Andrew DiCecco Breaks Down Birds Rookie Free Agents
Last year, it was safety Reed Blankenship, cornerback Josh Jobe, and offensive lineman Josh Sills who emerged from the depths of relative obscurity, defied the odds burdening most undrafted rookies and earned a spot on the Eagles’ 53-man roster.
Eventually, wide receiver Britain Covey became another from the 2022 rookie free-agent class to find his way onto the roster, after spending the first three weeks on the practice squad.
While the team’s roster construction this off-season likely leaves little room for a late-summer standout to make the 53-man roster, the Eagles reached an agreement with eight undrafted rookies, several of which are intriguing for various reasons and will have an opportunity to claw onto the fringes of a roster poised for a deep postseason run.
Let’s go through them:
Ty Zentner, P/K, Kansas State
A battle royale of sorts could be in the cards this summer, as maligned veteran punter Arryn Siposs must stave off the rookie contender Zentner, a 2022 second-team All-Big 12 recipient (coaches) and Ray Guy Award semifinalist. Zentner averaged 44.5 yards per punt last season, 27 of which landed inside the 20-yard line. A dual-threat punter, Zentner moonlighted as the Wildcats’ kickoff specialist for three seasons (129 career touchbacks) while also finishing 37-of-37 on point after attempts and a perfect 11-of-11 on field goal attempts (long of 53). If Zentner picks up where he left off at the collegiate level, the Eagles might have mined a multipurpose gem.
Trevor Reid, OL, Louisville
Brimming with tantalizing athleticism – including a 38-inch vertical, and 10-foot-4-inch broad jump, and an 84 ¼-inch wingspan – Reid (6-4, 297) will have his work cut out this summer, as reps will be at a premium amid a crowded unit. The intriguing – albeit immensely raw – prospect started all 13 games for the Cardinals at left tackle in 2021 after transferring over from Georgia Military College, and 11 of 12 at left tackle last season. Inexperienced and largely unrefined, Reid, a 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl participant, feels like an ideal prospect to develop on the practice squad for a year under offensive line guru Jeff Stoutland, provided he showcases enough pro-level upside in camp to warrant a slot.
Chim Okorafor, OL, Benedictine College
Okorafor (6-6, 320), a 2022 AFCA All-American selection (honorable mention), was originally rumored to be invited to the Eagles’ rookie minicamp for a tryout. The well-traveled Okorafor transferred to Benedictine College last season following stops at Cal Poly Pomona, Riverside Community College, Missouri Southern, and Pittsburg State. He spent his two-year stint at Cal Poly Pomona playing basketball. Though immensely raw, Okorafor, who played tackle at the collegiate level, offers versatility or traits potentially worth developing under renowned Stoutland. In his lone season at Benedictine, Okorafor served as a key piece to a stellar offense that ranked fifth in the NAIA in scoring and fourth in total offense.
Brady Russell, TE, Colorado
The nephew of Eagles’ senior executive Matt Russell, Brady Russell (6-3, 247) will have an opportunity to earn a reserve spot at a relatively lean position beyond starter Dallas Goedert. Russell, whose college resume includes 42 games (32 starts), finished his Buffaloes collegiate career with 67 receptions for 709 yards and three touchdowns. He recorded a 4.69 40-yard dash and 21 reps on the bench press at Colorado’s Pro Day.
Joseph Ngata, WR, Clemson
If I could summarize Ngata’s Clemson career in one word, it would be: enigmatic. A five-star recruit out of Folsom High School in Folsom, Ca., the 6-foot-3, 217-pound wideout went on to appear in 45 games (25 starts) for the Tigers over his four seasons, logging 88 catches for 1,287 yards and six touchdowns. He stoically rebounded from injury plagued 2020 and 2021 campaigns last season, recording career highs in receptions (41) and receiving yards (526) to go along with two touchdowns. A big-boded receiver who uses his lengthy frame and catch radius to his advantage, Ngata possesses above-average body control and is well-equipped at tracking the football. An enigmatic entity at the collegiate level often rendered an afterthought, Ngata gets a clean slate in Philadelphia and will have an opportunity to challenge for what will likely be a highly contested spot on the Eagles’ practice squad.
Jadon Haselwood, WR, Arkansas
Clocking in at a 4.66 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, Haselwood hardly projects as a downfield threat but rather a big-bodied, chain-moving possession receiver. The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Haselwood, who spent his first three seasons playing for Oklahoma, had his most productive year at Arkansas, corralling 59 catches for 702 yards and three touchdowns. Adept at attacking the catch-point and utilizing his lengthy frame to shield defensive backs, Haselwood will likely be vying for a spot on the Eagles’ practice squad unless he’s able to carve out a role on special teams. A teammate of quarterback Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma in 2019, perhaps the two can establish a connection in training camp.
Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama
On the surface, Ricks appears to be the cream of this year’s undrafted Eagles free-agent crop with an outside chance of making the final roster. Ricks, a former five-star recruit out of IMG Academy, originally signed with LSU, where he played for two seasons before transferring to Alabama. In two seasons with the Tigers, Ricks reeled in five interceptions – returning two for touchdowns – and was credited with six passes defended. The 6-foot-2, 188-pound cornerback played in 10 games (5 starts) for the Crimson Tide last season – he missed time early in the season due to injuries – registering 13 tackles and four passes defended. Ricks is a lengthy defensive back with limited experience whose game will require some refinement to stick at the next level. He isn’t overly twitchy and lacks long speed, but his physical tools combined with upside warrant a long look. While Ricks’ name might be the most recognizable on this list, penciling him in for a roster spot is premature, as he will battle with a host of contenders, including Greedy Williams, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott, Josh Jobe, and Mario Goodrich.
Mekhi Garner, CB, LSU
The well-traveled Garner, who began his career at Navarro College (Corsicana, Texas), eventually found his way to LSU following a three-year stint at Louisiana-Lafayette. Garner, a 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl participant, started 13 games at cornerback for the Tigers in 2022, logging 43 tackles and eight passes defended. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound cornerback is a long, physical defender boasting dimensions similar to James Bradberry’s. Garner’s atypical frame for the position, fused with his aggressive mentality and tackling prowess, could ultimately prompt a transition to safety, or at minimum warrant cross-training. Garner, whom I’d given a sixth-round grade, will have an uphill battle to make the 53, but I’d wager the versatile defensive back has among the best odds of the bunch of sticking around.
Ben Vansumeran, LB, Michigan State
The 6-foot-2, 237-pound Vansumeran boasts a tantalizing athletic profile deserving of a look, even though the eye-popping testing numbers didn’t translate into impactful on-field production. His lone season of high-level production as a senior included 81 tackles (3 for loss), two sacks, and two passes defended. Vansumeran put on a show at Michigan State’s Pro Day, producing a 42.5-inch vertical, 10-foot-11-inch broad jump, 29 reps on the bench press, and a blistering 4.4 40-yard dash. As a player, however, Vansumeran lacked desired instinctiveness for the position, over-pursued, and isn’t as adept at shedding blocks as one would like. One advantage Vansumeran has, however, is he’s vying for a roster spot at the team’s thinnest position. If he can stand out on special teams during the preseason, perhaps he can snag one of the elusive final slots.
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.