Philadelphia Eagles 53-Man Roster Predictions, Version 1
The Philadelphia Eagles have barely had time to strap the pads on for training camp at Lehigh University, but conjecture waits for no one.
We all just want to know who is going to make up the active roster when all is said and done and the games begin to count. It's exactly what Andy Reid and the coaching staff are trying to do right now, but they have to wait until the practices and preseason wraps up before making those decisions.
Fortunately, I am not handcuffed by those sorts of things.
Call it foreshadowing, a gut feeling, an educated guess or a complete and total guess if you'd like, but here's how I see the 53-man roster shaping up as of right now.
Without further adieu, the way-too-early version one of what could be many to come.
Starter: Michael Vick
No real surprise here, as Vick is the unquestioned starter without so much as legitimate competition coming from any of the other quarterbacks.
No. 2: Mike Kafka
Personally, I believe Kafka has reached his ceiling. He doesn't have great tangible skills, but the coaches really seem to like his intelligence and leadership abilities. My guess is he's the guy the team turns to if Vick goes down.
No. 3: Nick Foles
The third-round pick could overtake Kafka at some point, but it probably won't be this year, and hopefully, it's not because Kafka sees the field and doesn't perform. Foles might not be the future starter of the team, but he is its future backup.
Trent Edwards likely sees his NFL career come to an end after being cut by the Eagles and losing out to a rookie. It's a shame because Edwards was simply ruined during his time in Buffalo and does have some ability, but it's the end of the road for Edwards.
Running Backs and Fullback (4)
Starter: LeSean McCoy
Like Vick, McCoy is the unquestioned starter here. He's one of the top backs, if not the top back, in the entire league and is in no danger of seeing the bench any time soon.
No. 2: Dion Lewis
This was very much up in the air after his felony arrest earlier this month, but the charges have since been dropped and the Pitt product will be the relief for McCoy.
No. 3: Bryce Brown
There's a ton of buzz around this kid, a seventh-round pick out of Kansas State, and it looks like he's going to be the guy to snag the third running back spot. At 6'0" and 220 pounds, he's a change-of-pace bruising type of back the Eagles will need to keep on the roster.
Fullback: Stanley Havili
Havili is something of an oddity. The 2011 seventh-round pick spent all of last season on the practice squad while Owen Schmitt held the role of fullback, but with Schmitt walking via free agency, Havili gets his shot. He's 6'0" and 245 pounds, but has something of a problem blocking and could be used more as an old school H-Back than a traditional fullback.
Chris Polk, an undrafted rookie who many had as a first-round talent before an injury, also has a lot of buzz about him and could force the Eagles to consider keeping four running backs, but it's unlikely. Once he's cut, however, I expect him to find a home very quickly as the Eagles unsuccessfully attempt to stash him on the practice squad.
Tight Ends (2)
Starter: Brent Celek
Celek has shown more than enough to be the starting tight end for the Eagles. Though inconsistent for stretches, he's shown an ability to be one of the top tight ends in the league.
No. 2: Clay Harbor
Harbor once again will be the backup to Celek. Harbor is a guy the Eagles expected more out of in the passing game, but in his defense, his opportunities have been limited because of Celek's superiority and Andy Reid's offense. He has shown that he's an effective blocker and will likely become a bigger part of the offense in 2012.
Brett Brackett could find his way to the practice squad if another team doesn't scoop him up. The former PSU wide receiver is learning a new position at tight end and has a lot of upside. If other teams don't recognize that, the Eagles would be more than happy to keep him around in some fashion.
Wide Receivers (6)
Starter: DeSean Jackson
Jackson has a hefty new contract and a lot to live up to after a disappointing 2011 season. Many, including myself, question his ability to be the team's go-to receiver, so a big year would go a long way towards silencing the critics.
Starter: Jeremy Maclin
The former first-round pick out of Mizzou is a guy I absolutely love. He is on the verge of really breaking out and has all the abilities of not just a true No. 1 receiver, but a superstar in this league. After 2012, Maclin could be more of a household name around the country.
Starter: Jason Avant
Avant proves the difference between playing receiver on the outside and in the slot. Put Avant on the outside and he is fighting to make the team, but in the slot, there might not be anyone better in the league. Avant is one of the most sure-handed guys playing today and could very well have the best hands other than Larry Fitzgerald.
