May The Best Men Win
DiCecco: Too Early Eagles 53-Man Roster Projection
With the NFL Draft in the rear view, focus now shifts to the various training camp storylines and meticulously configuring how each piece fits into the proverbial roster puzzle.
The Eagles, who were busy retaining several free agents while simultaneously bargain shopping on the open market, emerged from draft weekend with seven selections and nine undrafted free agent signings. Vacant roster spots will be at a premium this year.
Rookie camp just took place and we’re in OTA season – but it’s never too early for a 53-man roster projection:
Quarterback (3): Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee
Given the wealth of talent permeating the roster, the Eagles could opt to go heavy elsewhere and carry just two quarterbacks. However, the thought process here is that if McKee showcases enough developmental potential in the preseason, he might not clear waivers. The McKee-Ian Book battle royale for No. 3 will be one to monitor throughout the summer.
Running back (4): D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, Kenny Gainwell, Boston Scott
Perhaps the most fascinating storyline entering training camp will be how each piece of the new-look running back room fits and how roles are determined. If Swift and Penny remain healthy for all or most of the 17-game regular season – history would indicate that this is an unlikely proposition – the duo could comprise the league’s most dynamic 1-2 backfield combo. Trey Sermon garnered some consideration here because of his athletic profile and long-term upside – and he could well find his way onto the roster if someone at another position emerges in a specialty role – but Scott stays due to his reliability and ability to return kicks.
Wide receiver (5): A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Olamide Zaccheaus, Quez Watkins, Britain Covey
The sure-handed Zaccheaus, credited with only three dropped passes on 151 career targets, should provide an upgrade to the No. 3 role, serving as an effective short-to-intermediate safety valve for quarterback Jalen Hurts. Watkins and Covey stick because of their roles as specialists, but if you want a potential dark horse amid the slew of back end pass-catchers vying for a roster spot, keep an eye on Tyrie Cleveland, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound former Broncos wideout who boasts 4.4 speed. His time at Florida overlapped with Eagles’ offensive coordinator Brian Johnson. The 25-year-old Cleveland needs to defy insurmountable odds to latch onto the fringes of a loaded roster, but working in his favor are experience (23 games) and special teams prowess (320 snaps).
Offensive line (9): Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Cam Jurgens, Lane Johnson, Tyler Steen, Jack Driscoll, Brett Toth, Sua Opeta
The right guard competition between Jurgens and Steen will be the marquee storyline. Driscoll is as reliable as they come in terms of reserves and provides value at multiple spots. Toth is a player the Eagles clearly are intrigued by, as they kept the Army alum around in some capacity the past two seasons. Presumably recovered from the ACL injury that relegated him to the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list for the duration of the 2022 season, Toth will provide depth at both guard and tackle. Opeta sticks as the only pure reserve guard. The 26-year-old has appeared in 25 games (4 starts) over the past three seasons.
Tight end (3): Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra
The addition of tight end Dan Arnold did little to sway my opinion of the positional outlook. Arnold, 28, is a veteran journeyman solely known for his receiving prowess. But the Eagles already have a one-dimensional pass-catching tight end in homegrown 24-year-old Grant Calcaterra, who I’d wager would be the preferential option. Say what you will, but Stoll provides service as the gritty, hard-nosed blocker that neither Arnold nor Calcaterra are equipped to replace. Stoll also logged over 200 special teams snaps last season. He stays.
Defensive end (4): Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Janarius Robinson
It remains to be seen how Barnett returns from the ACL injury sustained in Week 1, but assuming all systems go, the 26-year-old former first-round pick arms a formidable Eagles defensive line with 65 games (45 starts) worth of experience to supplement a ferocious pass-rush. Robinson, on the other hand, was added off the Vikings’ practice squad last September, and while he never played in an actual game for the Eagles, the lengths the team went through to keep him amid the incessant season-long shuffling was a definitive indicator of what they believe they have in the 25-year-old former fourth-round pick out of Florida State. Robinson, who offers freakish measurables – including an 86 1/4-inch wingspan and a 4.69 40-yard dash weighing 260-plus pounds – that the Eagles covet, potentially represents cost-effective long-term depth.
