The Eagles are set to play a meaningless football game tonight against the Buffalo Bills. The final score doesn't matter, but it’ll still be interesting to see how certain players perform given that roster spots are up for grabs. Here are the 15 most interesting Eagles players to watch in tonight's game. Keep in mind the starters will only play for a series or two. Jersey numbers are listed next to player names.
1 - Alshon Jeffery - No. 17
Jeffery has looked pretty great during practice this offseason. He’s the real deal. I can’t imagine the Eagles will throw his way a ton tonight but I’d expect him to at least get a look or two. Maybe he’ll show off his elite ability to high point the ball and make a big play. Or maybe the Eagles will throw to him for a short gain and he’ll be done for the night.
2 - Ronald Darby - No. 35 (for now)
Darby’s an obvious inclusion after the Eagles traded for him last week. Pederson said he’s leaning towards playing Darby. That’s good because Darby can use all the reps he can get after joining the team with less than a month before the regular season starts. Darby has looked like the real deal in practice so far. He hasn’t gotten beat badly at any point. Instead, he’s broken up a number of passes and made a few interceptions. Buffalo doesn’t have any fearsome outside receivers but it’ll still be interesting to see how Darby fares in his Eagles debut.
3 - Carson Wentz - No. 11
Wentz hasn’t looked so sharp since the Eagles traded Jordan Matthews. I’m of the belief this is a coincidence considering the backup offensive units haven’t looked particularly great in practice recently either. We’ll see how the Eagles perform without Matthews tonight. He was critical to helping the first team offense move the chains against the Packers last week. Wentz has looked pretty good for most of the summer, so let’s see if he can rebound.
4 - Nelson Agholor - No. 13
Agholor is the Eagles’ new starting slot receiver with JMatt gone. He won’t be the only option the Eagles utilize in the slot, but he’ll likely get a majority of the snaps there. I kind of feel like Agholor got a rough deal last week against Green Bay. He didn’t make the most of the limited snaps he played and that caused everyone to go: “OH GREAT, SAME OLD AGHOLOR!” It could easily be the case that Agholor isn’t any good. But let’s see a bigger sample size before we totally dismiss the fact he’s looked good in practice. He obviously still has a ton to prove in real game action. Tonight would be a good time for Nelly to show something.
5 - Wendell Smallwood - No. 28
Pederson said Smallwood would be a game day decision so it’s unclear if the 2016 fifth-round pick will be suiting up. For his sake, Smallwood needs to get back on the field soon. Smallwood is an interesting player in the sense that there are a wide range of outcomes for him this season. On one hand, I think there’s a non-zero chance (a very small non-zero chance, but still a non-zero chance) he could get cut. On the other hand, I think there’s a chance he leads the Eagles in rushing yards this year. Smallwood could do a lot to assuage everyone’s concerns about the running game by playing and looking as effective as he’s been in practice.
6 - The offensive line
I’m lumping this group together since a lot of people seemed to show concern about this unit following last week’s performance (which Sean Cottrell wrote about here). It’ll be a little hard to truly evaluate the starters since Jason Peters (personal reasons) and Brandon Brooks (ankle) might be out. Still, it’d be nice for the line to show a little more than they did last week. The run game should be able to average more than 1.88 yards per carry even with backups playing.
7 - Marcus Johnson - No. 84
Johnson missed last week’s game due to a hamstring injury. Now Johnson is set to make his Eagles debut on Thursday night. This game marks Johnson’s first real NFL action. Johnson’s had a good camp. The Eagles have showed confidence in him by lining Johnson out wide with the first team when Jeffery has missed reps in practice. Now it’s time for Johnson to prove he’s worthy of the opportunity. He’s likely a lock to make the roster, but Johnson is battling for playing time as the fourth or fifth receiver because the obvious trio of Jeffery, Agholor, and Torrey Smith.
8 - Shelton Gibson - No. 18
Gibson has made progress since being the guy who suffered through multiple drops in practice every single day. He’s looked better recently, for sure. But he still has a lot of work to do. Gibson dropped two passes in the first preseason game and one of them was really bad.
9 - Derek Barnett - No. 96
Barnett recorded four tackles, two sacks, two tackles for loss, and two quarterback hits in just 23 snaps played last week. That’s pretty freaking good. It’d be nice to see the Eagles mix Barnett in with the first team defense this week to see how he fares against starting offensive linemen. If Barnett continues to play well, the Eagles should just start him over Vinny Curry.
10 and 11 - Steven Means and Alex McCalister - No. 51 and No. 57
I’m grouping this guys together because they’re potentially competing for one defensive end spot. I’d argue the Eagles should keep Means, who seems like a decent rotational pass rusher to keep around. Philadelphia might opt to keep McCalister due to the fact he’s younger (plus Howie Roseman’s #GatorBias). Maybe one of the two players will step up so that it’s not a close decision.
12 - Patrick Robinson - No. 21
Robinson’s not a lock to make the 53-man roster. The addition of Darby certainly hurts his chances because it’s one more guy added to the position he plays. But maybe the Darby acquisition actually helps Robinson because the Eagles can put him in the slot. With Ron Brooks missing time due to injury, Robinson will get a chance to prove he’s better in the slot than he is on the outside. That’s been the case in his career. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on how Robinson performs in the nickel corner role.
13 - Elijah Qualls - No. 98
Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan are the Eagles’ starting defensive tackles. Destiny Vaeao is the main backup behind them. Beyond that, it’s unclear who the Eagles will keep. Qualls, Justin Hamilton, and Gabe Wright are potentially battle for one spot. Qualls might have the advantage after showing potential last week. The Eagles’ 2017 sixth round pick racked up four pressures and a run stop, per Pro Football Focus. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said Qualls is a player “on the rise.”
14 - Tre Sullivan - No. 49
It’s kinda crazy how the Eagles suddenly have so much depth at safety. There might be so much depth that Sullivan might not make the team despite fact he’s shown up this summer. If he continues to make big hits and look good in coverage, the Eagles might have to figure out a way to keep the undrafted rookie from Shepherd.
15 - Rashard Davis - No. 4
Davis signed with the Eagles earlier this week. The 5-9, 175 pound rookie was a really good punt returner during his senior season of college at James Madison. With Donnel Pumphrey and Greg Ward having muffed returns last week, the Eagles could give Davis some looks back there. Davis is unlikely to make the team but he could earn a practice squad spot if he shows returning potential.