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Eagles 53-man roster predictions and position battles

Fortunately for you all of this is correct

Dallas Cowboys v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Guys! Only 129 days until the regular season.

A long and arduous road awaits us. It will be peppered with little nuggets of news, promo videos, workouts, and all that fluff: but football has officially reached its dead zone.

And now our watch begins.

Looking into the bleak abyss of the offseason, there’s nothing more soothing than predicting how the roster may look when we, weary and heavy-laden, inevitably reach the other side. This is how I envision the team stacking up, including what positional battles are important to watch in camp as the champs tinker with their Super Bowl-winning lineup.

Quarterback (3) — Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld

Even if Foles gets traded between now and the regular season (fingers crossed!), expect the Eagles to carry a third quarterback. They might go young, but I’d love to see a veteran because things with Stud-feld are still a little too unknown for my taste. The Eagles brought in 3 rookie QBs as UDFAs/minicamp invites (Troy’s Brandon Silvers, Sam Houston State’s Jeremiah Briscoe, Rutgers’ Kyle Bolin) so they’re at least checking out the pool.

Potential camp battle: Carson Wentz and Nick Foles for QB1—nah, I’m just playin’.

Running back (4) — Jay Ajayi, Corey Clement, Darren Sproles, Josh Adams

There are only two locks at this position, in my estimation: Ajayi and Clement. Sproles is close to a lock, certainly: but 1) we have to be sure he comes back from injury successfully, and 2) he does have to beat out Donnel Pumphrey for the scatback role that’s gotten smaller with the onset of Clement. If he and Pump are even remotely equal, and Pump is younger and cheaper...

But Pumphrey, unable to secure a roster spot in the preseason following poor performance/an injury in camp, has a super uphill battle onto the roster. There are three paths for Pump to make the roster:

  1. Win the kick returner/punt returner job to warrant the final roster spot over Josh Adams, rookie UDFA from Notre Dame
  2. Beat out Sproles for the scatback role (and likely take over returner duties anyway)
  3. Move permanently to slot WR

RB4 is still Pumphrey’s job to lose, because Smallwood is a lost cause and this staff has invested only peanuts in Adams. But if he can’t prove any sort of value that a player on the roster doesn’t already fill, Adams has short-yardage grinder play that other backs on this roster don’t.

Remember, the Eagles could always carry three backs.

Potential camp battle: Sproles v. Pumphrey, both back from injury, competing for primary receiving back/space player duties.

Wide receiver (5) — Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Mike Wallace, Shelton Gibson

Are the Eagles only going to keep 5 WRs again? I say so, given the two studs they have at tight end, and how involved they get their backs in the receiving game. If so, it’s a pretty easy calculus to get the first four—though it’ll be interesting to watch how reps between Mack Hollins and Mike Wallace fluctuate over the season.

At 5, you can pencil in Shelton Gibson, especially because he may bring returner value. At first glance, there may not be many challengers to his slot—but don’t sleep on #MyMan Greg Ward, who played QB at Houston and is transition to wideout in the NFL. A year of experience could change the game for him.

Potential camp battle: Greg Ward v. Shelton Gibson for punt returner/WR5

Tight end (3) — Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers

The first time this elite pairing has ever been written together in a depth chart evaluation (probably) will live in infamy. I’m on record saying Goedert + Ertz is a Gronk + Hernandez-level duo—potentially better, even—and opposing teams will look at this two-deep for years to come and wonder how it was allowed to happen.

I have Richard Rodgers making the roster, but I think Philadelphia wants it to be Billy Brown, the second-year player out of Shepherd. He needs to become a consistent blocker, however, given the gaps on Philly’s current TE roster—and I’m not sure he’s there yet. Protecting him from poaching, however, might get tricky.

Potential camp battle: Billy v. his own inability to block

Offensive line (9) — Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Chance Warmack, Isaac Seumalo, Matt Pryor

The Eagles have the best starting offensive line in the NFL, and it’s the biggest reason (besides coaching) they won the Super Bowl.

But the depth behind is currently a question. Philadelphia patted Big V on the back by only investing late in the OT position in this class, but he still needs a good deal of work to be considered starter level. Seumalo? He needs work to be considered backup level.

Warmack will walk in free agency after this season, I’d imagine, but there’s no reason to cut him early. Pryor takes the ninth spot and provides great value with his guard and tackle experience—I even believe he’ll start pushing Big V for reps earlier than we think.

If Jason Peters doesn’t come back at full health/gets injured again, we’re in serious trouble.

Potential camp battle: Pryor and Big V for OT3 reps.

Defensive tackle (5) — Timmy Jernigan, Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Elijah Qualls, Destiny Vaeao

Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jerningan are a dominant duo, yeah—but things behind them are a little shaky, to be frank. Ngata is trading on his name at this point—but I think Elijah Qualls is ready to step up into a more prominent role.

