Prior to the Philadelphia Eagles’ final minicamp practice on Thursday, Super Bowl winning head coach Doug Pederson was asked about the “down-the-depth-chart players” who have “emerged or jumped out” to him during spring workouts. Pederson named a total of six guys in his answer.
I went into this off-season wanting to look at a lot of our younger players, obviously, from a year ago. I think guys like Rashard Davis and Greg Ward come to mind, Shelton Gibson come to mind, that have had really good springs. Even on the defensive side, Rasul Douglas, who played some last year but has sort of emerged himself this spring, has done a really nice job. You look at some of the draft picks, Dallas [Goedert], obviously, is going to be a nice fit for us as a tight end. I think these guys have really sort of embraced what we’re teaching [and] what we’re coaching. They have to get used to it. It’s a little different for a lot of these guys. I’m thinking of -- even [Aziz] Shittu, who came back from an injury a year ago, has had a really nice spring. So going into camp, we’re in a good spot with a lot of our younger players, and it’ll be interesting when we, again, put the pads on.
Here’s my quick take on each player based on what I’ve observed while attending Eagles practices.
For those who don’t remember, the Eagles signed Davis as an undrafted rookie free agent at some point after they traded Jordan Matthews last summer. Davis was cut before ultimately spending some time on the practice squad in 2017. The Eagles then decided to bring him back for the 2018 offseason.
At 5-9, 175 pounds, Davis is one of the smallest players on Philadelphia’s roster. The Eagles gave him looks in the slot. Davis had some nice moments where he showed off speed in spring practices but his hands weren’t always consistent.
I’m most intrigued by Davis’ punt return ability. His college numbers at James Madison were insanely good: 15 returns for 426 yards (a 28.4 average!) and four touchdowns. Davis will get an opportunity to show off his special teams ability in the preseason.
I think Davis ends up on the practice squad again unless he proves to be incredibly dangerous on returns.
There was thought that Ward, a converted quarterback out of Houston, was on the roster bubble last year. He spent the 2017 season on the practice squad instead.
Ward has the making of a solid backup slot receiver, in my eyes. He can get open and his hands are reliable. There’s also the bonus factor that he can play quarterback in an emergency, if needed. The Eagles had Ward throw the ball when they repped the Philly Special in the final minicamp practice.
Ward has a shot to be the fifth or sixth receiver. The Eagles could afford to keep someone who gives them depth directly behind Nelson Agholor.
Gibson has come a long way from where he was at this time last year. The 2017 fifth-round pick even admitted that he was pretty lost as a rookie. Gibson really, really, really struggled with drops last offseason. He couldn’t even catch the ball consistently in wide receiver drills where there was no defense on him.
The good news is that Gibson’s hands look a lot better. The drops haven’t completely disappeared, but they’re not as bad. Gibson also looks improved when it comes to running routes and knowing the offense.
Gibson has a pretty good chance to be the fifth or sixth receiver for this team. A strong training camp/preseason should lock him into one of those roles.
Douglas finds himself in a tough spot right now. Barring injury, the 2017 third-round pick doesn’t have an easy path to playing time. Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are the starting boundary corners. Sidney Jones, when healthy, projects to be a more talented player than Douglas. De’Vante Bausby, who received a lot of first team slot reps, is even arguably above Douglas on the depth chart since the WVU product isn’t part of the nickel cornerback competition. That makes Douglas the fifth corner on this roster.
I thought Douglas was more up and down this spring. His lack of speed is clearly still a hindrance. His physicality, on the other hands, can be one of his strengths. I specifically remember watching him on a rep where he lined up against Goedert and totally dislodged the tight end from his route.
That play made me think Douglas is best used for specific matchups against bigger guys like tight ends who move out wide or huge wide receivers (such as Kelvin Benjamin).
Douglas has the potential to be a contributor for this team in the future but I still don’t think he’s too much more than a special teams guy for now.
P.S. Don’t expect to see him at safety.
Cory Undlin said there aren't any thoughts of moving Rasul Douglas to safety right now. Feels he could play it if need be but is very haopy with Douglas on the outside at CB. #Eagles— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_NFL) June 11, 2018
Philly Goedert definitely deserves to be mentioned in the spring standouts. His combination of size and athleticism makes him a real tough cover, especially in the red zone. I don’t think Goedert dropped one pass the entire spring.
More than other positions, tight ends typically take time a long time to develop in the NFL. And Goedert still has Zach Ertz in front him. So I wouldn’t expect Goedert to post some otherwordly numbers as a rookie. That doesn’t mean he can’t be a really nice weapon for this team. I’m looking forward to seeing how Doug Pederson incoporates him into the offense.
Goedert is likely going to the No. 2 tight end on this team. Get used to seeing more of this.
Wentz back shoulder TD throw to Philly Goedert in the front left corner of the end zone. Corey Nelson had tight coverage, didn’t matter.— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) June 14, 2018
If you forgot this guy was still on the roster, I wouldn’t blame you. After spending the 2016 season on the practice squad, Shittu went on injured reserve early in May 2017. He missed the entire year but now he’s back in action and he looks good as someone who can provide interior disruption.
It’s not the first time Shittu has showed that ability. Back in the 2016 preseason, Shittu generated two sacks, two quarterback hits, five quarterback hurries, and four run stops in 121 snaps played (per Pro Football Focus). That was two years ago now and Shittu was going against third stringers, but still, it adds some context to the praise he’s getting now.
It wouldn’t shock me to see Shittu make the roster as a third or fourth defensive tackle while Tim Jernigan is out. I think he gives the team more juice than Destiny Vaeao does.
The next test for these players is finding a way to keep the positive momentum going in training camp and preseason. For now, it sure doesn’t hurt to be singled out by the head coach in a good way.