In our Eagles latest mailbag there was a question worthy of an entire deep dive.
Which UDFA will make the team and why? - kjb304
Predicting UDFAs to make a roster is almost a fool’s errand. There are always 1st round busts, so good luck projecting guys who weren’t even drafted. For example here’s a prediction from last year where the Eagles’ choice was Mario Goodrich, who spent the entire year on the practice squad. Here’s another that predicted it would be Kennedy Brooks, who didn’t even stay on the practice squad all season. I’m not trying to pick on either of these or anyone else, just pointing out that projecting UDFAs is really hard. Even at the end of training camp and preseason there can be an UDFA that media members who are at camp every day think will make the team and then it turns out they don’t even make the practice squad.
That said, in recent seasons Corey Clement, TJ Edwards, and Josh Jobe were seen as players with a real chance to make the 53 man roster, and they did.
So why not give it a try.
To review, he are the Eagles UDFAs:
- CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
- CB Mekhi Garner, LSU
- WR Joseph Ngata, Clemson
- WR Jadon Haselwood, Arkansas
- TE Brady Russell, Colorado
- OT Chim Okorafor, Benedictine College
- OT Trevor Reid, Louisville
- LB Ben VanSumeren, Michigan State
- P/K Ty Zentner, Kansas State
As we can see, the Eagles have 9 UDFAs that cover six positions, so let’s approach this from a “at which position group is an UDFA most likely to make the team” approach. This is the same thing agents do. I’m going to be harsh about who is not a lock to make the team because the softer the depth chart is the better the chance an UDFA will make it.
Last year the Eagles initial 53 man roster had 6 CBs and 4 S, in 2021 it was 5 CBs and 4 S. I’m lumping the defensive backs together for this exercise because backup DBs who can at least theoretically play CB and S stand a better chance of making the roster than those who can only play one role.
CB locks: James Bradberry, Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Kelee Ringo
CB contenders: Mario Goodrich, Josh Jobe, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott, Greedy Williams
S locks: Reed Blankenship, Sydney Brown
S contenders: Terrell Edmunds, Justin Evans, Tristan McCollum, K’Von Wallace
UDFA: Mekhi Garner, Eli Ricks
Other than the four returning starters and the two draft picks, I don’t think anyone else in the secondary is totally safe.
Of the contenders who were on the Eagles last year, Josiah Scott played the most snaps in 2022 and was ineffective. K’Von Wallace entered 2022 with a chance to earn a bigger role, he got overtaken on the depth chart by Blankenship. Zech McPhearson barely saw the field because Bradberry and Slay were healthy all year, can’t fault him for that; but he also took reps in OTAs in the slot, which could be nothing more than “let’s try to find a way to get this guy on the field” or it could indicate that his he has to earn his roster spot. Josh Jobe made the 53 man roster as an UDFA but played only 12 snaps on defense, all in the first Giants blowout. While some of them will make the team, it should surprise no one if any of them don’t make the cut.
None of the players brought in from other teams should be totally secure either. Terrell Edmunds had his 5th year option declined by the Steelers, they brought him back on a one year, $2.5M deal last year, he is making half that on a one year contract with the Eagles. Greedy Williams started one game last year for the Browns. Justin Evans missed all of 2019, 2020, and 2021 and saw inconsistent playing time with the Saints last year. Tristin McCollum spent all year on the Texans practice squad.
Ricks is the most high profile of the UDFA class, a former 5 star recruit who was second-team All SEC and third-team All American as a true freshman at LSU in 2020. He transferred to Alabama for 2022 and then declared early, he was expected to be between a 2nd and 6th round pick depending on who you ask.
Garner has some intrigue. He transferred from a junior college to Louisiana as a safety, converted to a corner out of necessity due to injury, and impressed enough to transfer to LSU last year. Like Ricks, he was projected to be a late round pick. He has a good athletic profile and positional versatility. He’s got hidden gem potential.
Both of them have, at least on paper, CB/S versatility. Garner has previously played it, and Ricks has size, ball skills, and is a willing tackler.
However, the Eagles have churned through practice squad caliber defensive backs over the past two seasons trying to find someone who can stick. They have signed Andre Chachere, Blake Countess, Mac McCain, Nate Meadors, Obi Melifonwu, Jimmy Moreland, and Jaquiski Tartt as veteran free agents; traded for Ugo Amadi (and then almost immediately traded him away), Tay Gowan, Josiah Scott, and Kary Vincent; and signed Josh Blackwell, Reed Blankenship, Mario Goodrich, and Josh Jobe as UDFAs. There’s a decent chance that between now and roster cuts they bring in another DB.
UDFA chance: Medium
Locks: AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, Britain Covey
Contenders: Devon Allen, Tyrie Cleveland, Charleston Rambo, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, Olamide Zaccheaus
UDFAs: Jadon Haselwood, Joseph Ngata
Covey is only a lock because the only other Eagles with punt return experience are Boston Scott, Olamide Zacchaeus, Greg Ward, and Devonta Smith.
Two UDFA WRs on a team that barely played threw to their 4th WR last year could indicate there’s a real chance at a roster spot being available. It’s not hard to see why.
Quez Watkins salary balloons from $895k to $2.8M due to an escalator, the Eagles gain more cap space by cutting or trading him than they do any other player, and he’s coming off a disappointing season. His place on the team should not be considered secure.
Olamide Zaccheaus started 21 games in the past 2 seasons for the Falcons but players with better resumes than his get cut in camp all the time across the league. And again, I’m being harsh with who is not a lock because if a UDFA is going to make the roster at some positions, such as WR, it’s going to be at the expense of someone thought to be safe.
