QB Michael Vick
Despite averaging the second highest FPts/G average of his career, Vick was considered a bit of a bust in 2011. At 23.2 PPG, Vick averaged 6.5 FPts/G fewer than his monster 2010 season and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out why. After scoring nine touchdowns on the ground in 2010, Vick found the end zone just once. However, Vick himself may have been the biggest cause for his lack of scores as he turned the ball over repeatedly, coughing up 14 interceptions and losing four fumbles in the 13 games he appeared in. Otherwise, Vick put together a solid season setting career-highs in completions (253), attempts (423) and passing yards (3,303). In 2012, his success will depend on two factors: a willingness to avoid hits and improved decision-making. Vick can still run the ball (589 rushing yards last season) and his passing is light years ahead of what it was in his younger days, although not quite on par with the upper echelon quarterbacks in the league. He seemed to get the message about avoiding hits when he returned from a rib injury in Week 14 last season, with his rushing attempts dropping from 7.2 before the injury to 2.8 after the injury. And therein lies the quandary with Vick as your starting fantasy quarterback. He needs to run the ball effectively to be a stud but that increases his risk of injury, which takes him out of the lineup. Look for Vick to improve on his 2011 fantasy production but not match his monster season in 2010, leaving him just outside the top five as a fantasy option in 2012. Keep in mind that drafting Vick necessitates grabbing an upper tier backup since it’s pretty much certain he will miss time at some point in the season.
RB LeSean McCoy
After a solid season in 2010 in his first year as the Eagles starting running back, McCoy was even better in 2011, rushing for 1,309 yards and 17 touchdowns while chalking up 315 receiving yards and three more scores – good enough to finish as the 2nd ranked fantasy running back. The icing on top of that fabulous fantasy production was that he was remarkably consistent, reaching double digit fantasy points in every game until the Eagles season finale against Dallas. The question is whether McCoy can generate that production again in 2012? First off, the Eagles ran the ball more in 2011 than in previous seasons so a reduction in McCoy’s rushing attempts seems to be in the offing. No issue there since the Eagles have said they plan to get the ball to him more in the passing game to reduce his wear and tear and that seems like a genuine plan given that his receptions dropped from 78 in 2010 to 48 last season. Second, the Eagles have said they plan on giving him more rest but we’ve heard coaches spout that off before and it seems a little disingenuous this time given the team’s backups consistent of diminutive, second year player Dion Lewis (who found himself in some hot water for pulling a fire alarm in the offseason) and a pair of rookies in Bryce Brown and Carlos Polk. Finally, can we expect another 17 rushing touchdowns from McCoy given that quarterback Michael Vick scored just once last season? Probably not. Other than that, McCoy’s got a sunny fantasy outlook for 2012. Nab him as a top five running back and enjoy the show.
RB Dion Lewis
The Eagles 2011 5th round pick saw precious little playing time in his rookie year, running the ball 23 times for 102 yards and a score while catching just one pass. It was a little perplexing watching aging veteran Ronnie Brown continually run into the line and go down while the Eagles had a speedster like Lewis waiting in the wings but you’ll have to check with Andy Reid as to why he divvied up the playing time the way he did. This season, Lewis will enter training camp as the top backup to starter LeSean McCoy but his value as a handcuff is unknown. He will need to beat out a pair of rookies in Bryce Brown and Carlos Polk to win the role and be impressive enough that the team doesn’t bring in a veteran runner like they did last year. An off-season incident for pulling a fire alarm likely didn’t help Lewis’ case any. On other teams, Lewis’ size (5’8”, 195 pounds) might be an issue but not in Philadelphia where the running back position has been owned by a pair of smaller backs (McCoy and Brian Westbrook) for the last decade. Lewis’ fantasy value will be determined in training camp.
RB Bryce Brown
Philadelphia burned a 7th round pick to acquire Brown, a Kansas State product who will need to show some increased maturity in order to make the Eagles roster. Brown would have been taken much higher based on his size and ability but has barely played in two seasons. At 6’0” and 223 pounds, he brings some size to the running back position for the Eagles but that hasn’t been a key concern for Andy Reid with respect to running backs. With 2nd year player Dion Lewis having done little and fellow rookie Carlos Polk a health risk, Brown has a chance to emerge as LeSean McCoy’s backup in 2012. Monitor this situation in training camp.
