Football

Predicting the Eagles Opening Day Roster

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Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Rob Carr / Getty Images)

Carson Wentz #11 of the Philadelphia Eagles (Photo by Rob Carr / Getty Images)

After a wild start to the NFL offseason, the time for player acquisitions is all but over. With the draft complete and free agency largely in the rearview mirror, Coach Pederson and his staff can begin to focus on the players that they have in their own building. Barring a trade or surprise signing, the Eagles already have the 53 players that will form the opening day roster. The hard part? Figuring out who those 53 men are.

Some players are locks, some are on the roster bubble. It’s still early, and there are bound to be surprises from now until September. But let’s take a shot at predicting what the Eagles will look like in Washington D.C. come September 10.

Quarterback

Carson Wentz, Nick Foles (2)

Breakdown: No real intrigue here. Wentz is entrenched as the starter, and Nick Foles is one of the leagues better backups. The only question is whether Pederson carries two or three quarterbacks going into the 2017 season.

What to Watch for: The 3rd string QB position is rather interesting here. If the team goes with three quarterbacks on the roster, I can see Matt McGloin sticking around. If they only carry two, the Eagles may opt for a younger prospect to develop on the practice squad, likely undrafted free agent signing Jerod Evans out of Virginia Tech.

Running Back

Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, and a back to be determined (4)

Breakdown: The real wild card here is Ryan Mathews. I don’t see the team sticking with him another year. There are rumors swirling that the Eagles are looking at New Orleans RB Mark Ingram, who would be a great fit. Whether they add Ingram or another back, I think Mathews’ days are over here in Philly.

What to Watch for: Who’s going to start? Your guess is as good as mine; it could be anyone mentioned above. As it currently stands, I would guess Sproles has the edge for the starting role. It will likely be running back by committee for the foreseeable future, though, unless someone takes a hold of the job in training camp.

 A name to look for is Corey Clement, undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin. He is a powerful runner and a big body, something the Eagles currently do not have. I think he makes the team if the Eagles don’t add a running back by September.

Wide Receiver

Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Shelton Gibson, Mack Hollins, Doriel Green-Beckham (6)

Breakdown:  No surprise at the top: Jeffrey was brought here to be the number one receiver. After Jeffrey it gets interesting. A suddenly deep position group sees 3rd year pro Nelson Agholor drop out (pun intended). Both rookies make the team, with Hollins seeing a significant role on special teams to start his career. Begrudgingly, Green-Beckham clings to his spot on the roster, but I don’t feel good about this one.

What to watch for: The battle for the WR2 spot could get interesting. Smith holds the edge as far as I’m concerned. Matthews’ skill set seems perfectly suited for the slot receiver position, and I like Smith’s speed on the outside. It could go either way, but Smith seems like the guy here.

The final receiver spot also holds a lot of intrigue. Green-Beckham, Agholor, Paul Turner, and Bryce Treggs are all legitimate threats to take a hold of that final spot. I give the edge to Green-Beckham here, because he is the most physically gifted and clearly has the most upside.

Tight End

Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton (3)

Breakdown: Not much to report here. Ertz has established himself as not only the top tight end on the team, but one of the best in the league. Celek and Burton are both talented players that fit nicely with the Eagles last year. Their returns are no-brainers.

What to Watch for: Can Burton legitimize himself as a number two tight end? With Celek potentially on the move after the 2017 season, the Eagles will be on the hunt for a legitimate backup tight end this year. Burton has shown flashes, but he will have to be much more consistent to be considered Ertz’ backup in 2017 and beyond.

Offensive Line

Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Stephen Wisniewski, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Chance Warmack, Halapoulivatti Vaitai, Matt Tobin, Tyler Orlosky (10)

Breakdown: The big story here? No Jason Kelce. I just don’t see it. The Eagles paid Wisniewski like a starter, and grabbed Chance Warmack in free agency. They have been shopping Kelce for what feels like forever, and I think it comes to a head this summer. The Eagles are a team desperate for some cap space, and they get it. Cutting Jason Kelce frees up $3.8 million.

In Kelce’s place, undrafted free agent center Tyler Orlosky makes the team: The West Virginia alum has the size, toughness, and smarts that teams like on the O-line. Many projected Orlosky in rounds 6-7. The Eagles, it would appear, got a steal in the rookie free agent market, and grabbed someone who could contribute this year.

What to Watch for: Not much competition for starting spots on the line is expected this summer. If Kelce goes, assume Wisniewski starts at center. Barbre and Warmack would compete for the vacant guard spot. If he stays, Wisniewski would likely start at guard, pushing both Barbre and Warmack into backup roles, and Orlosky off the roster.

