Who Makes The Cut? Projecting Birds ‘First 53’
The Eagles have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to decide on their 53-man roster, which of course will change again after Tuesday, and then several more times throughout the season.
Moves have been made already, as the Eagles on Saturday waived running back Elijah Holyfield, defensive end JaQuan Bailey, wide receiver Marken Michel, linebacker Rashad Smith, and tight end Cary Angeline.
Here’s Andrew DiCecco’s 53-man projection:
Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew
Though the Eagles acquired the 25-year-old Minshew in a trade Saturday, Flacco’s standing as the No. 2 option behind Hurts for the 2021 campaign is likely etched in stone. The veteran quarterback signed a 1-year, $3.5 million contract in March that is fully guaranteed. In an ideal scenario, Minshew gives the Eagles a young, low-cost insurance policy behind Hurts in 2022.
Running backs (4)
Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Boston Scott, Kenny Gainwell
Sanders remains atop the depth chart and will look to rebound from an uneven sophomore season. But this time, the dynamic third-year pro will be supplemented by a diverse trio that should all figure into the rotation in some capacity. While Sanders is expected to do most of the heavy lifting, Howard enjoyed a resurgence this summer. The bruising inside runner should have a defined role and thrive in short-yardage situations. Scott and Gainwell can unlock a different dimension as change-up backs with receiving prowess, basically big plays waiting to happen. Look for the coaches to exploit their big-play potential in space. Jason Huntley flashed earlier this summer but missed out on valuable reps while nursing a rib injury. The New Mexico St. product offers some upside, particularly on special teams, so look for Huntley to return to the practice squad if unclaimed.
Wide Receiver (6)
DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins, Greg Ward, Travis Fulgham, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside
Smith becomes a go-to option for Hurts – thriving on short-to-intermediate routes – and racking up upwards of 65 receptions in his first season. He’s a route-running technician, an area where most young receivers struggle. Reagor will serve as the ideal complement to Smith in what’s primed to be a coming out party in Year 2. The speedy wideout will look to make his mark as an explosive deep threat while exploiting his ability to create in confined spaces. Watkins has earned a more prominent role in his second season and adds another dynamic dimension to this aerial attack. The hunch here is Sirianni and his coaches would like more time with Fulgham and Arcega-Whiteside to see if they can unlock their full potentials, so both make the team for now. Both players have established themselves on special teams while still leaving much to be desired from the offensive side. Still, Fulgham and Arcega-Whiteside fill a need as big-bodied receivers and have youth on their side, so perhaps they can be salvaged.
More likely, the Eagles scour the waiver wire for a wide receiver with similar dimensions who also needs a fresh start.
Tight End (3)
Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll
*Season-ending injured reserve: Tyree Jackson
For now, it looks like Ertz will open the season with the team that drafted him eight years ago. Given the inexperience at wide receiver, look for a heavy dose of 12 personnel early on with Ertz and Goedert. Jackson is a developmental project who probably wouldn’t have made an immediate impact this season, and his 8-10 week injury timeline complicates his roster spot. The team is best served placing Jackson on injured reserve for the entire 2021 season. Stoll makes it as a No. 3 tight end who can contribute as an extra blocker and on special teams. Richard Rodgers is a vested veteran and could very well return after Week 1, as well.
Offensive Line (9)
Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Jack Driscoll, Nate Herbig, Kayode Awosika
*NFI: Landon Dickerson
Dillard won’t get moved unless the compensation is significant, so he’ll provide depth behind Mailata at LT. Dickerson’s rookie season should be treated as a redshirt campaign, as there’s really no benefit to rushing him back given the team’s depth. If they keep 10, Brett Toth gets the nod. The 24-year-old tackle has had a nice summer and showcased his versatility against the Jets. However, for the ninth spot, I was torn between Sua Opeta and Awosika to bolster the interior depth – and went with Awosika’s upside. It seemed the Eagles tried their best to hide Awosika throughout the preseason, but the Buffalo product was one of the more highly coveted undrafted free agents, with an illustrious college resume fresh on evaluators’ minds. He’d be a waiver-wire gamble. Awosika impressed in his transition from collegiate tackle to the interior offensive line, and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland may find his upside too enticing to part with.
Defensive Line (8)
Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, Ryan Kerrigan, Milton Williams, T.Y. McGill
The top seven are locks. I went with McGill over Hassan Ridgeway or Raequan Williams because he’s flashed and his two-sack performance against the Jets should have cemented his status. It was evident he was out there to win a job. Going into training camp, I thought sixth-rounder Marlon Tuipulotu had the inside track, but the rookie struggled mightily at the point of attack against the run and would be best served spending a year on the practice squad to develop his skill set and increase his play strength. Ridgeway has played well for the team when he’s been available – 14 games in two seasons – but has been virtually invisible this summer. Coastal Carolina’s Tarron Jackson has had his moments throughout training camp and offers intriguing intangibles as a rotational edge rusher in time, but the seventh-rounder needs more seasoning and would likely be a weekly inactive if stashed on the active roster. If he clears waivers, Jackson would be an ideal practice squad development project. Defensive tackle could be a position where they look to upgrade via the waiver wire.
Eric Wilson, Alex Singleton, T.J. Edwards, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley, Patrick Johnson
The top three are Wilson, Singleton, and Edwards. Singleton is an instinctive, tenacious second-level player who swarms to the football. The 27-year-old could conceivably close in on 150-plus tackles in his first full season as a starter. Edwards returned for his third training camp looking noticeably more fluid dropping into coverage and quicker in transition. The added burst and coverage acumen makes him a valuable component to defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon. Edwards is also a special teams standout. Bradley has shown relatively well throughout the preseason and is a fundamentally sound defender. The Temple alum is also a strong third phase performer and could have an opportunity to earn a captain designation if he sticks. Johnson may have been the last man standing in the SAM linebacker battle, but the seventh-rounder showed enough promise to warrant roster consideration. Should he be subjected to waivers, the Eagles might not be able to retain his services. JaCoby Stevens, a developmental project, seems destined for the IR stash.
Darius Slay, Steve Nelson, Avonte Maddox, Zech McPhearson, Craig James, Josiah Scott
McPhearson serves as the primary reserve at outside corner while doubling as a special teams ace and gradually learning the finer nuances of the position in his first season. James, who missed much of the summer sessions with a foot injury, also provides depth on the perimeter, but his crucial special teams role is his greatest value. I also have Scott latching on as the sixth corner. The diminutive defender has the ability to align in the slot, giving Gannon the flexibility to deploy Maddox as a moveable chess piece on the back end.
Rodney McLeod, Anthony Harris, K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, Elijah Riley
With McLeod’s Week 1 status uncertain, the Eagles need bodies. Andrew Adams is a vested veteran, so there’s always the possibility that he returns after Week 1, when his salary isn’t fully guaranteed. He struggled in the preseason finale against the Jets, so it’s unlikely there will be teams vying for his services. Still, the veteran safety has played in 73 games and has been an impactful special teams performer, so his experience could factor into the decision-making. Riley makes the team on upside, versatility, and cost. The 23-year-old safety could serve as a core special teams performer for coordinator Michael Clay while providing secondary depth at both safety and cornerback. The Army product had been one of my roster dark horses going into training camp.
K: Jake Elliott; H: Rick Lovato; P: Arryn Siposs
– Andrew DiCecco (@ADiCeccoNFL) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.
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