Chip Kelly entered the NFL by storm by putting up huge numbers with his offensive scheme both in yards and in points. Kelly’s offense was molded to fit in to the NFL; though there were similar traits such as tempo that he brought with him from Oregon.
What I wanted to do here is take a look at the personnel and depth that the Eagles had when Kelly took over Andy Reid’s 4-12 team from the year before in comparison to the current personnel that the 49ers will have heading in to this season. In 2013, Chip Kelly’s offense ranked 2nd (6,676 yards) in the NFL; 4th in scoring (27.6).
The defense wasn’t quite as good for them as the offense was in 2013 but were able to hold their own. While they were ranked toward the bottom of the league (29th) in yards given up, they were still relatively average in points given up (17th).
Below, I want to look at the positional groups of what Kelly had to start with in Philadelphia and what the 49ers currently have now to see how close the potential of doing what Kelly did in 2013 would be.
In 2013, the Eagles began the year with Michael Vick as the quarterback. It was not long before he was injured and rookie, Nick Foles stepped in and blazed trails throwing 27 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions. 7 of those touchdowns came in one game which tied the league record for touchdowns thrown in a single game.
The 49ers quarterback situation is a little bit more up in the air as things stand now. Between Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick, a starter of the two has yet to be named. The preseason games will determine who will line up behind cetner week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football but word out of camp has been that Gabbert currently has the edge. He has a very quick release like Vick and Foles had in Philly which makes him the front runner to fit in the scheme that Kelly runs in his NFL offense.
Last year, Gabbert was very efficient in making any throw on the field. His down field completion percentage increased dramatically from the time he spent with the Jaguars and his average per pass was nearly an entire yard more than Kaepernick’s.
Shady McCoy was at the top of his game in 2013. He ran for over 1,600 yards and caught the ball for an additional 500-plus. He scored 11 times. He was essentially the heart beat and life line to the offense.
Kelly plans on using Carlos Hyde as the main feature in his offense with the 49ers as he did with McCoy. Hyde has an injury which put him on the IR relatively early last season but has reported that he feels 100% this camp so far. It’s tough to predict how much time he will get in the preseason but come week 1, we should see a heavy dose of Carlos Hyde. With that said, it may not all be ground attack. Hyde may also see his fair share receiving out of the back field to keep the aggressive Rams defensive line at bay; along with the rest of the division.
Torrey Smith is no Desean Jackson but he is similar in the sense that he can stretch the field. He’s a burner. Smith will be considered as the 49ers #1 wide receiver unless someone like Bruce Ellington (also a burner) or DeAndre Smelter just explodes on to the scene in this offense. The Eagles second wide receiver was Riley Cooper, a big possession type of receiver. Beyond that, the 2013 Eagles did not exactly have the deepest wide receiving corps but they managed to put up big numbers.
It was a very balanced approach both in the run and pass. Almost even in yards per game in each category. The Niners have the same sort of personnel as the Eagles had at their disposal in Chip’s rookie year coaching.
The two main guys for the Eagles were Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Both had very productive years and caught a significant amount of touchdowns in the RedZone. They combined for 68 receptions, 971 yards, and 10 touchdowns. This illustrates how much Chip utilized the tight ends in this offense.
Garrett Celek (brother to Brent) and Vance McDonald are expected to be the two main tight ends in 2016 for the Niners. Gabbert had very good chemistry toward the back half of the year with these two players. The fullback position has been converted in to another tight end position so Bruce Miller, who was very good at catching the ball out of the back field could very well get in on the action too. There may be times that the Niners line up with 3 tight ends.
Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, and Evan Mathis were all Pro Bowlers in 2013. Their offensive line and the zone blocking scheme showcased their strengths. It is very similar this year with the Niners offensive line in Joe Staley, Zane Beadles, and Anthony Davis. Both teams drafted rookie offensive linemen high; the 2013 Eagles with Lane Johnson and this years 49ers with Joshua Garnett. The 2013 Eagles had a dominant offensive line so the 49ers and their players for this unit will have their work cut out to live up to that level of play.
Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, and rookie Bennie Logan held down the defensive line well. With that said, I do believe that the 49ers might actually be in a bit better shape along theirs. With two back to back first round picks in Arik Armstead and DeForest Buckner (teammates at Oregon under Chip Kelly), and whoever fills the nose tackle position between Quinton Dial, Glenn Dorsey, Darren Lake, or Mike Purcell could be one of the best in the NFL.
The 49ers dominated defensively when they had Ray McDonald, Isaac Sopoaga, and Justin Smith paving the way from the linebackers behind them to make plays. Both Armstead and Buckner have draw comparisons to Calais Campbell, who has been a dominant force up front for a few years now for the Cardinals. So if they both live up to that potential, the thought of not one but two Calais Campbell’s coming at you is frightening.
Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Mychal Kendricks, and DeMeco Ryans is one helluva linebacking corps. I’m not sure if the Niners will be able to match up here but I also won’t count it out. The main difference here is that all four of the Eagles linebackers had made names for themselves in the NFL already. The 49ers with Ahmad Brooks, Navorro Bowman, Gerald Hodges Jr., and Aaron Lynch or Eli Harold still have to gel as a unit. Two of the five linebackers listed for the Niners do have playoff and Super Bowl experience under their belts (Brooks and Bowman) as well as Pro Bowls.
While I am forced to give the edge to the Eagles here due to inexperience for the 49ers, the 49ers do have the potential to be even better production wise.
Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams were solid corners in 2013 but they also were prone to mental errors from time to time. The Eagles pass defense was not what it could have been under Billy Davis. I do feel like this was Philadelphia’s weak link. The secondary as whole was the biggest liability in games. That being said, they did manage to get turnovers in crucial times to swing momentum.
The 49ers are still trying to figure out the best combination of corners to start this year. This will be one of the biggest competitions throughout the course of the preseason. I do not believe that there is even one corner position set in stone. While Brock and Ward have been receiving most of the first team reps, the 49ers have very good players in Dontae Johnson, Keith Reaser, and Kenneth Acker. They also drafted 3 corners in this years draft in Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson, and Prince Charles-Iworah.
This position is the toughest to compare because the Niners are still trying to sort it out. Considering that the Eagles players at this position struggled at times, it’s not easy to make a case that the Niners players here would be worse.
Patrick Chung and Nate Allen are not Pro Bowl caliber and it showed in 2013 in trying to protect the back end and big plays from happening. While the Niners Eric Reid and Antoine Bethea (when healthy) were playing they were not perfect. However both Reid and Bethea have appeared in Pro Bowls. Second round draft pick Jacquiski Tartt is another big hitting threat that will come in for special packages to put fear in the hearts of the opposing offenses.
There is no question or argument that the 49ers have the edge in this department. If the front seven can provide pressure, like I believe they will, Reid, Bethea, and Tartt all should have very productive years. A lot more productive than Allen and Chung in 2013 anyway.
Obviously there are no two players exactly the same but there can be similarities in skill sets. Some of the skill sets of the 49ers current projected roster are similar to that of the Eagles in Chip Kelly’s first couple of seasons as a pro football head coach.
I do not expect the Niners to go to the Super Bowl. I am a realist and I understand that it takes time to build something that can hold water and sustain it. But the 49ers, despite what the national media seems to think, or know (because lets face it, most of them know nothing about west coast sports), they do have pieces that can gel this season and work.
I can see this teams floor as a 7 win season but it wold not totally shock me to see them win 10 and sneak in to the playoffs as a wild card playoff team.