The 2019 Philadelphia Eagles’ season has come and gone and just like all good things we must diminish it to quantifiable lists to squabble over. Before diving headfirst into pre-draft and free agency season, which is about to engulf you like Christmas lights on December 1st, let’s take a look back at some of the highlights of yesteryear — namely, some names. While the season as a whole left us wanting more, some players, in particular, made like wet laundry in the summer and laid it all out on the line. The players below exemplified the city of Philadelphia not only on the field but off it as well. Who are they, and what is their story? Most importantly, which Eagle is best? Find out, below!
5) Malcolm Jenkins
Last season began in a very similar vein to how 2020 will begin, with Jenkins insisting he would no longer play under is current contract. He was coming off a year in which he played 100% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps and even ran 31% of the special teams plays. Honestly, he had every right to hold out for more; not many players do as much for their team. That sentiment didn’t last long, however, and he seamlessly rejoined the team without drawing any undue attention to himself.
At the end of the day, I owe it to my teammates, I owe it to myself to be able to come out and compete, and it’s what I love to do . . . It’s not about me when I step out here.
In many ways, Jenkins has become the Joe Sakic of the NFL. Overlooked and underappreciated simply because he comes to work and does what’s asked of him. This bias is admittedly one of the reasons he fell to fifth on this list. Regardless of praise, the man works his butt off to make everyone around him better and diverts the focus away from his own natural talent. Being the leader of a cobbled-together secondary is a thankless job, but Jenkins puts on his work boots and takes care of business all the same. After all, in his own words — it’s not about him.
On film, it wasn’t Malcolm Jenkins’ best season. With so many moving pieces on the defensive side of the ball, Malcolm was asked to do even more than we’ve grown accustomed. That was particularly true of rushing the passer. After blitzing the QB 40 times last season, he totaled a whopping 75 blitzes in 2019. And as we know the adage goes: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
But dogs in Philly are of the hungry sort, and at the ripe age of 32 years old, Jenkins set a career-high in forced fumbles; tied his career-high in sacks (and added one in the playoffs); doubled his previous career-high in QB hits and added 13 QB pressures (2nd best in the league at the safety position). In coverage, he was his usual self. allowing 0 touchdowns and a 62.5% completion percentage. Always a steady tackler, he made 93% of his tackles, only missing six all season. All while playing 100% of Philadelphia’s defensive snaps yet again.
On top of all that, despite a rotating supporting cast, Malcolm actually improved in coverage from last season. When targeting the Eagles’ safety, the opposing QB averaged a rate of 80.5, down from 89.7 in 2018.
Off the field, Jenkins was again the Eagles’ representative for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award. In June, he received the McSilver Award as a Vanguard for Social Justice from the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University as well as the Community Hero Award at the Community College of Philadelphia. He was part of a long list of charities, summits and forums and took part in a wide range of volunteer work.
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4) Miles Sanders
While he took a meandering route to the top of the rookie all-purpose yards list, Miles Sanders’ huge second half of the season planted him firmly in the conversation for rookie of the year. Regardless of the league-wide acclaim he may garner, Sanders will forever be in the books as one of the best rookies in Eagles history. To spare the details, here is a list of all the rookie records he broke this season:
Eagles’ rookie rushing yards: 818.
Eagles’ rookie yards from scrimmage: 1,327.
Eagles’ rookie all-purpose yards: 1,641.
He also forced his way on to some other impressive lists, and some more obscure ones:
1st in all-purpose rookie yards in 2019.
1st in rookie yards from scrimmage in 2019. (First Eagle since 1953 to lead this category.)
1st in rookie RB yards per touch in 2019, 3rd in NFL: 5.8.
4th in explosive plays by an RB in 2019: 13.
8th in all-purpose yards in the NFL this season.
Most all-purpose yards by an Eagle since 2013.
One of seven rookies to account for 800 rushing and 500 receiving yards along with: Gale Sayers, Marshall Faulk, Edgerrin James, Saquon Barkley and two others that I cannot find statistics for.
Perhaps most impressive was his improvements in areas that were thought of as weaknesses during the draft process. A facet that rarely graces the stat sheet, Sanders improved in both run and pass blocking. He became nuanced in blitz pickup and was never afraid to put his body on the line.
As a receiver, he gained only 193 yards in college as a Nittany Lion. Although that was mostly due to Penn State’s offensive scheme and only being a one-year starter, there was no guarantee his skill set would make him a formidable receiver at the next level. Yet even as a rookie, he was masterful at finding the soft spots in coverage, especially down the field. When given the ball early or as an outlet, he often made the first man miss.
In the early goings, the young back too often looked to bounce the football outside, amassing some criticism from cynics like myself. However, he became much more comfortable running inside zone and powers as the year went on. As the legendary Brian Baldinger puts it in the video below, he rarely looked like a rookie on the field.
Truly, it’s unfair to Sanders to list all these achievements without considering the adversity he went through this season. As was the case for all Eagles in 2019, the year was not without its bumps in the road. Powering through scant use to begin the season, he became one of the top six gainers in the league over the last seven weeks of the regular season. He gritted his teeth through injury to face the Seahawks, because after all, “it’s the playoffs, man”.
And really, when it all comes down to it, Miles was a great teammate on and off the field. On countless occasions, he made it clear he was not above the team. Whether playing through injury or hyping up his teammates when he couldn’t, Sanders was a constant ball of positive energy for the Birds.
Even on a hobbled leg, he was the first person out of the locker room to present his teammates with their NFC East Champion shirts.
Finally, he provided hope for stability at the running back position. Something the Eagles haven’t had since Chip sent LeSean McCoy packing. Then there was this heartwarming glance inside he and RB coach Duce Staley’s relationship, which simply has to be shared. So long as these two are in Philly, the future is bright.
I never had a father figure in my life. Duce looks at me like I’m his little brother. I never had that. I never had anybody to really push me . . . To have someone like Duce pushing me and believing in me and knowing what I can do, that’s meant a lot. Especially because he went through the same stuff I went through . . . I’ve got so much respect for him and I appreciate him so much just for pushing me. I’m playing my best football right now. I still have a long way to go but he’s definitely bringing a lot out of me and I appreciate him so much for that . . . There’s a lot of good running back coaches, but Duce, I don’t think people [sic] know how good a teacher he is.”
Scroll down to see the top three Eagles from 2019 on the next page.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports