Revisiting Eagles in the NFL
By Bryan Bruwer
With the NFL season nearing its thrilling conclusion, there is no better time to evaluate how BC’s premier NFL talents performed throughout the 2017 season. With only four teams remaining in Super Bowl contention, only one former Eagle stands a chance of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in two short weeks.
Matt Ryan (QB, Atlanta Falcons)
After a slow start to the 2017 season, many pundits were wondering whether Ryan’s 2016 MVP campaign was merely a mirage. Ryan finished the season with only 20 touchdowns, his lowest total since 2009, but posted 4,095 passing yards, eclipsing the 4,000-yard mark for the seventh consecutive season. Despite his lackluster statistics, Ryan finished the season as the 2nd highest rated quarterback by Pro Football Focus. Although the Falcons stumbled out of the gate to a 4-4 record, they found their groove down the stretch, winning 6 of their final 8 games and clinching a playoff spot in the process. Ryan played well on the road against the upstart Los Angeles Rams in the Wildcard round, leading the Falcons to an upset victory. However, Ryan and the Falcons did not fare as well in their clash against the #1 seeded Philadelphia Eagles, who held down the high flying Atlanta offense, which could only muster 10 points in a losing effort. Heading into next year, one would expect Ryan to have a bounce back year (at least statistically), as he was on the wrong side of a plethora of unlucky bounces, particularly drops by his receivers that led to many of his 12 interceptions. The needle for Ryan and the Atlanta offense should be pointed straight up, as they possess some of the most gifted skill players in the NFL such as Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman.
Luke Kuechly (LB, Carolina Panthers)
Kuechly, a former AP Defensive Player of the Year and Defensive Rookie of the Year, continued to shine in 2017. Kuechly finished with 125 total tackles (74 solo), which is actually a down year by his lofty standards. The tackling machine also recorded three interceptions, a forced fumble, and two fumble recoveries, one of which was a pivotal go-ahead scoop and score in the fourth quarter of a victory against the New York Jets. Recently, Kuechly was named a First Team All Pro, and he remains an elite run defender and coverage linebacker when he’s healthy. PFF awarded Kuechly a grade of 93.9, which was the third best mark among interior linebackers. Kuechly was also named to his 5th consecutive Pro Bowl (in 6 seasons in the league), and he will continue to be the bedrock of Carolina’s defense for the long haul.
Anthony Castonzo (LT, Indianapolis Colts)
Despite being part of a woeful Colts offensive line that consistently seems incapable of keeping whoever is under center upright, Castonzo is probably the strongest member of the group. PFF gave him a rating of 82, which was good for the 10th best among tackles, meaning that his performance did not deteriorate down the stretch (his rating was also 10th seven games into the season). That sort of consistency is very important for an offensive lineman, especially for a left tackle protecting the blindside of an injury prone quarterback such as Andrew Luck (assuming he returns to full health.)
Justin Simmons (S, Denver Broncos)
A third round pick of the Denver Broncos back in 2016, Simmons has continued to develop in his second professional season. The young safety racked up 61 solo tackles, in addition to five tackles for a loss, displaying proficiency in stopping the run. In the passing game, Simmons swatted away 7 passes and recorded 2 interceptions, one of which was accompanied by an electrifying 65-yard touchdown return. The departure of T.J. Ward earlier in the season opened up an opportunity for Simmons to seize a starting job, and it looks like he did enough to hold onto it for the foreseeable future.
John Johnson III (S, Los Angeles Rams)
John Johnson III continued to impress after securing the starting job at free safety. He finished the season with 74 tackles and 11 pass deflections, wrapping up a strong rookie season. According to Pro Football Focus, Johnson III graded out as the 15th best safety in football this season, which is lofty praise for a rookie. Johnson III, much like the Rams team as a whole, was a pleasant surprise this season, and he is in a position to extensively contribute in their defensive backfield down the road.
Matt Milano (LB, Buffalo Bills)
Milano, despite playing sparingly at the onset of the year, got more playing time as the season went on, and had a solid rookie campaign. He ended the year with 49 tackles, to alongside a forced fumble, an interception, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Milano will look to secure more playing time in the future, and perhaps work his way towards holding down a starting spot on a Bills team that may be turning a corner after ending their infamous streak of futility this past season.
Ryan Quigley (P, Minnesota Vikings)
A new addition to this list, Quigley had a sound season for a dominant Vikings squad. Quigley had the best season of his career so far, pinning opponents within their own 20 yard line an impressive 29 times. Despite not having a remarkable average distance on his punts, he provides value through the hang time of his punts, which help to limit big returns by allowing Vikings to get down the field in punt coverage. Interestingly, Quigley did not record a touchback until the Vikings’ epic divisional round victory against the Saints. With field position being of the utmost importance in playoff football, the Vikings are fortunate to have Quigley at his best right now.