The 2012 Philadelphia Eagles are starting to really take shape following the draft. The offensive line has depth, the defensive line looks elite and Mychal Kendricks looks like the SAM linebacker of the future.
The Eagles have plenty of cap space, around $19 million to be exact. The Eagles could go after another big free agent or two, but don't expect Plaxico Burress getting signed anytime soon. The majority of that cap figure will go to re-signing LeSean McCoy this year and Jeremy Maclin next year.
The Eagles will head into the season much like they did in 2011, with a loaded roster. The only difference this season is that the Eagles will have less new faces and position coaches to get used to.
The defense has the personnel to play the type of defense they wanted to last season. Asante Samuel is a great corner, but he is best served to play off-man coverage while Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are at their best playing press coverage. With Samuel gone, the Eagles can play press coverage.
A few positions will be up for grabs in training camp, but the majority of all roster spots are all but assured at this point. Here is a very early look at what the 53 man roster could look like.
Mike Kafka, Nick Foles
Michael Vick is the starting and franchise quarterback. The season rides on his very fragile body. When he goes, so does the team. Vick made 13 starts in 2011 and went 7-6 as a starter including 7-4 when he was able to start and finish the team. He was at his best with his offensive line intact. He was 5-1 as a starter once Danny Watkins was inserted into the lineup.
Mike Kafka will be the backup. He knows the offense better than anyone outside of Vick. He showed he has a good grasp of the offense last season in a Week 2 match-up against the Atlanta Falcons. He came in after Vick suffered a concussion and went 7-9 for 72 yards. His only incompletions were a critical dropped pass by Jeremy Maclin and a hail mary attempt on the final play.
Kafka doesn't have a big arm but he does read blitzes like a 10 year pro and has a very quick release. He will have to beat out Trent Edwards, but having two years experience in the offense should give him the advantage to win the job.
Nick Foles is locked in as the third string quarterback. You don't draft a player in the third round only to cut him months later. He is a project at quarterback so he won't be Vick's backup. I like Foles' potential, but we won't see it during the regular season until 2013 at the earliest.
Dion Lewis, Chris Polk
LeSean McCoy is an elite running back. Nobody cuts like he does, he is a solid receiving option out of the backfield and he is outstanding in pass protection as well. He should be expecting a big pay raise any day now. We can assume he will be the number one back in the Eagles offense.
The next two running back spots are a bit trickier. Dion Lewis is back after a decent first season. He looked good in preseason, but struggled to get touches and didn't impress when he did. He should greatly improve in his second season. It would be a major upset to him behind two running backs in the depth chart.
The third running back spot is wide open. The Eagles spent a seventh round draft pick on Bryce Brown and signed Chris Polk as an undrafted free agent. Both players once had very promising careers. Brown let his ego and selfishness get in the way of having a Trent Richardson like college career while injury concerns pushed Polk all the way out of the draft.
If Chris Polk is healthy, he wins a spot on the roster, regardless of what Brown does in camp, and maybe even pushes Dion Lewis for the backup role. Polk is more of a complete back. He is a better runner, receiver and can play pass protection on third downs.
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin
Jason Avant, Marvin McNutt, Riley Cooper
The Eagles finally took care of DeSean Jackson this offseason and can expect him to get back to his ever-so-dangerous self. It was obvious to everyone that he wasn't going to give 100 percent without being taken care of in the long-term. That's fair. No, the expectations will be that he takes the next step and makes more catches in the red zone in 2012.
Jeremy Maclin is quietly becoming one of the most consistent and complete receivers in the game. His receptions per game and yards per game have increased each season he has been in the league since 2009. The bigger question for the Eagles won't be which of these speedy receivers gets to 1,000 yards, but which gets to it first and how quickly the other guy reaches that milestone.
Jason Avant is one of the best slot receivers for both his work down the middle of the field and his work on special teams. People forget that he suffered a concussion on the block that sprung DeSean Jackson free on his walk off punt return touchdown in "The Miracle at the New Meadowlands."
The battle for fourth receiver will be an interesting one. Riley Cooper was supposed to be that big, physical possession receiver that the Eagles were looking for in the 2010 NFL Draft. He looks the part but he just doesn't play it. He waits on the football in the air like the quarterback threw him a knuckle-ball.
