It was over 40 years ago, but I can still remember watching Super Bowl XV on a small black and white television that was a Christmas present from my mom just a few weeks before the game. We lived in Michigan, which should have led to an affiliation with the Lions, but they were so bad (Detroit still has only one playoff win since 1957) that my pro gridiron allegiances were cast elsewhere.
The arrogance of the Tom Landry-era Dallas Cowboys made it easy to hate them, so it was a no-brainer to become a huge Eagles backer after Wilbert Montgomery led Philadelphia to a brutal 20-7 win over the Pokes in the NFC title game. The emotions from that victory were so powerful that it led to a suspension from school after I got into a heated argument with a friend who was a Raiders fan. No one got hurt and he and I laugh about it to this day, but it was a crushing blow to see the Eagles wind up on the losing end of a 27-10 score against Oakland.
That passion for this sport eventually led to a long football writing career that includes a 14-year stint covering the NFL and fantasy football for ESPN and operating my own website (www.TheFootballScientist.com). But had you told that kid watching Super Bowl XV that he would eventually write about the Eagles, the NFL, and fantasy football for The Philadelphia Inquirer, he would have first said, “No way!” and then asked you what in the world is fantasy football. This is a dream come true of sorts and I can’t wait to get started, so let’s talk some football!
Since we are in the midst of the fantasy football draft season, a good kickoff would be to take a look at the fantasy football prospects of the Eagles.
Every fantasy manager has a quandary. They want to have players from their favorite club on their roster, but they don’t want to hurt their fantasy squads by drafting those players too high or rostering prospects from that team that won’t help their fantasy squads win.
So, what can Eagles fans do to sensibly add Philadelphia players to their fantasy squads?
Let’s dive into this on a player-by-player basis, starting with the running backs.
Miles Sanders/Boston Scott/Kenneth Gainwell
Last year, the Eagles ranked first in the league in my good blocking rate metric that measures how often an offense gives its ballcarriers quality run blocking. This is an incredible achievement given that the Eagles used an NFL-record 14 offensive line combinations last season. It’s a testament to the coaching skill of run game coordinator/offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and portends for another topflight run-blocking performance this season given that Philadelphia is returning many injured offensive line starters and is almost certain to have more stability in that group this year.
The high good blocking rate is very important because studies I’ve done over the years indicate that good run blocking plays are four to five times as valuable as bad run blocking plays. Keep that in mind when drafting Miles Sanders, as it is a factor that indicates he has a very good chance of reaching his blue-rated upside potential (blue-rated indicating elite value in my fantasy football rankings system). Fantasy managers can justify taking Sanders as early as late in the third round in a 12-team league and could get a great deal if he lasts until Round 4.
Sanders missed four games last year and has never posted more than 244 scrimmage plays in a single collegiate or pro season, so Boston Scott is a near must-have handcuff for fantasy managers who draft Sanders. Scott will go undrafted in the vast majority of draft rooms, so it may just be a matter of submitting a post-draft waiver claim to pick him up. Managers in deeper leagues can also prioritize getting Kenneth Gainwell, the rookie who in his 2019 freshman season at Memphis became the first FBS player since 1997 to post 200 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing in the same game.
This is a tough one, as there are strong pro and con arguments for drafting Hurts.
The pro side starts by noting that Hurts broke multiple records for two of the most storied programs in college football history. This shows he is used to stepping into new situations, adjusting quickly, and having an immediate impact, so getting up to speed in the Nick Sirianni system should be something he is capable of doing.
Hurts tallied an impressive 8.7-yard mark last year in a metric I have called good blocking yards per attempt, which measures how productive a back is when given good run blocking. Hurts also racked up 7.1 rushing yards per scramble play, so he offers two paths to impact rush game value that can move fantasy quarterbacks up rankings charts in a hurry.
The problem in relying on Hurts in fantasy football stems largely from his pass game value. He can’t be held fully responsible for an abysmal 52 % completion rate in 2020, as poor pass blocking and the wide receiver woes had a lot to do with that, but that type of inaccuracy is still a notable concern when compared to other prospective fantasy QB1 candidates.
These trends converge to give Hurts borderline QB1/QB2 value. That might normally cause fantasy managers to bypass Hurts and go for a higher-value quarterback, but there is an incredible amount of quality fantasy depth at quarterback this season, so this is a year when fantasy managers can easily justify taking a low-cost approach at this position.
Platoon Hurts with another QB2 candidate such as Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, Justin Fields or Joe Burrow, and a fantasy team should be able to rotate starters according to the best matchup and potentially get a 275- to 300-point performance from its quarterbacks for what amounts to an eighth-round pick in Hurts and a double-digit round option in the backup.
My rankings system normally downgrades rookie wide receivers by a notable amount, but Smith is an exception to that rule. He destroyed the SEC career receiving touchdowns record, as his 46 scores crushed the old mark by 15 TDs. Smith is the all-time SEC leader in receiving yards, Alabama’s career record holder in receptions, the first wide receiver to ever win AP player of the year, and is the only receiver in SEC history to post multiple games with four or more touchdowns. Oh yeah, he also won the Heisman Trophy.
NFL history is chock full of wide receivers of Smith’s talent level who don’t pan out in Year 1, but the Eagles coaching staff may be uniquely qualified to buck that trend. It’s the type of element that could allow Smith to become this year’s Justin Jefferson, and it makes Smith a rare rookie wideout who can justify a sixth-round selection.
Dallas Goedert/Zach Ertz
Goedert might have contended for top-five fantasy tight end status if Ertz were no longer on the roster, as Goedert set career highs last year in yards per target (8.1) and yards per reception (11.4, per Pro-Football-Reference) and posted four double-digit point totals in PPR leagues in the 11 games he played in.
Even with the caveat of Ertz being on the roster, Goedert can still be justified as a low-end TE1 given the dearth of quality starting candidates at this position. The recent report out of camp that indicates Goedert and Ertz are both being highly utilized by Hurts also portends well for a strong season from Goedert, as he still may rate second on the Eagles’ passing target priority list and should justify a seventh-round fantasy selection.
Ertz had an awful 2020 campaign, as he posted an insanely low 4.7 yards per target, but the fact that the Eagles brought him back suggests that Ertz may be in line for a bounce-back campaign. If that is anywhere close to being the case, Ertz is a tremendous late-round stash in deeper leagues.