2020 Season Preview: Breakout Award Goes To ….
This is the first story of a lengthy series from Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the Eagles 2020 season with about two weeks to go before the start of training camp. Each weekday, from now until the start of camp, Mosher and DiCecco will give their viewpoint on a specific topic. Today’s category is Eagles player most primed for a breakout in 2020.
Eagles Player Poised For a Breakout
Geoff’s Choice: Will Parks, S
Bet everyone thought I’d take Miles Sanders, given how often Adam Caplan and I have predicted that the second-year running back will take another big step in Year 2.
But I’m somewhat fascinated by the Parks signing, especially the reactions of Greg Cosell and some other analysts whose opinion I trust. They see solid upside in the fifth-year safety and Philly native.
I wasn’t as moved as others at the time of the signing. If he’s so good, why wouldn’t the Broncos have forked over the measly $375,000 guaranteed that the Eagles gave Parks on a 1-year, free-agent deal?
Still, the reality is the Eagles lack a stacked cupboard at safety, and Parks will have plenty of opportunities to make an argument for sticking around beyond 2020 on a long-term deal.
Rodney McLeod came back on a 2-year deal. Jalen Mills is transitioning to a hybrid defensive back role. K’Von Wallace is a rookie. Marcus Epps and Rudy Ford will be fortunate if they make the team. This isn’t a position teeming with top-end talent.
There just aren’t many obstacles in the way of Parks earning plenty of snaps, especially given his versatility, which could be vital this year if Covid-19 threatens to decimate rosters and forces players into different positions.
Parks is likely to be used mostly in the box, some slot and maybe even in select blitz packages. He moved all around in Vic Fangio’s defense last year. The Eagles need a moveable piece to help replace the loss of Malcolm Jenkins.
So I’m expecting Parks to play the most snaps of all safeties, which will either expose him as just a complementary piece or showcase that Parks has the acumen to become a full-time starter with more potential than meets the eye. The latter would surely earn him an extension beyond 2020.
The future of the Eagles starting safety corps could be Parks and Wallace, which sounds nice in theory.
Because of Jim Schwartz’s influence, I’m inclined to think Parks will be a pleasant surprise this season. Schwartz has worked wonders with no-names in the secondary as injury fill-in and also found ways to capitalize on Malcolm Jenkins’ many qualities. Imagine the potential he can unharness with someone like Parks.
I’m not insinuating Pro Bowler or “game changer” type season for parks, but I’m envisioning an impact starter who turns out to be excellent value for the contract.
Andrew’s Choice: T.J. Edwards, LB
When forecasting potential breakout candidates, the primary criteria often comes down to skill level and opportunity.
While that blueprint typically accounts for the majority of players widely presumed to take the next step in their careers, it overlooks the exclusive group that rises from obscurity.
The 2019 version of the Eagles provided countless examples of the latter, from Greg Ward to Boston Scott. Without the benefit of a crystal ball, my first thought was to go with former undrafted free agent T.J. Edwards, who seized his opportunity last year as a rookie. Due to the sheer lack of depth at linebacker, Edwards figures to parlay his success into a standout second season with a more prominent role.
Edwards, who made the team outright after a stellar training camp, appeared in all 16 games for the Eagles in 2019. Initially thriving as a special teams maven, Edwards’ transition into the defense was expedited when the team jettisoned linebackers L.J. Fort and Zach Brown. Although Edwards was gradually integrated, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound rookie demonstrated a strength in run defense.
Edwards contributed 112 defensive snaps and 75 percent of special teams snaps last season. He compiled 30 tackles, earning an overall grade of 86.6 from Pro Football Focus – a mark that would have place him among the top linebackers in football if not for his minimal snap count.
While Edwards’ special-teams role will likely be minimized going forward, he will have an opportunity to establish himself as a household name in 2020.
Edwards, who enters training camp as the odds-on favorite to start alongside Nathan Gerry, must overcome some deficiencies for sustained success, however.
Though he’s cut his teeth as a physical, downhill thumper who makes plays behind the line of scrimmage, Edwards is limited athletically. The second-year pro’s lack of range and sideline-to-sideline speed is evident in coverage drops. While he showed glimpses of promise at times last season, he will likely never become a three-down defender.
In one of the few, true training camp battles, Edwards must stave off veteran free agent Jatavis Brown before putting his stamp on the MIKE linebacker spot. Still, Edwards’ astute football intelligence and innate ability to read and diagnose plays suggest he has the requisite traits to revive a largely stagnant second level.
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