We all know the story of strong safety Quintin Mikell. Plucked from the dregs of the 2003 draft, Mikell signed on with the Eagles after graduating from Boise State and ranking second on the school’s all-time tackles list. Even though he was originally placed behind Pro Bowl safeties like Brian Dawkins and Michael Lewis, Mikell still found ways to contribute, lighting up special teams and continuing his streak of dominant tackling. Now, Mikell is not only a starter, but also one of the defensive leaders of the team. He is one of only two players left from the Super Bowl XXXIX squad (the other being David Akers) and finally bucked his consistent "underrated" status after making it to the Pro Bowl last year. He has and will likely continue to be an integral part of the Philadelphia defense.
Now, thirteen undrafted rookies have the same chance at stardom. Over the next six months, they will be tested and pitted against some of the best players the NFL has to offer. Many will fall, some may be injured, but one of them could be...
Let's meet our contestants after the jump...
QB Joey Elliott (6'3", 215 lbs, Purdue): Most of what you need to know about the Eagles newest quarterback can be found in JasonB's interview with the guys over at Hammer and Rails, SB Nation's Purdue blog. Elliott been described as a smart leader possessing a "live arm" with the capability to make NFL-quality throws. Unfortunately, not too much is known of the young quarterback's playing style, as he spent the majority of his career playing behind Curtis Painter, now of the Colts. One thing we do know is that Elliott may have what you would call a bit of an interception problem. During his twelve starts with the Boilermakers in 2009, Elliot threw 13 INTs. He'll have a hard training camp ahead of him battling Mike Kafka for the third QB slot, but the most likely scenario will land Elliott on the practice squad for this season.
RB Keithon Flemming (5'10", 208 lbs, West Texas A&M): Flemming offers a versatility that Andy Reid craves in his running backs. During the 2008 season (Flemming sat out 2009 with a dislocated shoulder), he led the Buffs in both rushing and receiving yards, and even demonstrated some skills on the defensive side of the ball while recovering from a hand injury. He runs with good balance and has experience returning kicks as well. The only issue standing between Flemming and a shot at glory is the glut of players in front of him. Besides LeSean McCoy and Eldra Buckley, the Eagles have brought in Mike Bell, Martell Mallett and Charles Scott to compete for what will likely be only three roster spots. Flemming's versatility could very well give him the edge over a player like Buckley, but it will be an uphill battle for sure.
FB Chris Zardas (6'0", 238 lbs, Massachusetts): Zardas brings his versatile skills to the fullback mix, but could it be enough to crack the roster? During his time with the Minutemen, Zardas demonstrated talent in the catching and blocking department, in addition to being a solid special teams contributor. However, with Leonard Weaver still king of the fullbacks and Bobby April favorite Dwayne Wright waiting in the wings, it's hard to believe that Zardas will see anything more than the practice squad his rookie year.
WR Blue Cooper (6'2", 185 lbs, Tennessee-Chattanooga): Cooper performed at a high level throughout his college career, leading the Mocs in receiving stats for both his junior and senior years. He even demonstrated a little versatility as a trick play QB, going a perfect 3 for 3 with two touchdowns. One knock on Cooper, though, seems to be his durability. In fact, he has been able to participate in spring practice only once in his career due to so many injuries. While Cooper has the size to be a legitimate redzone threat, his durability and lack of ability to produce yards after the catch could prevent him from seeing the preseason.
WR Kevin Jurovich (6'0", 188 lbs, San Jose State): Jurovich is a skilled possession receiver whose style has been compared to that of Brandon Gibson. He has the catch-in-traffic and route running skills necessary to be a decent slot receiver. Only one problem: that void is currently filled, quite successfully, by Jason Avant. Ultimately, it will come down to Jurovich's special teams play if he expects to make the team as a fifth or sixth receiver. He has limited experience as a punt returner in college, which could help his argument.
WR Pat Simonds (6'5", 229 lbs, Colgate): Easily the largest receiver on the Eagles roster, Simonds' size allows him to play very physical football, shielding the defender from the pass. He was a redzone threat in college, scoring 14 touchdowns in his senior year alone. Unfortunately, with great size often comes reduced speed, and Simonds is no exception. He has been criticized for running slow routes, lazily coming off the line and giving a "halfhearted effort as a blocker." It looks like, while Simonds may have the physical stats to develop into a redzone threat, his work ethic will need a serious kick-start if he expects to make even the practice squad.
OT Austin Howard (6'7", 333 lbs, Northern Iowa): Rivaling King Dunlap for biggest offensive tackle on the team, Howard has been called a great developmental prospect. He has the size and footwork to be able to pick up the blitz well and, with a good degree of training, could easily overcome his shortcomings in the handwork department. Fortunately for Howard, he comes into a position where his only current competitors for reserve tackle are Dunlap and Fenuki Tupou. With a strong showing at training camp, Howard could easily score a spot on the roster, or maybe even follow in Tupou's footsteps and land a "redshirt" position on injured reserve.
OT Jeraill McCuller (6'6" 328 lbs, NC State): Picture Austin Howard with excellent handwork, and you get Jeraill McCuller. His range and balance are a bit shakier than Howard's though, and that could be the deciding factor on who makes the roster and who spends a year on the practice squad. Look for both Howard and McCuller to at least make it to preseason, though.
OG Zipp Duncan (6'5", 297 lbs, Kentucky): Duncan is already a one of the most talked-about rookie free agents on BGN for is name alone. But can Zipp live up to more than his name? Duncan's scouting report reveals that he is a strong, hard worker, with a good punch and solid footwork. He excelled at pass protection in college, but has demonstrated a lack of flexibility that could hurt him at the NFL level. Duncan will certainly face an uphill battle as he fights with Mike McGlynn, Max Jean-Gilles, Dallas Reynolds and Greg Isdaner for one of the reserve guard spots.
DE Eric Moncur (6'1", 237 lbs, Miami): Coming into an extremely youthful and crowded defensive end position, Moncur's chances to make the final roster are slim at best. Moncur showed flashes of brilliance during his second and third years at Miami, but saw his production decrease drastically over the next two seasons. Granted, it didn't help that he was battling a slew of injuries, so much so that he was granted medical hardship to return for a fifth season. Unless Moncur can prove that he is healthy and ready to step up his contribution though, he could be shown the door as early as the beginning of training camp.
CB Josh Morris (5'11", 186 lbs, Weber State): Morris has all the physical tools you look for in an NFL cornerback: size, speed, and quickness. He displays a high degree of physicality and has a knack for nabbing interceptions, accumulating seven over this three years as a Wildcat. The only strike against Morris would be his slow reaction time and slight hesitation during changing plays - nothing that secondary coach Dick Jauron couldn't straighten out. He has been called one of this year's draft sleepers and should at least give Dimitri Patterson and Geoffrey Pope a run for their money.
CB David Pender (6'0", 180 lbs, Purdue): Pender is another one of the Purdue guys that was discussed during JasonB's interview with the Hammer and Rails bloggers. Pender has a good deal of speed with a 4.47 40 time and performed well as a cover corner in college. Unfortunately for him, this ain't the Raiders. Philadelphia cornerbacks need a few more skill sets if they hope make the team. Pender's poor hands have always prevented him from making the big play - he's only accumulated three interceptions over his four year career. He might catch on as a practice-squadder if he can demonstrate some value on special teams, but don't hold your breath.
CB Devin Ross (5'10", 183 lbs, Arizona): Ross runs with a high level of aggressiveness and, according to Gary Cobb, could be the next Sheldon Brown. He is a smart and solid tackler, accumulating 74 in his senior year alone. Ross can also get very physical at the line and even act as a factor during run defense. To top it all off, he even has experience returning kicks. Cornerback will be a very interesting position to watch during the offseason, and the addition of Ross should make the coming roster battle that much more exciting.