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Five Philadelphia Eagles Players to Watch This Season

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2016 is shaping up to be a difficult year for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The team is still recovering from Chip Kelly's tenure. A lot of past stars are gone, leaving rookies or fill-ins in their place. Quarterback Sam Bradford is unhappy about being a placeholder for rookie Carson Wentz. And it's all being run by Doug Pederson, who has zero experience as a head coach.

But there are still talented players on the Eagles roster who shouldn't be overlooked. Players like these, who may be on the verge of a breakout season, are important to consider for fantasy football or while making NFL ATS picks. Here are five Eagles to watch as the 2016 season starts. 

Vinny Curry (DE)  Photo: bleacherreport.com

Curry has often struggled to find a role that fits him in the team's defensive schemes. But Eagles fans love him for his unfailing determination and physicality.

This year, Curry finally has a starting position, a big contract extension, and the praise of new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. All the pieces seem to be in place for him to finally shine. Peter King has already dubbed Curry an "early candidate for breakout defensive player this year."

Chris Givens (WR)

There's plenty of opportunity to be had in the Eagles' wide receiving corps. Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, two of the projected starters, were underwhelming last year -- especially Agholor, who despite being a first-round pick was rated the worst WR in the NFL by Pro Football Focus. A player like Givens, who has the sort of speed the Eagles haven't seen since DeSean Jackson left town, could easily vault up the depth chart with some good performances. Even better for Givens, as he has a great relationship with Bradford from a few years ago when they were both on the Rams.

Wendell Smallwood (RB)

What goes for the WRs goes for the Eagles running back stable as well. Ryan Mathews, the starter, is both injury- and fumble-prone and has played a complete season only once in his career. Darren Sproles is aging and is not an every-down back. Kenjon Barner has been a strong returner for the Eagles but hasn't played much at RB. Smallwood, a fifth round pick, has been noted for his speed, agility, and ability to catch passes out of the backfield, and he could see regular playing time if Mathews goes out. He could end up playing the same role for Pederson that Brian Westbrook played for Pederson's mentor, Andy Reid.

Trey Burton (TE)

Brent Celek, the Eagles' star TE, is nearing the end of his career and is used mostly as a blocker for now. Fans and coaches have been expecting great things from Zach Ertz for a few seasons now, but he's never quite gotten there. So there's plenty of opportunity for Trey Burton, a versatile player who's been a training camp standout. Pederson says he expects to find ways to use Burton, possibly even as a fullback, a position Burton played in college.

Rodney McLeod (S)

The Eagles secondary has been filled with busts the last few seasons, but that may be coming to an end. Schwartz has already said that he expects McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins to be "one of the better safety tandems in the NFL" this season. Since joining the league as an UDFA for the Rams in 2012, McLeod has shown steady improvement, and this might be the year he finally stakes his claim to being a Pro Bowler.

Of course, we won't know until the games actually start whether any of these players will actually live up to their potential. If every player named a "breakout candidate" actually broke out, the NFL would be a much different place. But it never hurts to keep an eye out for hidden talent when making fantasy picks or bets. Even teams going through rocky patches like the Eagles can yield hidden gems.

 

Greg Dastrup is a world traveler and professional writer with a passion for learning new languages. He’s spent most of his career consulting for businesses in North America.

 

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Photo: Bleacher Report