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Philadelphia Eagles 53-man roster projection: Final edition

Who will make the final cut?

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at New York Jets Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason schedule is over and you know what that means: it’s time for NFL teams to trim their rosters down to the regular season 53-player limit before the deadline this Tuesday, August 31 at 4:00 PM Eastern. Thus, it’s only appropriate to run through one last Eagles roster projection to see how things might shake out.

Note that this activity was especially trick this year due to some unknown injury situations, some vested veterans who might not be on the original 53 but could return ahead of Week 1 or Week 2, and other nuances.

Anyway, enough excuse-making, here’s our best shot.


OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew (3) [3]

Hurts has much to prove in the regular season but he’s trending in the right direction coming out of camp. Flacco played well against backups in the preseason but didn’t look as hot against starters. He might be able to hold down the fort if Hurts has to miss a couple games but preferably he won’t play at all for the Birds in 2021. Minshew is here to be the No. 3 guy in 2021 before potentially taking over as the No. 2 in 2022. He could theoretically supplant Flacco if the vet has to play a lot and struggles.

RUNNING BACK: Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell, Jason Huntley (4) [7]

Sanders is primed for a big season as a runner. But can he overcome his deficiencies in the passing game? He really struggled with drops last season and in camp. Scott has earned his spot on the team with a solid summer. It took Gainwell some time to look his best, which may be expected from a rookie who didn’t even play football last year (COVID-19 opt-out). Gainwell has not only earned a roster spot; he belongs in the rotation as a role player. The Eagles not playing Jordan Howard in the preseason finale signals they want to keep him around. It would be dumb to keep him on the original 53, though, when they can very easily give him the Cre’Von LeBlanc treatment by cutting him and then bringing back a day later after they clear some spots (such as by putting someone on injured reserve, for example). Who is coming after Howard if the Eagles cut him? He hasn’t been so amazing this summer and he even admitted no other teams were interested in him from the time he was cut last November until he re-signed with Philly in April. Jason Huntley is a tough call here. He’s the Eagles’ best kick return and he flashed home run running ability early in camp before missing time with a ribs injury. Maybe the Eagles can carry him through the original 53 to put him on short-term IR ... to open up a spot for Howard. The Birds did carry Huntley on their roster all last season without even really playing him. Would they do that just to give up on him now? Elijah Holyfield is looking at a practice squad spot at best.

WIDE RECEIVER: DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (5) [12]

DeVonta is WR1. He’s going to do some special things as a rookie. Watkins and Reagor are the only other two stone cold locks at this spot. Watkins has had a fantastic summer, working his way up from the third team to the team’s second best receiver. The idea that Reagor had a good camp doesn’t quite hold up to me when he had a lot more success in 1-on-1s than he ever did in 11-on-11s, which matters slightly more. Still, Reagor will start ... and perhaps even return punts. As the oldest receiver set to make the team, Ward is viewed as a leader in that position group. He’s not overly threatening, no, but he’s sure-handed, provides slot depth, and plays special teams. JJAW seems to be on the team based on how little he played in the finale and how he had some success not only on offense but special teams as well. Travis Fulgham is a tough call because he has not had the kind of summer anyone would’ve liked to see from him. But, unlike a number of his fellow receivers, he’s actually produced in real game action. Fulgham also provides the Eagles’ receiving corps with size they otherwise lack. The Eagles could easily look to move on from these bottom guys if they find upgrades with the No. 6 spot in the waiver wire claim order. Andre Patton could make sense to keep around on the practice squad given his surprisingly solid summer. John Hightower playing a lot in the preseason finale doesn’t seem to bode well for him. He didn’t have a good summer.

TIGHT END: Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Tyree Jackson (3) [15]

Still believe there’s a chance Ertz gets traded. If not soon, before the deadline during the season. The thinking here is the Eagles will move Ertz if they’re looking like sellers (read: not a very good football team) ahead of November 2. If they are looking good, they’ll just keep him, even though it’s not in the team’s best long-term interests. Goedert not having a full season to be TE1 before he’s potentially re-signed to a long-term contract feels like a missed opportunity to evaluate him in that heavy volume role. Jackson won’t be ready to play until at some point in October so the Eagles will put him on injured reserve. Doing so only leaves them with two healthy tight ends, but they should be able to easily bring back Richard Rodgers after briefly cutting him. Jack Stoll is a candidate to be kept if the Eagles don’t want to expose him to waivers but he should hardly be a lock to get scooped up.

