Eagles center Jason Kelce may be the team’s most underrated player this season

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It’s been a rollercoaster tenure for Jason Kelce. A two-time pro bowler who has experienced his fair share of up’s and down’s since being drafted by the Eagles back in 2011, Kelce was coming off of two season’s in which his long-term future was consistently pushed into the unknown. Penalties and inconsistency headlined three years that saw the play of Kelce seemingly regress. But in 2017, he may be playing the finest football of his career.

Kelce would be the first to admit that last season wasn’t his greatest. In the early months, Kelce allowed too much pressure from more physically domineering nose-tackles such as Danny Shelton. In the opening week of the season, he graded out with a score of just 37.4 according to Pro Football Focus. As the year went on, the veteran center began to click with Carson Wentz but fell victim to the likes of  Haloti Ngata, Damon Harrison, and Linval Joseph. The consensus at the end of last year was that if things didn’t begin to change for the Cincinnati product, then the Eagles may begin to look for a replacement…(enter Isaac Seumalo, a versatile guard out of Oregon State who has been slated to take the reins since being drafted in 2016.)

Jason Kelce is a rare breed of center. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in sheer athleticism. In a zone-blocking scheme under Doug Pederson, Kelce is a perfect fit. Bearing in mind that he had just a matter of days to gel with his new starting quarterback at the start of last season due to the Sam Bradford trade, chemistry was always going to be a problem. But one year later, there may not be a better run-blocking center in the NFL.

The 6’3, 295 pound lineman has been nothing short of prolific this season. Coming into week 9, Kelce was the top-graded run-blocking center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus, and the results speak for themselves. The Eagles are riding an eight-game streak of 100+ rushing yards and despite the injuries, setbacks ad trades, it all starts up front.

It was Kelce who initiated the key-block on Ajayi’s first touchdown run as an Eagle. A gentle but impactful reminder of just how overpowering Kelce has been this season.

“Everybody executed.” The seven-year veteran said after the game. “We ended up going with a down and around scheme. I pulled, the guard dropped down on the shade, and really I got the easy block right there. The down block, if that thing holds up, if the tackle can hold up on the defensive end, there is going to be a hole there. The back side, they were lined up kind of pushing. I think they were in man coverage, so the mike was a little bit more back side on the play. Once all of those blocks were secured, it didn’t matter where my guy went. [Eagles RB] Jay [Ajayi] was going to make it right, so kudos to him. He hit them hard and it was a great welcome to Philadelphia.”

Signs of Kelce’s resurgence could be seen even earlier than that however…

“They brought an all-out blitz there.” Said Eagles QB Carson Wentz after the win over Arizona, discussing the above play. “If you guys go back and watch it, [Eagles C] Jason Kelce made an unbelievable play. He ended up blocking two guys so I shouldn’t have had the time to get that one off but he made an unbelievable play. And then [Eagles WR] Nelson [Algholor] did the rest. He made the catch and then made the guy look silly. Hats off to the big boys up front and then [Eagles WR Nelson Agholor] Nelly getting open.”

Need more proof?

https://twitter.com/BenjaminSolak/status/923293163787239424

The Eagles have more rushing attempts than any other team in the NFL and are averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Without the incredible athleticism of Jason Kelce and his ability to communicate clearly and consistently with Carson Wentz, this would not be the case. Kelce is playing his way to a third Pro Bowl appearance…and it’s safe to say he’s making a lot of people swallow their words this season.

Kelce’s resurgence has undoubtedly been one of the most exciting things to watch this season…but with the playmakers stealing the spotlight, he may never receive the credit he really deserves. That’s the problem with offensive linemen. Nobody really pays any attention until the pocket collapses on each and every play. Consider this an ode to a center who has decided the odds and is having himself arguably his best year yet.

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

 

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