It’s time to take a look at the second part in our list of the top 20 most impressive Eagles from the 2016 season. If you missed part one, you can check out the birds’ who kicked off the list here. It’s time to rank the next five Eagles in our list..getting one step closer to finding out who was the most impressive player during Pederson’s first year as a Head Coach.
15: Trey Burton
The former Florida Gator 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.
14: Zach Ertz
On the surface, Zach Ertz had an impressive season. 816 yards and 4 touchdowns aren’t numbers to be shied away from considering that the Standford star missed two games in 2016 and he fell just 37 yards shy of his 2015 total on 6 less targets. The production was certainly there, it just once again took a while to establish.Ertz had just two 100-yard games in 2016 and had seven games in which he received for under 40-yards. Injuries chained the tight end down massively in 2016, even if he was present in all but two of the Eagles games. All four of his touchdowns came in the last seven matchups..along with 514 of his 816 yards. If Ertz had produced at this rate from week one, he would have undoubtedly had a career year and like Burton, his bond with Wentz only strengthened as the year went on. Four of those last seven games saw Ertz targeted ten times and the most he had been targeted in a game previously was seven.
There’s no doubting the talent of Zach Ertz and whether it was a year of adaptation, growth or minor setbacks, it was a year that could have been. Ertz ended the year in stunning fashion..but if he had started it in the same way, he would be ranking much higher on this list.
13: Jalen Mills
Drafted in the seventh round, the former LSU standout was labelled as one of the steals of the Draft. A strong Training camp seemed to validate that tag, but when preseason rolled around, Mills played nervously and inconsistently. The Eagles then went on to trade Eric Rowe with the development of the Green Goblin in mind, but they never intended or expected Jalen Mills to take on such an extensive role.
Mills was called upon as early as week one and went on to play in 64.8% of Defensive snaps that season. From covering the likes of former teammate Odell Beckham Jr, to taking on Slot responsibilities, Mills encountered just about every situation possible in his rookie year. He was burned badly, he recovered well and he hit hard. But what was really impressive, was how he learned from his sometimes frequent mistakes.
As the year went on however, Mills found a rhythm. The Finger-wagging showed a rise in assertion from the young cornerback, who had gone on to cut out 7 passes along with his 61 tackles. There’s still a lot to learn for Jalen Mills, but what was holding him back one week, would be eradicated from this game the next.
Watching Mills find his feet in the NFL and build on his solid foundation each and every week was easily one of the most exciting aspects of the regular season and although the stats may not reflect it, Mills grew into an impressive young cornerback when you factor in just how much responsibility and pressure the Eagles placed on his shoulders.
Frankly, if Mills hadn’t played to the level he did or improve as he did..the Eagles secondary would have been a lost cause at times. The seventh round pick was there when injuries demanded his presence, when slot responsibilities were a dire need and when the Eagles simply had to come up big against some of the most dangerous receivers in the league.
12: Brandon Brooks
The Eagles Offensive line was seen as an incredibly unstable unit heading into last year’s offseason. This year however, it was a huge strength, even without Lane Johnson. One of the main reasons for that was the sheer consistency of Brandon Brooks. Even opening up about his battle with a mental illness midway through the Eagles campaign, the resilience of the former Texan simply cannot be overlooked.
Brooks was nothing but consistent during 2016 and that showed by Pro Football Focus ranking him inside their top 5 offensive guards. Brooks actually ranked 85th in their top 101 players rankings. The athleticism, drive and sheer strength showed in 2016 has seen the questions over his large price tag diminish almost indefinitely. Brooks was the piece on the line that the Eagles were missing and it clearly showed during 2016. The future is bright for the Eagles Offense..and Brooks proved to be a key part of it.
11: Darren Sproles
The Eagles backfield was anything but consistent in 2016, but the one constant that remained throughout the year was the form and production of Darren Sproles. Ryan Mathews had hot streaks during the regular season but went through a year of being relegated to a goal-line back, receiving next to no carries and then acting as a lead rusher. It was the consistency of Darren Sproles that allowed this to go without much consequence.
The ultimate Swiss Army Knife rushed 94 times for 438 yards and 2 scores in 2016…his most successful rushing year since 2011. As a receiver, Sproles caught a further two touchdowns and racked up 427 yards. He even found himself blocking successfully in 2016, not being afraid of taking on much bigger defensive tackles.
The little engine that could was invaluable to the Eagles Offense in 2016 and even though he’s expressed his intentions to retire at the end of next year, his dual-threat ability that was shown in full flight against the Steelers is one of the Eagles greatest assets and was a large reason behind the evolution of Carson Wentz.
Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports