PHILADELPHIA – Selections for the new-look Pro Bowl will be announced Friday night. After sending zero representatives from last year’s 4-12 team, the Eagles have a few worthy candidates.
Running back LeSean McCoy is the most obvious. If the NFL leader in rushing and yards from scrimmage isn’t selected, there’s no point in having the game. McCoy set the Eagles’ record for rushing yards in a game with 217 against Detroit. He needs 37 to pass Wilbert Montgomery’s mark of 1,512 rushing yards in a season.
Quarterback Nick Foles is a tougher case. He has started only nine of the Eagles’ 15 games. The team’s record in those games is 7-2. Foles has thrown 25 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, a remarkable ratio. He leads the NFL in passer rating.
Foles might have had a better chance under the old format. Aside from Drew Brees, the NFC quarterbacks with big numbers have some other issues: Matt Ryan and Matthew Stafford are not going to the playoffs. Aaron Rodgers has missed the past six weeks. Tony Romo is injured. Carson Palmer is not exactly a lock.
But this year, players are not being chosen to represent the two conferences. The teams will be selected in a draft in late January. So Foles will also be competing for spots with Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Andy Dalton, as well.
Sometimes a player has to establish himself for a season or two before getting Pro Bowl recognition. It feels like that kind of year for Foles.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson has the rep -- he’s been selected twice -- and the numbers. He isn’t the no-brainer that McCoy is because so many receivers are putting up big numbers this season, but he’s certainly deserving. While Jackson is 14th among NFL wide receivers with 79 catches, his 1,304 yards are eighth most.
With Foles and especially McCoy having such outstanding seasons, the Eagles' offensive line should get some respect. Three players are eminently deserving: left tackle Jason Peters, left guard Evan Mathis and center Jason Kelce.
Peters is a five-time Pro Bowler and has returned from a career-threatening Achilles injury. Those two factors make him the most likely Eagles lineman to be selected.
Mathis is overdue for recognition. Pro Football Focus, which grades every player at every position on every play, has all but anointed Mathis as the best left guard in the game the past couple seasons. He’s smart, tough and durable. It’s his time.
Kelce may be where Mathis was last year. He’s integral to what coach Chip Kelly does on offense.
“He's been huge," Kelly said. “I think everything that we get started on the offensive side of the ball starts with him. He sets the blocking schemes for us. Very, very smart, and a real student of the game. He's really almost the coach on the field for that group, and he takes a little pressure off the quarterback. In some systems, the quarterback is making all those calls, and in our system our center does it, and it's because Jason can handle it, and I think he's been really invaluable to us.”
Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis meant it as a compliment when he said his unit was playing well despite a lack of big stars and Pro Bowlers. But it does seem unlikely the defense will get much play in the All-Star game this season. The most likely candidates – defensive end Fletcher Cox, linebackers DeMeco Ryans and Trent Cole – don’t have stats that catch the eye. And underrated contributors like linebacker Connor Barwin, nickel corner Brandon Boykin and defensive tackle Cedric Thornton are, well, underrated. That makes them long shots by definition.
Punter Donnie Jones has been excellent for the Eagles when they’ve needed him most. His overall numbers -- 21st in average, 11th in net average -- probably will keep him from being selected.