Are 2018 Eagles Better Or Worse on Special Teams? - NBC 10 Philadelphia
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Philadelphia Eagles

Are 2018 Eagles Better Or Worse on Special Teams?

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    Often overlooked, special teams have been front and center for the Eagles this offseason thanks to tough decisions on two key veterans.

    Pro Bowl return specialist Darren Sproles decided not to call it quits after a knee injury ended his 2017 prematurely and re-signed with the Eagles. Punter Donnie Jones, on the other hand, also changed his mind about riding off into the sunset, but instead of returning to the team, he was released.

    Are the Eagles better or worse for handling the situations the way they did?

    Better

    Punt returner

    A legitimate weakness last season - quite possibly the Eagles' only weakness - was at punt returner. Kenjon Barner was neither dangerous nor reliable in 2017. After ripping off a 76-yard gain in his second game, Barner (now the Panthers' problem) averaged 5.7 yards per return with four muffed of 22 punts over his final 14 contests.

    Sproles may be 35 and attempting to return from a torn ACL. In four seasons with the Eagles, he's averaged 12.5 yards per return and muffed four total punts out of 95 chances.

    If nothing else, Sproles is safe. He may very well lose a step. You won't worry about the ball winding up on the carpet. And when the offense is as loaded as the Eagles', securing the punt is half the battle.

    Worse

    Punter

    Cameron Johnston is probably a nice young man. He's also kind of ripped for a punter, for what it's worth. Yet, the idea Johnston, a rookie, could be an upgrade over Jones with 14 years of NFL experience is farfetched, to say the least.

    For whatever reason - perhaps financial, perhaps Jones' wavering commitment - the Eagles decided to move on from the best punter in franchise history. Regardless, Johnston has little hope of living up to that mantle in 2018. In time, who knows, but there are certain to be growing pains along the way.

    The same

    Jake Elliott

    You could argue Elliott has nowhere to go but up after a tremendous rookie season. Many kickers steadily improve with time in the NFL. Others lose confidence and regress. It's a fickle position, with only a handful of players able to demonstrate consistency over years.

    Elliott has already demonstrated some of the streakiness that comes with the job, missing five extra points including playoffs. He also hit field goals of 50 yards or more in six games, while booming more than half of his kickoffs for touchbacks. The 23-year-old is a natural - as long as he can keep his head on straight.

    The unknown

    Kickoffs

    Difficult to know what will become of kick returns for any of the NFL's 32 teams. Offseason rule changes to overhaul the kickoff are expected to make the play more closely resemble a punt, but coaches will obviously look for wrinkles the rest of us mere mortals haven't even imagined.

    It could be a positive for the Eagles, who in Sproles have one of the game's most accomplished punt returners. Then again, there's no telling who will be back there, or what kickoffs will even look like, so who can say?

    Better or worse?

    When the most important special teams' departure is the punter on a team that goes for it on fourth down a lot anyway, that's not bad.

    In all seriousness, getting Sproles back is such a big deal from a ball security standpoint. Teams captain Chris Maragos should also return from a knee injury, bolstering coverage units that lost Trey Burton (Bears) and Bryan Braman (unsigned) to free agency.

    If Sproles turns out to be a weapon on kickoffs, that really swings this in the Eagles' favor. Even still, a strong possibility they're BETTER.

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