May 15, 2024   12 MIN READ

Battle For The 53

Too-Early 53-Man Roster Prediction

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It’s been an active offseason for the Eagles, who felt compelled to take drastic measures to restore a roster brimming with imperfections.

The team also has had to atone for the losses of franchise mainstays and locker room pillars, Jason Kelce and Fletcher Cox, both of whom retired.

The new-look coaching staff, which underwent a sweeping change as a result of last season’s skid, must adequately assess, and familiarize itself, with its personnel in a relative time crunch.

With some exceptions, many of the players vying for roster spots will enter camp with a clean slate, which should breed a healthy dose of competition for the summer.

With OTAs looming, I’ve come up with my way-too-early initial 53-man roster projection.

training camp

ITB PHOTO: Phase 1 of the Eagles’ offseason begins Monday, the first step for the team preparing for the 2024 season.

Offense (24)

Quarterback (3): Jalen Hurts, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee

The Eagles once again reinforce their philosophical approach of allocating resources to fortify the backup quarterback position. Pickett, acquired in a trade with the Pittsburgh Steelers, gives the team an experienced lifeline, someone who’s equipped to step in and capably execute the offense if need be. The team also remains high on the second-year signal-caller McKee, who parlayed a productive preseason into staying power as a rookie. McKee again figures to be the beneficiary of learning and growing amid a veteran-laden room. As for Will Grier, his stint will likely be reduced to acquainting the other three to new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s system.

Running back (3): Saquon Barkley, Kenny Gainwell, Will Shipley

One of the easier position groups to project, barring something unforeseen. Undrafted rookie Kendall Milton and former third-round pick Tyrion Davis-Price figure to assume the bulk of the workload in the preseason, but one of them would have to be special to force the Eagles’ hand in carrying four running backs.

Wide receiver (5): A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Parris Campbell, Ainias Smith, Britain Covey

Among the trickier position groups to forecast, the wide receiver depth chart is fascinating after Brown and Smith. I’m not sure both veterans, DeVante Parker and Parris Campbell, stick. My gut tells me Campbell is the safest bet due to his familiarity with Sirianni, inside-outside versatility and ability to moonlight as a kick returner if needed.

Smith is the more pro ready of the Eagles’ Day 3 pass catchers – and rookie Johnny Wilson doesn’t foreseeably have a role on special teams – so I left off Wilson. Sure, it’s a gamble cutting bait with an intriguing, 6-foot-6 project pass-catcher with pedigree, but Wilson would probably be best served honing his craft, boosting his play strength and developing on the practice squad.

Covey, whom I’ve received several questions about, balances out the room. Yes, the Eagles have suddenly stockpiled numerous positional players with return upside, but it’s important to note none have done it in a game (see: 2007 Eagles). Covey is one of the league’s premier punt returners – who also demonstrated some offensive functionality late last season — and I’m not sure the Eagles would be inclined to disrupt continuity.

There’s zero chance Covey survives waivers and returns to the practice squad, a tactic the team has employed in the past. He’d have plenty of suitors, as the league is well aware of his value.

If you’re looking for a dark horse, keep an eye on veteran futures signing Jacob Harris. The 27-year-old Harris, a former fourth-round pick of the Rams back in 2021, sports a 6-foot-5 frame, runs a sub-4.4 and has appeared in 18 games. Most notably, however, is that Harris qualifies as a special teams ace. The signing draws parallels to Tyrie Cleveland, a speedy, third phase standout who also boasted game experience.

Jordan Mailata

GETTY IMAGES: Jordan Mailata, a mainstay left tackle, signed another extension this offseason.

Offensive line (10): Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Cam Jurgens, Tyler Steen, Lane Johnson, Mekhi Becton, Matt Hennessy, Darian Kinnard, Trevor Keegan, Dylan McMahon

Steen has the inside track to start at right guard, though Hennessy could give the second-year pro a run for his money. Complicating matters, however, is that Hennessy projects as the backup center. Then there’s Becton, who projects as a high-end swing tackle. The former first-round pick is as an intriguing reclamation project for offensive line guru Jeff Stoutland.

