The roster the Eagles will enter the 2017 season with is… strange. The Eagles went heavy at some positions and light in others, and it was assumed that waiver claims and possibly a trade or two would change the makeup of the roster. Instead, it remains exactly the same as it did on Saturday. As injuries happen (and Sidney Jones returns from it), the roster will change as the season progresses, as it does for all teams. But to start the season, the structure is odd to say the least.
Every team has the same basic core that takes up the bulk of 53 man roster. What you do with the rest is dependent upon a team’s strengths, weaknesses, their opponents and their own philosophies. The Eagles have gone for volume in their weaknesses and are favoring developing players who may not contribute much in 2017 at the expense of depth elsewhere. It’s a questionable strategy.
Six linebackers have made the team. Expect that four of them won’t play a third of defensive snaps. Mychal Kendricks played just 27% of snaps last year, his playing time would have to increase by 20% for him to get enough playing time. It will take an injury or suspension for that to happen as two thirds of snaps in the NFL last year were in nickel or dime, which he doesn’t play. Kendricks, along with Najee Goode, Kamu Grugier-Hill and Joe Walker will be special teams players. That’s probably one too many, as evidenced by the Eagles carrying six last year, two of whom played virtually exclusively on special teams (Grugier-Hill and Goode, the latter of the two played one snap on defense) and Stephen Tulloch, who played no snaps on special teams and just 69 on defense. Nate Gerry cleared waivers due to a hamstring injury, that he was signed to the practice squad and not placed on IR means they expect him to be healthy soon, further reducing the need to carry a sixth linebacker to start the season.
Six wide receivers is unusual, but the volume isn’t the reason why it’s noteworthy. On merit, only five of the six receivers should have made the team, with Bryce Treggs having a good argument to have been the sixth. Shelton Gibson spent minicamp as one of the worst players on the roster, and in training camp and preseason didn’t do much to earn his roster spot beyond being a 5th round draft pick, which are rarely cut.
Eight offensive linemen is light, but shouldn’t be a concern to start the season. The team will only dress eight on game day anyway, and with Josh Andrews and Dillon Gordon on the practice squad, they have injury replacements in house. However, it is a little concerning that Chance Warmack, a Jeff Stoutland favorite, made the roster despite not offering positional versatility or impressing in camp.
Five running backs however makes no sense. Last season the fourth most used running back on each team averaged 16 rushing attempts. Only four teams had at least twice as many carries by their fourth runner, thirteen teams had their fourth running back in single digits. Byron Marshall was 5th among Eagles running backs in carries, he spent 14 weeks on the practice squad. Fifth string running backs are readily available during the season, as are one dimensional runners like Corey Clement. In an era where running the ball is becoming less and less frequent, loading the roster with them is counter productive.
Individually, none of these decisions are crippling. Draft classes aren’t made or broken in year one, and it is unrealistic to expect the back of drafts to provide instant contributors. But when they affect the makeup of a roster, that’s an issue, potentially a larger one of player evaluation. The Eagles are carrying five running backs because Donnel Pumphrey looks overmatched in the NFL. They’re carrying six wide receivers because Shelton Gibson can’t catch.
The Eagles aren’t losing the Super Bowl because they kept Corey Clement over a ninth offensive lineman, another young cornerback, or Billy Brown. But a supposedly rebuilding team isn’t helped by inactive draft picks, nor is a supposedly improving team helped when undrafted free agents out-perform draft picks who should be offering depth. After having the worst skill position players in the league last year, it’s a little damning that the team’s draft picks at those positions are at the bottom of the roster.