Eagles training camp is over and the 2017 NFL preseason is coming to an end. By 4:00 PM ET this Saturday, Sept. 2, all 32 teams will need to trim their rosters down to the 53-man regular season limit.
But just because the deadline is close doesn’t mean everything is settled yet. In fact, there are some roster battles still up in the air. Doug Pederson highlighted four positions of interest in the Eagles’ final preseason game against the New York Jets.
I think the corner position, corner-nickel position is going to be an interesting battle this week. Even the running backs. I think it's exciting. I thought they all did a great job the other night in that game. It will be interesting this week to see how that plays out.
Got a couple young tight ends that I'd be interested to see in this last pre-season game. You look on offense, and again there's a couple of young offensive linemen. Dillon Gordon, Taylor Hart, guys like that that are competing for spots. It's going to be fun to watch these guys, not only in practice this week, but, again, on Thursday night.
In addition to these positions, there are four notable battles that Pederson didn’t mention. Here’s an overview of all eight.
Locks: Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, [Sidney Jones - NFI]
On the bubble: Patrick Robinson, Ron Brooks, Dexter McDougle, C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes
Long shots: Jomal Wiltz, Mitchell White
The outside starters are set: Darby and Mills. It remains to be seen who the Eagles’ first team slot corner will be. Robinson should be considered the favorite since he’s been playing with the starters in that role. Robinson’s been much more competent as a nickel corner than he has as an outside guy. Brooks is pushing Robinson for a spot but he’s struggled to stay healthy. The Eagles can also save $1 million in cap space by cutting Brooks compared to $775K with Robinson.
McDougle and Grymes are likely competing for a job as the backup nickel corner. Contributions on special teams will also be key in this battle.
Smith’s had an up and down summer. He’s run with the second team unit at times. A strong showing this week could help his stock. Or the Eagles could just decide he’s better suited for the practice squad.
Wiltz and White are practice squad material at best.
Locks: Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, LeGarrette Blount
On the bubble: Donnel Pumphrey, Corey Clement
Long shot: Byron Marshall
How the Eagles split up carries this season is anyone’s guess. But the main three ball-carriers, in some order, will likely be Blount, Smallwood, and Sproles.
If the Eagles keep a fourth running back on the roster, it seems likely to come down to Pumphrey versus Clement. It’s hard to imagine the Eagles flat out cutting Pumphrey after trading up in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft to pick him. Then again, Pumphrey hasn’t really looked NFL ready this summer. His longest carry went for five yards. His longest reception went for 13. His longest return on eight punt returns is eight yards. Maybe he gets placed on injured reserve with a phantom injury, as it’s been suggested like a billion times by now.
That scenario might be Clement’s only chance of making the team. Although he’s had a decent preseason, it’s not like Clement has done anything overly special. He’s just a guy (JAG) and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s better than being flat out bad. But he’s not so special that you can’t move on from him.
Marshall, in my view, has looked more impressive than Pumphrey. The stats back that up as well. I just don’t see Marshall making the team, though, considering he’s been the sixth running back on the depth chart.
Clement - 24 carries, 89 yards (3.7 average), 2 TD | 6 receptions, 48 yards (8.0 average), 0 TD
Marshall - 16 carries, 55 yards (3.4. average), 1 TD | 12 receptions, 69 yards (5.8 average), 0 TD
Pumphrey - 19 carries, 39 yards (2.1 average), 0 TD | 2 receptions, 15 yards (7.5 average), 0 TD
Locks: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton
On the bubble: Billy Brown, Anthony Denham Jr.
Long shot: Adam Zaruba
The Eagles had interest in keeping four tight ends last year but Chris Pantale didn’t play well enough to earn a spot. This year, Brown is pushing for the fourth job. Denham might also be in the mix considering he spent last season on the practice squad. Denham missed a lot of time in camp with a quad injury, though, and Brown has looked good in his absence.
Brown might be too good for the Eagles to sneak through waivers onto the practice squad. He can really help his stock by showing up in the fourth preseason game. As explained earlier today, it could be wise to keep four tight ends considering Celek will likely be gone after this season and Burton is a free agent.
Zaruba has shown some nice potential as a blocker. The former rugby star could be a practice squad guy.
Locks: Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
On the bubble: Dillon Gordon, Taylor Hart
Long shot: Victor Salako
The Eagles like Big V as their swing tackle. But who is Vaitai’s backup?
It could come down to Gordon versus Hart. Gordon’s an interesting player because the former tight end can line up as a sixth offensive lineman in certain packages. The Eagles have also used him at fullback. Hart hasn’t been used as creatively but the former defensive tackle has shown surprisingly nice progress this summer. I’d lean with Gordon being the guy. Maybe the Eagles go heavy on the offensive line and keep both?
Locks: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long
On the bubble: Steven Means, Alex McCalister
Pederson didn’t mention this position, but it’s surely an interesting battle. Means and McCalister are making this a tough decision for the Eagles.
Means has been dominant against backups. He’s going to turn 27 shortly, though, so that’s what he should be doing. As for McCalister, he’s only 23 and has intriguing length/size.
I’d prefer the Eagles keep Means since he’s been more productive. But he might be a guy worth trading (for like a seventh-round pick or a depth player) if they believe in McCalister.
Locks: Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao
On the bubble: Elijah Qualls, Justin Hamilton
Long shots: Gabe Wright, Winston Craig
The first four players seem pretty set to me. Allen is returning from injury so we’ll see just how effective he can be. Vaeao was clearly the No. 3 defensive tackle when Allen was out.
Qualls and Hamilton are pushing for a fifth spot. Hamilton might be more NFL ready, but Qualls is two years younger. The feeling here is the Eagles bet on Qualls’ potential after drafting him in the sixth round this year.
Locks: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Marcus Johnson
On the bubble: Greg Ward, Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson
Long shot: Rashard Davis, Paul Turner
I almost put Johnson in the bubble category, but I feel comfortable saying he’s closer to lock status. The Eagles very well might only keep those wide receivers. It seems like they have at least six receivers worth keeping, though, based on how the players have performed this offseason.
Ward is reportedly the favorite per NFL insider Adam Caplan. He’d be inactive on game day but give the Eagles more slot depth in the event of injury. The former quarterback-turned-receiver might not last on the practice squad.
Treggs missed some time with an injury but he’s looked good when he’s practiced/played. The Eagles could easily keep him as their sixth.
Gibson is closer to “long shot” territory for me because he doesn’t play special teams and he’s dropped a lot of passes this offseason.
Locks: Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham
Trade bait: Mychal Kendricks
On the bubble: Najee Goode, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Nate Gerry, Don Cherry
It feels like there’s a lot up in the air at this spot. Hicks and Bradham are locked in as the two starters. Kendricks won’t be cut, but it’s still possible the Eagles move him in a trade. Or maybe they’ll just keep him as depth.
Speaking of depth, Goode is typically the first guy up at any given linebacker spot in practice. Depending on what happens with Goode, Walker could be the top backup behind Hicks. Grugier-Hill projects as a backup WILL and special teams contributor. Gerry is dealing with an injury that could lead the Eagles to stash him on injured reserve. That might be ideal since he’s making the transition from safety to linebacker. Cherry has made some nice plays despite his limitations. The Villanova product might be more of a practice squad guy.
The Eagles will at least keep five of these players.