Nick Foles was the sixth quarterback selected in the NFL draft by the Eagles during Andy Reid's tenure as head coach, and, considering only where he fell in the draft, it would be fair to say the organization's expectations placed him squarely in the middle of that pack.
Donovan McNabb was taken with a high first-round pick and Kevin Kolb with an early second-round pick, and it was obvious in both cases that the Eagles believed they would become legitimate starters at the position.
Further down the list, Mike Kafka was a fourth-round pick, A.J. Feeley a fifth-round pick, and Andrew Hall from Delaware a sixth-round pick. If they turned into something, that would be nice. Kafka was ultimately a disappointment in that regard, Feeley a little bit of a pleasant surprise for a time, and Hall quickly went the way of most sixth-round quarterbacks.
Foles, taken in the third round with the 88th pick of the draft, is in a different category. He's a 'tweener, ticketed for neither sure greatness nor hasty dismissal. Had Michael Vick remained healthy, he wouldn't have taken a snap in his rookie season. Maybe it would have been years of waiting for him to get a solid chance to play, as it was for Kolb, who had only two career starts going into his fourth and final season with the Eagles.
The circumstances of this season have changed all that, however, and Foles has four more games to convince the organization he can be relied upon as a quarterback for the future. Andy Reid moved him to the top of the depth chart this week, and that is where he will stay until Reid or a successor removes him. Foles may have begun the season as a low-profile rookie with nothing but a baseball cap on his head, but now he has the team, and his future, on his shoulders.
For his part, Foles says the right things, and he has also done some of them on the field since taking over for Vick on Nov. 11 and starting three games in his place afterward. So far, however, it hasn't been enough to decide if the expectation levels have really been raised or if Foles is merely the caretaker of a lost season, running a lower-risk offense and hoping for the best.
It is a fascinating, and a little scary, position for the organization, which has had more of the latter and less of the former this season. On one hand, it would be exciting to see Foles catch fire in these final games and announce his arrival. On the other, if he remains inconsistent, the Eagles will have to determine if that is because he is a young quarterback or because he is an inconsistent one. What then? Keep Vick and try again? Trade for a quarterback? Draft another from a thin incoming class?
What then, indeed, and for an organization that will head into the offseason with a bushel basket of unanswered questions, it would be helpful if the identity of the starting quarterback was not among them.
In order to at least pose the question, if not get it answered, look for Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to ask more of Foles in these final games. They threw too much at him in his first start against Washington, and the results were awful. In the next two games, against Carolina and Dallas, they padded the edges of the offense, and he responded with better performances.
The pass routes have been shorter and quicker, which makes sense. Only four of Foles' 81 completions (4.9 percent) have gone for 25 yards or more, and his yards/attempt is under 6, which is low for a good NFL quarterback. (Vick, even in a bad year, was a tick under 7 yards, by comparison, and he had 14 completions of 25 yards or more - 7.5 percent.)
The emergence of Bryce Brown has made it seem the Eagles are running the ball more with Foles, but that's not the case. They averaged 29 rushes in the eight games Vick started and completed and have averaged 24 rushes in the four games since. Even taking into account the pass calls that Vick turned into rushing attempts, there's no difference there.
Reid and Mornhinweg are as dedicated to the pass as ever. They simply haven't asked Foles to use it very often as a deep-strike weapon. That will change, and what better opportunity than Sunday against Tampa Bay, which has given up the most passing yards of any defense in the league.
It is time to see what Nick Foles can do, the coach said, but the organization is just as interested in seeing what he can't do. In these last four games, the expectations for him will either rise; fall; or, like his draft position, remain stuck in the murky middle. And for a team looking to the future, that last option would be the worst of all.