2016 was a year of development for the Eagles. From new coaches to new franchise quarterbacks, the year allowed for a season of growth and opportunity. While the main focus was on the rookie year of Carson Wentz, there were some under-the-radar performers who played large roles in Pederson’s first year as a Head Coach. Here are five of the most underrated Eagles from the 2016 season:
5: Bryan Braman:
After some explosive moments under Chip Kelly and a relatively thin DE position, some expected Braman to thrive in a scheme that fits his ruthless persona. Unfortunately, those opportunities were few and far between.
However Braman did make his impact elsewhere. The 29-year old played more special teams snaps than any player on the Eagles roster during 2016, a year in which Fipp’s unit once again proved to be vital to the team’s success.
Whether it was coming within inches of blocking a Giants field goal, or storming down the field to hold opposing teams to 18.7 yards per kickoff return, the 2nd lowest in the league, Braman was a force to be reckoned with.
This was Braman’s contract year but just because he wasn’t a prominent factor under Jim Schwartz, that doesn’t mean he could be looking for a new team anytime soon. Braman’s impact on special teams is incredibly valuable..and the Eagles are well aware of just how explosive he can be.
4: Jaylen Watkins:
In 2015, Watkins was a pleasant surprise at cornerback. Helping contain the likes of Jordan Reed and DeSean Jackson before coming alive against the Cardinals, Watkins did enough to survive the roster purge after Chip Kelly left..but then things got murky.
The drafting of Blake Countess and Jalen Mills left little breathing room for the brother of Sammy Watkins, who was forced out of the cornerback spot and switched with Countess, competing for the role of backup Safety. It was this position change that not only saved his career..but helped save the Eagles Secondary.
Watkins played in 38% of Defensive snaps in 2016, filling in for Malcolm Jenkins when the veteran was called upon to resume the nickel role left by an injured Ron Brooks.Watkins recorded a career high 32 tackles for the Eagles, as well as knocking down 4 passes.
He may not have been the prolific player that Rodney McLeod was paid to be, but without Jaylen Watkins, the Eagles would have struggled heavily with help over the top. Some hard hits, good instincts and a 9 tackle performance against the Giants saw Watkins become an important part of the Eagles Defense.
3: Destiny Vaeao:
The undrafted defensive end crept onto the roster after beating out Aziz Shittu for a spot, but he was quick to reaffirm the Eagles that they made the right decision.
Vaeao would go on to play in just over a quarter of defensive snaps, but record 2 sacks and 15 tackles, forcing a Bears fumble in week 2. Injuries hampered the Eagles DT position to some extent, but the combination of Beau Allen and Vaeao was enough to see off the setbacks and keep the Eagles aggressive in the pass rush.
With the future of Bennie Logan uncertain, the former Washington State standout gave the Eagles plenty to think about during the offseason. That showed in his snap counts toward the end of the year, as the Birds’ toyed with some different formations and personnel groups to see how successful they would be.
Vaeao flashed plenty of times during his rookie year and at the very least will have earned a solid place in the DT rotation.
2: Trey Burton:
This goes without saying after months of proposing heavier offensive involvements and even a move to the outside, but Trey Burton shone in 2016. A strong Training camp was met with an even more impressive preseason and a regular season effort that showed just how versatile and dangerous he can be.
3-TE sets? Check. Wide receiver? Check. Fullback? Check. Tight end? Check. There wasn’t much that Burton couldn’t do in 2016..except for maybe long snapping..
The chemistry built with Carson Wentz during the preseason was evident, as Burton went on to receive for 327 yards and his first NFL touchdown in 2016. Zach Ertz had a phenomenal close to the season, but injuries once again hurt the chances of a truly stunning complete campaign. Luckily for the Eagles, who were more than happy to use Brent Celek in a blocking role, Trey Burton was able to come up large time and time again.
The Eagles desperately needed help outside in 2016 and in the times it simply wasn’t there, Wentz found a familiar pair of hands in Burton. Although another pending free agent, the Eagles would be wise to invest in retaining the athletic third tight end.
1: Stefen Wisniewski:
With Lane Johnson suspended, the Eagles offensive line endured its fair share of struggles, especially once the injury Bug infested. Offseason acquisition, Stefen Wisniewski was tasked with playing all over the Eagles O-Line, plugging in at LG and LT during various points of the year.
Wisniewski played in 53% of the Eagles offensive snaps during 2016, which considering his role as a backup centre to a player who played in every single snap, is beyond impressive. The veteran experience proved to be invaluable to the Eagles who found themselves consistently patching wounds that just wouldn’t heal before new ones opened.
Wis was a huge addition to the Eagles during the offseason and even if he isn’t seen as a starting option, his ability to come in to a live-game situation and ensure that a drop off in efficiency is non existent was absolutely crucial, just as it will be going forward.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports