There have been a lot of positive things said about everyone's favorite 6-7 Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Ifeanyi Momah this summer. I can personally attest to Momah's "night and day" improvement, as I wrote about last week. While it was clear that Momah's roster chances looked slim to non-existent in 2013, it actually looks like he has a chance this time around. Just yesterday Bleeding Green Nation's Mike Kaye made the case to support why Momah should make Philadelphia's final roster. Mike made some very fair points.
There comes a point, however, when the training camp hype gets out of control. Today I'm here to rain all over everyone's parade and argue why Momah will not make the Eagles roster. Note that this isn't anything personal: Momah seems like a nice person, as Dan Klausner noted from his time spent working for the team, and there's no reason to root against him to succeed. It would be great to see the big guy play well enough to earn a roster spot. I'm only trying to explain, in advance, why the Eagles won't end up keeping him around.
• Before we get started, I'm operating under the following assumption: the Eagles will keep six wide receivers. The first five are locks: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith. The sixth spot is up for grabs mainly between Momah, Jeff Maehl and Arrelious Benn.
• Let's also talk about what I've seen in terms of improvement. Whereas Momah looked completely inept last summer as a rookie, he's looked surprisingly decent this year. He hasn't looked anything close to being a superstar. He's just been solid to the point where he looks something like a capable backup, and not a full-time starter.
• It shouldn't be a secret by now that the bottom roster spots come down to special teams contribution. Just look at what Chip Kelly said after cut-down day last year (via Zach Berman).
"Any backup spot is all the value of special teams. If you're going to be a backup player here, you're going to be on teams." [...] It's about special teams. There's three ways to make this football team: special teams, special teams, special teams. ...If you're going to be the fourth or fifth receiver, it's the value to Coach Fipp and our special teams." [...] Kelly said that's the reason the Eagles acquired Najee Goode, because special teams outweighs a player's production on offense or defense because that's how they'll contribute in games.
So what kind of special teams player is Momah? I don't have enough evidence to say either way, but I can say I haven't noticed him stand out in this regard. Any kind of stat resources I've checked through don't have him down for a single recorded special teams tackle during this preseason (2014) or last year's (2013). Perhaps some will suggest that he's tall enough to block kicks, but obviously that's kind of a stretch. (Bad pun)
In the meantime, Kelly has another depth receiver on the roster who isn't a question mark when it comes to special teams. I'm referring to former Oregon Duck Jeff Maehl. Depending on the source, Maehl finished with anywhere from 4 to 6 tackles on special teams in 2013. That's a decent amount, especially when PFF notes that he didn't miss any tackles. Maehl isn't quite a ST ace, and he's not very exciting, but he's at least a proven commodity.
• Summer performances can be deceiving. Remember how great outside linebacker Chris McCoy looked last year? Nearly everyone thought he was a roster lock, including myself. Well the Eagles released him and he still hasn't played a single regular season down in the NFL and he's now back playing in the CFL.
Emmanuel Acho is another great example. He absolutely lit it up in the preseason last year only to be cut. Many were quick to complain about how Kelly chose to keep Casey Matthews (Oregon bias!) instead of Acho. Matthews, who was second in special teams tackles in 2012, went on to finish with another good year in 2013. Depending on the source, Matthews finished with anywhere from 6 to 12 ST tackles, and no missed tackles. Meanwhile, Acho spent time on the New York Giants practice squad before being signed back by the Eagles. Acho ended up being a gameday inactive until undrafted rookie free agent insider linebacker Jake Knott, a special teams contributor, got hurt. Acho played a mere 23 snaps on defense before being cut and placed on the Eagles practice squad to finish the season.
Despite Matthews' lack of upside and athletic ability, he was clearly the more useful player. The Eagles absolutely made the right call.
• Some will argue that the Eagles don't need to keep as many backups with special teams ability because they signed some special teams players this offseason in the form of Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos. They will argue that the team can afford to take a chance on the upside.
Ignoring the fact that this completely contradicts what Kelly said about the importance of special teams earlier in this post, let's discuss Momah's upside. Sure, he's 6-7 and can run a fast 40 time. But in the best case scenario, what does he really pan out to be? What is Momah's true potential? And how likely is it that he gets there? While I can't say for sure, I can say that this was a guy who both wasn't drafted (though a college injury had a role in this) and spent the entire 2013 not only NOT on an NFL roster, but not even on a practice squad.
Yes, it's true Momah has improved since then. I'd argue that he absolutely deserves a practice squad spot in Philadelphia if he's able to clear waivers.
Using a roster spot and making him a gameday inactive is a different story. First, the Eagles often kept six wide receivers active on gameday because they ran a lot of 11 personnel (3 wide receivers). Plus, if there was an injury, Momah would be forced to play specials.
• Let's wrap this up by saying I understand the excitement about Momah. He's tall and fast. That's great. I love the idea of upside. If you've ever read my work at Liberty Ballers, you'd know that, when it comes to the NBA, I'm all about gambling on a risky player with a high ceiling than a safer player with a low ceiling. The NFL is not the NBA, though, in that the parity is greater due to increased roster size. I'm not saying the Eagles should never gamble on talent, but I am saying that there are times when a proven commodity is worth more than theoretical upside. When it comes to Ifeanyi Momah and the Eagles wide receiver battle, this could be one of those times.
[I'm starting to think this was probably way too many words spent on a relatively inconsequential roster battle that may or may not end up materializing. Behold, the power of Momah!]