2020 Recap: Eagles Who Impressed, Disappointed
Navigating the aftermath of a season that fell short of expectations often yields an assortment of takeaways.
For the Eagles, who incredulously closed out the 2020 campaign with a 4-11-1 record and murky immediate future, the woes fester well beneath the surface.
In a season marred with injuries, coaching gaffes and startling regression, I've identified a handful of players who either exceeded expectations or missed the mark.
G Nate Herbig: The truncated offseason made it difficult to assess young talent, so it was of no surprise that Herbig was deemed a long shot squarely on the roster fringe. Despite sporting a build a little too burly for Jeff Stoutland's liking, the former undrafted free agent showed enough promise to stick on the 53-man roster in 2019 as a reserve center. However, his roster spot this season was hardly assured, as he contended with the heralded holdover Sua Opeta and undrafted rookie Luke Juriga.
Not only did Herbig defy odds for a second time by making the final roster; he was unexpectedly called on to replace an injured Brandon Brooks at right guard in the season opener. The second-year lineman handled the sudden transition admirably, starting 12 games and providing stability on an offensive line that staggered through an NFL-record 14 different configurations.
In an ideal scenario, Herbig would be a sixth or seventh offensive lineman on most teams. However, given the uncertainty surrounding several key components on the line, Herbig likely cemented a prominent role with the Eagles moving forward. The 22-year-old has demonstrated the versatility to play both guard spots as well as center.
LB Alex Singleton: If you go back and view many 53-man roster projections crafted during the dogs days of training camp, some – myself included – had Singleton squeezed on cutdown day. Given the sheer amount of depth at other positions, I expected the Eagles to go light at its weakest position and carry five linebackers, with the final two spots reserved for draft picks Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley.
While Singleton managed to parlay a productive summer into a roster spot in 2019, few knew of his capabilities outside of special teams. Before long, injuries and insufficient play mounted at his position, and Singleton was inserted into the starting lineup in a Week 6 tilt against the Baltimore Ravens.
In 11 starts, the 27-year-old registered a team-high 119 tackles (5.0 for loss), two sacks, two fumble recoveries, seven quarterback hits, an interception, and a touchdown. He finished fifth on the team in defensive snaps (748), accounting for nearly 68 percent of the total.
Singleton didn’t just provide a shot in the arm to perhaps the most uninspiring linebacking corps in football, he proved he can consistently play at a high level. He brought a new level of energy to Jim Schwartz’s unit while providing tenacity, urgency, and instincts to the second level.
Sure, certain aspects of Singleton’s game could use some refining – particularly his coverage – but at minimum, the next defensive coordinator already has an answer at one linebacker spot in 2021.
CB Avonte Maddox: Granted, Maddox was miscast as an outside cornerback from the start, but the Eagles showed supreme confidence in the young defender by parting with both Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas before the season.
Playing opposite Pro Bowler Darius Slay, Maddox was always going to be a popular target for opposing quarterbacks, but the moments where he proved himself worthy of a starting job were few and far between. The 24-year-old is heralded for his short-area quickness and closing speed but lacks the length and eye discipline to carve out a full-time role on the perimeter. If you were previously convinced that Maddox was up to the task, it only took a couple of games to dispel that notion. It was evident that teams felt they could exploit Maddox, which quickly become a common theme before a late-season knee injury landed him on injured reserve.
A year later, after having an influx of young cornerbacks vying for the No. 2 cornerback spot, the position remains among the most glaring on a largely flawed roster. I haven’t given up on Maddox. I believe the team will ultimately transition him to the nickel role, where he best fits. He will rebound nicely next season.
K Jake Elliott: When assessing a 4-11-1 team, there are always a slew of players who failed to meet lofty expectations.
Carson Wentz, who some believed to be a dark horse MVP candidate before the season, would be the obvious choice. His regression was sudden and drastic.
So, too, would DeSean Jackson underperform, as the electrifying speedster was expected to revitalize a stagnant passing game after spending much of his 2019 campaign sidelined due to injury but was once again sidelined almost all year.
However, I turned my attention to the egregious third-phase blunders, specifically those from kicker Jake Elliott. A Super Bowl hero less than three years ago, the embattled kicker suddenly finds himself on the proverbial hot seat entering his fourth offseason with the club.
Let’s compare his numbers over the past two seasons, shall we?
In 2019, Elliott connected on 22-of-26 field goal attempts (84.6 percent) and converted 35-of-37 extra point opportunities (94.6).
In 2020, Elliott connected on 14-of-19 field goal attempts (73.7 percent) and converted 24-of-26 extra point opportunities (92.3).
The numbers hardly paint the full picture. Elliott’s opportunities were minimized last season largely due to offensive inefficiencies and poor decisions, but it also appeared as though the confidence previously bestowed upon Elliott from the coaching staff has waned. The man who once connected on a franchise-record 61-yard field goal was suddenly viewed as a liability.
For perspective, on three field goal attempts between 20-29 yards, Elliott was successful on just one.
Though none of Elliott’s misses came back to haunt the Eagles – the chip-shot miss before half time against the Saints nearly did – his regression is cause for concern.
As the search to find Doug Pederson’s successor continues, it’s worth noting that special teams could look markedly different under a new regime. At the very least, I’d expect a legitimate kicking competition to transpire in training camp, for the first time in ages.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.