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25 players worth paying attention to in Eagles vs. Cowboys

Who are you most excited to see?

Philadelphia Eagles v Washington Football Team Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Given the low stakes, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Week 18 game against the Dallas Cowboys has a preseason feel to it. With the expectation that the Birds are going to rest their starters (to some extent, at least), we’re about to see a lot of backups hit the field.

It’ll be interesting* to get a look at these young, developmental players. Not only for the sake of evaluating the Eagles’ immediate depth but also seeing which guys might be future contributors.

In an attempt to find meaning in a mostly meaningless matchup, we’ve come up with a list of players that are worth paying attention to. For your convenience, I’ve listed jersey numbers next to the names.

*Your mileage may vary.

1 - Jason Kelce - #62

The Eagles activating Kelce from the COVID list indicates he’ll suit up. Do the Eagles play him just one snap to extend his streak before promptly pulling him out of the game? Or does the team give him — and perhaps some other starters — an entire drive? The feeling here is there’s no need to risk injury to any key players. Give Kelce a single snap, call a timeout if you have to, and let him rest.

2 - DeVonta Smith - #6

When asked about potentially resting, Smith said: “I feel like I need to be out there.” I respectfully disagree and so should the Eagles. But maybe there’s some motivation to have him play so he can pick up 38 yards and break DeSean Jackson’s rookie receiving record. If anything, how about a deep shot early in the game and then he doesn’t play after that?

3 - Gardner Minshew - #10

Minshew’s second start (assuming Jalen Hurts doesn’t play, which he shouldn’t) with the Eagles could be his last. The Eagles should be in no rush to trade him away for merely any offer that comes their way. He’s a competent backup at worst and he’s very cheap for 2022. But there is a price where it makes sense for the Eagles to move on from a player who will likely be gone after next season. Minshew can do his best to boost his value with a strong game.

4 - Kenneth Gainwell - #14

Gainwell has seemingly been in the doghouse in recent weeks. But he’s currently RB1 on the depth chart with Miles Sanders (injury), Jordan Howard (COVID), and Boston Scott (COVID) all out. Just how heavily will the Eagles lean on him? If they use him a lot, and especially late into the game, that might be a sign he’s not in line for many snaps in the playoffs. But maybe Gainwell can convince the coaching staff he warrants more touches if he looks good against Dallas.

5 - J.J. Arcega-Whiteside - #19

JJAW is a bust when it comes to being a major offensive contributor but he’s carved out a role as a dirty-work blocking receiver and special teams guy. This game should give him a chance to get some targets. Only twice in his last 24 appearances has JJAW seen multiple targets in one game.

6 - Zech McPhearson - #27

McPhearson showed some promise in training camp and hasn’t been a total liability when he’s had to fill in for either Darius Slay or Steve Nelson this season. Can he be a long-term starter one day? How about as soon as next season if Nelson leaves in free agency? ZMP could be majorly tested going up against the likes of Amari Cooper and/or CeeDee Lamb.

7 - JaCoby Stevens - #30

The rookie safety-turned-linebacker is set to be active for his second game with the Eagles. Snaps could be valuable for Stevens, especially considering injury issues limited him to just 34 in the preseason. It’ll be interesting to see how much the coaching staff trusts him on defense. He figures to at least help out on special teams.

8 - Kary Vincent Jr. - #34

The Eagles acquired KVJ ahead of the NFL trade deadline. He’s mostly been a healthy scratch since joining the team. It’ll be interesting to get a first look at the 2021 seventh-round pick. And not only how he performs but which position(s) he lines up at in the secondary. He’s known for being versatile.

9 - Tay Gowan - #36

In case you forgot, the Eagles acquire Gowan as a throw-in from the Arizona Cardinals in the Zach Ertz trade. The 2021 sixth-round pick could see playing time at cornerback in just his second game active with the Eagles.

10 - Mac McCain III - #37

McCain’s in a similar boat as KVJ and Gowan; they’re all rookie defensive backs with theoretical upside. McCain, originally a Denver Broncos UDFA signing, seems to be lower on the totem pole considering the Eagles were comfortable moving him down to the practice squad. But he’ll still have an opportunity to separate himself. Can he do that? Can any of the rookie DBs stand out in a good way?

11 - K’Von Wallace - #42

Wallace has quietly been a disappointment since joining the Eagles. Many were hyped about the Birds taking him with a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. There was thought he could even be an instant contributor despite being a Day 3 selection. That much clearly did not come to fruition. With Rodney McLeod out early in the season, Wallace had a chance to step up as a starting safety ... but he failed to do as much. Injury issues contributed to Wallace falling to the fourth safety role behind McLeod, Anthony Harris, and Marcus Epps. Wallace hasn’t seen defensive snaps since garbage time in Week 8. We’ll see if he can flash in a good way against Dallas.

12 - Patrick Johnson - #48

The Eagles trusted Johnson with playing time early in the year; he saw 48 defensive snaps in Philly’s first three games. In the 13 games since then? He’s played just eight defensive snaps. With Genard Avery on the COVID list, Johnson figures to take up his role at SAM linebacker.

13 - Shaun Bradley - #54

Bradley could be the Eagles’ top linebacker with T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton deserving some time off. Not unlike JJAW on offense, Bradley has earned the right to take on a bigger role in this game after busting his butt on special teams all season.

