After going over the offense and defense, I now move on to the special teams, arguably the best part of the Eagles this past season. Or, at least one can say it’s the most improved. Some people even ranked the Eagles as having the best special teams in the league, an incredible feat for a team that has struggled in that area for some years now. They were talented across the board in all aspects of special teams and it really gave them an edge.
It all started with them deciding to go with rookie K Cody Parkey over Alex Henery, who not only struggled in their playoff game last year, but also struggled in the preseason. Parkey was nailing field goals left and right in the preseason and turned out to be one of the best kickers in the league, making the All-Rookie team and an alternate for the Pro Bowl. He finished the season 32/36 in field goals with a long of 54 yards. He made all 54 of his extra points and actually made all four of his 50+ yarders. Now I’m not saying this will be the case, but Henery had a great rookie year and dropped off after that, so hopefully Parkey continues to do well.
Punter Donnie Jones continued to be brilliant at pinning the ball inside the 20, doing so on 34 of his 76 punts, tying for the lead in the NFL. Jones struggled a bit with net yards per punt and total yards per punt, finishing 19th and 27th respectively. But, this is sometimes the case when a team is going for a shorter punt to pin it inside the five yard line instead of kicking a field goal or going for it. Either way, he had another very solid year and will be back next year.
In terms of returning, Darren Sproles was excellent as a punt returner, leading the league in both yards per return and punt return touchdowns. Josh Huff and Chris Polk were the main kick returners, each of whom had a kick return touchdown of over 100 yards during the season. Both Huff and Polk finished with high kick return averages, although it was likely a bit skewed due to their long touchdowns. It’s rare you see a team’s goal line back doing the kick returning, but Polk is surprisingly good at it.
This offseason, the Eagles went out and got some special teams aces, and it helped them immensely. The additions of Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman in free agency were huge for their kick and punt return coverage. In fact, Maragos even made it as a first alternate for special teams players for the Pro Bowl. Trey Burton also surprised many by having a great year on special teams, making the All-Rookie team along with Parkey. He barely made the roster, but he was very valuable to their special teams operations. Maragos and Burton both had return touchdowns on special teams, and Braman and Burton each had blocked kicks.
Overall, the special teams saved the Eagles many times when their offense was struggling to do anything. All of these guys should be back next year and many of them are young, meaning they should be around for a while. If they can continue to have one of the best special teams groups in the league, it will give them the edge when their offense and defense start to figure themselves out.