A critical point projecting players for fantasy football is forecasting their roles and the overall context of the team philosophies on both sides of the ball. Entering my second year of this series, we’re going to explore the nuts and bolts of each team to give you actionable takeaways for your fantasy football leagues and best ball drafts. Each of these writeups will be filled to the brim with stunning data visuals from FTN’s own Matt Jones. The series heads to Philadelphia to see if the Eagles soar or crash and burn in 2021.
(PHI HC 2021-Present, IND OC 2018-2020, LAC WR Coach 2016-2017)
After leading the Colts offense for three seasons as their offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni shimmies into the head coaching ranks in the NFL. Sirianni has surrounded himself with colleagues from his previous stops with the Colts (Jonathan Gannon) and Chargers (Shane Steichen) in hopes of rebuilding an Eagles franchise that crashed and burned last year. Sirianni’s on-paper resume is impressive, guiding Indianapolis to top-10 finishes in total points and yards in two of his three seasons at the helm. If the Eagles stay healthy in his first season, the talent exists for this team to make some waves on the offensive side of the ball.
With the combination of Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen at the controls, the Eagles offense is in good hands. Sirianni led multiple Indianapolis offenses that had no issues putting points on the board, finishing his three-year run averaging 0.48 points per drive above the NFL average. They have four seasons of NFL experience piling up yardage between the two of them, averaging 4.8 yards per drive north of the NFL average. While there’s plenty to question about the Eagles in 2021, the upside for this offense should not be part of it.
Eagles - Pace / Pass Rate / Personnel
The pace upside in Philadelphia is sizzling between Sirianni and Steichen’s histories. Last year the Eagles ran the fifth-most plays in negative game scripts (498) and the 11th most in neutral game scripts (719). In those game environments, Sirianni has ranked top seven (3rd, 7th) in trailing game situations and top 18 in neutral scripts (2nd, 18th) in two of three seasons. Steichen dialed up the pace in his only season as the OC, with the Chargers ranking 13th when behind in games and fifth when the score was close. These two coordinators have finished top 14 (first, 14th, 11th) in total pace in three of their combined four seasons. This team has top-10 pace upside in its range of outcomes when you combine the scheme with a team that should often be trailing.
This offense projects to be a balanced attack with a passing rate that likely falls around the league average. Sirianni was a pass-happy play-caller with Andrew Luck at the helm in 2018, ranking sixth (66%) and second (64%) in passing rate when trailing or in neutral situations. He then showed a more run-centric approach with Jacoby Brissett under center in 2019, passing on 59% (32nd) of plays in negative scripts and 52% (30th) when the score was within a touchdown. Philip Rivers brought league average rates out of Sirianni as the Colts on 66% (16th) and 57% (18th) in those same situations. Steichen showed a similar approach with Justin Herbert last season, passing on 65% of trailing plays and 57% in neutral environments. If Jalen Hurts can take a step forward as a passer, then the Eagles will hover around their 2020 marks, but if he can’t, then the team could look closer to Brissett’s tenure.
This season's Eagles personnel assortment will depend on their roster moves before Week 1, but overall, this will be a team based in three-wide receiver sets. Last season the Chargers ranked sixth (71%), and the Colts finished ninth (69%) in 11 personnel usage. Looking at these rates, the high draft pick of DeVonta Smith makes sense, giving them a strong three-wide alignment of Smith, Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. The departure of Doug Pederson could also spell lower percentages of 12 personnel, especially if Zach Ertz is not on this roster before the regular season kicks off. The Chargers were ranked 26th (12%) last year in two tight end sets, while Indy was 17th (21%). Either way, both are noticeably lower than the Eagles 35% (second) snaps with two tight ends last year.
Given Jalen Hurts’ mobility and Sirianni overseeing this offensive design, RPO concepts should be heavily integrated into the scheme. Last year with Philip Rivers’ ancient legs, the Colts still surpassed the NFL average in RPO usage by 2.1%. Sirianni finished 8.1% above the NFL average when he had Brissett as his starter.
