Top Ten Eagles This Decade

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

It would be hard to argue that this has been the most successful decade in Philadelphia Eagles history. Lombardi Trophies may still elude the franchise but from 2000 leading into the 2009 NFL season the Eagles have only missed the playoffs twice. In that same span Andy Reid took the team to the NFC Championship game five times, although only advanced to the Super Bowl once.

Despite the lack of ultimate success the Eagles have been fortunate to be one of the top teams over the past decade. History will label them below the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers when football experts look back at this decade to name the trendy "Team of the 2000's". While they are not the San Francisco 49ers Team of the 80's, or the Dallas Cowboys Team of the 90's, the Eagles will largely be looked upon as the Buffalo Bills of the 90's or the Minnesota Vikings of the 70's or the Denver Broncos of the 80's.

Regardless of team results, the Eagles have possessed some of the top players in the game over the past decade, and today we take a look at the ten best Eagles over the course of the last decade.

10. David Akers, Kicker

Often the kickers are over looked when discussing the best players of all time, or in this case the decade. Not the case here. Some may argue that Akers belongs a little higher on this list, but rest assured Akers is in very good company here.

Akers at one point was thought of as one of the best kickers in the league, and if not for Adam Vinatieri, Akers might have been pegged the best. Akers was selected to the Pro Bowl three times (2001, 2002, 2004) and was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month in October of 2007.

In 2002 Akers connected on 30 of 34 field goals and scored a team record 133 points. He also kicked the longest field goal in franchise history, with a 57 yard field goal against the New England Patriots in the new Lincoln Financial Field.

Last season Akers went over 1,000 career points with the Eagles, firmly putting him in the lead on the franchise all time list.

9. Lito Sheppard, Cornerback

Though not with the team any more it would be hard to suggest that Sheppard was not one of the ten best players in the franchise over the last ten years. Drafted in 2002 Sheppard, along with Sheldon Brown would be the heir apparent to Bobby Taylor and Troy Vincent.

Sheppard was selected to two Pro Bowls (2004, 2006) after he made an impact as a full time player and helped to shut down many of the top wide receivers in the game. Sheppard totaled 18 interceptions for the Eagles since 2003. Of those interceptions, three had been returned for touchdowns.

The highlights of Sheppard's time with the Eagles both come against the Dallas Cowboys in the form of 100+ yard interception returns for touchdowns. He returned an interception 101 yards against the Cowboys in 2004 for a touchdown and returned an interception in 2006 102 yards for another.

8. Chad Lewis, Tight end

Under Reid's play calling a tight end can be Donovan McNabb's most useful tool. Nobody came off more reliable at the position than Chad Lewis, who scored the most memorable touchdown in the NFC Championship game in 2005.

Though his receiving yards dipped each year he was with the Eagles, he always seemed to be a key go to guy in clutch situations and always played smart football. Take for instance in 2004 in a game at the Carolina Panthers. As the game was nearing a close Lewis caught a ball near the sideline. At the time the Panthers defenders were trying to push Lewis out of bounds to stop the clock. Lewis made every effort to drop to his knees in bounds before being shoved out.

Can you picture a guy like L.J. Smith being that football savvy in that situation?

Lewis was selected to three straight Pro Bowls in 2000, 2001, and 2002 for his steady work.

7. Duce Staley, Running back

Staley will forever live in Eagles lore for one game; the pickle juice game. Though his time in Eagles green ended prior to the Eagles making their ultimate Super Bowl run, Staley should be credited with being a key part of the rebuilding process of the franchise.

With McNabb as the quarterback and thus the central figure of the offense both passing and rushing, Staley's numbers may not look impressive, but they should be respected. Staley's averaged 3.6 yards per carry in 2001, 3.8 yards in 2002, and 4.8 yards in 2003. Staley eclipsed the 1,000 yard rushing mark in 2002 as well. His best years came in the late 1990's though as he paved the path for Brian Westbrook to take over the position.

Staley was also a factor in the passing game with McNabb, totaling 626 receiving yards in 2001 and 541 receiving yards in 2002.

6. Tra Thomas, Offensive Tackle

The successes of the offensive players on this list, and the many who did make it, must be given significant credit to the work of the offensive line. Tra Thomas had been a staple at offensive tackle since 1998.

Thomas was handed the task of protecting Donovan McNabb's blind side, and usually came through. It seemed at times that Thomas was being called for a holding penalty at the worst possible times (is there ever a good time for a holding call) but over all Thomas was outstanding.

Thomas was selected to three Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2004) and was an All-Pro selection in 2002. Thomas also played in 165 of 166 games while with the team. Thomas signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this off season.

5. Jon Runyan, Offensive Tackle

Just as Tra Thomas did on the left side of the offensive line, Runyan did on the right side. Though Runyan was not selected to as many Pro Bowls as his counterpart (he was selected to one Pro Bowl in 2002), it is undeniable the impact Runyan had on the offensive line with the Eagles.