I had a near Top-100 grade on Qualls last Draft, he performed well in the preseason, and survived a tough set of cuts at the DT position for his efforts. He’s likely the third-best pass rushing DT on the roster, because Ngata is a pure space-eater at this point—that’s big. I think he’ll start making noise on the second-team DL after passing Vaeao on the depth chart this offseason.

In order to make the roster, Vaeao will have to play well enough to justify a DT5 spot when two of the Eagles’ defensive ends can kick inside with decent success. If the Eagles want to carry another WR, CB, or SAF, I don’t see them keeping Vaeao on.

Potential camp battle: Vaeao v. the 53 man cuts.

Defensive end (6) — Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Josh Sweat, Steven Means

Sweet Mary.

I mean. This is just impolite.

The only thing noteworthy here is the future at the position. Michael Bennett (33) costs $7M to retain next season; Chris Long (33) is likely gone after this season (contract expires); Brandon Graham (30) is a free agent as well.

While you’d imagine only one of Bennett/Graham is lost after 2018, it’s good to see the youth between Barnett (21) and Sweat (21) as the future of the position. Steven Means is also a free agent next season, but the Eagles really like him in the building, and he could be a cheap depth option moving forward.

If the Eagles don’t view him as a long-term option, then watch out for UDFA Joe Ostman from CMU, a very productive college rusher who would be cheaper, and younger, for longer.

Potential camp battle: Ostman v. Means

Linebacker (6) — Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Corey Nelson, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Paul Worrilow

Corey Nelson. Kamu Grugier-Hill. Paul Worrilow. Joe Walker. Nate Gerry. Your guess is as good as mine.

I think Grugier-Hill is a lock because of athletic ability and special teams value. He’s the new Maragos (who doesn’t make the cut: read below) for this team. Never forget:

After that, I’ll take Nelson, who the Eagles do imagine has starter potential. Worrilow, the other free agent addition, beats out young S-to-LB transfer Nate Gerry and oft-injured Joe Walker on reliability alone. Gotta prepare for that Jordan Hicks midseason injury.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: this will likely be Kendricks’ final year with Philadelphia.

Potential camp battle: Royal Rumble of Kinda Crummy Depth LBs!

Cornerback (5) — Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox

Look at that, folks, 3 players the Eagles have drafted in the last 2 years (all drafted Round 4 or earlier) and one player for whom they traded a third. Howie wanted to get this position right, and it’s safe to say he has.

Darby’s contract situation is an interesting one. The Top-20 CB contracts in the NFL all get over $9M per year, which would be a steep price to pay for the Eagles, especially when you consider the talent they have behind him. Is Darby a Top-20 corner in the NFL? I think he is, and I think he thinks he is, but he hasn’t yet played like one in Philadelphia. This upcoming season will do a lot for his potential appreciation.

The big question here is who plays the nickel. Rookie 4th-rounder Avonte Maddox stepping in on Day 1 would be ideal, but I don’t think he’ll be ready. Jalen Mills has the profile to make the switch, but he’s not a great cover corner to begin with. Rookie Sidney Jones also fits the size/quickness benchmarks, but has little experience there—and is his talent best spent there?

Rasul Douglas and his 6’2 frame are just chillin’, man.

Potential camp battle: Who wants—and who gets—the starting nickel job?

Safety (4) — Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jeremy Reaves, Tre Sullivan

Safety is probably the weakest position on Philadelphia’s roster, which opens up the door for UDFA Jeremy Reaves to make the depth chart. A three-year corner who converted to box safety in his last year with South Alabama, Reaves had good tape and killed the Senior Bowl—but after a surprising Combine snub, he tested poorly at his pro day and fell off the map. The Eagles are lucky to have him, and he makes sense as a Malcolm Jenkins backup—and perhaps even he may take nickel corner reps, given his coverage history.

Chris Maragos (31) gets the ax: can’t be paying a special-teamer with 0 developmental potential $2M, especially a position with tenuous starters. Rodney McLeod hasn’t played worth his deal yet, and his contract number is only getting bigger—and Malcolm Jenkins is over 30. They need youth on the depth chart—hence Reaves and Tre Sullivan, on whom the Eagles are high in the building.

Potential camp battle: Grappling with the reality of cutting Maragos

Specialist (3) — Cameron Johnson, Jake Elliott, Rick Lovato

I would imagine another punter gets brought in, but the Eagles have seen Johnston punt for two seasons now and no move has been made, so perhaps it’s a done deal. Besides that, #FreeJake has a potential camp battle with extra points, and Lovato has his eternal camp battle of trying to crawl out of Jon Dorenbos’s shadow.

Potential camp battle: Caring

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