Everywhere you look, people are saying that the Eagles are the deepest team in the league. Considering they won the Super Bowl with several key starters injured, that seems both fair and perhaps like it’s recency bias. Or perhaps not. There aren’t many roster spots available, this year’s camp battles will determine the bottom of the depth chart to open the season.
Obviously a lot can change between now and Labor Day. Injury can happen to anyone, a trade is always possible with Howie Roseman, and every year a few guys around the NFL who were thought to be just camp bodies turn out to be legit players, which shakes things up for their team. But we’re talking about how things appear today, and it appears that there aren’t many spots open.
Last season, the Eagles broke camp with 24 players on offense, 26 on defense, and 3 specialists. In 2016, they carried 25 on offense and defense, along with 3 specialists. Neither are unusual amounts, and there’s no reason to think they will carry an usual amount in 2018.
Today, we’ll look at the offense, and later in the week the defense and specialists.
Quarterback (3 of 3): Carson Wentz isn’t going anywhere, and unless a team that thinks it’s a contender loses their QB in training camp to injury and makes a panic trade, neither is Nick Foles. The only question here is if the Eagles decide to carry Nate Sudfeld as the 3rd QB, or use the roster spot on a different position. The Eagles will likely carry three to continue to develop Sudfeld as the #2 for 2019. 4th stringer Joe Callahan has the resume of a 3rd string QB, which is nice to have.
Offensive Line (8 of 8-9): Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson are set in stone as the starters, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai is the swing tackle, Chance Warmack is the backup guard and Isaac Seumalo has (theoretical) positional versatility for the 8th spot. There’s no need to tinker beyond adding some youth to keep the pipeline going.
Which the Eagles did when they drafted Matt Pryor in the 6th round. A 6th round pick not making a 53 man roster isn’t unheard of, especially at a position group already so good, so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he doesn’t make the team. (7th round draft pick and rugby player Jordan Mailata is destined for the practice squad at best.) But in 2017 the Eagles went light on OL, using only 8 at a time, most teams carry more. in 2016 they broke camp with 11 offensive linemen. Taking last year’s 8 and adding Pryor, a tackle who spent some time in OTAs and minicamp as a guard, is in line with how teams construct their roster.
Aaron Evans, Darrell Greene, Taylor Hart, Ian Park, Jon Toth, and Toby Weathersby round out the rest of the training camp depth chart, and it feels like they’ll just be competing for a spot on the practice squad or someone else’s roster, or in Toth’s case maybe the next Eagle to compete in America’s Got Talent. The real camp battle for offensive line in 2018 maybe be how many the team carries, not who they carry. And in turn, that means another position will carry one fewer player.
Tight End (2 of 3): Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert are locks. The only question here is if Richard Rogers sticks or if he’s upended by Billy Brown (Josh Perkins is a longshot), or they decide to give the spot to a blocker, Adam Zeruba being the only in-house candidate for that role.
Wide Receiver (4 of 5 or 6): Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins are set. After that, it’s an interesting situation. This could be where the Eagles slide a roster spot to OL from. In 2016, with the worst group of WRs in the NFL and thus reason to carry more and see if anyone stuck out, the Eagles carried 5 WRs. In 2017 with clear upgrades they carried 6. Like offensive line, perhaps more interesting than who fills out the rest of the depth chart is how many do.
Shelton Gibson has a slight advantage in having moved up in the depth chart during the 2017 season, but this year he has some relatively strong competition in Markus Wheaton and Marquess Wilson, along with Rashard Davis, Bryce Treggs, Anthony Mahoungou, Greg Ward, and Tom Wilson, but that’s what training camp is for.
In 2014 and 2015, Wheaton was the #2 WR for the Steelers, then suffered a season ending injury early in the 2016 season, and was invisible on an invisible Bears passing offense in 2017, he also has experience as a kick returner. Marquess Wilson was out of football in 2017, but spent the first three years working his way up the depth chart under Mike Groh. Davis was the 2016 FCS All-American punt returner, and he also returned kicks. Greg Ward has a year of transitioning to WR under his belt, and with Trey Burton gone has the “break glass in case of emergency QB”/trick play QB role to offer. Treggs returns for a third training camp, while Mahoungou and Tom Wilson are just camp bodies. Additionally, it’s worth noting that there’s no clear backup to Nelson Agholor, whoever operates best in the slot could have a real advantage.
Running Back (2 of 4-5): Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement are locks.
Then there’s Darren Sproles. He’s 35 and coming off two injuries, one of which was an ACL tear. Frank Gore is the only running back older than him (by a matter of weeks). Running backs aren’t meant to keep playing at this age, but then Sproles is unique. He’s also still recovering from his injuries, he didn’t participate in OTAs and was limited in minicamp. Is he still a useful player?
Speaking of determining if a player is still useful, is Wendell Smallwood? Two years ago the coaching staff talked about Smallwood having starter potential, he ended last season as a healthy scratch.
Can Donnel Pumphrey show the potential the Eagles saw in him in the 2017 draft? Will Josh Adams or Matt Jones earn a spot as a late game bruiser and fill some of the void of LeGarrette Blount? And then there’s the question of how many running backs will the Eagles carry. Last year they broke camp with 5, which is a large amount, and held it for two weeks before putting Pumphrey on IR. Ajay will be the starter, but not they’re going to make him a 250+ carry runner. Expect a lot of rotation and situational usage, which could mean a big depth chart. If not, this could be where an extra offensive lineman comes from.
On the eve of camp, 19 of the 24-26 offensive roster spots are secure, or in other words 5-7 are up for grab. A testament to the Eagles’ talent depth, they’re all at the bottom of the depth chart: the last OL and TE, situational RBs, and WRs who will be mainly special teamers. Half the jobs up for grabs will be inactive on game day.
Not hugely exciting, but that’s a byproduct of having a team so good it several key injuries and still won the Super Bowl. Which was very exciting.