32 Questions: Philadelphia Eagles
Thirty-two teams, 32 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each NFL team. Be sure to check out all 32 questions.
The prevailing wisdom around the NFL is that the Eagles throw more than any other team in the league. Whether you like it or not, or agree or disagree that it's a smart way to win games, that's what coach Andy Reid has done when Donovan McNabb has been the quarterback. This team annually throws on more than half its offensive plays, and it feels no shame about it.
So if that's the case, why aren't Philly wide receivers in demand on fantasy draft day, and why do Philly receivers rarely seem to put up big stats?
They're not coveted, and don't thrive statistically, which is why the Kevin Curtis signing in the City of Brotherly Love is not likely to send ripples through the fantasy community. In reality, Curtis can have a good season, for Philly standards in this successful Reid/McNabb era, but he's not likely to approach being a top-25 fantasy wide receiving option. I'll explain.
Curtis likely will start along with Reggie Brown, and essentially will take the spot of Donte' Stallworth, who moves on to New England. Although Stallworth appeared to be having a great season in Philly, he really was just having a few great games. Brown was more consistent, but his final numbers are lower than what you probably think: He topped five receptions in a game only once and 100 yards only twice. Brown had what Philly faithful consider a good year but still didn't crack the top 30 in receptions, not only for the league but even in the NFC alone!
Things won't change much this season, which is why we need to inform you of how Philly runs its offense, before you make a draft-day mistake. The wide receivers are out there running routes, but they get used only slightly more than the Maytag repairman. It's all about the running backs and tight ends, silly!
• Last season, the Eagles' top receivers in terms of catches were Brian Westbrook (77 receptions), L.J. Smith (50) and Brown (46). Another running back, Correll Buckhalter, tied for fifth on the team with 24 catches. Ten players caught touchdown passes. Brown led the team in yards, but he still averaged barely 50 per game. Woo-hoo!
• In 2005, Westbrook and Smith led the team in catches, each with 61, and combined for seven of the 21 touchdown receptions for the team. After those guys, Greg Lewis, some guy we've never heard of named Terrell Owens and Brown were next for catches, with 48 being the most. Seven players caught touchdown passes.
• In 2004, Owens had a terrific season, ranking as one of the top wide receivers in the game, with 77 receptions, 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns. That season stands out as one of the best in franchise history, however, and is hardly indicative of a trend of successful wide receivers. Westbrook had only four fewer receptions and was second with six touchdown catches. Smith had five touchdowns.
So, it's pretty clear what the Eagles' philosophy is when it comes to passing. Yes, McNabb, or the quarterbacks playing for him when he's -- typically -- hurt, throw a lot, but plenty of those passes are screens or of a similar short variety. Reid doesn't see why he should run Buckhalter into the line for 3 yards when a short toss on the flank to Westbrook is just as safe, and is likely to deliver a larger gain.
As for the Eagles sans McNabb, it wasn't until last season -- when McNabb tore his knee and thus failed to take a snap in December for the third time in five seasons -- that Reid began to change his game plan. He had backup quarterback Jeff Garcia hand off to Westbrook more, which was the perfect foil for teams expecting the pass. Philly went on to make the playoffs anyway. The wide receivers were actually more productive with McNabb. So even if McNabb gets hurt again, it's unlikely that would make Philly's receiving corps more productive.
If I have doubts Brown can be a fantasy star, what does that say for Curtis, who probably won't see as many passes as Brown? Curtis did fine in spurts for the Rams last season, catching 40 passes for 479 yards and four touchdowns. He's not a breakaway threat like Stallworth or Owens, but he's likely to increase those stats, ever so slightly, across the board just by being on the field more. Yes, Philly passed the ball on 56 percent of its offensive plays, minus the sacks, and that figure was more than 60 percent while McNabb was in there. But it's to whom the Eagles are throwing that affects the value of someone like Curtis.
In ESPN's special fantasy football preview magazine, we ranked Curtis No. 37 among wide receivers, and projected him with 49 catches, 608 yards and five touchdowns. Curtis went No. 32 at the position in our mock draft, snugly in the eighth round, but I don't expect he's going to be much fun owning in fantasy unless he's a bye week fill-in. Philly will get its money's worth, however, because a 50-catch season here is akin to 75 receptions in other places. Remember, statistics don't matter as much in real life, only winning does.
Eric Karabell covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can contact Eric here.