Which UDFAs Are Poised To Make The 53?
(Editor’s Note: This is the ninth and final 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 9, Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco give their choices for undrafted rookie most likely to make the 53-man roster.)
Which rookie free agent is most likely to make the 53 man roster?
Andrew’s pick: Mike Warren, running back
Most summers, it’s hardly unusual for an undrafted rookie to emerge from relative obscurity to earn an elusive roster spot. Already at a distinct disadvantage before training camp, these long shots typically earn their stripes off consistency on and off the field and maximizing their limited opportunities.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, fringe players are deprived of much-needed “grass time”, making their climb to the 53-man roster all the more arduous this year.
But, if there is one position where an undrafted free agent can potentially snag a roster spot and become this summer’s feel-good story, it’s running back.
In the hours that followed the 2020 NFL Draft, the Eagles signed former Cincinnati running back Mike Warren as a priority free agent. While many rookie free agent signings are often little more than footnotes who follow a momentous draft weekend, the Warren signing piqued my interest.
For the past two seasons, Warren served as the centerpiece for the Bearcats’ offense, totaling 2,594 yards and 33 touchdowns on the ground in addition to 46 receptions for 385 yards and three touchdowns. Had Warren returned to school for his senior season, he’s likely mentioned in the same breath as any of the top running backs in college football.
Despite briefly being left without a team at the conclusion of draft weekend, however, the 5-foot-9, 218-pound runner finds himself in an ideal situation in Philadelphia.
Although Miles Sanders is poised for a breakout sophomore campaign, and although Boston Scott probably showed enough down the stretch last season to earn a reserve role in 2020, the Eagles sorely lack a punishing, downhill runner who can grind out tough yards in critical spots.
Unless the Eagles add a veteran running back to the mix, the team will enter training camp with Corey Clement, Elijah Holyfield, and Warren vying for one, potentially two, spots. Clement returned on a modest 1-year deal after briefly testing the free agent waters. The Super Bowl hero is decidedly the most experienced of the trio, but injuries have stalled his progress the past two seasons, and he hasn’t held a prominent role on offense since his rookie season.
Holyfield signed with the team late last season but didn’t see any game action. The 22-year-old bruiser offers intriguing upside and has had over five months to digest the playbook, but Holyfield is still very much a work in progress as a receiver.
(The Eagles will get a good look this summer at undrafted free agent running back Mike Warren, who combines good quickness, power, and contact balance).
Warren, who possesses surprising foot speed and decisiveness at the line of scrimmage for a power back, also has a unique blend of finesse to his game. Known for his outstanding contact balance and finishing his runs with conviction, Warren also showcased his ability as a pass-catcher over the past two seasons – an essential trait for any Eagles running back.
The allure of adding a veteran to the competition remains prevalent, but the team may be better off standing pat with its in-house options.
Geoff’s pick: Prince Smith, cornerback
Making the 53-man roster is poised to be a bigger challenge for late-round draft picks and rookie free agents this year than in years past, and it’s always been an uphill battle in years past.
But the coronavirus-caused shutdown of rookie camps and most OTAs has already put every rookie, drafted or not, behind the 8-ball. Zoom sessions can be valuable, but the “grass time” that Doug Pederson has spoken about is significant for those who most need to learn the playbook and make their daily corrections.
Still, at some positions the Eagles are thin enough to create an open door for a rookie who can catch on quickly at training camp, or a rookie who has special traits that the coaches can’t ignore. Prince Smith is one of those rookies.
The New Hampshire product has small-school sleeper written all over him. At 5-foot-10, 185 pounds, Smith already has better size than two of the three starters (Avonte Maddox and Nickell-Robey Coleman are each under 5-foot-10). Smith, a Philly native who went to Imhoptep for high school, can also run fairly well, another trait the Eagles are lacking on the outside after Darius Slay.
Smith was a four-year starter for New Hampshire and made three postseason all-star teams this past season. He was named Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Rookie of the Year as a true freshman in 2016. At New Hampshire, Smith Jr. was known for getting his hands on the football, leading the Wildcats in pass breakups three times.
The Eagles have room for an impressive defensive back prospect to earn his way onto the 53-man. Only three safeties right now can be considered surefire locks to make the team (Rodney McLeod, Will Parks, K’Von Wallace) and just four corners (Slay, Maddox, Robey-Coleman and Jalen Mills, who’ll serve a hybrid corner/safety role). Cre’Von LeBlanc stands a good chance to make the team, too. But that still leaves at least one, and maybe two, spots open. Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas aren’t guaranteed anything but a chance to compete.
The last spots go to those who can perform on special teams and demonstrate upside that makes them worth keeping around. Look for Smith to make that impression this summer.
– 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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