When we last left the Eagles on the field, they had just lost a tough playoff game against the Saints with Jeff Garcia at quarterback. Now Garcia is in Tampa Bay, and Donovan McNabb is back to starting another season coming off an injury, this time a torn ACL in his right knee.
As many fantasy owners rode McNabb's sizzling start to 2006 only to be very disappointed in scrambling for a stretch-run replacement when he went down against the Titans in Week 10, it might cause other owners to shy away from him this season. But with his rehab on track and the supporting cast he has, there's no reason to think he can't pick up where he left off.
There was one bright side to McNabb's injury. It made the team a lean a lot more on the running of Brian Westbrook, and he responded with his best all-around season, proving that he isn't just a scatback masquerading as a feature back. The defense also seemed a lot more rested and responsive when the Eagles were tilted more toward running the ball.
Overall, the Eagles proved they are very versatile in racking up points and yardage, and that should continue to make them a daunting offense to defend -- don't expect much drop-off from second in total yards and sixth in scoring. They didn't get hit on defense, either, and, if anything, they should be stronger upfield with their front seven.
Projected draft round Player Round Donovan McNabb, QB 5 Brian Westbrook, RB 1 Correll Buckhalter, RB 14 Reggie Brown, WR 6 Kevin Curtis, WR 9 L.J. Smith, TE 9 David Akers, K 17 Defense/special teams 15 Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key losses: LB Shawn Barber, QB Jeff Garcia, CB Roderick Hood, S Michael Lewis, WR Donte' Stallworth, DT Darwin Walker.
Brian Westbrook, RB. Before last season, fantasy owners loved Westbrook because of his explosive upside but always were a bit wary because of durability downside. Well, he finally swatted the injury bug and was able to buzz around defenses for a full season, evolving as a complete back capable of handling a traditional rushing load. Of course, some will remain skeptical, but you can't play fantasy football fearful of injuries that aren't yet there.
So where does Westbrook fit in the first round with all the other elite fantasy backs? As someone who's guaranteed a considerable majority of his team's touches, Westbrook isn't that far from the top. At this point, only LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and Shaun Alexander can be seen as truly better picks. Westbrook has officially shot up to No. 1 fantasy back status, and he will deliver up to it again.
Brian Dawkins, S. Quick, when is the last time the Eagles fielded a defense without Dawkins playing center field? That would be 1995, when Ray Rhodes was the team's rookie coach. What's amazing about Dawkins is that he's coming off one of his best seasons and will be 34 in October. In '06, he had a career-high 97 tackles and a career high-tying four interceptions. You'll be in pretty good shape with the league's ultimate safety stalwart as your top IDP DB.
Donovan McNabb, QB. Had McNabb not suffered his injury, we might be talking about fantasy's top-ranked quarterback for 2007 -- that's how good his '06 was looking. It also marks the third time in the past five seasons he's been unable to start at least 11 games.
It doesn't get more risk/reward than that. Some of you love stealing him as one of the first half-dozen quarterbacks drafted, others of you won't touch him. He set a pretty high standard in his first seven games of '06 that's difficult to duplicate -- 19 total TDs, an average of 307 yards passing.
Assuming his knee holds up, he'll still be pretty good, but you can bet Westbrook will cut more into his production. Although that figures to hurt McNabb's numbers a bit, more balance probably will increase McNabb's chances of staying healthy for the long haul.
Reggie Brown, WR. Brown improved only by three catches from his rookie season (43 to 46), but he emerged as a strong playmaker all over the field with 816 yards and 9 total TDs. However, Brown cooled off after scoring five times in his first six games.
Considering Brown didn't do too much with Garcia at quarterback, he will benefit most from the reunion with McNabb, with whom he has developed a special rapport. After years of waiting, McNabb has a confident No. 1-type young receiver. Brown should be able to push his yardage toward 1K with another 6-8 scores, making him a good fantasy No. 2. *Key additions: WR Kevin Curtis, DT Montae Reagor, DT Ian Scott, LB Takeo Spikes.
L.J. Smith, TE. Smith should be good for about dozen yards per catch, five dozen catches and a half dozen TDs. Although he's not a game-changing fantasy tight end in the Antonio Gates mold, that's pretty pleasing production for a guy whom you can get soon after the bigger names are off the board.
Jeremiah Trotter, LB. You can bank on Trotter for 100-120 stops. If your league rewards tackles nicely, you'll be OK with him as a middle-tier IDP. But he's no longer the playmaker he was in his first tour of Philadelphia. He's also starting to rack up some mileage at age 30.
Kevin Curtis, WR. We thought his breakout would eventually come in St. Louis taking over for Isaac Bruce, but that chance never came. A new team was his only sure way of starting. Curtis will be called upon to fill the speed void created by Donte' Stallworth's free-agent departure. Helped by his familiarity with McNabb, Brown likely will be the go-to guy.
Curtis will be good for several big plays, and he's also an underrated threat near the goal line with his quickness. Because Curtis never has been a regular starter, he's a bit of a wild card. While Brown is the safer earlier pick, Curtis a few rounds later may end up being a real steal.