Defensive End

Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Steven Means (5)

Breakdown: Another of Chip Kelly’s guys falls. Marcus Smith should be cut this summer, as the Eagles move further away from the Kelly regime. There is just too much depth at DE to justify giving a spot to Smith. The team has already announced that they will not pick up his 5th year option. Barring an unforeseen leap in play this summer, the team will look to part ways with the controversial 2014 first-rounder.

Steven Means is the player that takes Smith’s spot. The team clearly likes what they see in Means; he was kept on IR for the entirety of the 2016 season, when the Eagles could have easily released him. As far as the team is concerned, there’s something there. I’ll defer to their judgement here, and assume he makes the cut.

What to Watch for: The battle between Curry and Barnett should heat up right away. I have Curry starting, but my money is on Barnett to supplant him at some point. When? It could be as early as the preseason, if Barnett lives up to the first-round draft selection (or if Curry struggles).

Defensive Tackle

Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Charles Walker, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls (5)

Breakdown: No surprise with the starters: Cox and Jernigan should make for a fearsome duo up front. A pair of rookies make the cut in Qualls and Walker, and Vaeao comes back after a solid, if unspectacular 2016. I’m operating under the assumption that Beau Allen starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and thus would be ineligible for the first six weeks of the season. If Allen is able to return, Vaeao or Walker would likely be ousted.

What to Watch for: While an undrafted rookie making the team is enough of a feel good story, Charles Walker is a bit more complex than that. Many labeled Walker as a first-round talent, but his departure from Oklahoma, combined with subpar combine numbers, caused his draft stock to freefall. NFL scouts later found out that Walker suffered from depression, which, combined with his other on-field issues, caused him to go undrafted.

The Eagles are giving Walker a chance. From a football perspective, it makes sense: the kid has a ton of upside. If the Eagles can help manage his off-field issues, the signing could prove to be a slam dunk. Walker is the type of guy you root for, and I’ll be doing just that.

Linebacker

Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Joe Walker, Nathan Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill (5)

Breakdown: The news here is no Mychal Kendricks. He was largely phased out as the 2016 season wore on, and contributed very little. Kendricks was not happy with his role, and the Eagles were not happy with his production. It seems like it would be mutually beneficial for the two to part ways; we’ll find out if the Eagles brass agrees. If the Eagles were to move on, it would likely be via a trade to avoid his cap hit of $5 million.

What to Watch for: Joe Walker made some noise in 2016 as a 7th round rookie. He had established himself as a top backup to Jordan Hicks before an ACL tear took his rookie season from him. Defensive Coordinator Jim Schwartz liked what he saw from Walker in the 2016 preseason, so look for him to bounce back and return hungry to make an impact.

Cornerback

Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Ron Brooks, Dwayne Gratz, Jomal Wiltz (6)

Breakdown: What a mess. The Eagles addressed the future of the cornerback position at the 2017 draft. If Sidney Jones can recover from his injury, this position will not be an issue in 2018 and beyond. Right now, though? It’s a disaster. Mills should take back his starting spot from last year, where he played… average. Patrick Robinson was picked up in free agency and will likely start the season opposite Mills. Look for Brooks to come in as the slot corner, a role he is very familiar with.

I’m also projecting undrafted rookie speedster Jomal Wiltz to make the team. He played will at Iowa State, and could be a good find post-draft.

The Eagles needed a complete overhaul at this position, and they got it, with 4 new players joining the fray.

What to Watch for: Rasul Douglas is a ballhawk. The kid is a playmaker, and has the potential to take the starting spot away from Robinson once he gets his feet wet. Also keep an eye on Sidney Jones’ recovery. He could be back by week eight, but the Eagles should look to err on the side of caution with their second-round pick. This may be what the Eagles go through 2017 with at cornerback.

Safety

Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Jaylen Watkins, Chris Maragos (4)

Breakdown: Some steadiness here for the Eagles, these are the same four safeties from 2016. There isn’t much of a story here: all four players are contributors to the team, be it on defense or special teams.

What to Watch for: Jenkins is pushing 30 years old, and there’s a chance he may have lost a step in the offseason. Otherwise, any change in this position group would be a shock. If anyone supplants one of these four players, consider it an upset.

Specialists

K-Caleb Sturgis, P-Donnie Jones, LS-Jon Dorenbos

Breakdown: Again, some continuity for the Eagles. Fan favorite Jon Dorenbos is the best in the business, and shouldn’t be going anywhere. Sturgis and Jones had very good seasons; unless either struggle in camp or preseason, they should remain on the roster.

What to Watch for: The Eagles did bring in Cameron Johnson, a punter from Ohio State. With Jones hitting age 36, the Eagles may be looking at a younger leg. However, Jones has been solid in his time with the Eagles. I would be surprised to see Jones go.

 

Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter: @ZachBonanno

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