Marvin McNutt could be a key contributor in the red zone right away if he proves himself worthy early in camp. He has good size at 6'3, 215 pounds and he has the skill set to match it. He put up big numbers at Iowa despite being the focal point of the Hawkeyes offense. He was the one guy opponents had to contain, yet he managed to rack up over 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns. He has the ability to be a really good possession receiver, but nothing will be handed to him.
There has been a lot of talk about the Eagles going with a lot more two tight end sets this year. It's possible, but not as believable after the team signed zero veteran tight ends or any in the draft.
I expect the same two faces at tight end this season. Brent Celek is the starter, and is starting to become the safety valve for Michael Vick much like he was for Kevin Kolb. Better pass protection on the offensive line also helped Celek's numbers in 2011. Celek was one reception behind the team lead. He was third on the team with 811 receiving yards and tied for first with five receiving touchdowns.
2012 will be a big season for backup tight end Clay Harbor. He has yet to have the production that many expected him to have as an athletic tight end in a west coast offense. Harbor had 13 catches for 163 yards and one touchdown.
King Dunlap, Dennis Kelly
The Eagles will not be able to keep their offensive line intact for a single game heading into the 2012 season. Jason Peters ruptured his Achilles tendon very early in the offseason, weeks before the draft. The good news for the Eagles is that they have plenty of time to find a replacement and they have one of the greatest offensive line coaches in the game, Howard Mudd.
Former Buffalo Bill Demetress Bell was signed as a free agent and is a very good athlete. He should be a good fit at left tackle for coach Mudd. Todd Herremans will stay at right tackle.
King Dunlap was re-signed to be a key reserve who can fill in at either tackle spot and even guard in a pinch. Dennis Kelly was the Eagles fifth round draft pick. He is a developmental project at left tackle who ideally won't see any action in 2012 on the offensive line. At 6'8, he could be a contributor on special teams on the field goal blocking team.
Julian Vandervelde, Brandon Washington
The Eagles interior line will be the strength of the offense in 2012. Jason Kelce is one of the best centers in the game at using his athleticism to get upfield on screen plays. Danny Watkins continued to get better with each start last season and Evan Mathis is one of the most physical guards in the league.
Julian Vandervelde will be the back guard at both spots this season. He has a full season under Howard Mudd and will be key for the Eagles success should either guard miss any time this season. Mike Gibson, a former Eagle, is capable of playing guard and center. He will challenge Vandevelde for the top backup guard spot, but appears to have the backup center spot locked up with little competition.
Brandon Washington is another project for Mudd to develop into a starter. He plays with a real mean streak for a guard but showed the athleticism in college when he made the switch to left tackle. He could be a starter in a couple of seasons if he takes to coaching well.
Trent Cole, Jason Babin
Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Phillip Hunt
The Eagles are loaded at defensive end. Jim Washburn now has five guys he can rotate in and out as he pleases with little to no drop off. One of those five guys will probably be in the inactive roster each week, but that says more the the depth of the position more than it says about the player who doesn't make the active roster in a given week.
Trent Cole has become one of the best all around defensive ends. Stats don't tell the whole story with Cole, but three straight seasons with at least 10 sacks is pretty impressive.
Jason Babin is coming off a career year where he had 18 sacks. With more help on the line he has a chance to increase that stellar number.
Brandon Graham is in a make it or break it season. He had a nice start to his rookie year in 2010 before tearing his ACL. He clearly wasn't the same player in 2011 but an ACL injury isn't something that you come back from 100 percent right away, especially one that he suffered so late in 2010. If he will ever get back to full strength, he will prove it this season.
Vinny Curry is a perfect fit as a pass rushing specialist in the wide-9 scheme. He could come in right away and contribute six or eight sacks in his first season. Phillip Hunt is a promising young player entering his second season removed from the CFL. He will be competing for time in the defensive line rotation with Curry and Graham.
Mike Patterson, Cullen Jenkins
Antonio Dixon, Fletcher Cox, Derek Landri
Just like at defensive end, tackle is loaded. The Eagles have the deepest defensive line in football. The Giants may have two of best linemen in Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, but the Eagles have more depth.
Antonio Dixon was lost for the season very early in 2011. He is back at 100 percent and it will be interesting to see how he plays in the wide-9 for a full season. He is known as a run stuffer but does have the ability to rush the passer.