OFFENSIVE LINE: Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Nate Herbig, Jack Driscoll, Landon Dickerson, Le’Raven Clark (10) [25]

The starting offensive line is locked in with Mailata easily winning the left tackle job. The Eagles could have one of the league’s top blocking units if they’re able to stay healthy, which is no guarantee. Dillard shouldn’t be on the roster but the guess here is that Howie Roseman doesn’t want to take the L on him just yet. He’s just not a good depth option considering he’s 1) bad 2) injury-prone and 3) not versatile. Herbig hasn’t had a great summer but the Eagles seem to like him and he could be the top interior option early on. Driscoll provides depth at right tackle and the Eagles have been cross-training him at guard. Dickerson being activated from active/PUP is just a total guess and isn’t what I would do since it would be wise to play it safe. But this is a team that overrated Alshon Jeffery’s readiness last year so they might be prone to making these kind of mistakes. Or he might just be ready to play soon. Clark might be one of the vets the Eagles originally cut only to bring back a day or two later. But they might not be able to afford to do that given the lack of quality tackle depth around the league. I was tempted to keep Kayode Awosika here but he might be able to make it to the practice squad. Brett Toth is on the bubble but probably on the outside looking in. It’s time for the Matt Pryor era to be over. Sua Opeta has struggled too often to make the cut.


DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE END: Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, Tarron Jackson (5) [30]

Graham is a starter. Sweat and Barnett will presumably share playing time but it’ll be interesting to see exactly what that split looks like. Sweat seems like the favorite to play more since he had a great camp. We’ll see. Barnett is currently dealing with a shoulder injury but he might be ready for Week 1. Kerrigan missed most of camp after experiencing a thumb injury that required surgery. He’s making the roster based on reputation more than merit. Jackson is a really tough call. The rookie has had some flashes but hasn’t been consistent. He’s right on the bubble. The Eagles might not need to go five deep here with 1) the presence of a pass rushing SAM linebacker and 2) Milton Williams also playing on the edge.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Milton Wiliams, T.Y. McGill (4) [34]

Cox could rebound to elite form with Hargrave looking like an absolute terror next to him. Williams has shown potential and could split time between tackle and end. McGill is yet another vet in the potential “cut him only to bring him right back” bucket. Feels like McGill has been too good not to keep, though. I toyed with keeping Hassan Ridgeway because he’s a bigger body, the Eagles seem to like him, and he suspiciously didn’t play much in the preseason finale. But he just hasn’t done much to earn a roster spot so I couldn’t do it.

LINEBACKER: Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Genard Avery, Davion Taylor, JaCoby Stevens (6) [40]

Such a tough position to figure out. Wilson and Singleton are locks to start. Edwards provides depth and can contribute as a role player/special teams guy. Avery shouldn’t make the team but the team seems to like him. He’s a potential candidate to be put on short-term IR with a groin injury. Taylor is also a candidate for short-term IR as he’s still dealing with a calf issue. Assuming those two spots are opened up, the Eagles could look to bring back Shaun Bradley and Patrick Johnson if they clear waivers, which they very well could as former late-round picks. Stevens isn’t a lock but the thinking is the Eagles like his potential as they transition him from safety to linebacker.

CORNERBACK: Darius Slay, Steve Nelson, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Craig James (5) [45]

Slay and Nelson are starting on the outside. Maddox is manning the slot. ZMP is the top backup option on the outside, which is a bit unnerving considering his preseason struggles. Kevon Seymour could be a surprise inclusion given his experience. Including James goes against the “you can’t make the club in the tub” mantra but he’s a good special teams player and he could be placed on short-term IR. Josiah Scott was a tough exclusion. That he suffered a hamstring injury on Friday night complicates his outlook, though. Michael Jacquet III could make the practice squad.

SAFETY: Anthony Harris, Rodney McLeod, Marcus Epps, K’Von Wallace, Elijah Riley (5) [50]

Harris is a lock to start. McLeod might not be ready for Week 1. Epps looks like the favorite to start next to Harris, especially with Wallace dealing with an injury. Wallace and/or Riley could be short-term IR candidates with the Eagles temporarily bring Andrew Adams back. Grayland Arnold is probably a practice squad candidate.

SPECIAL TEAMS

K: Jake Elliott (1) [51]

Elliott bounced back from a shaky start to have a very good camp. Good to see.

P: Arryn Siposs (1) [52]

Siposs did enough to be the Eagles’ punter. Additional value as a kickoff specialist.

LS: Rick Lovato (1) [53]

The Eagles’ long snapper.


PRACTICE SQUAD

RB Elijah Holyfield, WR Andre Patton, WR John Hightower, TE Jack Stoll, OT Brett Toth, OG Sua Opeta, OG Kayode Awosika, C Ross Pierschbacher, DT Hassan Ridgeway, DT Marlon Tuipulotu, LB Shaun Bradley, LB Patrick Johnson, CB Michael Jacquet III, CB Josiah Scott, S Andrew Adams, S Grayland Arnold

Exemption: DE Matt Leo