Philadelphia Eagles training camp is essentially over.
The team still has three more preseason games (including tomorrow’s contest against the Patriots) and a few weeks of practice before final cuts take place by 4:00 PM ET on Saturday, September 1. But those practices will no longer be open in their entirety to media members such as myself.
So now that we’re here, here are my thoughts on the Eagles’ roster. There’s one for each position group.
1 - I think Carson Wentz isn’t going to miss much time, if any at all
This belief doesn’t just stem from blind faith. It comes from seeing how healthy and awesome he’s looked while participating in practice. I know the Eagles’ decision to back him off from 11-on-11 has spooked some people, but I just didn’t see the need for him to be risking further injury in those drills.
It sounds like Wentz might return to 11-on-11 heading into the third preseason game. If that’s the case, that’ll give him more than two weeks of practice in advance of Week 1. I think that’s enough time.
If somehow it’s not, and Nick Foles starts Week 1, Wentz would then have 10 more days before the Eagles play the Buccaneers in Week 2. I’d have to think he’ll be starting by then at the very latest.
The Eagles’ actions show Wentz will be starting much closer to Week 1 than Week 7. If Wentz was going to miss several games, they likely would’ve put him on the active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) to start camp. But they didn’t.
Wentz is going to be ready early in the season and that’s very good news for the Eagles because, you see, he’s one of the most promising players at his position in the league. We know the Eagles can go far with him at the helm.
2 - I think the Eagles will have a three-headed monster at running back
I’m looking forward to seeing Jay Ajayi in his second year with this team. The guy averaged 5.83 yards per carry in the regular season with the Eagles last year. Ajayi very well might be the Eagles ‘lead back’ but Darren Sproles and Corey Clement are going to get their touches as well.
Sproles, who turned 35 years old in June, has shown no signs of age or injury during camp. He’s looked spry as ever. It’s fun to think about adding a unique weapon like him into one of the league’s best offenses from last year.
Clement looks ready to take another step forward in his development. There’s been buzz that the team is very high on him. Clement is certainly a capable runner and we now know he has the ability to contribute as a third-down back as well.
The fourth running back spot doesn’t even really matter. Whether it’s Josh Adams, Wendell Smallwood, Matt Jones, or Donnel Pumphrey (probably not him!), the guy who wins that job isn’t likely to have a big role in 2018. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m partial to keeping Adams.
3 - I think Nelson Agholor is going to be even better this year
Last year was all about Agholor going from “literally one of the worst receivers in the league” to “valuable slot receiver.” I think Agholor can take an even bigger leap this year. He might turn out to be a Pro Bowl caliber pass catcher.
Agholor was looking like one of the best players in camp prior to a “lower body injury” that’s kept him out for about a week now. He’s been a real tough cover in the slot. He’s also made a habit of burning corners deep down the field, which has caused me to believe he looks faster than ever.
It’s not crazy to think that Agholor could led the team in receiving yards. It is crazy to think it was once very crazy to think that.
Aside from Agholor, Mike Wallace and Shelton Gibson have had good camps. Mack Hollins has been a disappointment in the sense he hasn’t stood out more while taking first team reps in Alshon Jeffery’s absence. It’s not like Hollins has been outright bad, he’s just been quieter than one would’ve liked to see. Hopefully Jeffery’s return to the field will take place closer to Week 1 than Week 7. If so, he’ll be able to avoid the reserve/PUP list.
4 - I think Dallas Goedert is going to be a legitimate weapon
The Eagles’ second-round rookie has been a beast all offseason. Rookie tight ends typically take some time to get adjusted to the NFL, so I’m not saying we should put Goedert in the Hall of Fame just yet, but actually that’s exactly what I’m saying. He looks like the real deal. He’s going to be an effective weapon in this offense, ESPECIALLY in the red zone. Even his blocking seems to be holding up, which will only help his case for more playing time. Buy all the Goedert stock you can buy.
5 - I think the Eagles’ offensive line is still elite
Jason Peters looks pretty healthy to my eye. The Eagles should figure to still have one of the league’s best o-lines with him back.
And it’s not just about the starting five that makes Philadelphia so good up front. It’s that they have strong depth as well. Halapoulivaati Vaitai has had a good camp; he’s at least a viable swing tackle. The guard picture is a little more shaky considering Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack haven’t been setting the world on fire ... but rookie lineman Matt Pryor has emerged and could be a factor there.