Jalen Hurts’ overall passing numbers last year might be an eyesore, but his limited attempts (27) on play-action were fantastic. Hurts ranked first among all quarterbacks with 100 or more dropbacks in completion rate difference (17.9%) and yards per attempt (4.5) difference on play-action throws. Hurts was also 11th in play-action adjusted completion rate (82.6%), finishing immediately behind Dak Prescott. The good news for Hurts is he should see a bump from his 18.9% play-action dropback percentage in 2020. The combination of Rivers and Herbert averaged a 24.4% play-action dropback rate. With two offensive minds in Sirianni and Steichen, who have made wise decisions in the past in crafting a scheme to fit their quarterbacks' strengths, Hurts should enjoy the climb in play-action usage, which could surpass the rates Rivers and Herbert saw.
There’s no denying that Hurts struggled as a downfield passer last year. Hurts ranked 29th out of 38 quarterbacks (with 20 or more deep attempts) in deep adjusted completion rate (35.0%). Considering the depth chart of dusty pass-catchers that Philadelphia rolled out during his stretch as the starter, it’s fair to question why the Eagles asked him to go deep at the seventh-highest rate (13.5%) of all quarterbacks with 20 or more deep attempts. When Greg Ward, Alshon Jeffery, and a struggling rookie like Reagor lead your team in routes, the results probably won’t be pretty. Most of Hurts’ passes will live in the short and intermediate areas of the field in 2021. Rivers (9.9%) and Herbert (11.3%) saw dramatically fewer deep balls in their offensive schemes. As we’ll discuss later, Hurts grew as a deep passer in college, but his strength was in the intermediate portion of the field.
The red-zone offense will look similar to last season in terms of run-to-pass ratios. In 2020 the Chargers and Colts were nearly 50/50 (49-50% pass, 50-51% rush) in the red zone. In Hurts’ full starts, the Eagles passed on 48% of their plays, so look for the team to feature a mix of passing and Hurts’ mobility inside the 20. Miles Sanders should retain the goal-line role that he held over Hurts last year. In Weeks 14-16, Hurst had four red-zone rushing attempts compared to Sanders’ 11.
Fantasy Football Takeaways
Unless you’re projecting a Jalen Hurts injury or for him to be benched, it’s impossible to rank him outside of the top 12 quarterbacks in fantasy football. Hurts is dripping with top-five upside at the position if not higher in 2021. Last year in his three full games as the starter, as a rookie, he was the QB4 in fantasy points per game inside a broken offensive system that wasn’t tailored to his strengths. I dove deep into Jalen Hurts’ history as a passer earlier this offseason and what it meant for this season. In a scheme that will better suit his strengths on top of his equity as a rusher, the sky is the limit. The only person who can hold Hurts back is Hurts.
Miles Sanders will reprise his role as the lead back for Philadelphia. Sanders was the RB8 in fantasy points per game with Hurts under center, and while he likely doesn’t see that type of production in 2021, the floor is still high. Hurts’ mobility will give defenses fits when paired with a rusher of Sanders' talent. Among all running backs with 75 or more rushing attempts last season, he ranked ninth in yards after contact per attempt (3.38). With Sirianni in town, it’s fair to wonder how much of a split we see with passing down backs such as Boston Scott, Kerryon Johnson or Kenneth Gainwell. After watching Jonathan Taylor fight for red-zone work with Nyheim Hines, Sanders' ceiling is likely capped with another back emerging from this backfield and Hurts factoring in near the goal line. His current evaluation as a mid-range RB2 is fair.