Strong-side [SAM] Linebacker (3): Haason Reddick, Nolan Smith, Patrick Johnson
Hardly conspicuous and often an afterthought, Johnson has given the Eagles some productive snaps over the past two seasons, appearing in 33 games (two starts). The 6-foot-2, 248-pound overhang defender is also a key component to special teams coordinator Michael Clay’s unit, accounting for 74 percent of the team’s special teams snaps last season. That counts for something.
Defensive tackle (5): Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox, Jalen Carter, Milton Williams, Moro Ojomo
The lethal four-man rotation, featuring a diversified array of interior disruptors, should be viewed as the league’s best. The numbers crunch is expected to whittle down to the rookie Ojomo, free-agent addition Kentavius Street, and holdover Marlon Tuipulotu, who is returning from a torn meniscus. Coming off his most productive season as a pro, Street warranted some consideration here. Street would also supply a young room with another veteran. One could also make a case for Tuipulotu, but the 2021 sixth-round pick has failed to distinguish himself through the better part of two seasons. I went with Ojomo, the team’s seventh-round selection. The former Texas standout offers plenty of power at the point of attack, herculean play strength, and positional versatility. The 21-year-old Ojomo also isn’t likely to clear waivers if he even shows glimpses of production in the preseason.
Linebacker (4): Nicholas Morrow, Nakobe Dean, Christian Elliss, Shaun Bradley
Dean heads a motley crew in dire need of one or two capable additions. It’s not a stretch to say the Eagles can’t line up at linebacker at the moment. While Dean is poised to emerge as one of the team’s bright young stars, Morrow – currently a projected starter — represents more questions than answers. And while I’m admittedly higher on Elliss than most, I recognize that both he and Bradley are core special teamers with limited defensive experience.
Cornerback (6): Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Kelee Ringo, Josh Jobe
You may have skimmed the names and immediately realized Greedy Williams was noticeably omitted. It wasn’t an oversight as much as it was a forecast. For one, Williams – a March free-agent addition – has struggled to stay on the field, missing the entire 2020 season due to a nerve injury in his shoulder and playing just 11 games last season. Any missed time amid a sea of hungry contenders could be the difference in seizing a roster spot. In addition to his team-friendly guaranteed salary, Williams also has minimal special teams experience, logging 201 snaps over three seasons – including a career-high 115 last season. As a No. 4 cornerback, third phase contributions are a prerequisite.
McPhearson, one of the league’s top gunners, is a far better player than he’s given credit for, though cross-training him at nickel would not only benefit his skill set in the long-term but also maximize his value on the 53-man roster. He sticks due to his prominent niche role and positional versatility.
I’ve been an advocate of Josh Jobe since his days at Alabama. Like McPhearson, Jobe also offers potential positional versatility appeal, and could provide added value if cross-trained at safety. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Jobe, who seemingly approaches each snap with unrelenting aggressiveness and urgency, found a home on special teams as a rookie, aligning opposite McPhearson at the other gunner spot. In 11 games, Jobe contributed 12 defensive snaps and accounted for 76 percent of the special teams snap share.
Safety (4): Terrell Edmunds, Reed Blankenship, Sydney Brown, K’Von Wallace
The first three players listed will vie for two starting spots in training camp. Edmunds, a former first-round pick, stands out due to pedigree and experience (75 career starts) and Blankenship proved to be the team’s latest undrafted free-agent success story with a chance for a more sizable role in Year 2. Brown, a third-round pick, could also realistically challenge for a stop atop the positional hierarchy. Even if Brown doesn’t emerge as a starter when the season commences in September, it’s only a matter of time before the proverbial torch is passed. The former Illini standout is primed for a decorated pro career. The final spot came down to Wallace or veteran Justin Evans. Sure, Evans is the more enticing of the two and perhaps offers a higher ceiling, but the best ability is availability – and Evans has been anything but throughout his career. Wallace, who is fine on special teams, holds on once again as the No. 4 safety, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team scours the waiver wire during cutdowns for an upgrade.
Specialists (3): Jake Elliott (K), Arryn Siposs (P), Rick Lovato (LS)
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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