As these final weeks of the off-season linger, analysts around the Internet globe are spending their time "ranking" players at every position in the league, establishing a quasi-pecking order of star power. Asante Samuel is here in one ranking, Brian Westbrook is there in another and Donovan McNabb is among the best of the best in the list over there.
What does it mean? Well, nothing really. But it is interesting to talk a little about how this roster has evolved over the years. Andy Reid came to Philadelphia and cleaned house and rallied around a defense that already had some pieces in place and then added to both sides of the ball in the draft, in free agency and in every other conceivable method of acquiring talent.
By the early 2000s, the Eagles had as talented a roster as any team in the league. Oh, they may not have had the best receivers, or the best tight end or pass-rushing defensive bookends, but the sum of the talented parts was impressive, indeed. Throughout the decade, the Eagles sent a strong quantity of representatives to the Pro Bowl: five players following the 2000 season, six after the 2001 season, 10 players after the 2002 campaign.
In 2004, of course, the Eagles were by far the class of the NFC. The roster was loaded with star-power talent, including McNabb and Westbrook, and wide receiver Terrell Owens and offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan and a defense that still had its oomph. Ten Eagles were part of the NFC's Pro Bowl team.
Since 2004, the Eagles have gone through quite a change. Down seasons in 2005 and 2007 -- no playoffs in either season -- signaled a changing of the roster. Younger players were needed to fill the void caused by the aging of some key veterans and so the Eagles knew that to again "open the window" of opportunity, they had to hit big in their player personnel acquisitions.
They've done that. And you can look at what you think is a "star-quality" player and see that the Eagles have a lot of them. Now, they all may not turn out to be Pro Bowl players, but the Eagles certainly have their share of excellent players. Let's take a look ...
David Akers, kicker
Big leg, terrific on kickoffs and with range of 50-plus yards, David Akers remains one of the best place kickers in the league. He worked through some issues last season to end up with a good, strong season, converting 33 of 40 field goal attempts. Akers remains fit as a fiddle and he was booming field goals of 59 yards in the spring. Kicking in the wind and the wintry conditions at Lincoln Financial Field won't be as easy, but Akers remains an outstanding kicker in this league.
Stewart Bradley, middle linebacker
It's going to be interesting to see what kind of season Stewart Bradley has after his outstanding first year of playing middle linebacker. The expectations are very, very high. Bradley should be more comfortable in the middle from the start of the season, and his range and downhill abilities rate highly already. Is Bradley the next great Eagles middle linebacker? We're going to find out this season. He is expected to lead this defense to greatness.
Asante Samuel, cornerback
A Pro Bowl cornerback and a great free-agent signing, Asante Samuel is one of the best cornerbacks in the game, hands down. And he is clearly the best big-play cornerback in the post-season -- we all saw that first hand last year. Samuel gives the Eagles a presence at cornerback that offenses have to account for. Quarterbacks can't throw lazy passes in his direction. Samuel can take top receivers out of the game. It is a good situation to have as Samuel leads a deep and talented group at the corner spots.
Donovan McNabb, quarterback
Obviously, Donovan McNabb deserves to be on every best-of list. He has his faults, of course, but McNabb has all the tools, makes all the throws and is a winner. All it is going to take for McNabb to be considered an all-time great in the NFL is a Super Bowl victory. It is certainly a large, agonizing task. McNabb is ready to lead the offense to great heights this year with a fine supporting cast, a good defense and promising special teams lined up.
Jason Peters, offensive tackle
Jason Peters made two Pro Bowls in Buffalo and while he hasn't yet played for the Eagles, the supposition is that he is going to get even better with Juan Castillo as his line coach. Peters has the desired size, strength and athletic ability to dominate at left tackle for a long, long time with this football team. And while there is a bit of leap of faith here since Peters has to transition to a new system, the expectation is that Peters will elevate his game with Castillo in place.
Brian Westbrook, running back
Should his rehab go as expected, Brian Westbrook will be healthy and ready to go in the regular season. Even as he labored through injuries in 2008, Westbrook scored 14 touchdowns and was a difference-making player in playoff wins over Minnesota and the Giants. He forced the Giants to game plan specifically for him. So ... a healthy Westbrook makes all the difference in the world for this offense.
Trent Cole, defensive end
This is a special player, Pro Bowl or not, 15 sacks in a season or not. Trent Cole plays with so much energy that he forces blocking schemes to account for him. Cole plays the run hard and he has so much speed and power that his pass-rushing attempts open avenues for the blitz and other linemen. The Eagles need another consistent pass rusher to take some of the pressure off of Cole, who is clearly one of the better ends in the NFC.
Quintin Mikell, safety
Good to know that Quintin Mikell has reached the elite level. He had an exceptional season in 2008 and is looking for more in 2009. Mikell's versatility is key, and he has the master key to this scheme. Without Brian Dawkins next to him, it will be interesting to see how much national attention Mikell receives this season. Good player, tough player and his intelligence and good athletic skills make him a big-time contributor in this defense.
Shawn Andrews, offensive tackle
If he still played guard, Shawn Andrews would easily be on the national best-of lists. But he is out at tackle, and there is going to be an adjustment period, and, well, you don't know what is going to happen at the new position. But Andrews has every bit of the ability to be a superstar right tackle. His feet are amazing, his strength is there and he knows the technique. Andrews made good strides in the spring. We'll get a better gauge in training camp.
Mike Patterson, defensive tackle
There is nothing flashy about Mike Patterson, but he sure is consistent and reliable and about as technically perfect as you will find at defensive tackle. Patterson needs more sacks to gain national acclaim, but he is already known around the league for his run-stopping skills. The coaching staff, trust me, loves what Patterson brings to the table.