Now that Philadelphia Eagles training camp is over, let’s look at what we’ve learned.
1 - The NFL might be able to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic after all
There was never much doubt about the NFL’s desire to start the 2020 season. But there was certainly skepticism that it would be able to safely take place during the coronavirus pandemic. Check out these BGN poll results from back on June 18:
As of right now, there’s cautious optimism the NFL will be able to complete the 2020 campaign. So far, teams around the league have done a good job of containing COVID-19 cases.
That includes the Philadelphia Eagles, who had three players start out on the reserve/COVID-19 list before being cautiously reintegrated back into the team. The Eagles even successfully managed a COVID-19 flare up with Doug Pederson contracting the virus early in training camp. Pederson was able to return after self-quarantining for 10 days.
The league-wide testing numbers continue to be encouraging:
The National Football League and NFL Players Association today announced the COVID-19 monitoring testing results for August 21– August 29.
During this period, players and Tier 1 and 2 personnel were tested daily. Tier 3 individuals were tested weekly. Individuals who test positive for COVID-19 follow the joint NFL-NFLPA Treatment Protocol. They are immediately isolated, not permitted access club facilities, or have direct contact with players or personnel. Club medical staff are in regular communication with individuals who test positive to monitor symptoms.
Monitoring Testing results for August 21 – August 29:
58,621 tests were administered to a total of 8,739 players and team personnel.
23,279 tests were administered to 2,747 players; 35,342 tests were administered to 5,992 personnel.
There were four new confirmed positive tests among players and six new confirmed positives among other personnel.
Of course, just because there hasn’t been a big outbreak yet doesn’t mean it’s not coming. We’ve yet to see how things will go once teams start traveling and playing each other as opposed to being confined to their own facilities like they were for training camp. One must also understand that it can take unwise behavior (see: the Miami Marlins) from even just one person to ruin things for a lot of people.
With that said, it’s hard not to feel better about the NFL’s chances of getting the 2020 season in. They’ve handled things well to this point. Let’s hope it continues that way.
Will there be a 2020 NFL season?
This poll is closed
2 - So much for better injury luck
The Eagles were the second most injured team in 2018 and the 12th most injured team in 2019. So, they’re finally due for some good injury luck in 2020, right? Especially after making two key medical hires from some of the NFL’s healthiest teams?
Pro Bowl right guard Brandon Brooks suffered a season-ending injury in June, two months before the Eagles’ first offseason practice even took place. Starting left tackle Andre Dillard is set to miss the 2020 campaign. It should be noted here that a big part of Eagles’ bad injury luck hasn’t just been about key injuries in general but key injuries suffered at the same position. That makes matters even worse.
Other ailments include Javon Hargrave and Derek Barnett missing the entirety of training camp before participating in a single padded practice. There’s hope they’ll be ready for Week 1 ... but we’ll see. Jalen Reagor is set to miss multiple weeks and could miss the season opener. One can only hope the rookie’s shoulder injury doesn’t linger the way that Jordan Howard’s last year.
Miles Sanders missed most of training camp due to a hamstring issue. Dallas Goedert suffered a hairline fracture in his thumb. Lane Johnson has missed eight practices now due to some unspecified “lower body injury.”
When, if ever, are the Eagles going to be healthy?
3 - The wide receiver position might finally be figured out!?
I’m hardly ready to say the Eagles are “set” at receiver. This group has much to prove in regular season action.
But it’s easy to feel encouraged by what we saw out of these pass catchers in camp.
DeSean Jackson looks as spry as ever. The 33-year-old is still very fast and gets open at all levels of the field with ease. Jackson’s going to have a real big season IF he can stay healthy; Carson Wentz loves throwing his way.
Reagor flashed big play ability but was especially unguardable on slant routes; Wentz often connected with him on those patterns. There’s big YAC potential there.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside had the camp he needed to have after such a disappointing rookie season. JJAW pretty much caught everything thrown his way and really dominated in red zone drills.
Greg Ward didn’t have a super flashy camp but he was often targeted by Wentz while lining up as the first team slot guy. He also drew praise from the coaching staff for being an emerging leader in the receiver room. Pederson said the Eagles are expecting “some really big things” from G-Ward.