This could surprise some – as the signing flew largely under-the-radar – but I kept Kinnard on over an incumbent (Fred Johnson). The 24-year-old Kinnard, a 2022 fifth-round pick of the Kansas City Chiefs, offers right tackle and guard flexibility. I have Keegan and McMahon, both third-day selections, rounding out the group. While I’m bullish on the former, the latter should be squarely on the roster bubble.

One name from the undrafted free agent pool to file away is Maryland’s Gottlieb Ayedze (6-4, 309), whom I’d tabbed as a mid-Day 3 pick. He provides guard/right tackle versatility. If Stoutland unlocks his potential as expected, there’s a realistic possibility Ayedze does not clear waivers.

Tight end (3): Dallas Goedert, C.J. Uzomah, Albert Okwuegbunam

Depth isn’t about quantity; it’s about quality. I’m underwhelmed by the depth behind Goedert, who’s prone to missing time. Uzomah, 31, is far and away the most accomplished of those vying for depth roles, but the veteran tight end has battled knee injuries in consecutive seasons.

The Uzomah signing, to a lesser degree, reminds me of the Dan Arnold addition last May. It remains to be seen how much Uzomah has left in the tank.

This feels like a make-or-break summer for Calcaterra, who has been afforded opportunities the past two seasons to step up in Goedert’s absence. Rather than involve Calcaterra, the team instead opted to curtail the tight end role. For perspective, Calcaterra managed only 25 snaps over the three games Goedert missed. He was inactive for one of them.

While the Eagles could safely store Calcaterra on the practice squad, they’ll swing for upside with the No. 3 role with Okwuegbunam, who now has a full offseason with the team under his belt after joining the Eagles last August on cutdown day. Okwuegbunam hasn’t factored into the special teams equation in his career – a prerequisite for a depth tight end – so I expect that to be a point of emphasis this summer.

Nolan Smith

GETTY IMAGES: Second-year EDGE Nolan Smith will be asked to make a big jump for the pass rush.

Defense (26)

Defensive end (2): Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham

The success of the Eagles’ pass-rush will be largely predicated on Sweat returning to early 2023 form, while the 36-year-old Graham will be counted on to contribute in a cameo role on the field, and locker room pillar off of it, in his final NFL season.

“SAM” linebacker (3): Bryce Huff, Nolan Smith, Jalyx Hunt

Huff overtakes the preeminent role previously occupied by Haason Reddick, who was traded away to the New York Jets earlier in the offseason. As productive as Huff was last year for the Jets, collecting double digit sacks for the first time in his career, his hefty free-agent price tag hinges solely on projection, as Huff has yet to shoulder more than 51 percent of the defensive snaps through four seasons.

The X-factor here is Smith, the 2023 first-round pick, who logged only 188 snaps as a rookie and struggled to see the field amid the glaringly apparent overuse of Reddick and Sweat.

When gauging the Eagles’ pass-rush potential in 2024, Huff and Smith need to be at the forefront. Hunt, a 2024 third-round pick, is more of a traits-laden developmental project who should carve out an immediate role as a special teams asset and perhaps sparingly as a situational rusher.

Defensive tackle (6): Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu, Moro Ojomo, Gabe Hall

Carter and Davis represent the foundational building blocks on defense, and much will be expected from the former first-round picks to sustainably conjure production. Williams, a fourth-year player who has flashed in his opportunities over the years, should also see an uptick in usage. The 2020 third-round pick is entering a contract year.

Tuipulotu and Ojomo reprise their roles as functional depth pieces. Ojomo, in particular, is one I’ll be monitoring through the summer to see if there’s a sophomore leap in him. The Eagles’  undrafted free agent class was the thinnest in recent memory, but my thought process here is that Hall, who garnered plenty of post-draft interest, stands apart during preseason play and the fear of losing him through waivers factors prominently into the team’s decision.

The 6-foot-6, 290-pound Baylor product, who chose Philadelphia due to scheme fit and opportunity to compete, can play any role on the defensive line.

Nakobe Dean

GETTY IMAGES: The Eagles have added many to their LB room but still expect Nakobe Dean to play a prominent role.