No. 4: Marvin McNutt
A sixth-round pick out of Iowa, McNutt has an uphill battle ahead of him. But he's showing he's a sure-handed guy with a lot of upside and could unseat the disappointing Riley Cooper—especially now that he'll be sitting on the sidelines for a month of so.
No. 5: Riley Cooper
Cooper has been disappointing offensively, but he's been a solid special teams guy and will keep his spot on the team. There is still upside in Cooper, but his inability to produce offensively is a bit worrisome, and his time on the roster will come to a halt after 2012 if he doesn't show something more.
No. 6: Damaris Johnson
He's coming on strong offensively, but it will be his return ability that really makes the coaching staff think twice about letting him go. He could, however, be a candidate to get the boot once guys like Colt Anderson, Jason Peters, and Mike Patterson recover. Or rather, if they recover.
Say farewell, with a lump in your throat, to Chad Hall. The little guy has been one of my favorites for the past couple years, not only because of the military experience tied to his name, but because of his relentless work ethic and overcoming obvious physical limitations. Hopefully, he will stick elsewhere, as he's no longer eligible for the practice squad.
Offensive Line (10)
Starter (LT): Demetress Bell
With Jason Peters likely out for the entire season, the Eagles will count on another former Buffalo Bill to man the left side. Bell is no Peters, but he's been working with the big fella during training camp and is sure to get a ton of attention from Howard Mudd to make sure he's at least up to snuff.
Starter (LG): Evan Mathis
While I'm personally not a huge fan of Mathis on the field, his five-year, $25 million deal guarantees his spot to the left of the interior.
Starter (C): Jason Kelce
Kelce got off to a ridiculously slow start last season, but came on strong at the end and seems to really have a grasp of the position and of Andy Reid's offense. If he progresses the way he should from his rookie to sophomore year, the Birds will be set at center for a while.
Starter (RG): Danny Watkins
Speaking of rookies off to a slow start, none started slower than Watkins, as he spent the first month of the season on the bench behind Kyle DeVan. Yes, that's right, Kyle DeVan. But once Watkins took the spot (basically by default) he was extremely solid and had an underrated year. I think Watkins quickly shows Pro Bowl talent and shores up the interior of the line.
Starter (RT): Todd Herremans
Thanks to injuries at right tackle, Herremans was thrown into a new position for all of last season. There were growing pains, but obvious signs that Herremans could catch on—and he did. His play towards the end of the year earned him a new contract and a starting spot.
Backup (T): King Dunlap
Odds are good that should Bell or Herremans go down, Dunlap will be the guy who gets the call to step in and start. Dunlap has played both sides and even started one game at guard last season, but his 6'10" frame makes him a less-than-ideal candidate to play on the inside. If Peters is able to return, Bell will be the primary backup on the left and Dunlap will be the No. 2 on the right.
Backup (G): Julian Vandervelde
The second-year guard will get a shot to be the next man up on the inside, but I'm still not convinced. He looked absolutely lost during the preseason last year and, for me, was a guy who didn't even belong on the roster. But Reid is loyal to his lineman and clearly sees something in Vandervelde to make him think he can be trusted to step in should Mathis or Watkins miss time.
Backup (C/G): Mike Gibson
Gibson comes back to Philly on his second stint with the Eagles. Gibson was an Eagles draft pick who got stashed on the practice squad but was signed away by the Seattle Seahawks. Gibson will likely be the primary backup to Kelce at center, but could also see time as a guard if Vandervelde looks as bad as he did last season.
Backup (G/C): Dallas Reynolds
Reynolds has gone from the obligatory BYU offensive lineman that Reid must carry on the roster to a legit backup who has worked his way up from the bowels of the depth chart. Reynolds might not dress for games very often, but Reid loves versatility and Reynold's ability to play all three interior positions will likely earn him a roster spot.
Backup (T): Dennis Kelly
The Eagles will likely want to keep two backup tackles on the roster, and the second will likely be the 2012 fifth-round pick out of Purdue. Like Reynolds, Kelly could find himself inactive for most of the season, and even off the team entirely and on the practice squad should Peters be able to return.
