In Roob’s observations: Will Eagles do something no NFL team has ever done? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
An all-time great Eagle you probably haven’t heard of, an underrated offseason need and a historical precedent the Eagles could decide to break.
1. Guess how many teams have given up on a 23-year-old playoff quarterback. If you answered none, you’re correct. There have been 26 quarterbacks in NFL history who’ve taken a team to the playoffs before their 24th birthday, most recently Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones this past season. Not one of the previous 24 got traded, benched or otherwise lost his job before the start of the next season. Not one. The closest I could find involved Tim Tebow, who was 25 when he went 7-4 with the Broncos, then won a playoff game (despite completing just 10 passes). There are a few key differences. Tebow didn’t begin 2011 as the Broncos’ starter (Kyle Orton did), he was two years older than Hurts, he didn’t play nearly as well in 2011 as Hurts did (46.5 percent completion vs. 61.2 percent, 72.9 passer rating vs. 87.2, etc.), and the Broncos had the opportunity to sign a Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning as a free agent that offseason. Doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Doesn’t mean it can’t happen. When Howie Roseman is involved, anything is possible. But there is no precedent for it.
2. Kenny Gainwell was 9-for-13 converting 3rd downs last season, good for 69.2 percent. That was tied for highest 3rd-down conversion percentage among all RBs who got at least a dozen 3rd-down carries. Damien Harris of the Patriots was also 9-for-13.
3. Let’s take a moment to appreciate Ernie Steele, who spent his entire career – 1942 through 1948 – with the Eagles (1943 was the Steagles). As a two-way player, Steele averaged 5.2 yards per carry and also had 24 interceptions. He’s the only player in NFL history to average over 5.0 yards per carry (minimum 100 attempts) who also has at least 20 interceptions. Incredible! To this day – 73 years after he played his last snap – he ranks 1st in franchise history in rushing average by a running back (Miles Sanders is just behind at 5.1) but he also ranks 8th in franchise history in interceptions! Oh and one other thing … Steele has the highest punt return average in NFL history at 14.7 yards per return! Can we please get ol’ Ernie into the Eagles Hall of Fame?
4. TE2 is an underrated need for the Eagles. Undrafted rookie Jack Stoll did a nice job this past year as a blocker, and Tyree Jackson is an intriguing prospect, but the Eagles can’t really count on either of them to become a consistent enough receiver to serve as a long-term No. 2 tight end. You know what’s interesting – Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are the only tight ends the Eagles have drafted in any round in the last 10 years. The last TE they drafted in the first three rounds before Ertz was L.J. Smith, and that’s 19 years ago now. My guy is Wisconsin’s Jake Ferguson, who should be there when the Eagles pick at No. 83 in the 3rd round. He’s a solid receiver and capable blocker, and he’s not some crazy down-field threat with blazing speed, but he’d be a heck of an option in 12 personnel with Goedert.
5. It’s fascinating to look back at Torrey Smith’s 2017 season. We remember the postseason production, but he actually had a terrible regular season, with just 36 catches for 430 yards and two touchdowns. This after the Eagles gave him a three-year, $15 million contract. Smith had the fewest yards in the entire NFL among WRs who started more than 10 games (he started 14), and his 11.9 average was more than five yards per catch below his career average of 17.0. He averaged 9 yards more per game than Jalen Reagor averaged this past season. Then the playoffs started, and he became a different guy. He went 3-for-39 against Atlanta, 5-for-69 against the Vikings with a TD and 5-for-49 in the Super Bowl. So he surpassed 30 yards in six games all year – three in the regular season, three in the postseason. Smith really symbolized that 2017 Eagles team. He was only an Eagle for one year, he didn’t have a very good season, but in the most critical moments of the postseason, he came up big.
6. It’s amazing to think that Brandon Brooks and Jason Kelce – who have a combined eight Pro Bowls – could both retire and the Eagles would still have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Line up Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Isaac Seumalo, Jack Driscoll and Lane Johnson, and that’s a heck of an O-line. And all Howie Roseman draft picks.
7. Matter of fact, if the Eagles start that O-line – or with Kelce at center – along with DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and a rookie at WR, Goedert at TE, Sanders at RB and Hurts at QB, that’s 11 draft picks starting on offense. There’s a very good chance of that happening, and that would be impressive.
8. As bad as the Jaguars loss was for Carson Wentz and the Colts – and it was horrible – is that really reason enough to give up on him after one year? During the 12-game stretch from Week 4 to Week 16, Wentz completed 64 percent of his passes, had 22 TDs and 5 INTs, the Colts went 9-3, and Wentz’s 99.8 passer rating was 3rd-highest in the league (behind only Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow). He was one of the best QBs in the NFL for over 70 percent of the season. If the Colts do move on from Wentz, there’s no way it’s just for football reasons. Obviously, the consistency wasn’t there, but it’s hard to imagine Frank Reich looking at those numbers and thinking, “Nope, I can’t work with that, get rid of him.” No, there has to be something else factoring into the Colts’ reported decision to move on from Wentz and replace him with … what exactly? And wouldn’t it be something if the Colts trade Wentz before the Eagles even use the 1st-round pick they got for him?
9. I still can’t get over Travis Fulgham. Did that really happen? Do you realize in the last 17 years, only three Eagles WRs have had 70 or more yards in four straight games, and they’re Terrell Owens, DeSean Jackson and freaking Travis Fulgham? And Fulgham had as many games with 152 or more yards in an Eagles uniform as Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael? And over that crazy five-week period in 2020 only Davante Adams and D.K. Metcalf had more yards? And then straight off the face of the Earth. Fulgham spent a couple months on the Dolphins’ practice squad this past year and finished the season with the Broncos. If you add up his numbers with the Lions, Packers, Dolphins and Broncos he has zero catches. But for five crazy weeks in 2020, he was as good as anybody.
10. This is a good time to pay homage to Pat Ryan, who authored the worst performance by an Eagles quarterback in the last 50 years. With Randall Cunningham out for the year in 1991, the Eagles signed the 36-year-old veteran Jets backup out of retirement – he was working construction – to back up Jim McMahon. In Week 5, the Eagles were at RFK to face Washington, and McMahon got hurt while getting sacked by Charles Mann at the end of the 1st quarter. How bad was Ryan? He played eight series and completed four passes. Thanks to Wes Hopkins’ strip sack on Mark Rypien early in the 3rd quarter, the Eagles did get the ball inside Washington’s 10-yard-line down 10-0. But Ryan – in one of the most hilarious decisions a quarterback has ever made – tried to force a pass into the end zone to 1st-round bust Kenny Jackson, who caught four passes all year and was being covered by Hall of Famer Darrell Green. Needless to say, Green picked him off. Ryan’s final line was 4-for-14 for 24 yards with three INTs and the only 0.0 passer rating by an Eagles QB in the last 50 years. One of the Elias Sports Bureau guys told me that night, “Passer ratings can’t be less than zero, but if they could, his would have been.” Ryan is the only NFL QB in the last 35 years to throw at least 14 passes, complete four or fewer, throw at least three interceptions and pass for fewer than 25 yards. A few weeks later, the Eagles released Ryan, and he never played again. I’ll never forget what Rich Kotite said when the Eagles cut Ryan: “You guys never saw the real Pat Ryan.” Yeah, we did, Rich.
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