Holes Still Remain At Crucial Spots On Offense
(Editor’s Note: This is the seventh story in an InsideTheBirds.com series recapping the 2020 Eagles offseason. The series will focus on the team’s transactions since the end of the 2019 season, including free agency, the NFL Draft and trades. In Part 7, Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco give their choices for biggest hole on offense to fill.)
What’s the biggest remaining void on offense?
Andrew’s pick: Swing lineman
I’d like to list left tackle here, but as Geoff mentioned in an earlier story, there is a distinct possibility that Jason Peters re-signs at some point. There’s another role on the offensive line, however, that could prove to be problematic if the contingent in contention fails to adequately fill the sizable void, and that’s swing tackle.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai admirably fit that job description for the past four seasons, but the versatile lineman signed a lucrative free-agent deal with the Detroit Lions in March. While the names in the running to assume Vaitai’s role offer tantalizing upside and athleticism, they’re tasked with the daunting chore of replacing the veteran’s experience and innate poise when the chips were down.
(This will be a huge preseason for Jordan Mailata, who needs to stay healthy to compete for the top swing lineman job. The 2018 seventh-round pick has shown promise but has battled back problems.)
Drafted in the fifth-round in 2016, Vaitai appeared in 55 career games for the Eagles, including 20 starts. The 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman lined up at both tackle spots and right guard during his Eagles tenure, playing his best football during the 13-game stretch in 2017, when he took over at left tackle for an injured Jason Peters.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing with Vaitai, who had his bouts with inconsistency, but more often than not Big V served as a valuable depth piece who could come in and provide competent play in a limited capacity.
Fellow TCU Horned Frog Matt Pryor, the team’s lone reserve with experience (although less than 100 game snaps), likely has a leg up on the competition that includes the intriguing Jordan Mailata, and rookies Jack Driscoll and Prince Tega-Wanogho, but is hardly considered a lock.
Pryor, the Eagles’ sixth-round pick in 2018, played tackle/guard in college and saw his first game action in 2019 after essentially redshirting as a rookie, appearing in 12 games. The 6-foot-7, 332 pounder started the Eagles’ wild-card game in place of an injured Brandon Brooks.
Mailata has been the team’s long-term project for two seasons now, but, while he made encouraging strides last summer, the former rugby player has yet to appear in an NFL game and finished his first two seasons on injured reserve.
Driscoll offers versatility but will be deprived of a full offseason, while Tega-Wanogho had arthroscopic knee surgery in January and likely won’t factor into the equation in 2020.
Pryor figures to get the first crack at replacing Vaiati, but the best course of action may be adding an experienced veteran to the mix as an insurance policy.
Geoff’s pick: No. 1 running back
As Andrew noted, the loss of Halapoulivaati Vaitai left the Eagles without the crucial backup swing tackle they’ve leaned so heavily on over the past few years. But as he also noted, the Eagles have several unproven options, any of which can seize the role.
Behind running back Miles Sanders, though, there aren’t as many options who inspire confidence that they could step into the starting role and shoulder the workload if Sanders were to miss extended time.
(His 100 combined offensive yards in Super Bowl LII made Corey Clement an unlikely hero, but three years later, he’s fighting to make the 53-man roster.)
Boston Scott developed nicely last year and emerged into a needed weapon down the stretch, but at 5-
foot-6 and 205 pounds, he lacks the ideal size to play the role of fourth-quarter bulldozer who can keep the chains moving and milk the clock when the Eagles are up by more than a possession with time winding down. He’s more suited for a third-down back and return specialist role.
Corey Clement has the size, hands and experience to be an ideal No. 2 behind Sanders. But he’s been unable to stay healthy and came back on a 1-year minimum deal, which seems to reveal how the Eagles feel about Clement’s odds of staying healthy.
Elijah Holyfield has the ideal size (5-11, 215) runs with power and will have the chance to earn a roster spot but this will be his first season in Doug Pederson’s West Coast offense. He needs to show he can handle all the responsibilities and understands the playbook. Rookie free agent Mike Warren is an intriguing name because of his size (5-9, 219) and power running acumen, but 2020 will be a hard year for rookie free agents to make the team, and even harder for them to have prominent roles on offense or defense.
With Carlos Hyde off the board, and with Devonta Freeman seemingly asking for the sun and moon, the running back market isn’t bursting with No. 2 running backs who would perfectly fit the Eagles’ system. LeSean McCoy could return, but how much does Shady have left? He’ll be 32 in July and wasn’t active for the Super Bowl.
Maybe there’s a comeback story in Clement, or a diamond in the rough in Holyfield or Warren. Or maybe the Eagles just need to hope Sanders stays healthy and enjoys the 2020 breakout we’ve predicted for him.
– Geoff Mosher (@GeoffMosherNFL) is a longtime Philadelphia Eagles and NFL reporter and co-host of Inside the Birds. Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a contributor to InsideTheBirds.com. He also writes for Pro Football Network.
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