Sixth-round pick Brandon Washington will most likely find himself on the practice squad after losing out to the more experienced, and more versatile, Reynolds. However, seeing the opposite also would not be surprising.
Peters, as expected, will start on the PUP.
Starter (SS): Nate Allen
The former second-round pick has caught a lot of unwarranted criticism. His play last year was significantly hampered by the serious knee injury he suffered at the end of his rookie season in 2010. The guy we saw at the end of the year—fast, instinctive and a sure tackler—is exactly who the Eagles will get for 2012.
Starter (FS): Kurt Coleman
Coleman was unable to build on what was a promising few starts during his rookie campaign, but I think the former seventh-round pick will be able to hold off the competition and get back to form. He's a tough, hard-hitting, in-the-box type of guy and is a great guy to have next to Allen, who is more of a center field type of safety.
No. 3: O.J. Atogwe
Atogwe is the veteran presence everyone was waiting for during the offseason. Atogwe used to be a top-flight safety in the league, but has fallen off recently and is looking for a resurgence in Philly. He could find his way into the starting role if he shows flashes of his old form.
No. 4: Jaiquawn Jarrett
The Eagles coaching staff really wants to see Jarrett on the field, but he simply has not been able to pick up the defense quickly enough to play fast on the field. He spends too much time thinking, and until he can just start playing off instinct, he's going to continue to hold a spot on the bench.
There will likely not be a safety on the training camp roster who finds his way to the practice squad, and Colt Anderson will start the season on the PUP.
Starter: Nnamdi Asomugha
Yeah. Blew your mind just now, right? Moving on.
Starter: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
Asante Samuel is down in Atlanta, and DRC will finally get his shot to play the outside and show he is the guy the Eagles thought they were getting last season in the Kevin Kolb trade. My gut, and all indications from camp, says he will do just that.
Nickel: Joselio Hanson
Not a starter, but not exactly a backup, I think Hanson will hold down his spot as the starter in the nickel set. He is going to get a lot of competition from a certain rookie, but Hanson has been too solid in the nickel to just give up that spot now.
No. 4: Brandon Boykin
Boykin is the aforementioned rookie who will push Hanson. However, it just seems to make more sense to keep Boykin around as the dime corner, use him on special teams—namely as a return man—and make him the nickel corner next year after Hanson walks in free agency.
No. 5: Curtis Marsh
I was thoroughly unimpressed with Marsh in his rookie campaign, but the Eagles knew they were getting a project when they drafted him in the third round. Marsh was only a corner for two years in college after entering as a running back. All indications are that he's improved by leaps and bounds and would probably get the starting nod should Asomugha or DRC go down.
No. 6: Cliff Harris
The Eagles usually only keep five corners, but Harris has been too good in camp, and that's not expected to end any time soon. If his play drops off, he's a practice squad candidate, but he's going to really make Reid and company re-think their traditional roster numbers.
Brandon Hughes played well on special teams last year, but is nothing special on defense and is unlikely to earn a roster spot. Trevard Lindley, the former fourth-round pick, is back for his second stint in Philly, but is also unlikely to earn a roster spot and will once again find himself on the scrap heap.
Starter (SAM): Mychal Kendricks
The second-round pick is drawing rave reviews out of camp and could end the Eagles' horrid streak of second-round linebackers. I'm looking at you, Matt McCoy, Barry Gardener and Quinton Caver. Hopefully, he can also end the revolving door the Eagles have had at SAM linebacker ever since the departure of Carlos Emmons.
Starter (MIKE): DeMeco Ryans
In what I believe could be one of the best trades Andy Reid has ever made, the Eagles sent a bag of peanuts to the Houston Texans for a guy in Ryans who is one of the best MIKE linebackers in the league. The problem is, Ryans was stuck in Wade Phillips' new 3-4 system and obviously was not comfortable. Putting him back in a 4-3 and back in the middle could mean incredible things for the Eagles defense.
Starter (WILL): Jamar Chaney
Chaney went from promising middle linebacker, to disappointing strong-side linebacker, to mediocre middle linebacker, and now finds himself battling for the weak-side spot. Chaney is incredibly athletic and will likely flourish in the less-restrictive role of playing the weakside. He will be allowed to do more reacting than thinking, which could translate into a solid starting linebacking corps in Philly.