Runyan was one of the first premiere free agents under the Reid era, signing with the Eagles before the 2000 season. Runyan was the focus of one of most anticipated line battles in the division, against Michael Strahan of the New York Giants. Strahan got more glory but Runyan held his own against the future Hall of Famer.

Runyan ended last season with a streak of 190 straight games as a starter and had played in every playoff game for the Eagles since joining the team. He was always rock solid and played hurt on occasion.

4. Terrell Owens, Wide Receiver

Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he did for the Eagles when he put on a uniform. In his very brief time with the franchise Owens left an impact on the stat sheets and helped raise the level of play on the team to the next level, which fueled the Eagles to the Super Bowl.

Owens lead the team in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns in 2004 and 2005, which is more remarkable because Owens did not play the final two games in 2004 due to injury and the final nine games in 2005 due to...well...never mind.

The only reason Owens does not make it higher on this list is because of his shorter playing time with the Eagles. There is no doubt that he is by far the best receiver the Eagles had in the last decade, and some might say ever, but unfortunately the top three players had more impact over a longer course of time.

3. Brian Westbrook, Running back

What ranks Westbrook third is not just his tremendous play out of the back field but the way he started his Eagles career returning kicks as well.

The gem of the third round of the 2002 NFL Draft was initially groomed to take over the kick returning job that veteran Brian Mitchell had been handling on the team. After Mitchell was gone from the picture all eyes were quickly on Villanova alum Westbrook and he did not disappoint.

On October 19, 2003 Westbrook caught the attention of the NFC East and the rest of the NFL when he returned a punt against the New York Giants all the way for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. The Eagles held on to win 14-10. That moment is largely credited with turning the season around as well as the Eagles went on to the NFC Championship game later that year.

Westbrook has lead the Eagles in rushing each of the past six seasons and has eclipsed 1,200 yards rushing twice. In addition to dazzling with his feet Westbrook has been even more dangerous catching passes. To date Westbrook has recorded over 3,000 receiving yards and is a threat to pick up about 50 receiving yards every game.

Westbrook has been selected to two Pro Bowls (2004, 2007) and has usually been a victim of the running scheme under Reid, as his rushing totals tend to pale in comparison to more traditional running backs in the NFC through the years.

2. Brian Dawkins, Safety

Some might argue that Dawkins is in fact the greatest Eagle over the past decade. I hear your argument. No player has been as symbolic of the success and the failure of the Eagles defense like Dawkins. No player has epitomized the passion of the rabid Eagles fan base like Dawkins. The guy is a Hall of Fame caliber player.

Among his successes with the Eagles includes a franchise best six Pro Bowl selections and four All-Pro selections. Need a big play in the clutch, whether it be a tackle or a forced fumble or fumble recovery? Dawkins is the player to watch.

In his time in Eagles green Dawkins recorded 21.0 sacks, 34 interceptions, and forced 32 fumbles. Who could forget Dawkins' performance against the Cowboys last December when he single handily turned the game from a close contest to a blow out en route to the playoffs?

Dawkins' legacey with the Eagles will always be one in which players smile and share their favorite Dawkins plays. Let's be honest, everybody probably has a different favorite Dawkins play, right? The flying tackle against the Giants? The Alge Crumpler tackle in the chest? The over the back wrestling inspired tackle against the Redskins?

Surely just these memories alone leave a lasting image in your mind.

At this point it should be obvious who the number one Eagle this decade is...

1. Donovan McNabb, Quarterback

You had to believe that the top player on this list would come down to McNabb or Dawkins, right? As great as Dawkins had been, nobody could be more of a factor in the resurgence of Eagles football like the quarterback, McNabb.

McNabb use to dazzle fans with his running ability but has lost some of that spark in recent years. Today it seems many fans fall in to two categories; Those Who Love, and Those Who Detest.

Those Who Detest will point to the many failures McNabb has had in his pro career; heaving on the line, killing worms in the turf, and throwing interceptions in pressure spots.

Those Who Love will back McNabb up, and rightfully so, saying that there are only a handful of quarterbacks who have achieved more than he has. Maybe McNabb has not won a Super Bowl yet but he has done much more to improve the Eagles' chances than he has done to hurt them.

McNabb has been selected to five Pro Bowls, coming from 2000 to 2005 and has had just two losing seasons including his first season as a starter in 1999. His only other losing season came in 2005 when he went 4-5 in an injury shortened season. In 2004 McNabb was also named the NFC Offensive Player of the Year.

McNabb, though criticized for his failures in the post season, has thrown 23 touchdowns and run for four touchdowns in the playoffs. He is also creeping up on some significant milestones in the upcoming NFL season. McNabb will start the 2009 season with 194 career touchdowns and 29,320 passing yards. How many quarterbacks have 200 touchdowns and 30,000 passes?

So there you have it, the top ten Eagles this decade. Who would you insert on this list and who you take off to make room? Is somebody too high? Too low? Or is this list just right? Feel free to submit your thoughts in the comments.

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