- CB Bradley Fletcher (27) – Fletcher is one of the league’s best-kept secrets and has the talent to emerge as a rock solid cover man for the Eagles in 2013. He has great length (6’0 3/8) and athleticism (4.44 40, 40″ vertical) and looks very fluid in his backpedal. He’s a very sure tackler and looks comfortable in press man, off man, and zone coverages. While he’s not an elite, shutdown-level player, he has played well in his 26 starts. The Eagles got him on the cheap due to a long injury history, but don’t be surprised if he establishes himself as a legitimate #1 corner in this league.
- ILB Mychal Kendricks (22) – In training camp and preseason last year, Kendricks looked like a tackling machine. He eventually hit a rookie wall, partly because he was ill-suited to the strong side, where he earned 12 starts. In fact, Pro Football Focus graded Kendricks out at an impressive +6.1 in games where he started on the weak side compared to a dismal -17.5 rating on the strong side. Under Billy Davis, he will return to a 3-4 system similar to the one he excelled in at Cal and will function as the weak side inside linebacker. Kendricks’ rare speed and sideline-to-sideline range will be on display in the Eagles’ new scheme and that should help his development dramatically.
- DE Cedric Thornton (25) – Thornton went undrafted in 2011 but beat the odds to make the Eagles roster. He didn’t play a single regular season snap, though. In 2012, he earned a major role in the defensive tackle rotation, playing 38% of the team’s defensive snaps. Coaches remain high on Thornton and expect a second big leap from him in 2013. Billy Davis has already penciled him into a starting role, and Thornton appears to be a great fit for a 3-4 defense. He has excellent length and bulk at 6’4″, 309 and has enough quickness to play over opposing offensive tackles. Thornton’s natural talent and work ethic make him a prime candidate to elevate his game to new heights in 2013.
- DE Fletcher Cox (22) – Cox exceeded my expectations for him in his rookie season, registering 5.5 sacks despite playing fewer than half of the team’s defensive snaps. He heads into his second season as the Eagles’ clear-cut top defensive lineman and interior pass rusher. Coming out of college, I thought Cox would fit best as a 3-4 defensive end, and though Billy Davis won’t place as much emphasis on the pass rush as Jim Washburn did, Cox remains a rare athlete who should get opportunities to get up the field. Due to the nature of the scheme, don’t expect a big increase in Cox’s sack numbers, but he has a chance to emerge as an excellent full-time player against both the run and the pass.
- TE James Casey (28) – In Houston, Casey was often buried on the depth chart by Owen Daniels, forcing him into a fullback role. Chip Kelly intends to showcase Casey’s short area quickness and soft hands in Philadelphia, though, which should lead to far more opportunities for Casey. Casey is an excellent athlete, but is undersized for a traditional in-line tight end role. In Philly, he will line up primarily in the slot as a “move” tight end in the mold of Aaron Hernandez. Kelly hand-picked Casey for a reason, and Casey will have a chance to fully show off his skill set for the first time in his career. He could lead the team in receptions as a match-up problem out of the slot.
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