This article is part of our Team Previews series.
The Eagles either kept or replaced all the key pieces from last year's excellent defense and then used their offseason resources to revamp a passing attack badly in need of playmakers. Few teams can claim to have improved as much, but it won't make a difference unless Carson Wentz is the real deal.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
TIME TO LET THESE EAGLES FLY
The Eagles offense was completely lacking in a downfield component last season, tying for 28th in pass plays of 20-plus yards (39) and 26th in passes of 40-plus (six), despite attempting the sixth-most throws (609) in the NFL. Carson Wentz ranked 18th out of 30 qualified passers in completion percentage (62.4), yet bested only Brock Osweiler in yards per attempt (6.23). The second overall pick from the 2016 draft had a promising rookie season even when considering the lack of big plays, as he often made the most of a poor supporting cast. Slot wideout Jordan Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz were effective across the middle, but the primary outside receivers – Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham – caught just more than half the passes thrown in their direction (72 of 143) for a hideous combined mark of 5.3 yards per target. The Eagles deserve credit for actively addressing their greatest weakness, as they signed the towering Alshon Jeffery and speedy Torrey Smith in the early days of free agency to provide Wentz with a significant upgrade. Philadelphia then backed up the veteran signings with some rookie depth, selecting Mack Hollins in the fourth round of the draft and Shelton Gibson in the fifth round. Both players finished their college careers averaging better than 20 yards per catch.
BLOUNT BRINGS SOME BULK TO UNDERSIZED BACKFIELD
Philadelphia's front office took a surprisingly passive approach toward the team's shaky backfield, opting to focus on other positions during the early stages of free agency and the first two days of the draft. The Eagles ultimately settled for 176-pounder Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round at No. 132 overall, securing a potential long-term replacement for 34-year-old scatback Darren Sproles. The patient approach was then rewarded in mid-May when the team signed LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract with a base value of only $1.25 million, essentially taking advantage of being the last team to act on the offseason backfield carousel. The 250-pound Blount almost surely will replace Ryan Mathews as the primary early-down runner and goal-line back, but there's a reason the 30-year-old was available at such a low price on the heels of an 18-touchdown season. In addition to concerns about age, Blount's career has been a mixed bag outside of the comfort of New England's high-powered offense, and he only averaged 3.9 yards on his 299 carries last season. If Blount struggles early in the year, it could open up more touches for 2016 fifth-round selection Wendell Smallwood, who offers solid hands and 4.47 speed at around 5-10, 210 pounds. Blount, Smallwood and Sproles all figure to enter Week 1 with roles.
ERTZ HOPES TO BUILD ON STRONG FINISH...AGAIN
Zach Ertz's story was much the same in 2016 as in 2015, with a huge late-season outburst pushing him over 800 receiving yards in what was otherwise a disappointing campaign. After breaking out for 450 yards over the final four weeks of 2015, it seemed Ertz was more than ready to join the tier of tight ends right behind Rob Gronkowski. Those plans were quickly derailed, as a Week 1 rib injury sidelined Ertz for the next two games and seemed to limit him once he returned. He struggled through a four-game stretch in which he caught only nine passes, and while things did get a bit better in November, it wasn't until Weeks 13 to 17 that Ertz finally met expectations. He produced 443 of his 816 receiving yards and three of his four touchdowns in that five-game stretch, once again showing what he can do when he's healthy and heavily targeted. The additions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith could make targets harder to come by for the 26-year-old tight end, but he'll also have more room to operate over the middle now that opposing defenses actually have to worry about getting burned down the sidelines. Ertz already seemed to surpass Jordan Matthews as Carson Wentz's favorite option late last season, and he'll have a leg up on Jeffery thanks to his full year of experience working with the young quarterback.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Alshon Jeffery
Limited by nagging lower-body injuries the past two seasons, Jeffery still averaged 77.5 receiving yards in 21 games while falling shy of his peak 2013-14 form. He settled for a one-year, $9.5 million contract in free agency, heavily betting on himself to rejoin the NFL's elite with the help of rising quarterback Carson Wentz.
RISING: Carson Wentz
Coming off a competent debut campaign in a lifeless offense, Wentz has everything in place to take a huge step in Year 2, supported by a variety of downfield weapons in a system that's expected to rely on his arm.
FALLING: Jordan Matthews
Matthews should be heading into his prime as he prepares for his fourth NFL season, but the slot specialist's inconsistency was undeniably a major motivating factor in Philadelphia's offseason overhaul at wide receiver.
SLEEPER: Wendell Smallwood
While likely resigned to a minor role to start the season, Smallwood has the best mixture of size, speed, quickness and pass-catching ability amongst a backfield that otherwise features role-specific players.
KEY JOB BATTLE – SECOND WIDEOUT
The Eagles made major upgrades to their receiving corps this offseason, adding free agents Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith and plucking Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson in the draft. These additions will allow Jordan Matthews to move to the slot on a permanent basis and Nelson Agholor to a reserve role. Jeffery is the No. 1 receiver and should be drafted as such. After him, the best bet for production may be Matthews, who has more than 100 targets and 800 yards in each of his three pro seasons, but he has struggled with leg injuries at times in his career. If Torrey Smith, now liberated from the quarterback abyss in San Francisco, can bounce back to his Ravens days, he could vie for similar numbers or better. After the top trio, the Eagles roster 2015 first-round pick Agholor and this year's fourth-rounder Hollins, who both drew positive reviews in OTAs. Because Jeffery, Matthews and Smith have missed time in recent years, Agholor, Hollins and even Gibson could receive an opportunity to break out.
LeGarrette Blount – RB (from Patriots)
Mid-May signing poised to serve as both lead runner and goal-line ace.
Torrey Smith – WR (from 49ers)
Looking to re-emerge as a deep threat after lost years in San Fran.
Timmy Jernigan – DT (from Ravens)
Added in trade with the Ravens to boost a strong interior rush.
Donnel Pumphrey – RB (Rd. 4, No. 132 – San Diego State)
Pint-sized college superstar could have immediate role in the backfield.
Mack Hollins – WR (Rd. 4, No. 118 – North Carolina)
Downfield collegiate weapon may be eased in as a special teamer.
Bennie Logan – DT (to Chiefs)
One-dimensional run stuffer wasn't a great fit in 4-3 defense.
Nolan Carroll – CB (to Cowboys)
Middling starter's departure frees playing time for youngsters.
THE INJURY FRONT
Jordan Matthews, WR – Matthews has struggled with leg injuries for a full year now, dating back to last preseason, when he also dealt with his current ailment: knee tendinitis. He also battled ankle issues last season, which cost him a couple games. While coach Doug Pederson initially claimed the fourth-year veteran would be over the present bout of tendinitis by the start of training camp, Pedersen changed his tune just before its start, stating Matthews will indeed be limited.
Ryan Mathews, RB – Mathews was excused from training camp before it even started as he continues to recover from neck surgery. As soon as he passes a physical, the Eagles are expected to release him. They could do so before, but they would have to pay Mathews an injury settlement.
Jordan Hicks, LB – Hicks hurt his hand while on his honeymoon in Greece, which will be accompanied by a maximum recovery of four weeks. As such, he'll be limited at the outset of training camp.