John Hightower had a surprisingly good camp for a rookie fifth-round pick with no OTAs under his belt. He came off as a well-rounded talent by winning in a number of different ways: route-running, deep speed, contested catches ... you name it. He made several highlight catches without dropping a single pass.
Quez Watkins didn’t have as good of a camp as Hightower but the rookie showed his deep speed and got some work with the first team offense at times. He might be the Eagles’ kick returner?
Deontay Burnett entered camp as an afterthought for many but the 22-year-old really deserves to make the team. He routinely stood out in a good way on most days of practice. He’s not the biggest or most athletic guy but he catches everything thrown his way. Burnett arguably had a better camp than Ward.
And it’s not like these receivers stood out because the Eagles’ cornerbacks were awful; Philly’s defensive backs played pretty well this summer. The receivers just made plays. New wide receivers coach Aaron Moorehead deserves some credit for getting these guys off to a good start.
Again, the real test will be what they do in the real games. It’s entirely possible these young guys won’t look as good in the regular season as they did in camp. If Jackson goes down for an extended period of time, it’s feasible to think Wentz could be in a position where he doesn’t have enough receiver support yet again.
The early signs are encouraging, though. There’s reasonable reason for hope.
4 - The offensive line is a huge concern
It’s only fitting that when it looks like the Eagles’ receiving corps is finally coming together ... the offensive line is potentially falling apart.
The Eagles are going to be without their starting left tackle and starting right guard in 2020. Just not ideal.
Further, it currently seems like they’re reluctant to move Jason Peters from right guard to left tackle. The team is having Matt Pryor — who lacks experience on the left side and was dominated by Josh Sweat in pracice — line up in place of Dillard. It’s impossible to feel good about that setup.
Even if the Eagles give in to Peters’ reported demands and move him back outside, there’s worry about the depth behind him. And we know that the 38-year-old is not going to manage to play 100% of the snaps.
It’s hard to have much confidence in Jordan Mailata. If the team truly felt good about him, he’d be getting the first crack at left tackle reps right now instead of Pryor. Not to mention how Mailata has regularly been dominated by 2018 undrafted rookie free agent signing Joe Ostman in practice.
Jack Driscoll has shown potential but he’s really only lining up on the right side so I fail to see him as a left tackle answer. Fellow rookie Prince Tega Wanogho is a new-comer to football and didn’t even draw mention from Pederson as a starting left tackle option.
I’d like to reiterate what I previously wrote about the offensive line last week:
The Eagles are built to win through the trenches. They won Super Bowl LII largely in part to how strong they were up front. The offensive line has also been a driving factor behind three straight seasons with playoff appearances.
For as much as we might think the Eagles look weak at a position like linebacker, that’s just not going to be a spot that sinks the entire season. Offensive line struggles, meanwhile, could do exactly that. There’s disaster potential in failing to adequately protect Wentz.
The offensive line is looking like a huge issue.
5 - This could be a top 8 defense
Not to get all MySpace on you but I think the Eagles could have a defense that ranks in the top quarter of the league. The Football Outsiders Almanac 2020 actually projects Jim Schwartz’s group to be the sixth best unit in the league.
Overall, the defense had a good camp.
The defensive line was pretty dominant. Now, they were undoubtedly helped by offensive line struggles, yes. But Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson are looking healthy, which is important. Josh Sweat looks ready to take another step forward in Year 3. Ostman had his moments in camp again. The unit should only be better and deeper when Barnett and Hargrave are able to return.
There’s optimism in the secondary. Nickell Robey-Coleman had a really strong summer as the Eagles’ first team slot corner. Darius Slay didn’t dominate but he made some good plays and deserves the benefit of the doubt to some extent given his career body of work. Avonte Maddox is going to lose out on some jump balls, like he did in practice, but he’s also going to play sticky coverage. All signs point to Jalen Mills handling the transition to safety well. We know what to expect from Rodney McLeod. Will Parks is looking like a big upgrade from the likes of Corey Graham and Andrew Sendejo as a third safety.
