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Eagles roster battle: Damaris Johnson won't go down without a fight

I can't believe I'm saying this.

Rich Schultz

While the Philadelphia Eagles running back position may be the hardest one to figure out as the deadline for final cuts draws near, the Eagles wide receiver battle is also very interesting. Let's take a closer look.

The locks

The Eagles will probably keep at least five wide receivers. Five of those players already seem like locks. The two starters on the outside include Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. Rookie Jordan Matthews figures in as the team's slot receiver. Josh Huff is currently injured but head coach Chip Kelly said they're not considering placing the third round rookie on injured reserve.

Some may wonder why Brad Smith is often listed as a lock. It's simple: Smith is versatile and plays well on special teams. Those are two huge factors for Kelly. If you need further proof, consider that the Eagles gave Smith some more guaranteed money in the offseason in exchange for him agreeing to a small pay-cut. Smith, who has spent most of the spring and summer running as the team's first string slot receiver, was also seen among the Eagles first team players warming up against the Jets on Thursday night. That group of players, who did not play, included surefire starters and roster locks.

The sixth spot

Will the Eagles even keep six receivers? I tend to say yes for now, especially given Huff's injury situation. The candidates:

Jeff Maehl

Stats: 8 receptions, 103 yards, 12.9 average, long 32 | 1 special teams tackle

Maehl has a couple of things going for him. One, Kelly is familiar with him from his time at Oregon (see: Duck Bias). Kelly has also lauded Maehl's special teams efforts before. Two, Maehl has actually looked OK in limited playing time. Solid, but unspectacular. One concern with Maehl is that he dealt with an ankle injury in the summer that carried over from spring practices.

Arrelious Benn

Stats: 3 receptions, 61 yards, 20.3 average, 2 TD, long 43 | 1 special teams tackle, 1 punt block

Benn had a rough start to training camp. He dropped several passes. He just didn't do anything to really stand out. Benn has looked better since preseason started, however. He's showed up on special teams. He's contributed as a blocker. Benn might have done enough to earn a spot. While Benn has been healthy for most of the summer, his extensive injury history is something to keep in mind.

Damaris Johnson

Receiving stats: 9 receptions, 90 yards, 10.0 average, long 21, 1 TD
Rushing stats: 12 attempts, 83 yards, 6.9 average, long 46, 1 TD
Punt return stats: 6 attempts, 71 yards, 11.8 average, long 32
Kick return stats: 5 attempts, 113 yards, 22.6 average, long 28

Damaris lives! Perhaps the much-maligned Damaris Johnson isn't dead yet. Johnson had a rough start in training camp but he's seemed to slowly rebound ever since. He's looked decent as a pass-catcher and he's been surprisingly effective as a ball carrier. Keep in mind a few of his rushing attempts were ineffective goal-line carries which is clearly not his strength. Take those away and his rushing numbers look even more impressive.

Johnson doesn't necessarily fit the ideal mold of an ideal receiver due to his (lack of) height but he's definitely fought his hardest to make the team. The Eagles have had plenty of chances to cut him since last season but never did. He was benched as a returner and still looks iffy there, but perhaps his overall versatility will earn him a spot on the Eagles roster. Crazier things have happened, right?!

Even if Johnson doesn't end up back with the Eagles, it seems likely he'll at least get an offer from some other team in the NFL. (Maybe a reunion with the Andy Reid, now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs?)

How it should play out

I can't believe I'm saying this but I think Johnson might make the most sense to keep. The Eagles are somewhat in need of a return and Johnson is versatile.

How it will play out

I have Maehl making the team as of right now. I know that may not be a popular move with many.


Like the Eagles depth at running back, I think the Eagles have a good problem when it comes to making a decision on the final wide receiver. All competitors seem to be giving their best effort to make the decision close.

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