'21 Training Camp Pre: The Real Eagles MVP?
[Editor's Note: This is the eighth in a series of stories from Andrew DiCecco and Geoff Mosher previewing the Philadelphia Eagles as they head into training camp July 27. This story answers the question: Who is the Eagles' best overall player?]
The Eagles are in the midst of a major transition. New coaching staff. New starting quarterback. New offensive and defensive schemes. They're an interesting mix of several veterans from the Super Bowl team and many newcomers via draft and free agency. Which Eagle is the team's best overall player? Here's how Mosher and DiCecco see it:
Geoff Mosher's pick: Lane Johnson
For many teams – usually good ones – the best overall player is the quarterback. Branding second-year pro Jalen Hurts as the team's best overall player right now would be wildly premature. For starters, Hurts needs to show he's the starter beyond 2021. The Eagles have some talented offensive playmakers in running back Miles Sanders and tight end Dallas Goedert – and perhaps first-round pick DeVonta Smith will be better than both of them – but Sanders still hasn't reached his full potential and Goedert is about to enter his first year as TE1. With the Eagles, you have to dig into the trenches to find their blue-chip talent. And although there are some question marks about their best linemen centered around age and injury history, there's no question that this team's best overall player cuts his teeth in the trenches. With all due respect to Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and the big dudes on the D-line, the Eagles' best overall player is right tackle Lane Johnson. Assuming that the ankle injury that marred his 2020 and ended his run of three straight Pro Bowls is behind him, Johnson reemerge fairly quickly into the NFL's best right tackle and a top-five overall offensive tackle. Even though he turned 31 in May, Johnson keeps himself in tremendous shape and has always represented as one of the game's most athletically gifted tackles. Brooks is an elite guard and Kelce remains an upper-echelon center, but in all fairness, Johnson's occupational hazard is matching up against the NFL's top edge rushers week after week. Unless the ankle surgeries have robbed him of his trademark strength and athleticism, Johnson should have no obstacles to reclaiming his status as one of the league's elite at his position, which would qualify him as the Eagles' best overall player.
Andrew DiCecco's pick: Fletcher Cox
When evaluating the Eagles roster, it’s evident that the team’s strengths reside in the trenches.
Sure, one could conceivably make a case for Darius Slay. Although his first season in Midnight Green was rather turbulent and some flaws surfaced, Slay is one of the team’s few blue-chip talents and is still widely recognized as one of the top players at his position. However, it would be egregious to identify Slay with that distinction until he returns to form.
Another worthy candidate is Geoff’s pick, Lane Johnson.
When healthy, Johnson is the best right tackle in football. When the 31-year-old was limited to just seven games in 2020, his impact was not only felt on the field, but off of it was well. Throughout his nine years in Philadelphia, Johnson gradually grew into a leadership role. He demonstrates his dedication and toughness by playing through injuries, keeps the fiercest pass rushers in the game at bay, and is typically the first to diffuse potential locker room distractions.
Furthermore, Johnson represents the glue of the offensive line. A healthy Lane does wonders for the unit’s cohesiveness, while his attitude and tenacity tends to elevate those around him.
However, when I think of pure dominance on the Eagles, I think of a particular player on the other side of the trenches.
Fletcher Cox is closing in on the wrong side of 30 and has played a combined 1,545 snaps over the past two seasons, but that hasn’t stopped Cox from having a enormous impact each week.
Before acquiring Javon Hargrave last offseason, Cox played alongside a lackluster rotating cast of characters, including Haloti Ngata, Treyvon Hester, T.Y McGill, Destiny Vaeao, and Bruce Hector. The four-time All-Pro selection routinely encountered double teams and an increased snap share but managed to remain a force behind the line of scrimmage.
Even when Cox isn’t bearing down on quarterbacks, his sheer presence commands respect from opposing lineman, which ultimately creates opportunities for teammates to make plays. His power at the point of attack, innate understanding of leverage, and explosive off-ball quickness often leave lineman in a compromising position. His penetration effectively collapses the pocket, disrupting timing and moving passers off their mark.
Teams must always account for Cox on every snap, which exemplifies his status as a bonafide game-wrecker. He’s put a ton of mileage on over the past few seasons and appears to wear down in the final quarter of the season, but another season of playing alongside Hargrave should result in a return to prominence – and a significant spike in production.
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com and Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is is co-host of the "Inside the Birds" podcast and Senior staff writer/editor for InsideTheBirds.com. Listen to the latest "Inside The Birds" podcast from Geoff Mosher and Adam Caplan here:
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