RB Chris Polk
Polk might have been a 2nd round pick in this year’s NFL draft had teams not been concerned about a degenerative shoulder condition. As it turned out, Polk surprisingly went undrafted, making him the Danario Alexander of running backs. The Eagles signed him after the draft and Polk probably couldn’t have landed in a better situation. Despite going undrafted, he could end up being LeSean McCoy’s backup on opening day. He was hugely productive in college at Washington and has enough size, speed and receiving ability to produce in the pros. Keep an eye on him this preseason.
WR DeSean Jackson
DeSean got paid. The good news is that we won’t have to read and hear about how DeSean wants to get paid. The bad news is his high fantasy risk factor just went through the roof. Heck, high character players generally see a decline in production after getting their first big contract. Considering Jackson’s refusal to go over the middle last season as well as his alligator arms routine when forced to make a catch in traffic, getting his first big deal could put an even bigger damper on his production than his pouting, me first attitude did in 2011. The guy is extremely talented and might just be the best big play threat in the league next to Calvin Johnson but he has been a one trick pony for most of his career and there aren’t many reasons to expect that to change in 2012. Another 1,000 yards and six or seven touchdowns seems likely but a repeat of his 4th ranked fantasy wide receiver performance in 2009 is a pipe dream. Somebody is going to buy the dream. Don’t let it be you.
WR Jeremy Maclin
Maclin overcame some preseason injury issues (a medical condition that reportedly caused him to lose a pile of weight) to have a nice start to the season but the injury bug struck at midseason causing him to miss three games and preventing him from putting together his first 1,000-yard receiving season. The Eagles 2009 1st round pick is a talented player with above average speed and a willingness to catch the ball in traffic and over the middle but there is always a lingering suspicion that his production is tied to seeing less attention than his fellow starter DeSean Jackson. It is worth noting that the two Eagles receivers have produced similar fantasy point totals over the past two seasons. What makes Maclin more appealing from a fantasy perspective is his consistency and reduced risk profile. Maclin shows up every week when he is healthy and hasn’t showed himself to be a diva receiver during his three years in the league. While Maclin isn’t likely to generate the ten touchdowns that made him a solid fantasy option in 2010, he should come close to that given that he is a better red zone option than Jackson. Expect him to top 1,000 receiving yards for the first time this season and rank as a mid-tier WR2 at season’s end… without the headaches.
WR Jason Avant
As a football fan, you have to love Jason Avant. The guy has climbed his way up the food chain and improved every year that he has been in the league, seeing his receptions increase every year for six years. The 2006 4th round pick willingly goes across the middle and that ability helped him set career highs in receptions with 52 and yards with 679 last season. Unfortunately, the one area where he hasn’t showed much progress is in the red zone. Avant has found the end zone just 10 times in his six-year career, including once in 2011. With Riley Cooper nipping at his heels and the Eagles high on rookie 6th round pick Marvin McNutt, Avant will be hard-pressed to keep his run of increasing productivity going in 2012.
WR Riley Cooper
The Eagles 5th round pick in the 2010 draft, Cooper has made some plays when given the opportunity but unfortunately not nearly enough of them. Given a decent amount of playing time last season when injuries beset the Eagles receiving corps, Cooper finished the year with 16 receptions for a nifty 315 yards and a score. Not bad. Not so impressive was his completion to target percentage which checked in at 45.7%, his second consecutive sub-50% season. Cooper’s solid size and decent speed make him a good option on deep passes, hence his 19.7 yards per reception figure from last season. However, he struggles to get open on underneath routes and has a limited upside. He isn’t worth drafting in standard leagues and may be usurped on the depth chart by rookie 6th round pick Marvin McNutt, rendering him a slight dynasty league prospect also.
TE Brent Celek
Persona non grata in 2010 and for the first six games of 2011, Celek reemerged as a weapon for the Eagles over the final 10 games of last season, catching 53 passes for 738 yards and five touchdowns. A lot of that production was in the screen game in order to help keep quarterback Michael Vick upright and slow down the opposing pass rush. With left tackle Jason Peters out for 2012 due to injury, Celek may end up getting plenty of targets in 2012. Or he may end up being asked to help out new left tackle Demetrious Bell. While Celek is unlikely to return to his glory days from 2009 when he finished the year as the 4th ranked fantasy tight end, he ranks as a low end fantasy starter in 2012 and one with upside given his re-emergence in the Eagles passing attack last season.