14 - Cameron Malveaux - #59

At 27 years old, Malveaux isn’t exactly young by NFL standards. But he still should have plenty of tread left on the tires with just 17 total games played since entering the league in 2017. Malveaux showed some promise in his first playing time with Philly a couple weeks ago; he had two quarterback hits in the New York Giants game. Can Malveaux step up in this spot, especially with Tyron Smith out? Perhaps he can be this team’s new Steven Means; a high-effort late bloomer. (On a #JerseyNumberAnalytics note, can’t say I love No. 59 on him. Used to that being a linebacker.)

15 - Kayode Awosika - #72

Not sure he’ll definitely get playing time since the Eagles could go with the following starting offensive line from left to right: Andre Dillard, Sua Opeta, Jack Anderson, Brett Toth, Le’Raven Clark. But maybe he will start after all ... or the Eagles will look to get him involved later in the game. Awosika could conceivably make the roster as a backup guard/tackle next year. It felt like he came close this season.

16 - Marvin Wilson - #73

Big Marv! Wilson was one of the most coveted UDFA signings before failing to stick with the Cleveland Browns. The Eagles used some of their practice squad protections on him earlier in the season. Now he might get a chance to make his Philly debut. With Fletcher Cox’s future uncertain and Hassan Ridgeway a free agent, the Eagles could afford to have some more defensive tackle depth moving forward.

17 - Jack Anderson - #76

The Eagles signed Anderson from the Buffalo Bills’ practice squad back in September. He’s mostly been a healthy scratch since, though, and hasn’t played a single snap. Now the 2021 seventh-round pick might see playing time at center when Kelce leaves the game. With Kelce’s future uncertain beyond this year, there’s value in evaluating other center options.

18 - Andre Dillard - #77

After having a real discouraging training camp, Dillard exceeded low expectations when starting at left tackle in place of an injured Jordan Mailata. Dillard will get a chance to boost his stock further with another good showing. The Eagles could look to trade away their 2019 first-round pick this offseason, especially as he enters the last year* of his rookie contract.

(Either the Eagles or the team that acquires him can pick up his fully-guaranteed fifth-year option for 2023, if they so choose. Philly doing so seems unlikely unless they really believe in moving Mailata over to right tackle to replace Lane Johnson. But then they would also have to believe Johnson isn’t going to be around for much longer. Trading Dillard seems more likely than not.)

19 - Tyree Jackson - #80

Jackson generated a lot of hype in the summer before getting hurt. Jackson didn’t return to the Eagles’ active roster until Week 9, when he made his NFL debut. He’s seen a few targets but he’s yet to log his first catch. Methinks that’s about to change tonight considering the Eagles’ top two tight ends — Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll — went on the COVID list. Jackson is the only tight end currently on the roster. I previously wrote about how my expectations for Jackson were tempered because most of his success in training camp came with Joe Flacco throwing to him. I doubted that he had the same chemistry and connection with Jalen Hurts. Having worked with the backups and scout team, Jackson might have more of a rapport with Minshew. We also saw how Minshew wasn’t afraid to throw to his top tight end (Goedert) in his start against the New York Jets.

20 - Marlon Tuipulotu - #95

Mr. T has mostly been a healthy scratch as a rookie, logging defensive snaps in just four games. Tuipulotu really struggled in the preseason. Will he look more comfortable now that he’s furthered removed from injury? It’d be nice to see him show signs that he belongs on the field.

21 - Jason Huntley - #32

If you had a dollar for every time you saw me type “He’s the best kick returner on the roster!” you would be rich. Seriously, though, Huntley showed some intriguing home run speed back in summer practices. It would be nice to see the Eagles get him some touches both on special teams and offense. Let’s see if he can make a play.

22 - John Hightower - #82

The Eagles used a lot of their practice squad protections on Hightower, signaling that they still believe in him. Let’s see if the 2020 fifth-round pick can show anything.

23 - Deon Cain - #85

The Eagles added Cain to their practice squad in mid-October. With nine career receptions for 124 yards, he has some NFL experience under his belt. He also has some experience with Nick Sirianni from spending time on the Indianapolis Colts. Can Cain show some competency?

24 - KeeSean Johnson - #17

No, that’s not Alshon Jeffery you’ll be seeing tonight.

Johnson, a 2019 sixth-round pick, failed to show a whole lot with Arizona. He’ll get a chance to make his Eagles debut after joining Philly’s practice squad following the preseason.

Among JJAW, Hightower, Cain, and Johnson, it would be nice to see one of the receivers step up and do something. Maybe even start a conversation how that guy should be playing instead of Jalen Reagor (which won’t actually change ... but maybe should).

25 - Reid Sinnett - #7

No, that’s not Nate Sudfeld you’ll be seeing tonight.

Sinnett joined the Eagles when they traded Joe Flacco away to the New York Jets. Since Sinnett joined the team, they’ve gone 7-2. He just wins, baby!

Sinnett has only been active for one game thus far; he served as the backup quarterback when Hurts missed the Jets game. While Minshew figures to see most of the playing time against the Cowboys, there could be an opportunity for Sinnett to see snaps if the game gets out of hand.

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