The Philadelphia Eagles receivers present a variety of paths to upside in this offense. DeVonta Smith is viewed as the de facto number one here for a good reason. On his way to a dominant Heisman season, he displayed the ability to win at all quadrants of the field. His ultimate ceiling outcome in this offensive system is the Eagles’ version of Keenan Allen. Last year Allen ranked eighth in target share among all wideouts with 26.8%. Now that’s a tall order for any rookie receiver, which is why Philly could deploy a rotational system as Sirianni had with Indy, where the starting receivers all garnered between 13.7-20% target shares. If this is the case, we could see Jalen Reagor surprise people as a sophomore breakout. When Parris Campbell has been healthy, he’s been highly targeted with singular game target shares of 20%, 17.3%, 16.1% and 13.8%. Sirianni has also run his red-zone offense through his slot receiver in back-to-back seasons, with Zach Pascal leading the team in red-zone targets last year and finishing second in 2019. Travis Fulgham will be the field stretcher here in a role he excelled in last year. Despite being limited down the stretch, Fulgham led the team in air yard share (21.6%). He was excellent on deep routes, tying for the team lead in deep targets (15) and ranking 33rd out of 73 wide receivers in deep passer rating (98.1) when targeted. If Hurts doesn't leap forward as a passer, the Eagles could deploy a run-first offense that caps the ceiling and lowers the floor for all of these pass-catchers.
Dallas Goedert stepped forward as the leading tight end for this club, edging out Zach Ertz in target share (17.3% to 17%) with Hurts at the end of the season. Goedert ranked ninth in yards per route run (1.75) among all tight ends and screams as a player deserving of more work. If Ertz stays, both of these players' upside are capped as they averaged 7.7 (Goedert) and 6.0 (Ertz) fantasy points per game with Hurts starting. If or when Ertz is traded, though, the upside is immense under Sirianni, who utilized tight ends heavily in the red zone with Indy. In 2020 the Colts' tight ends garnered 31.0% of their red-zone targets.
Eagles Defensive Coordinator - Jonathan Gannon
(PHI DC 2021-Present, IND CB Coach 2018-2020)
In Jonathan Gannon’s inaugural season as a defensive coordinator, if the Eagles resemble the Colts’ scheme, then they will be based in zone coverage. Last year Philadelphia’s starting corners operated in zone coverage 51.1-52.2% of the time. The Colts starting trio all were in zone coverage on 77.7-77.8% of their snaps. Gannon inherits a former top-tier run defense that could bounce back this year. Last season the Eagles dipped to 13th in rush defense DVOA, but that’s following seasons of ranking eighth and third in the same metric. With Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham still up front, this team should be a top-10 run defense in 2021.
Last year, the Eagles blitzed on 22.2% of their plays (28th), and as low as that rate is, it could decline further with the transition to more zone defense. In 2020 the Colts blitzed on only 17.1% (31st) of their plays. This is not to say Philly wasn’t successful in rushing the passer. Last season they ranked second in pressure rate (27.9%), and they added a former top pass-rush talent in Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan is past his prime, but he can still offer something to push this defense over the top in getting after the quarterbacks as a situational rusher.
The secondary for the Eagles is a big concern, but their latest move, signing Steven Nelson, won’t get the love that it deserves. Nelson will be the top corner on this team in terms of productivity over Darius Slay. Nelson last year in zone coverage allowed a 60.6% catch rate and 59.8 passer rating. The fact that other teams allowed him to languish on the open market this long is a huge win for the Eagles. Slay, meanwhile, is toast after allowing an 88% catch rate (25 targets) and a 108.7 passer rating in coverage last season. With Avonte Maddox assuming the starter’s role in the slot, the Eagles will start below average corners at two of their three starting positions.
Derek has written for Fantasy Data, 4for4, Player Profiler, and as a co-author of the best selling Fantasy Football Black Book Series. His DFS, redraft, and dynasty takes have been projected to the masses with recurring guest roles on Sirius XM and DK Sweat. Born in Louisiana, he is a diehard Saints fan (Whodat). Derek now resides in Fort Worth, Texas, with his beautiful, football-loving wife and three kids.