The final preseason game against the Jets served as the last audition for several players looking to make the Eagles roster. With half of the team's roster on the sideline, fringe players did their best to make a positive impression on the Eagles coaching staff and on the NFL in general. A majority of the those players will have to appreciate the 37-7 victory as a silver lining as they receive their pink slips this weekend.
Here are 10 takeaways from the final battle of the Eagles preseason:
1) The hot topic is kicker. We all know that to be true, but it is nice to finally have something nice to say about the position. While moving forward with Cody Parkey would clearly be a calculated risk (potential over experience), the Auburn alum seems to have quite the leg. In just one evening, Parkey kicked the two longest field goals that the Eagles have converted in three years. Yes, the Eagles have not successfully attempted a field goal of more than 51 yards with Alex Henery at the helm. Parkey kicked field goals of 54 and 53 yards and had some distance to spare. Whether the team moves forward with Parkey or not, I think the rookie's ability to kick for distance proved that Henery isn't a valued commodity by any stretch.
2) I am not sure how you can come away from this preseason not loving the upgraded depth on this roster. Yes, there are some soft spots, but final cuts may be the toughest they have been in a decade. The Eagles don't have the best wide receiver unit but their five top receivers are set and they have about three or four other pass catcher that can play in this league. Running back may be the strongest it has been since the Eagles had Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and Correll Buckhalter in the 2000's. This unit may actually be better when you consider how good LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles are at this point.
On defense, there may be cuts that end up on other rosters and get some serious playing time. Damion Square and Emmanuel Acho are two guys that have had great off-seasons but still may not make the team. That sure beats last seasons when the two were vastly unprepared and were forced into minor roles.
3) Back to running back. Let's cool it on Henry Josey a bit. Yes, he was fantastic for three preseason games, but also remember that he was not asked to block frequently or play a major role on special teams. Chip Kelly is still somewhat of an enigma but we know that being able to block and playing special teams is extremely important to him. That said, Josey was getting chunks of yards in bunches against the Jets and finished with 121 rushing yards on 22 carries. He looked the part and honestly, I am not sure how he makes it past the Texans, Redskins or Jaguars (top three claims) on the waiver wire. The Eagles may be forced to pull a Matt Tobin and have him be inactive throughout the season on game days to just hold on to him.
Matthew Tucker, in my opinion, has done nothing to not earn himself a gig. He has been a pounder with the ball and ran over two Jets for a first down. He also had a very nice tackle on special teams that was even more effective after a penalty was added to the return. He has averaged over five yards per carry this preseason and has flashed on special teams. I think he has a home in Philadelphia.
Kenjon Barner injured his ankle in the game, but had his moments. I think the fact that he was traded for gives him a leg up. I am interested to see who makes the roster out of Barner, Josey and Chris Polk. Barner really hasn't shown anything at the NFL level, but remember Josey hasn't really either, as he's been going up against mostly scrubs. I am just trying to keep perspective here, as I do think there is a real chance that Polk makes the roster, despite not participating in the preseason.
I could see a scenario where Polk is placed on injured reserve and the other two make the roster along with Tucker (who I think should be a lock), Sproles and McCoy. I wrote about it in my 53-man roster prediction.
4) You really have to hope that Matt Tobin's ankle injury won't hold him out for too long, if at all. He really has shown great ability in the preseason and is loved by the staff. He is the one guy, if Allen Barbre falters, that I think the coaching staff would consider putting at the right tackle spot with Lane Johnson out.
I have liked what I have seen from Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly and Andrew Gardner. We discussed depth earlier, and the Kelly vs. Gardner battle will likely be a tough cut. It may be worse if they decide to keep both and not keep a fifth running back or sixth receiver.
5) Travis Long earned his roster spot this preseason. Frankly, he offers more than Casey Matthews and Emmaunel Acho in several ways. He's got more upside, he's more versatile, he has more size and he seems to be the best pass rusher of the three. Long was a quality college player but an ACL injury set him back. This preseason, he has shown no signs of that injury. He will be used all over the front seven this season and is someone to be excited about for the future.
6) Wide receiver is probably the second hardest position to figure out. The first five guys seem set in stone, unless Josh Huff is placed on injured reserve or Brad Smith is cut for whatever reason. The issue though is that a lot of the competition for the sixth wide receiver spot has had their up's and down's. That seems typically of any position's last spot, but it almost seems like Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, Quron Pratt, Ifeanyi Momah and Damaris Johnson have all had big plays and blunders. They all seemed to shine in their own ways on Thursday.
If I had to guess, if the Eagles were to keep a sixth receiver, it would probably come down to Benn and Maehl. If you're thinking about special teams here, they're are both good. Also, they were both traded for last year, so they belong to this regime. You may say Maehl has the advantage because of his Oregon ties, but it doesn't seem like Chip Kelly has given him any slack coming off an injury that held him out of a lot of training camp. Benn is the better receiver and I am not even sure a debate could exist on that.
Pratt has been a guy that has surprised a lot of people, including me. I am rooting for him, but I think having two rookies at the position hurts his chances. I think he can make it to the practice squad if you cut him. It seems like it has been too little, too late for Johnson. He is talented but is so inconsistent that a change of scenery will help him immensely. This is no exaggeration, as he would probably be the No. 3 receiver (at worst) in Cleveland or Carolina.
Momah, sadly, is practice squad fodder at this point. But hey, cheer up, he may make it over fan-favorite Will Murphy on the practice team. #MomahBias
7) Possible tradable assets on the Eagles seem to be Damaris Johnson (for a conditional pick to a team that doesn't want to risk the waiver wire), Brandon Graham and one of the bottom three running backs.The one dark horse would be Matt Barkley. Howie Roseman will likely search for small player-for-player deals, as he is a pro at that.
8) I personally don't understand the hype of Brandon Bair, but he does seem like a "try hard" kind of cat. I paid close attention to him as I re-watched the game. He is an upgrade over Clifton Geathers from the standpoint that he doesn't do anything spectacular but he also doesn't do anything to hurt you either. He has out-shined Square, who will get work elsewhere.
9) Let's talk rookies. Beau Allen and Jaylen Watkins have played a lot this preseason and I think they have shown flashes. Allen is already getting regular pressure (against backups) and Watkins has shown the ability to tackle well. Their counterparts Marcus Smith and Ed Reynolds are still works in progress. Smith hasn't been bad by any stretch but he's been a pretty bland performer in his first preseason. Reynolds seems to need a lot of work with the speed of the game, but that's understandable since he missed half of the summer. I think Reynolds will be redshirted with a mysterious injury like "headaches" or "back spasms."
I didn't forget about Taylor Hart, who I felt played very well on Thursday. He had a forced fumble and made a few stops. It was the first time I thought he flashed all preseason. He may need some time, but the potential is there. Kevin Graf had an up-and-down night and is headed for the practice squad.
10) Of the players that I think will get waive, there are quite a few that I could see being picked up elsewhere. Casey Matthews is a guy with a rough reputation in Philadelphia, but will probably get a look elsewhere in a 4-3 defense (if Kurt Coleman can, Matthews should be able to). Acho could have more interest than last year and so could Momah. I don't see how Josey would make it to the practice squad and Graf could have raised some interest in the preseason. As I said before, Square could have a shot at the bottom of someone else's team. Benn is another guy, who if cut, probably will latch on somewhere.