A big reason why the Eagles were able to win the Super Bowl last year was because they were so dominant and deep up front. Their o-line situation still seems very good to me.
6 - I think the Eagles’ pass rush is still going to EAT
I was so convinced the Eagles were going to have a dominant pass rush heading into 2017. The team made me look smarter than I really am by leading the league in total pressures generated.
Heading into 2018, the Eagles still figure to be good at getting to the quarterback. Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, and then Steven Means and/or Josh Sweat is a strong group of pass rushers. That group doesn’t even account for Fletcher Cox, who we’ll talk about in our next point.
There are some fair reasons for concern here. Bennett and Long are reaching the end of their careers. Graham may or may not be ready for Week 1. Barnett’s had a relatively quiet summer.
But based on what I’ve seen in camp, I don’t have reason to believe the pass rush is going to be drastically different from last year.
7 - I think I’m a little concerned about the Eagles’ defensive tackle situation, outside of Fletcher Cox
Cox has had a great offseason. He’s been living in the backfield during both practice AND preseason games. He looks like a guy who is legitimately trying to win Defensive Player of the Year, as he said he is.
Outside of Cox, though, who do you really feel great about at this position? We’ve seen Timmy Jernigan be effective when healthy but it’s not even clear when he’ll return this season, if at all.
That leaves the Eagles with the likes of Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls, Bruce Hector, Aziz Shittu, and Winston Craig. Two of those players could be starting if Cox has to miss any time. Bennett and Graham can play inside, sure, but they’re not full-time tackles.
8 - I think people are underrating how big it is to have Jordan Hicks back
The attention at linebacker has gone to “Who’s gonna be the starter at WILL?” The correct answer is: “Who cares?” I mean, it should obviously be Kamu Grugier-Hill, but even if it’s Nate Gerry, he’s only going to play like 25% of the defensive snaps.
The bigger deal is that that Hicks is back healthy. I’m really looking forward to watching him in 2018. It’s easy to forget how good he’s been when he’s played due to the injuries. He’s a play-maker. This season is a very big year for him as he’s set to be a free agent in 2019. I expect big things out of No. 58 if he can just stay healthy.
9 - I think it’ll be really interesting to see how the cornerback situation plays out
Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby have had very strong summers. They’re locked in as the starting cornerbacks, barring a Darby trade.
Who starts at nickel cornerback? The answer is ... well, we still don’t know. It’s easy to assume Sidney Jones will be the guy there. He’s taken the most first team reps at the position.
But Avonte Maddox has recently emerged as a stronger contender than originally believed. The fourth-round rookie practiced as the first team slot guy for three days in a row. I imagine he might start there during Thursday’s game?
We’ll see. It’s still hard to imagine Jones not being on the field for a decent amount of time this season.
Then again, I don’t think Jones has lived up to the hype. Again, that’s not to say he’s had a BAD camp. But I don’t think he’s had a “this guy definitely would’ve been a top 15 pick last year” type camp, either. Maybe that’s to be expected considering this is the 22-year-old’s first real extensive NFL action and he’s playing a new position. I’m hardly giving up on the kid. I’m just trying to pump the brakes on unrealistic expectations.
Beyond those guys, I’m interested to see how Rasul Douglas fits in. It currently seems like he doesn’t, besides on special teams.
10 - I think we can take the stability at safety for granted
Remember when the Eagles struggled to find even ONE good safety at times during the post-Brian Dawkins era? Or they’d have one good one but couldn’t even find a halfway decent second one?
It’s easy to take for granted that the Eagles have a pretty stable duo in Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. They’ll be entering their third season together. And Jenkins has been here now since 2014.
Even last year’s third safety, Corey Graham, is back. The trusty vet gives the Eagles some nice depth. Tre Sullivan was looking good in practices before struggling in the first preseason game. Hopefully he can get back on track and maybe even become a full-time starter years down the line.
11 - I think Cameron Johnston might actually stick around
There have been some struggles but the Eagles seem to like their Australian punter. They haven’t brought in any competition. And with Johnston hitting an 81-yarder in a preseason game, he’s giving them some reason to keep him around. I don’t think he’ll have a super long leash if he struggles in the regular season, but I think he’ll make the 53-man roster to start out.