Backup: Casey Matthews
While I still believe Matthews is best suited to play the weakside in the nickel, the Eagles have him running as Ryans' backup. I don't understand the thinking, but that's the way it is.
Backup: Brian Rolle
Rolle was the starter on the weakside last season, but he doesn't have the natural size or ability that Chaney has and will have a difficult time keeping his spot. He drew rave reviews from some, but for me, he reminded me far too much of Ernie Sims. And yes, that cringe you just experienced is normal.
Backup: Greg Lloyd
The son of the former Pittsburgh Steeler linebacker of the same name, Lloyd is a physical specimen who would have likely gone in the first two rounds of the draft last year had he not suffered an injury during his senior season. There are several veterans who will push Lloyd for this spot, but none have the upside of Lloyd and that alone could win him the spot.
As odd as it is, the Eagles could wind up cutting a few linebackers will some talent. Moise Fokou and Akeem Jordan both have starting experience, but both have reached their ceilings. The Eagles know what to expect from these guys and also know they won't get any more than that.
Keenan Clayton, a former fourth-round pick, was doomed from the get-go as a 'tweener safety/linebacker who couldn't catch on at either position.
Defensive Line (9)
Starter (RDE): Trent Cole
This is really a no-brainer pick. Cole is one of the best and most complete defensive ends in the league.
Starter (DT): Cullen Jenkins
Once again, another no-brainer. Jenkins is the unquestioned starter.
Starter (DT): Fletcher Cox
The Eagles traded up three spots to draft the kid out of Mississippi State because they believe he will flourish in Jim Washburn's one-gap scheme. Cox will get some competition, but as long as Mike Patterson is out, I believe Cox will be the guy next to Jenkins.
Starter (LDE): Jason Babin
After a campaign with 18 sacks, Babin will retain his spot until the production drops off. At 32 years old, that could happen sooner rather than later, but it's doubtful to start in 2012.
Backup (DE): Brandon Graham
Graham, for me, will be the surprise player of the year. His sophomore campaign in 2011 was basically a wash, as he was recovering from a torn ACL, but he has the perfect size and skill set to be an absolute monster in the Wide-9 scheme and will get plenty of opportunities in the rotation.
Backup (DE): Philip Hunt
Hunt first tore up the CFL before being signed by the Eagles during last year's offseason, and in limited action, showed an ability to get around the edge and get to the quarterback. I expect Hunt's snaps to go way up in 2012, and his production along with it.
Backup (DE): Vinny Curry
The second-round pick is an enormous Eagles fan and already has a ton of fans himself. Many see him as a future starter, but I think the emergence of Graham will keep his snaps at a minimum. That being said, the team could get a lot of production from those snaps.
Backup (DT): Derek Landri
I love Landri. As far as football man-crushes go, he's my Justin Bieber. The guy is absolutely relentless and his technique is near-flawless. He doesn't have the physical skills of the rest of the tackles on the roster, but it's the other factors that could vault him into a starting role of the rookie Cox.
Backup (DT): Antonio Dixon
Dixon was once a guy considered to be in line for a starting role, but an injury last year along with the signing of Jenkins and the drafting of Cox will likely mean a backup role for Dixon. However, Washburn loves his rotation, and Dixon will get plenty of time—especially in short-yardage and obvious running situations.
The only notable cut is Darryl Tapp. He would have a chance of sticking around while Patterson is on the PUP, but keeping him on the roster past Week 1 means his salary is fully guaranteed, and he's making far too much to justify that. Tapp's time in Philly ends as a major disappointment.
Special Teams (3)
Kicker: Alex Henery
The rookie missed only three field goals and is the only kicker currently on the roster. Safe to say, his spot is guaranteed.
Punter: Mat McBriar
To say undrafted punter Chas Henry was disappointing is a bit of an understatement. He was billed as a guy with a strong leg, but showed that infrequently. He will lose his spot to the two-time Pro Bowler McBriar.
Long Snapper: Jon Dorenbos
The magic man remains one of the most stable and consistent guys on the roster. If you don't hear a long-snapper's name, it's a very good thing, and his name only pops up when discussing locker room antics.