Linebacker (5): Devin White, Nakobe Dean, Zack Baun, Jeremiah Trotter Jr., Ben VanSumeren

The success of the group ironically revolves around a pair of enigmatic headliners, White and Dean. Dean, sharp-minded and instinctual, must prove he can stay healthy while the immensely athletic White, a chronic freelancer, must prove he can play within the confines of Vic Fangio’s defense. I envision Baun as more of an edge rusher in this defense, but the free-agent signing is listed here in light of Fangio’s “inside linebacker” comments during his introductory press conference.

Expectations for Trotter Jr., a fifth-round rookie, should be tempered as the Clemson product acclimates. I should note that while the Eagles didn’t devote a very big guarantee to Oren Burks, as a vested veteran his salary would be fully guaranteed if he’s on the Week 1 roster. Burks feels like the quintessential practice squad stash to fall back on if he’s needed. You may recall the Eagles doing something similar last season with Nicholas Morrow prior to his Week 2 promotion against the Vikings.

Special teams coordinator Michael Clay has name-dropped VanSumeren on numerous occasions, and the 24-year-old VanSumeren possesses the tantalizing athleticism, eagerness to learn and ability to absorb and process in a timely fashion that should ingratiate himself to Fangio. The second-year linebacker is an intriguing, cost-controlled developmental prospect who may otherwise be plucked away via waivers.

Cornerback (7): Darius Slay, Quinyon Mitchell, Cooper DeJean, Kelee Ringo, Eli Ricks, Tyler Hall, Josh Jobe

The top four in the pecking order are etched in stone, with Ringo, who came on late last season, likely fulfilling the role of top outside reserve and special teams bedrock. I also think highly of second-year cornerback Eli Ricks, whom I covered extensively as a rookie, as he exhibited notable growth as the season wore on.

I left off Avonte Maddox in exchange for youth, as the oft-injured veteran defensive back – who came up empty on the free-agent market before ultimately settling on a one-year deal with the Eagles – can likely be stashed on the practice squad for insurance.

The Eagles signed Hall back in March to little fanfare, but he’s a player who warrants more attention as the offseason ramps up. A productive player for two seasons with the Raiders, Hall provides versatility and upside. It’s also worth noting that Hall excelled as a kick returner at Wyoming, boasting a 31.7 average and returning two for touchdowns.

Although I anticipate the Eagles starting out with DeJean as a nickel defender, rostering Hall would allow them to maximize DeJean’s multifaceted skill set, eventually deploying him elsewhere, while also providing a viable solution at nickelback.

I’ve always believed that expectations for Isaiah Rodgers, who the NFL recently reinstated following a year-long suspension, were unfairly lofty. And given the Mitchell and DeJean selections, his roster climb became even more daunting. Further complicating matters is the fact that Rodgers, who suddenly finds himself in a cauldron of contenders, will presumably vie for a nickel role, a position in which he has little experience. Will a three-month crash-course suffice?

Perhaps written off and largely deemed an afterthought in light of the offseason additions, Jobe is highly valued inside the building for his special teams contributions, a prowess that figures to be emphasized even more due to the new kickoff rule. It’s also worth noting that Jobe surged the depth chart last summer purely on the back of a strong training camp, and practice habits and consistency appeal to Fangio.

When it comes to deliberating the final roster spots, viewing it through the scope of game day value, the decision typically comes down to special teams. And Jobe is simply among the best in the league.

Safety (3): C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Reed Blankenship, Sydney Brown

On the surface, carrying three here feels awfully risky, especially with Brown returning from a late-season knee injury. But the thinking here is that Brown, who appears to be ahead of schedule and mentioned to me at locker room cleanout that he intended to beat his recovery timeline, will factor earlier than anticipated.

Additionally, cornerbacks DeJean and Ringo – who briefly cross-trained at safety early last season due to injuries – offer backend versatility. Hall has also repped at safety, albeit sparingly. I’m also fully expecting second-year pro Mekhi Garner, a player I remain high on, to make a strong roster push here as well.

Jake Elliott

GETTY IMAGES: Jake Elliott, one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers, earned another extension this offseason.

Specialists (3)

Kicker/Punter/Long Snapper: Jake Elliott, Braden Mann, Rick Lovato

Pretty straight forward. The Eagles worked diligently this offseason to ensure the cohesive operation remains intact, signing all three to contract extensions in March.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.

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