There might even be hope for the linebacker corps. Nathan Gerry figures to be at least a capable starter. T.J. Edwards and Duke Riley both made plays and could be utilized in a platoon. It’s hardly a great unit but the Eagles should be able to at least get by with them.
Schwartz draws a lot of ire and some of if it is deserved because he’s not perfect. But, look, he gets results. The Eagles have allowed the fifth fewest points in the NFL since he was hired in 2016. They’ve never finished with a defensive DVOA lower than 15th and their average finish is ninth.
The Eagles are going to have a relatively good defense in 2020. I just don’t know how much that’ll matter if the offense isn’t able to appropriately pull their weight.
6 - Nate Sudfeld is still the No. 2 QB but not for long
Sudfeld is going to start the 2020 season as the Eagles’ No. 2 quarterback. He got outplayed by Jalen Hurts early on but the rookie cooled off and Sudfeld regained the lead by the end of camp. If Wentz gets injured early on in the season, Sudfeld will be the one coming into the game.
Now, he won’t have a very long leash. And if Wentz has to miss an extended period of time, Hurts has a better chance of playing. Hurts showed nice potential in camp while Sudfeld is going to be a free agent in March 2021, after all.
Sudfeld is the No. 2 for now and I feel OK about that with the camp he had. Also feel OK if Hurts has to play.
Side note: I don’t think we’ll see Hurts much in any kind of Taysom Hill role. The Eagles did none of that in camp.
7 - The 2020 NFL Draft class might be Howie Roseman’s best in some time
There was a lot of pressure on Roseman to nail this year’s draft class and, make no mistake, the early returns are pretty positive.
Reagor looks ready to contribute when he gets healthy. Hurts has at least shown solid backup potential. K’Von Wallace could be a future starter at safety. Jack Driscoll could be an important backup at right tackle and has guard versatility. Hightower had a good summer. Shaun Bradley also had his moments in camp. Watkins could at least be a speedy backup. PTW is a worthwhile development tackle. Casey Toohill made his case to make the roster as a fifth or sixth defensive end.
The only rookie who didn’t show much was Davion Taylor. And that’s not a total shock because, while he’s very athletic, he’s raw and needs some time to develop.
Now, let’s hold off on crowning this year’s rookie class just yet. The 2019 draft class looked promising at this time last year and that wasn’t the case by the end of last year with Dillard and JJAW struggling.
Certainly a lot to like from what we saw out of the Eagles’ rookies this summer, though.
8 - The Eagles have some tough roster decisions to make
I’ll save a more in-depth breakdown of the bubble guys for a separate post on BGN. In brief, here are some of the questions to consider.
Should the Eagles cut or trade Sidney Jones and keep Craig James? The former has done nothing to earn his spot on the roster.
How many wide receivers should the Eagles keep? Seven deserve to make the team. In that same vein, do the Eagles keep six defensive ends? How many running backs?
Of course, it’s always better to struggle to get down to 53 than it is to struggle to come up with 53 guys worth keeping. The former is a sign of a talented roster. The Eagles just have to be smart about how they go about their team construction.
9 - The Eagles’ overall outlook isn’t dramatically different
I thought the Eagles were looking like a 9-7 team heading into camp. I still think they’re around that.
I definitely feel better about the wide receivers and the defense. But I also feel much worse about the offensive line.
I have a hard time feeling like the Eagles will be straight up bad with Pederson and Wentz at the helm. But I don’t think this team will be in strong contention for that No. 1 seed.
Staving off the Dallas Cowboys to become the first NFC East team to repeat as division champions since 2004 will be tough. The Eagles’ path to the playoffs might rely on earning one of the three wild card spots. And the problem with relying on those is that teams who barely make the postseason don’t really win championships anymore. Heck, a wild card team hasn’t even appeared in the Super Bowl since 2013.
But, hey, maybe the Eagles will exceed expectations. That’s always more fun than watching them fail to live up to lofty ones.
We’ll get our first glimpse at just how good the 2020 Eagles are when they face Washington Football Team on Sunday, September 13!