When running back Corey Clement and defensive end Josh Sweat were placed on season-ending Injured Reserve this week, they represented the 12th and 13th players shelved for the year – 12 of them on IR and one (safety Chris Maragos) on the Physically Unable to Perform list. It’s a staggering number that has, no matter how you look at it, had a tremendous impact on the performance of the team.
No excuses, just facts. Here is a ranking of the 12 players and the way their absences have altered the Eagles’ plans in 2018.
Rodney McLeod, S
Injured in the Week 3 game against the Colts, McLeod’s loss was a huge blow to the defensive secondary. His versatility to cover sideline to sideline, a cornerback in a safety position if you will, was a terrifically valuable asset to the defense. McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins formed a dynamic duo in the deep secondary. They knew what the other was thinking. They were interchangeable. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz did a lot of things with the two of them.
Without McLeod and his cover skills and his sure tackling, the Eagles scrambled. They started Corey Graham in Tennessee the following week but had breakdowns late in the game and in overtime in the secondary. Then they were forced to move rookie nickel cornerback Avonte Maddox to McLeod’s spot and, while Maddox acquitted himself in a promising fashion, he lacked experience and his move thinned the depth at cornerback. Maddox, by the way, hasn’t played since injuring his knee in New Orleans, another casualty that has decimated the secondary.
Ronald Darby, CB
Remember the opening-night win over Atlanta when Darby had a career-best five passes defensed and was all over the field with his speed and sure tackling? Seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it? Darby was lost for the season when he went down on November 11 against Dallas with the team still very much in the hunt in the NFC East. Without Darby, the Eagles lost a player who could match up with speedy receivers, who could turn and run and stick with pass catchers down the field. Darby wasn’t a shutdown corner, but he played with energy and he competed on every snap and the Eagles have certainly missed all of that along with his athleticism.
Jay Ajayi, RB
Limited to only four games (Ajayi missed the win over Indianapolis with a back injury), Ajayi was lost for good when he suffered a knee injury in the loss against Minnesota and a running game that entered the season with high hopes – Ajayi had three touchdowns in his first two games this season – has been spotty. Rookie Josh Adams has had flashes and he’s unquestionably a big-play back, but the Eagles really missed Ajayi’s hard-charging, explosive ways and his nose for the end zone.
Derek Barnett, DE
His numbers weren’t huge in the six games he played – 2.5 quarterback sacks and 15 quarterback hits/hurries – but Barnett was an important part of the Eagles’ defensive end rotation, the cornerstone of the defense. The blueprint for the defense is to stop the running game, which is something the Eagles did well in that early part of the season, and then wear offenses down with pass-rushing depth. In his second season, Barnett played with a burst and energy and he was part of an outstanding nickel pass rush. A shoulder injury kept him out of the Minnesota game and then he was shut down for good prior to the team leaving for London to play Jacksonville.
Jalen Mills, CB
Injured (foot) in the game against Jacksonville, Mills was unable to recover sufficiently to play the remainder of the season, a huge loss to a defensive secondary already reeling with injuries. Say what you will about Mills, but his tenacity and his competitiveness have been assets to the Eagles’ defense since he joined the team as a seventh-round draft pick in 2016. Mills has 25 starts since that time and he’s led the team in fearlessness. He’s been missed a lot in the last five games.
Corey Clement, RB
After an outstanding rookie season and a promising start to 2018, Clement suffered a quadriceps injury in Week 3, missed two games because of the injury, struggled to get back to form for most of the rest of the season and just when he was back on his game, Clement went down against Dallas with a right knee injury and is done for the year. He faces a long offseason of rehabilitation, but the expectation is that Clement will be ready to go for Training Camp next summer. The Eagles were counting on Clement to provide a 1-2 punch with Ajayi in the backfield and, obviously, injuries ruined that blueprint.
Paul Worrilow, LB
Signed as an unheralded unrestricted free agent in the spring, Worrilow was expected to compete for a starting job at weakside linebacker when he went down with a torn ACL in the first spring practice. Perhaps that was an indication of the kind of season ahead from a health standpoint for the Eagles. At the very least, Worrilow would have provided veteran, quality depth across the linebacker board for the defense. We never had a chance to find out about his game.
Mike Wallace, WR
Signed essentially as a vertical threat in the passing game to replace the traded Torrey Smith, Wallace suffered a fractured ankle against Tampa Bay in Week 2. There was some discussion that he would return at some point this season, but that has not been the case. Wallace did not register a catch in the two regular season games he played.
Josh Sweat, DE
The best of Sweat is ahead as a speed rusher with length. In his rookie season, Sweat played in nine games and saw action in a total of 68 defensive snaps with four total tackles. What Sweat misses out on being on IR is reps in the final three weeks of the season. Sweat is going to be counted on for 2019 as the Eagles consider their options with an aging core at the defensive end position.
Mack Hollins, WR
Hollins caught 16 passes and scored a touchdown, a 64-yarder against Washington, in his rookie season and showed enough ability that the Eagles penciled him in for a significant role in this year’s offense. Maybe Hollins wouldn’t start, but he would have some role working into the receiver rotation and serving as a core player on special teams. But a groin injury from the spring/summer didn’t go away and Hollins hasn’t played a lick this season. He would have helped as a big target and a deep threat and he certainly would have helped on special teams.
Joshua Perkins, TE
Perkins played some quality reps as a “move” tight end, an F receiver in this offense. He’s an athletic guy and the Eagles went his way quite a bit early on – Perkins had four receptions in Tampa against the Bucs. Perkins’ knee injury coincided with the return of Richard Rodgers from IR, so the Eagles kept a quality three-man depth chart at the position.
Chris Maragos, S (PUP)
His knee injury suffered in Carolina last year never healed and Maragos has been a spectator all season. Too bad. Maybe he could have helped some at safety. He absolutely would have been a force on special teams.
Elie Bouka, CB
A star at the University of Calgary, Bouka was signed to a reserve/future contract early in 2018 and then was placed on Injured Reserve in May. He previously spent time with the Cardinals in the preseasons of 2016 and 2017.
Keep in mind that the above list only mentions players on Injured Reserve. Indeed, there have been many other players hurt throughout the season. Running back Darren Sproles missed 10 games with a hamstring injury. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan has played in only one game. Middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (calf) and Maddox haven’t played since the loss in New Orleans. Cornerback Sidney Jones has missed four games and been unable to finish three other games because of a hamstring injury. Wide receiver Alshon Jeffery didn’t play the opening three games as he worked his way back from offseason shoulder surgery.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, who hasn’t practiced this week with what head coach Doug Pederson said was “a little bit of back soreness, a little tightness,” didn’t play in the first two games as he continued his rehab from last season’s knee injury. On and on goes the list.
Injuries, yes, they are part of the game and, facts are facts, they have had a significant effect on the Eagles in 2018.