David Akers, K. Akers is one of the more revered reality kickers in the league, but the scoring numbers just haven't been there the past two seasons because of injury and inconsistency. Considering 19 kickers scored more points than him last season, he needs to make a pretty big leap to get back to fantasy starter status.
Defense/special teams. The Eagles' 29 takeaways was their best output over the past four years, and their sacks total got back up to 40 after having only 29 the year before. In terms of both points and yards allowed, the team was mediocre, ranked 15th. This unit is not that exciting of a fantasy option, but it is the type of slightly above-average option you would expect after waiting through first couple waves of defense draft runs. It may not have many monster weeks, but then again, it also will have few clunkers.
Trent Cole, DE. Cole has steadily improved in his two years, and he broke out with eight sacks, an interception and a touchdown last season. At 6-3, 270, he is a versatile edge defender whose production in '07 might be good enough to make him IDP starter-worthy at some point during the season.
Correll Buckhalter and Tony Hunt, RBs. There's a bit of a battle to be Westbrook's unofficial No. 2, but really, if Westbrook were to go down, it likely would be more of a committee approach with Hunt's fresh rookie legs complementing Buckhalter's experience in Andy Reid's offense. If you were planning to handcuff a late-rounder to Westbrook, Buckhalter would the choice for now. Also keep in mind that Westbrook grew into a pretty durable all-around back in 2006.
A.J. Feeley, QB. It's a been a good news-bad news year for Feeley. I feel bad that he recently broke up with sizzling soccer star Heather Mitts, but he should feel good that he's back to being the Eagles' top backup behind McNabb. At 30 and well suited to produce in Reid's offense (especially considering how Garcia did while filling in), Feeley should be the hot waiver pickup if McNabb goes on the shelf again (but only then).
Jevon Kearse, DE. I remember when the Titans first unleashed "The Freak" eight years ago, when he exploded for a rookie record 14 1/2 sacks. Since then, injuries have become, well, the homonym of his last name. He flew out of the gate with 3 1/2 sacks in his first two games last season, only to suffer a devastating left knee injury with sprains of his MCL, PCL and LCL. He has a shot at coming back and producing in a situational role, but there's no reason to gamble on him as an IDP.
Takeo Spikes, LB. Spikes is similar to Kearse in the sense that when he's healthy, he's a playmaker, but good health was hard to find in his final two seasons in Buffalo. Now 30, a torn right Achilles' and hamstring woes have hurt him most, and he's also had a bad ankle and a bad knee. Spikes' upfield attack style is the ideal fit for the Eagles' attacking defense, so if he can stay on the field early, he's worth tracking. Just two years ago, he had 99 tackles, three sacks, five picks and two TDs for the Bills.
Hank Baskett, WR. Barring injuries to both Brown and Curtis, there won't be enough Baskett catches to consider him for your roster.
Jason Avant, WR. Just like Terrell Owens once did, Avant wears No. 81 for the Eagles. Unlike T.O., however, Avant has little fantasy value.
Matt Schobel, TE. Schobel is good for a couple big-yardage scoring plays every year. Good luck, however, figuring out when and where they will happen.
Jeremy Bloom, KR/WR. Although he might have helped you win your fantasy World Cup skiing league title in 2005, he's only projected to contribute as a return man in what he hopes is his first healthy NFL season.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: McNabb and Westbrook have the same preseason asking price of $8 million, so who's the better investment? That's easy: Westbrook. You can find a better value cheaper at quarterback then you can at running back, where Westbrook is an elite option.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: It was interesting how Andy Reid adjusted the Eagles' offense to base it on more power running than finesse passing when Jeff Garcia took over for Donovan McNabb last season. Although McNabb's early-season passing led to big stats, Westbrook's late-season running is what led to big wins. Still, with McNabb ready to come back healthy and the investment in Curtis, it's hard to imagine the Eagles being too conservative. Expect a more balanced attack from last season, and Westbrook, with his combined rushing and receiving skills, to remain the biggest beneficiary.
Defensively, once again, it's coordinator Jim Johnson in the lead. That means there will be the aggressiveness needed to make fantasy-friendly plays.
Offensive line: This is a big part why the Eagles felt very confident in running the ball down the stretch last season. The star is Pro Bowl right guard Shawn Andrews, a 6-4, 340-pound mauler. They also can lean on the experience of tackles William Thomas and Jon Runyan to protect the edges for McNabb. The play up front allows the Eagles to be very versatile and prolific in moving the ball.
Schedule analysis: The Eagles flew out of the gate last year, and expect them to dig their talons into more early fantasy fun this season. Green Bay, Washington, Detroit and the Giants should mean a very pleasing September of scoring. But after the team's Week 5 bye, it still will have its four games remaining against the tough defenses of the AFC East. You don't expect a cakewalk schedule for a reigning division champ, but all in all it's not too bad. Potential shootouts with the Giants, Cowboys and Saints all look OK for fantasy playoff time. Power poll rank: 11th easiest (22nd toughest)