I wasn’t originally planning to do a 6th one of these, but I feel like JJAW deserves a spot on this list. I’ve been hard on him, I think we all have. But right now, JJ Arcega-Whiteside has a golden opportunity. Now I’m not saying he’s going to be the starter. But in a pandemic-affected season, where all rookies will be on a much steeper learning curve than they usually are, JJAW has a real chance to get ahead of the competition and earn some major reps in the beginning of the season while Alshon Jeffery recovers from his 2019 injury. JJAW is the only guy that returns from last year that played all 16 games, even if he wasn’t featured in most of them, and thus knows the playbook better than any healthy Eagles’ receiver right at this moment. This gives him a massive step up on the rest of the competition. He also gets a bad rap for being thrown in the deep end right away and not succeeding, but he isn’t the first player to have that happen, and he won’t be the last. With a new receiver coach in Aaron Moorehead, hopefully he will be able to coax the star out of JJAW that the Eagles saw when they drafted him. This is still a guy that’s 6’2, 225, who can win contested catches downfield and is a big bodied receiver known for his jump-ball ability. I think that if he can grab a bigger role by September, he’ll be in a good situation to prove that he can be the X for us in the future.
Photo Credit: NBC Sports (Josh Sweat)
Sam Wagman 2020 NFL Draft, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Graham, Carson Wentz, Derek Barnett, DeSean Jackson, Greg Ward Jr., JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Josh Sweat, Miles Sanders, New York Giants, NFL Draft, Philadelphia Eagles, Sidney Jones, TJ Edwards, Vinny Curry