The Eagles will play a preseason football game tonight against the New England Patriots. The final score won’t matter (although it would be pretty great if the Eagles won 41-33), but it will still be interesting to see how certain players perform. There are plenty of roster jobs and position battles to be won/lost this summer. Here are the most interesting Eagles players to watch in tonight’s game. Keep in mind the starters will only play for about a quarter. For your convenience, I’ve listed jersey numbers next to the names of players.
1 - Nick Foles - #9
The reigning Super Bowl MVP will see his first NFL game action since the night of Sunday, February 4. Will Foles come out as hot as he was that night or will he need to shake off some rust? And will Tom Brady finally shake Foles’ hand at some point?
2 - Avonte Maddox - #29
Maddox might be the Eagles’ starting slot cornerback tonight. The fourth-round rookie received first team reps there over the last three days of training camp practice. I’ve seen some improvement from how Maddox was playing during spring drills. He looks more comfortable in the nickel role. Now let’s see how that translates to game action. The Patriots love throwing to their slot receivers, as we know. Trying to defend against Brady’s arm will be a big challenge for the rookie defensive back.
3 - Sidney Jones - #22
It was good to see Jones in on some tackles (on both defense and special teams) last week against the Steelers. I’d like to see him tested in coverage a little bit more this time around. It’ll be interesting to see where Jones lines up with Maddox potentially getting first team nickel reps. Will the Eagles use Jones as the second team nickel? Will they give him reps on the outside? I’d like to see him get some time at both spots. Again, I don’t think Jones has been bad this summer, but I still want to see more out of him. So does the coaching staff, clearly, since he’s not the undisputed option at nickel.
4 - Nate Sudfeld - #7
Sudfeld was up and down in his first preseason game last week. Now that the nerves are hopefully dialed down, I’ll be interested to see if he can turn in a good performance while coming off the bench to replace Foles. Sudfeld is entrenched as the No. 3 quarterback in 2018 but he’s currently playing for his job as a potential backup to Carson Wentz in 2019.
5 - Wendell Smallwood - #28
The battle for the fourth running back appears to be wide open, especially with Josh Adams and Donnel Pumphrey recently missing time. Smallwood drew some praise from the coaching staff for his performance against the Steelers last week. The coaches also highlighted his value as a special teams player, which is obviously important for depth guys. Smallwood did have a really bad fumble last week, so his margin for mistakes should be slim. A strong showing, on the other hand, could put him in the lead to make the roster.
6- Matt Jones - #38
Jones missed last week’s game due to injury. It’s been a quiet summer for the 25-year-old rusher. Let’s see if he can stand out in his first preseason action with the Eagles. A bad night from Smallwood combined with a strong night by himself could boost Jones’ stock.
7 - Bruce Hector - #66
Hector has been promoted to second team defensive tackle in practice. The undrafted free agent signing showed up against the Steelers with a strip-sack. Now he has a chance to make everyone feel better about a position where the Eagles are currently stretched thin.
8 - Jordan Mailata - #68
First, go read Benjamin Solak’s great article on Mailata. Now that you’ve done that, allow me to say it’ll never not be interesting to watch the Eagles’ 6-8, 346 pound rookie play football. I just know there’s going to be a moment where he absolutely flattens someone while blocking out in space on a screen play. Just chucking them into oblivion. I can’t wait for that moment. Another non-disastrous showing could really help Mailata’s roster chances.
9 - Mike Wallace - #14
Wallace missed last week’s game so this will be the first time he plays a game in an Eagles uniform. Wallace has really come on in camp lately. He’s been aided by the fact that Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor aren’t currently practicing. With Wallace being the Eagles’ best wide receiver option for Foles, I’m sure we’ll see him get some targets. Maybe even one deep shot down the field.
10 - Kamar Aiken - #81
Aiken got the start at receiver last week and will likely do so again with Jeffery and Mack Hollins expected to be out. Aiken has not had a great camp by any means but I think he might end up as the sixth receiver on the 53-man roster due to his NFL experience and special teams ability. Not to mention that he has Joe Douglas in his corner. Aiken can undo the damage of not looking great in practice but putting some on some good game film.
11 - Greg Ward Jr. - #89
Ward will likely get the start in the slot with Agholor not playing. It’s been a relatively quiet offseason for the quarterback-turned-receiver who is floating on the roster bubble. It’d be nice to see him show up tonight after being held without a catch against Pittsburgh. Along with Ward, it’s also worth keeping an eye on his running mates: Rashard Davis, Bryce Treggs, and Tim Wilson. There’s a sixth receiver spot and practice squad jobs to be won (or lost).
12 - Corey Nelson - #52
Nelson has been nearly invisible this summer. I didn’t even remember seeing him at any point in last week’s game. He did play, though, because he had one tackle. Nelson hasn’t been in the conversation for the “starting” WILL linebacker; far from it. Instead, he’s been running with the third team defense. Doesn’t seem like the best sign for his roster chances, huh? Nelson really needs to step up here. It’s not just making Philadelphia’s 53-man that’s on the line. It’s his NFL career.
13 - Nathan Gerry - #47
Gerry didn’t really impress during his start at WILL last week. Despite this, the Eagles continue to run him out with the first team defense. The team clearly likes him. It’d be nice if he could reward that faith.
14 - Kamu Grugier-Hill - #54
Kamuuuuuuuuu has been around the ball all offseason long. He’s been making plays in practice and during the games. Maybe he’ll be able to steal the WILL job from Gerry if he continues to do so.
15 - Derek Barnett - #96
Barnett is in the “it’s been a quiet summer for that guy” category. Again, not saying he’s looked bad, but it’d be nice to see some more from him. Maybe take up Brandon Graham’s mantle and strip-sack Brady early in the game. AND recover it, just like he did in February, as well.
16 - Josh Perkins - #83
I found it noteworthy that Perkins outsnapped incumbent fourth tight end Billy Brown last week. It was a minor difference, but still, most would figure Brown would be ahead of Perkins. That might not be the case. Perkins will get a chance to state his case for a fourth tight end spot on either the 53-man or the practice squad tonight.
17 - Billy Brown - #85
Brown has had some flashes but they’ve been a little too few and far between. It’d be nice to see him show up tonight, especially if Goedert isn’t going to play. The playing time should be there for him. Just needs to make the most of it.
18 - Cameron Johnston - #1
Johnston unleashed an 81-yard punt in last week’s game. He also had a good day of practice this week in a drill where he was aiming to pin the ball inside the 20. Let’s see if the Aussie can build on that momentum with another strong showing tonight.
NOTE: I would’ve included Josh Adams but I’m not sure if he’s going to play due to a “lower body injury” he suffered during Monday’s practice. It’s also unclear if Dallas Goedert will suit up. Those guys are obviously worth watching closely if they do play.