The penultimate part of our top-20 series takes a look at four Eagles who were vital to the team’s success in 2016. Ranking positions 10 through 6, it’s time to examine some of the key difference makers in Doug Pederson’s first year as a Head Coach.
10: Jason Peters
Many expected Jason Peters to continue what appeared to be a decline into 2016, after ending the Chip Kelly era as one of the most penalized players in the NFL. How he responded however, was beyond impressive.
Peters went on to play in every single game of 2016 and was absolutely critical in keeping Carson Wentz upright. The veteran rekindled a fire and earned his ninth career Pro Bowl nod, which has now given the Eagles a dilemma of what to do at Left Tackle, knowing Peters carries an $11.5M cap hit.
With such a young line in front of Carson Wentz that was anything but stable in 2016, Peters and Kelce were the two players who were with Wentz from start to finish. The athleticism of Jason Peters was one thing..but leading a very young corps that at times had two rookies playing on the line was absolutely imperative.
The veteran presence of Peters carries more weight than one might imagine and there is a big drop off in talent from the 34-year old to Halapoulivaati Vaitai. For Peters to play at such a stunning level despite age and durability working against him wasn’t just a testament to his own work ethic and efficiency..but to how much this offensive line relied upon the veteran left tackle in Pederson’s first year as a Head Coach.
9: Ryan Mathews
Although injuries once again plagued his year and led to Mathews experiencing every role from a three-down back, to a goal-line back, the former San Diego Charger was vital in the success of the Eagles rushing attack.
Mathews rushed for 661 yards and 8 touchdowns in 2016, improving his 2015 numbers in both categories. When healthy, he was one of the most effective backs in the NFL. Against a Ravens Defense that allowed just 2.9 yards per carry, Mathews averaged 6.1 in one of the team’s toughest games. His style of play fits Doug Pederson’s Offense perfectly..and that showed last year. The only problem was the same one that has always chained him down, durability.
A committee effort that never was left the Eagles backfield scrapping for any kind of momentum. After Wentz was forced into throwing 60 passes against the Bengals, the alarm bells began to ring. In the three games that followed, Mathews rushed for 234 yards and one touchdown.
In the games where Ryan Mathews played and had less than 10 carries, the Eagles were just 2-4..which speaks volumes about his value to the team when healthy. When Mathews carried the ball ten times or more, the Eagles were 4-3.
The only reason that Mathews isn’t ranked higher on this list is because of the time missed and how his role was limited early in the year due to injury setbacks. There is no doubting how dominant he can be and how much he helped the Eagles Offense find its feet last year, earning him a spot ahead of Darren Sproles and inside the top 10.
8: Bennie Logan
Surprisingly, the man who ranks 8th on this list has an uncertain future in the City of Brotherly Love. The Eagles lack of cap space sees the pending free agent in murky waters..something 2016 didn’t reflect.
With Fletcher Cox often being double/triple teamed at times and struggling to make the impact he had in last year’s 3-4 Defense, it was down to Logan wreak havoc..and he did just that.
2 forced fumbles saw Logan end the year with a career high, while amassing 24 tackles and a career high 2.5 sacks. The veteran defensive tackle became one of the constants the Eagles Defense last year and carried the load when others around him were struggling. The combination of Brandon Graham and Bennie Logan acted as a vicious formula for Offenses to plan for..and it was clear that Logan’s play wasn’t slowing down anytime soon.
The pass rush was lackluster at times during 2016 but the consistency of Bennie Logan was something that provided a spark when the unit needed it most. Although his future may be uncertain, his contributions in 2016 enabled the Jim Schwartz Defense to play up to the aggressive reputation that it’s earned over the years.
7: Nigel Bradham
Although Bradham endured some off-the-field controversies, his play on the field spoke for itself in his first season as an Eagle.
With 102 tackles, 2 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, Bradham made an immediate impact alongside Jordan Hicks and turned a position that lacked depth, into one of sheer strength and productivity.
The former Buffalo Bill was just as tenacious as he was with his former team and his impact in year one simply cannot be overlooked.
After being sidelined for the opening drives against Detroit..his absence spoke volumes as the Eagles gave up two touchdowns. Upon his return, the efficiency of the Defense changed entirely.
Bradham and Hicks became quite the force in 2016 and the ceiling is only getting higher. A ruthless pass rusher and a proficient coverage linebacker, Bradham ticked all the boxes for the Eagles in his debut year and helped set the tone of the Defense.
6: Malcolm Jenkins
The Safety tandem of Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod was primed to be one of the most dominant in the league under Jim Schwartz. An injury to Ron Brooks saw Malcolm Jenkins forced into slot duties later in the season..a role in which he showed his true value to this team.
Jenkins went on to record 72 tackles and 3 interceptions in 2016 and once again prove to be a fundamental part of the Eagles Defense. Whether it was covering some of the toughest slot wide receivers in the league, or acting as the last line of defense alongside McLeod, the versatility and leadership of Jenkins shone through this year.
A young and struggling secondary often needed someone to turn to..and the relentless play of Jenkins became that shoulder.
Jenkins was the heartbeat of the Eagles Defense in 2016, not just contributing in nearly every possible facet, from rushing the passer to batting down passes, but shining in the process.
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports