The allure of starting positions is great in today’s NFL, but when it comes down to it every good team—especially Super Bowl champions—has good depth. The Philadelphia Eagles are no different.
Andy Reid finally made a commitment to stacking up at several important positions—quarterback, defensive end, linebacker and running back—this offseason. Not only does did he recognize the need for serviceable ‘Plan Bs’, but he knows that injuries can easily derail a team’s season if not properly prepared for.
There are always some backups who are more important than others, and here are five that will make a huge impact for the Eagles in 2012.
Mike Kafka (QB)
Starting Quarterback: Michael Vick
This one should come as no surprise.
Everyone knows that Michael Vick is the most injury-prone starting quarterback in the NFL, and whether he misses two games or seven games during the season, Mike Kafka will play a large role in deciding whether the Eagles can hold on for dear life and sneak into the playoffs.
Last season Kafka had to finish two games and Vince Young had to start three. That means that the backup quarterback on the Eagles had to play approximately 3 1/2 to four games last season, which sounds about right going forward as well.
Andy Reid says he has a lot of confidence in Kafka, and while he doesn’t need to be the next Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady to steer the boat, an A.J. Feeley-esque run would allow all Eagles fans to sleep a little deeper this coming winter.
O.J. Atogwe (FS)
Starting Free Safety: Nate Allen
The move to sign former Redskins safety O.J. Atogwe was brilliant. Simply brilliant.
While he may not play as much or have as large of a direct impact as some of the other players on this list, Atogwe will be the mentor free safety Nate Allen has never had. As Allen and strong safety Kurt Coleman develop chemistry, the only thing that will be missing from the pool is a veteran to help the young guys learn the ropes. Atogwe will be able to do that extremely well in the backup role he’s set to fill.
Then, of course, there’s always the chance that injury problems resurface with Nate. He’s missed four games over his two-year career and underwent reconstructive knee surgery following the 2010 season. Atogwe provides depth and a safety net in the case that something bad happens.
Whatever role he ends up taking in Philadelphia, Atogwe will be important in ensuring the success of the 2012 Eagles.
Marvin McNutt (WR)
Starting Wide Receivers: Jeremy Maclin & DeSean Jackson
If I say anything more to laud the play of young wideout Marvin McNutt, I might as well quit my day job—which, alas, is nonexistent—and marry the guy. He’s just a fantastic talent to be gotten in the sixth round.
I don’t think McNutt will see an unbelievable amount of snaps before the Eagles reach the opposition’s 30 yard line, but as the offense gets closer and closer to the goal line, McNutt will make his money.
Andy Reid has been searching for a red zone threat since Terrell Owens left six years ago. He’s tried and failed with several different guys including Riley Cooper, but I believe he’s finally found his man in McNutt.
Not only does McNutt run exemplary routes, but he has the size, frame, and hands to catch anything within two feet of his chest in any direction. He makes up for his lack of elite speed with his crisp routes and excellent ball skills, two things he’ll put to great use when he’s called upon down inside in the 20.
Brandon Graham (DE)
Starting Defensive Ends: Jason Babin & Trent Cole
Brandon Graham has—for lack of a more eloquent phrase—been an utter disappointment for the Philadelphia Eagles since they drafted him 13th overall in the 2010 NFL Draft.
In two seasons the Michigan product has only played 16 games and recorded 17 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. What’s even worse is that the Giants drafted All-Pro defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul only two picks later. Talk about regret.
Fortunately, Graham seems to be on the comeback trail following an injury-plagued 2011. His doctors have cleared him to play full-contact football and he’s looked nothing short of revitalized throughout the offseason workouts.
Jason Babin and Trent Cole were impressive last season, but one has to think that a slight dip in production or injuries can be expected in one or possibly both of them. Whatever the reason, Graham will be given a bigger role in 2012 and will be expected to rush the passer and defend the run in Jim Washburn’s wide-nine technique.
If he plays well, the Eagles could have the league’s best defensive line. If he struggles like he has so far in his career, the pressure will be put on the other three ends and the team could lose steam down the stretch.
Bryce Brown (RB)
Starting Running Back: LeSean McCoy
In three seasons, starting running back LeSean McCoy has amassed 635 rushing attempts. He’s only missed two games during that 48-game span.
One has to think that as lucky as the All-Pro has been, McCoy is bound for injuries to crop up sometime in 2012. When they do, the Eagles better hope Bryce Brown comes ready to play.
Brown has the talent of a second-rounder but attitude problems sank his draft stock like a stone. He never honored college commitments fully and wasn’t able to put his unique blend of power and speed on display for NFL teams to see.
Fortunately for Marty Mornhinweg and Reid, Brown looks like he hasn’t lost a step since high school. He’s ready to play running back in the NFL at a high level, and whether he does so could go a long way in determining whether the Eagles offense can right the ship in case of an injury to McCoy.
In fact, Brown might just be as important as Mike Kafka when it comes to replacing an injured star.