Mike Patterson is a solid starter at tackle. He doesn't wow you and he won't get many Pro Bowl votes, but he is solid nonetheless. Cullen Jenkins had little time last summer to adjust from a 3-4 defense in Green Bay to the wide-9 scheme in 4-3 defense in Philly. He had 5.5 sacks last season and we could expect a few more big plays in the backfield from Jenkins.
Fletcher Cox, like Curry, well be a perfect fit in the wide-9. Both players will be surrounded by a lot of talent on the line and will see very few double teams. I wouldn't be surprised to see both players combine for 10 or 12 sacks this season.
Derek Landri is back and has become a fan favorite. He doesn't have great size or athleticism but he made a living in the opponents backfield and that's more important than any physical attribute.
Casey Matthews, Keenan Clayton, Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan
Andy Reid and the front office have finally listened to the fans or they have realized that the linebacker position isn't something to be ignored. The Eagles sent a fourth round pick in this year's draft to the Houston Texans for Demeco Ryans. Ryans was one of the best middle linebackers in the league before Houston switched to the 3-4 defense along with the Achilles injury he suffered in 2010. He appears to be back to full strength and is back in the 4-3 defense that fits his game so well.
The Eagles spent a second round pick on rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks. He is the projected starter at the SAM linebacker spot. He has the athleticism to cover tight ends all over the field and the instincts to make an impact against the run.
The WILL linebacker spot will be a competition worth watching in camp this season. Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle are the two likely candidates with Jamar Chaney being the wildcard, depending on how Juan Castillo wants to use him this season. Chaney could stay in the middle as a key reserve to Ryans or he could compete as an outside linebacker.
I like Rolle to keep his WILL spot. He stole the position from Matthews after he outperformed him in a Week 3 game against the Giants last season. Rolle proved he can cover backs all over the field and also shed blocks to make plays against the run. It would take a very special summer from Matthews to de-throne him.
Akeem Jordan will be a key special teams player and a backup at the SAM spot. Keenan Clayton will make the team as a good special teams player with good coverage skills.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Curtis Marsh, Brandon Hughes
The secondary was supposed to be the strength of the team last season but instead was up and down. This season, in a more fitting press man coverage, the corners should be elite in 2012.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be the outside corners, pressing wide receivers right at the line of scrimmage. Both players should have huge years in a defense that will be primarily a man defense.
Brandon Boykin and Joselio Hanson are both slot corners. Boykin could make the move to outside corner down the road, but for right now he is best served in the slot. Hanson has shown very little ability covering outside receivers. I don't see the Eagles keeping two corners who will only play in the slot, especially when one is on the wrong side of 30 and in the final year of his contract.
Curtis Marsh will show a lot of growth in his second season. He should see some time in dime packages and if either of the outside corners goes down to injury. Brandon Hughes will fill out the depth chart and also serve as one of the backup outside corners.
Kurt Coleman, Colt Anderson
It should be a better start to the season at safety in 2012. Nate Allen's knee is 100 percent and Jaiquawn Jarrett has a full season under his belt in the NFL. Allen is already penciled as the starter at free safety and Jarrett and Kurt Coleman will battle for the starting job at strong safety.
The Eagles didn't spend a second round pick on Jarrett to develop him into a career backup. He will compete for a starting job. It would be a mild upset if he didn't win the starting job. He is a physical safety with great field awareness and good coverage skills.
Colt Anderson will make the roster once again based on his outstanding special teams skills. He tore his ACL last season, but I expect him to be ready by the start of the season. He will also serve as an emergency backup at safety.
Alex Henery did his best to make Eagles fans forget about David Akers. He made 24 out of 27 field goals in his rookie campaign. He missed two field goals against the 49ers in Week 4 but didn't miss a field goal under 50 yards the rest of the season.
Jon Dorenbos is one of the best long snappers in the game. Outside of snapping the ball on kicks and covering punts, he doesn't offer much else. With the amount of success and stability he has shown at the position, he doesn't need to.
The punter position will also be a good training camp battle to watch this summer. Chas Henry is a nice punter but offers no threat of a fake, doesn't have much power and takes far too long for an NFL punter to get his punt off. Ryan Tydlacka, an undrafted free agent out of Kentucky, should win the punter spot. He has averaged over 43 yards per punt in each of the last two seasons with a career high of 73 yards.