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Eagles midseason awards: Carson Wentz MVP, Jalen Mills most improved

A detailed breakdown of the best of the Eagles through nine games.

Offensive MVP: Carson Wentz, QB

“The most humble guy you’ll come across.”

That’s how Wentz’ coach described him to reporters heading into the Eagles’ bye. The Eagles quarterback’s nature as appraised by Doug Pederson is even more impressive now that his fame has exploded outside the Philadelphia bubble. With the Eagles first in division, conference, and the NFL at 8-1, Wentz is the mid-season favorite for league MVP.

He sets a record pace for touchdowns by a Philadelphia quarterback each week, and now has 23 through nine games. He has 17 scoring throws over the last five weeks. He’s averaging 15 more yards per game passing in his sophomore season, despite throwing an average of six less passes a game. Several of his most memorable plays (more on that later) have come on the ground, where he’s already surpassed his 2016 totals in rushing.

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Where Wentz has been the most exceptional is where it has mattered most. He’s lead NFL quarterbacks in third down statistics all season and is the main reason the Eagles’ redzone offense is humming. The Eagles bet on Carson Wentz in the draft a year ago, bet on him when they traded Sam Bradford, and bet on him again when they made their signings this off-season. It’s time to collect their winnings.

Defensive MVP: Malcolm Jenkins, S

A season ago, Jenkins was relied on to take 99.9 percent of defensive snaps. This year, he and Rodney McLeod have some help. At safety, that depth came in the form of signing Corey Graham, whose arrival allowed the Eagles to give Jaylen Watkins more work at corner, trade Terrence Brooks, and drop McLeod’s snap percentage to 80.7 through nine games this season. The change in Jenkins playtime? All the way down to 98.3%, second only to Jalen Mills on the defense.

What Graham’s arrival has allowed is for Jenkins’ snaps to come from an ever greater variety of spots on the football field. Long-used by the Eagles as a nickel corner (and a corner by trade in college at Ohio State) Jenkins began stepping in at linebacker this season once Hick was injured. While he hasn’t turned in any pick-sixes yet in 2017, he leads the team in solo tackles with 42 and has a sack and five passes defensed to his name. Oh, he also leads all starters in snaps played on special teams, where he’s lined up for an additional 93 plays this season.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Corey Clement, RB

Clement isn’t the rookie running back the Eagles drafted, but he’s the one that’s gotten on the field with them this season. An undrafted free agent from Wisconsin, Clement’s been a valuable part of the Eagles running back rotation, particularly in the absence of Darren Sproles, and he’s second to LeGarrette Blount among running backs in carries and yards. He’s shown a particular knack for finding the endzone, often from a ways out. Three of his runs have ended there, and of his three receptions this season, two have been for a score.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Derek Barnett, DE

Barnett arrived in Philadelphia quite differently than Clement. The first-round pick from Tennessee most notably broke the school’s career sack record held by none other than Eagles legend Reggie White. Since then, he’s more than held his own rotating on a star-studded defensive line and has started his pro tally with two-and-a-half sacks in his first nine games.

Best Newcomer: Patrick Robinson, CB

Robinson is tied with Mills for the team lead in interceptions with three, and has made the weakness of the defense a year ago a strength. Speaking of his cornerback group’s ability to defend the run (something the Eagles lead the NFL in, allowing just 66.2 yards per game), Pederson said “a year ago we weren’t making those tackles and this year we are.” The different presence in Philadelphia this season is Robinson.

Offensive Most Improved: Nelson Agholor, WR

Having Alshon Jeffery in town has opened things up for other receivers in a way not seen since Desean Jackson, and the main beneficiary has been the Eagles' third year receiver Agholor. As close to being labeled a bust as one can come after two seasons where he dealt with drops, penalties, and totaled 648 yards and three touchdowns on an Eagles team desperate for receiving options, Agholor gave fans hope with an impressive training camp. That carried over to Week 1, where he caught a 58-yard touchdown, and it’s carried over throughout the season as he’s become Philadelphia’s most dangerous weapon after the catch.

Defensive Most Improved: Jalen Mills, CB

Rarely does a seventh round safety become a rookie starter at cornerback, but that’s exactly what happened with Mills a season ago. And while that says some things about the state of the 2016 Eagles cornerbacks corps it’s also a task Mills, possessed of rare confidence, never shrank from. That trait is more at home in a second season where he leads the Eagles defense in snaps played and in interceptions with three. On his most recent interception he reversed field against the 49ers for a winding, diving, pick-six that won him NFC Defensive Player of the Week.

Special Teams MVP: Jake Elliott, K

With all due credit to the performances of Kamu Grugier-Hill, who’s forced two fumbles in his coverage role, to Mack Hollins, who earned his roster spot on special teams before beginning to distinguish himself as a receiver, to Kenjon Barner, who stepped in for Sproles, and the rest of the Eagles’ fantastic special teams unit, including the constant Donnie Jones, this praise has to go to the rookie kicker who has been knocking down team records left and right since he was nabbed off the Bengals practice squad.

Coach of the Year: Doug Pederson, HC

Doug Pederson has suffered slings and arrows of all sorts since his arrival in Philadelphia. The most common attack was somewhere between his hiring being a result of the Eagles’ missing everyone else they wanted and the organization being desperate for a mini-Andy Reid after three seasons of Chip Kelly. The criticisms of his play calling, his lack of experience, and his time management didn’t go away after a 3-0 start or after his first season, but they may now. Count Doug Pederson’s influence not only in his team’s 8-1 start, or his overnight molding of a quarterback into a first-half MVP, but in the way each member of this team steps under praise to shift it to the guy next to him. Credit that to an environment where, as Pederson says, the little things done by players “might get overlooked but by no means are us in the building overlooking those guys.”

Play of the Year: Carson Wentz’ Third Down Scramble against Washington, Oct. 23

There are so many contenders for this, but the most surprising moment of a delightfully surprising season has to be Wentz emerging from a pile of would-be sack artists to sprint 17 yards on a third-and-eight. He led the Eagles with 63 yards rushing on eight carries in their 34-24 victory, clinching a sweep of Washington this season.

 
 
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