The Pro Bowl will be played tonight in Orlando, Florida and the Eagles are well represented. Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and tackle Jason Peters were initial selections. Center Jason Kelce and running back Darren Sproles were late additions. You could certainly argue that defensive end Brandon Graham and safety Malcolm Jenkins should be in Florida as well.
Which Eagles could be headed to the Pro Bowl in the future?
Graham tops the list.
He was a first alternate this year and really should have been chosen. One of the things that hurt him is he wasn't expected to play at such a high level. Pro Bowl players usually have gaudy stats, come from winning teams, or are veterans who have been selected before and have a strong reputation. Graham fell through the cracks in those areas, but his 2016 season really put him on the map. If he can repeat this performance next season, he will make the Pro Bowl.
Carson Wentz has Pro Bowl potential, but also a tough challenge. He will compete for a Pro Bowl spot with quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Drew Brees, Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford and young guys like Jameis Winston and Dak Prescott. As you can see, that's quite a gauntlet. The Eagles took Wentz second overall because they believe he has the ability to play at the same level as those stars.
Wentz had some great moments in 2016. He showed a strong, accurate arm. He made some terrific throws. His deep ball to Jordan Matthews in the first Redskins game was right on the money and led to a huge gain. Wentz showed the ability to create big plays. Remember the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles in the win over Pittsburgh? That was a great play. Late in the season Wentz made several Houdini-like plays where he avoided rushers in the backfield and then either scrambled for a gain or threw a pass. There was also Wentz running for the touchdown late in the Ravens game. That was a clutch play that gave the Eagles the chance to win.
One thing that will help Wentz is having a better supporting cast. You can conservatively estimate that he would have had another five touchdown passes if receivers just held onto the ball on some plays. If the Eagles can find guys who can make the easy catches and then also make a tough play or two, Wentz's numbers will get a lot better and the Eagles will win more games. Both have to happen for him to make the Pro Bowl.
Wentz might not be the only Eagles "quarterback" to make the Pro Bowl in the future. Jordan Hicks is the quarterback of the defense and he absolutely looks like a guy who will make the Pro Bowl. Most inside or middle linebackers are tackling machines. Hicks goes beyond that. He is a playmaker and that helps his cause quite a bit. This year he had five interceptions, four tackles for loss, a forced fumble, a sack and four fumble recoveries. It is really surprising that Hicks didn't get more votes this year. As with Graham, I don't think other players, fans, or analysts expected him to play at that level. Hicks made a name for himself in 2016 and that will help him get selected in the future.
Tight end Zach Ertz was terrific in the second half of the season. If he can play a full season at that level, he will be a Pro Bowl player in the future. He and Wentz developed good chemistry as the season went along. Ertz has dealt with a lot of change at the quarterback position. I think having Wentz in place will help Ertz be a more consistent threat. Tight ends run a lot of routes that have them in tight spaces and heavy traffic. The tight end and quarterback need to be on the same page in those situations and the only way for that to happen is for them to play together for an extended time.
The Eagles signed Rodney McLeod a year ago to help the back end of the defense. McLeod was great at times and a bit inconsistent at others. Still, he posted some good numbers. He had a career-high three interceptions, tied a career high with seven pass breakups and notched the first sack of his NFL career. He flashed the kind of playmaking ability the Eagles were looking for. McLeod should play even better in 2017. He knows the scheme now and that will help him be more natural on the field. The better you know a scheme, the more you can just play and don't have to think as much.
Isaac Seumalo only started a handful of games, but the rookie offensive lineman showed tremendous potential. He was up and down in his first start against Green Bay, but played well in his next three starts. Seumalo showed good power with his ability to move guys off the ball in the run game. He showed good athleticism with his pass protection. Seumalo was effective blocking on the move and out in space.
Plenty of rookies show this kind of potential. What made Seumalo so impressive is that he did this while starting at left guard, right guard and even right tackle. I was blown away by how effective he was when forced to play at right tackle. Starting on the outside isn't easy for anyone, but for a rookie who isn't a natural tackle to slide out there and play that well was really impressive. That is both mentally and physically challenging.
Seumalo has a good chance to be a starter in 2017. He's the kind of talented blocker you want to get on the field. The only question is where he will line up. That will sort itself out as the team makes moves in the offseason.
Some other Eagles are more of a long shot. Jordan Matthews is a good receiver, but you really need to be elite to make the Pro Bowl at that position. Wendell Smallwood flashed big talent as a rookie, but he needs to show he can be a regular starter before we know what his ceiling is. Caleb Sturgis had an outstanding season for the Eagles in 2016. Kickers need to be near perfect to make the Pro Bowl, so Sturgis has a big challenge in front of him. He's got the leg strength and accuracy to play at that level.
For the Eagles to make the transition to a playoff team and eventually a potential title contender, they will need some of these players to play at a Pro Bowl level. The talent is there. The coaches need to do what they can to get the most out of the players, but the real pressure is on the players themselves.
They have to want to be great. They have to be willing to pay the price in the offseason. You don't get to the Pro Bowl by accident. You need to outwork the other players around the league who are also trying to get there.
Carson Wentz might be the hardest worker on the team and he's also the team leader. That is exactly the example you want for the other young players. With the quarterback leading the way, I feel good about the future for the players and for the Eagles.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com.