Every year the Philadelphia Eagles and every other team will usually have at least one player who breaks out and has a great season. Defining a “breakout” player can be confusing so for the purpose of this article I will define a breakout player as a player who will have a significantly better season than they have had previously. Last years Eagles breakout players would include quarterback Nick Foles, wide receiver Riley Cooper and cornerback Brandon Boykin.
Tight End Zach Ertz
Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz has a great chance to improve on a promising rookie campaign and breakout this season. By developing his blocking as the season progressed he saw his playing time increase and he took advantage of it. He has every opportunity to win the starting tight end job by the time the season starts if he continues to improve his blocking and should see a lot of playing time. Ertz impressed when on the field last year and he constantly created mismatches as head coach Chip Kelly had him play in the slot a lot due to his athletic ability. He is too quick for most linebackers to cover but is also too big and physical for cornerbacks to cover so he presents a dilemma for defensive coordinators. Ertz quickly became a favorite target of quarter Nick Foles because of his extremely impressive skill set. When on the field last year he showed that he was a very smooth athlete considering his size and made some great catches in traffic. Ertz showed his potential in the week 13 game against the Arizona Cardinals where he caught 2 touchdowns and 68 yards against a top defense and looked incredibly fluid running routes. I expect Foles to have an exceptional season next year and I think Ertz will benefit from great quarterback play and has the ability to have a breakout season.
Defensive End Vinny Curry
Eagles defensive end Vinny Curry has been a personal favorite player of mine since he was drafted. Curry showed exceptional talent rushing the quarterback in college and his skill set has translated well to the NFL level. Although he struggled to get on the field last year because of a change in scheme and being stuck behind 2 talented young defensive ends (Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton) he has the chance this year to be featured a lot more. Curry has reportedly bulked up about 10-12 pounds in the offseason to help him fit the 3-4 scheme and this should help him improve his play against the run where he can occasionally be pushed around by offensive tackles. When Curry was on the field last year he excelled as a pass rush specialist and was by far the most effective Eagle at pressuring the quarterback. Against the Oakland Raiders he had his playing time increase slightly and played in 35 snaps and managed to pressure the quarterback a ridiculous 6 times as well as picking up 1 sack (per Pro Football Focus). Current starting defense end Cedric Thornton was very good last year against the run but struggled to rush the quarterback. In a passing league head coach Chip Kelly knows the Eagles need to pressure opposing quarterbacks better in 2014 and I expect Curry to see increased playing time because of his ability to rush the quarterback and use it to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
Inside Linebacker Mychal Kendricks
Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks has all the talent and athletic ability to be a top linebacker in the NFL, however his first 2 seasons have been plagued by inconsistency. Kendricks began last season extremely poorly and missed a combined 8 tackles in the first 3 games of the season (per Pro Football Focus). Nonetheless, Kendricks showed his ability towards the end of the season as he became more familiar with the new scheme. He became a lot more effective rushing the quarterback as well as improving his tackling as the season progressed. With Chip Kelly seemingly placing an emphasis on improving the Eagles pass rush this year, I expect the Eagles to blitz Kendricks a lot more as he was very effective rushing the quarterback in college and showed potential to get pressure last year. It is very easy to forget that Kendricks is only 23 years old and still has the chance to improve a great deal over the offseason. If he can improve his tackling and his skills in coverage, he should be able to have a very productive season as he always seems to be near the ball due to his elite speed. 2014 is an important season for Kendricks as he is eligible for a new contract after this season and I believe he has to show a big improvement in 2014 to earn a new contract. The Eagles will not want to offer him a long term contract if he continues to show the deficiencies he has shown over the last 2 years. I believe he has the talent and athletic ability to improve on his weaknesses and have a great season as he should become more familiar in the new scheme.