Devon Allen is a novelty. The Greg Ward experiment was worth a shot but he’s not an NFL WR. Charleston Rambo-great name-was in the XFL and was decently productive. Tyrie Cleveland was drafted by the Broncos in 2020 and has 8 career receptions. Additionally TE Dan Arnold entered the league as a WR, it’s possible he makes the team as a dual backup TE and WR.
6’2” Haselwood and 6’3” Ngata’s best chance to stick on the roster is that they’re both big targets, something the Eagles lack (another reason why 6’6” Arnold has a chance), Tyrie Cleveland is the only other WR on the roster over 6’1”. They’re also both former 5 star recruits, Haselwood was the top WR in the 2019 class, Ngata the #6, so there’s some possible untapped potential.
UDFA chance: Low
Locks: Lane Johnson, Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll
Contenders: Fred Johnson, Roderick Johnson, Brett Toth
UDFA: Chim Okorafor, Trevor Reid
OT is a spot to watch in camp. Jack Driscoll returns to cover the right side. But the Eagles haven’t actually filled Andre Dillard’s backup LT/LG roster spot.
Fred Johnson has been in the NFL for four years and has a single game career high of seven snaps played and that was in 2019. Roderick Johnson hasn’t played since 2020. Brett Toth didn’t see the field in 2022. None of those are inspiring options.
Okorafor played in the NAIA, which is another way of saying he is a developmental player. There is no better place to get your grad degree than Stoutland University but a Super Bowl contender putting a project player on the 53 man roster at OT feels like a stretch, but then Jordan Mailata had never played when the Eagles drafted him after winning the Super Bowl and he made the 53 man roster.
Trevor Reid has a 7’ wingspan and strong athletic profile:
Trevor Reid is a OT prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.61 #RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 51 out of 1294 OT from 1987 to 2023. #Eagles https://t.co/P5r1UB6CjG https://t.co/jtzzyn1oVD pic.twitter.com/v0r2JQMyOH— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 30, 2023
But he needs to add bulk and strength. That doesn’t sound like a UDFA OT who will make the 53 man either.
The backup LT/LG might be on another team at the moment.
UDFA chance: Medium
Locks: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll
Contenders: Dan Arnold, Grant Calcaterra, Tyree Jackson, Dalton Keene
UDFA: Brady Russell
Five guys for one spot. I don’t like Brady Russell’s odds here. Arnold is on his fifth team in seven seasons and was signed in May, though as stated earlier his positional versatility gives him a potential advantage. Jackson is in his fifth year in pro football, having been the Bills 4th QB in 2019 preseason and a backup QB in the XFL in 2020. The Eagles converted him to TE in 2021 but he has spent most of his time as an Eagle injured. Keene played half a dozen games for the Patriots in 2020 and hasn’t seen the field since. Not feeling great about any of their chances to stick. But because of the volume of fringe TEs they have brought in it would seem that Grant Calcaterra will have his work cut out to make the roster.
Russell might have gotten signed as a favor to his uncle Matt Russell, who works in the Eagles scouting department. But he is another potential late bloomer. A former walk on at Colorado who worked his way up to not just a scholarship but also a team captain.
UDFA chance: Low
Lock: Nakobe Dean
Contenders: Shaun Bradley, Christian Elliss, Kyron Johnson, Patrick Johnson, Nicholas Morrow, Davion Taylor
UDFA: Ben VanSumeren
I’m not calling Morrow a lock, remember Corey Nelson? I’m tempted to consider Elliss a lock purely for special teams, but I don’t have any confidence in how the team has handled special teams roster decisions.
VanSumeren fits a similar profile to the rest of the UDFAs in that the Eagles are hoping there’s untapped potential there. He started at Michigan as a fullback (and played WR in high school) but switched to linebacker in 2020, then transferred to Michigan State for 2021. He couldn’t stay healthy in 2022 but he blew up his pro day. Daniel Jeremiah felt he was draftable on his pro day alone.
Ben VanSumeren is a LB prospect in the 2023 draft class. He scored a 9.62 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 95 out of 2484 LB from 1987 to 2023. https://t.co/cui2JyVIxP #RAS pic.twitter.com/ZjdD9RAclP— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 22, 2023
He’s a good athlete and a football player which gets you a camp invite. We’ll see if it gets him any more than that.
UDFA chance: Medium
It’s been a few years since the Eagles went to camp with a kicking or punting competition. They should have brought in another punter to camp last year, so better late than never. Ty Zenter is intriguing, because he did everything at Kansas State and he’s still learning the position. He was 26th in the country in yards per punt, was 31 for 31 on extra points, 11 of 11 on field goals, and handled kickoffs. In high school he played basketball and soccer, not playing football until his senior year. He started off at a junior college then transferred to Kansas State. Not to hype him up but if you’re going to sign an UDFA punter, one who was a multi-sport athlete and is still learning the position is a decent bet to take.
UDFA chance: Low
So it’s time to look like an idiot and pick some.
One thing that stands out with this batch of UDFAs is that they all fit an an untapped physical potential or late bloomer profile, which hasn’t always been the case for UDFA classes.
Last year three UDFAs made the initial 53 man roster (Reed Blankenship, Josh Jobe, and Josh Sills), in 2021 just one (Jack Stoll). I’ll split the difference and predict two UDFAs make the 53 man roster. I know this will be wrong.
I’m going with Ben VanSumeren and Mekhi Garner.
For VanSumeren, there are two factors in his favor. One, the competition is really thin at linebacker. Does anyone have any confidence in who the 3rd best LB on this team is? And two, there is an open position at both LB and on special teams with Nakobe Dean graduating from backup to starter.
For Garner, his positional versatility is an advantage. Working his way up from junior college to a strong G5 team in Louisiana and then to LSU is the kind of rising talent teams should take a gamble on.
Again, I expect to be wrong about this. Hilariously wrong.