Projecting the Philadelphia Eagles' Final 53-Man Roster after Preseason Week 2
The Philadelphia Eagles have completed yet another successful summer up at Lehigh for training camp, and are preparing for their annual "dress rehearsal" Monday night as they take on the New England Patriots in the second week of preseason. We are starting to get a good feel of who has secured a roster spot, who is right on the cusp of making the team and who is right on the chopping block.
On August 28th, every NFL team has to whittle down their roster to 80 players. Then on August 31st, after the final preseason game, every team has to set their roster down to the final 53. Those dates are coming up fast and every player that is on the border of making that final 53-man roster needs every rep in every practice to go their way.
There is very little time left to impress the coaching staff. The next two preseason games will be huge for every non-starter, and a few starters, to improve their stocks heading into the roster cut-downs.
Every year during the final cuts, the Eagles always give us a few surprises. Last summer, the Eagles cut Joselio Hanson (only to bring him right back) and Derek Landri. This year, there is sure to be a couple surprising cuts or non-cuts that leaves Eagles fans scratching their heads. Here is a projection of what the final 53-man roster could look like on August 31st.
Michael Vick, Mike Kafka, Nick Foles
Michael Vick is the starting quarterback and Nick Foles will make this roster. That much we know for sure. What we don't know is who will be the backup and if Nick Foles has a legitimate shot at earning the No. 2 role.
Mike Kafka fractured his non-throwing hand in the first preseason game against the Steelers. That was a huge blow for Kafka. He needed as many plays in preseason and as many reps in practice to try and earn the trust of the coaching staff. He doesn't have any NFL starts and filled in the fourth quarter twice last season. He is far from a proven backup quarterback.
The one thing Kafka has going for him is the fact that this is his third year in the Eagles offense. He has a good understanding of the playbook and a player like Foles or Trent Edwards has to really outshine Kafka in order to steal that backup role. This isn't a simple offense to learn in one summer, and it would take a lot to overtake Kafka for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
At the very least Kafka will make this roster and compete with Foles for the backup job in a week to week basis. The better Foles improves on his mechanics and his understanding of the offense, the better his chances of earning that backup role.
Last season Kafka started out as the backup, but Andy Reid awarded that role to Vince Young once he got a better feel for the offense. The same thing could happen to Foles if he continues to impress all year long in practice.
For now, Kafka's roster spot should be safe. He knows the offense and that is really valuable in this type of offense. Nothing short of Kevin Kolb being released by the Arizona Cardinals is going to keep Kafka from making the final roster.
LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Bryce Brown
The Eagles have more depth at running back than they've ever had during the Andy Reid era, and maybe the deepest group in the franchise's history. LeSean McCoy is a legit top three running back in the NFL. He isn't a speed back, he is a complete back. He does everything well. The rest of this group is really lacking in experience, but not short on talent.
Dion Lewis and Bryce Brown are going to fight for playing time behind McCoy. Lewis is very similar to McCoy. He isn't a big back, but he has incredibly quick feet and a strong lower body. They are also both outstanding receivers and solid in pass protection. Lewis will be the running back the Eagles use when they want to run the same type of plays that they would with McCoy.
Brown is a different type of back. His feet aren't quite as quick as Lewis or McCoy's, but he has more straight line speed and has about 20 pounds on both backs. Brown is that rare type of power back that actually possess a lot of speed and receiving ability. He hits his holes hard and makes defenders miss in the open field.
Neither Lewis or Brown has reached their ceiling. Both players have the potential to develop into starting caliber NFL backs, but for now they are very valuable backups who get to learn from one of the best in McCoy.
Chris Polk is going to be a tough cut for the Eagles. He is a really tough runner and is a natural in blitz pickups. The problem for Polk is that the Eagles aren't going to keep four running backs on the roster.
There has been some talk about using Polk as the fullback, but he likely won't be effective in that role. He has shoulder concerns and is about 20 pounds lighter than you would want your fullback to be. Remember, your FB will be taking on 240-pound linebackers on just about every running play. That is some serious wear and tear on a player that was enough of an injury risk for all 32 teams to avoid in last April's draft.
No Fullbacks Make the Roster
This has been a very highly debated subject. Do the Eagles keep a fullback on the roster? If you believe in keeping the best 53 players, you can't keep either Stanley Havili or Emil Igwenagu. Neither player is much of a lead blocker. Keeping one of them means cutting someone more deserving in the secondary or on the defensive line.
Can the Eagles really get by without a fullback on the roster?
Not everyone will agree, but I believe they can. Clay Harbor is the best blocker on the Eagles roster who isn't an offensive linemen. He can fill in at the fullback role as it isn't a position that is used much more than 10 percent of the plays in a given game.
That is what makes the fullback position expendable on the Eagles roster. They aren't a power-running team and have barely utilized the lead blocker during training camp and preseason. However, they still need an effective lead blocker in the situations that call for them.
The Eagles very well could keep one of their fullbacks on their final 53-man roster. I have to see more out of them before I believe they will, but we are only one game into the preseason. There is still time to impress, but right now I havn't seen anything from either player that would earn them a roster spot.
DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Marvin McNutt
The wide receiver group was almost set heading into training camp. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are the starting outside receivers. Jason Avant is the slot specialist and Riley Cooper is a key reserve and a special teams ace. That leaves one or two open spots at wide receiver.
Damaris Johnson has been doing everything he could since OTAs to earn a roster spot. He is that running back, wide receiver and return man combo player that can thrive in the Eagles offense. He should replace DeSean Jackson on punt returns and will earn a few touches each week in the open space. Johnson has that rare quickness and escapability that you want to utilize in a variety of ways each week.
I believe the Eagles will keep six wideouts on their roster. Marvin McNutt is the reason for that. He can be a standout on special teams and should develop into a really good possession receiver. The Eagles need more wide receivers like McNutt in the red zone. He fights for the football like no one else on this roster.
Chad Hall is going to be a tough cut this time around. He had himself a really nice camp and caught just about everything that has been thrown his way. He just doesn't have the quickness and return ability that Johnson has or the physicality that McNutt has.
Brent Celek, Clay Harbor, Brett Brackett
Brent Celek has been on the cusp of greatness for a few seasons now. There is always something keeping him from getting over that 1,000-yard plateau. Whether it is a couple nagging injuries or a great need for him in pass protection, Celek just can't seem to get over the hump. Depending how left tackle shapes up, Celek should be able to get over that mark this season if he stays healthy.
Clay Harbor continues to make great leaps each year he has been in the league. He has already become one of the better blocking tight ends in the NFL. The only question is can he become a dependable receiver? He is staying after practice to try and become that player and it will be interesting to see what his role will become this season.
The third tight end is a lot like the fullback spot on the roster. Brett Brackett and Chase Ford aren't just battling for the third tight end spot, they are battling with every other player that is trying to earn one of those last roster spots. They have to prove that they deserve a roster spot over someone like Brandon Hughes or Mike Gibson.
Brett Brackett has a leg up on the third tight end spot over Chase Ford right now. Brackett is the better receiver, but both players are pretty even as far as blocking is concerned. Brackett should make the roster as the third tight end despite some struggles as a blocker. He is the better receiver and a more natural receiver. You can teach blocking, but you can't teach natural receiving skills.
King Dunlap, Todd Herremans, Demetress Bell, Dennis Kelly
Offensive Tackle is just about set. Todd Heremans is the starting right tackle. Dennis Kelly should be his backup. The starting left tackle spot is still up for grabs, but the two players battling for it, Demetress Bell and King Dunlap, will make the roster.
Todd Herremans is as solid as they come at right tackle. He can hold his own against just about any defensive end or edge rusher and has the athleticism to get upfield in a hurry on screens. He also has plenty of starting experience at guard and started at left tackle last season as well. He proved last season he can be moved just about anywhere on the line and have great success.
Left tackle is wide open right now. Bell was the starter, but has been demoted following a horrid performance in the preseason opener. Bell has more potential in the Eagles' blocking scheme, but Dunlap is the more stable player right now. Until that changes, Dunlap will be the starting left tackle.
Kelly should round out the offensive tackle group. He has potential at both tackle spots and has been worked out as a guard as well. He will continue to be a project player all season, but it's nice to know he has the versatility to play four different positions on the line.
Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Danny Watkins, Julian Vandervelde, Dallas Reynolds
The interior of the Eagles' offensive line has a chance to be really special this season. Evan Mathis is already one of the top guards in the NFL, while Danny Watkins should reach that level in year two. Jason Kelce should become a top five center in this league as well. All three starters are physical, but good athletes that will thrive in Howard Mudd's blocking scheme this year.
Julian Vandervelde should be the top backup guard this season. He is a promising young guard who fits right in with what the Eagles want out of their guards. They have also been trying Vandervelde out at center, but the results have been all over the place. It wouldn't be ideal to rely on him as the backup center this season. Center isn't a position you can survive with poor play. One or two bad snaps will cost you games.
Dallas Reynolds is getting the most reps with the second team at center. It would be wise for the Eagles to keep a reliable player at center and Reynolds is the Eagles' second best option right now.
Sixth-round draft pick Brandon Washington should be on this roster in some people's minds, but he isn't ready to make an impact right now. The Eagles need to stash him on the practice squad and hope that he isn't picked up by another team. I like his future with the team, but he can't be relied on as a backup over Vandervelde at this point in his career.
Trent Cole, Jason Babin, Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt, Vinny Curry
Defensive end is absolutely loaded in Philly. The Eagles can go six deep without much of a drop-off. Anytime you can send Vinny Curry and Phillip Hunt out as your third-team defensive end duo, you are doing okay. One of these six defensive ends will eventually be either cut or traded.
Darryl Tapp seems like the odd man out here. He is a good run defender and a decent pass-rusher, but his ceiling is a lot lower than the other five guys. You just can't keep him over a player like Vinny Curry or Phillip Hunt. I expect Tapp to be traded toward the end of preseason, but there is no guarantee the Eagles will get anything back in return for a player that most teams are certain will be released at the end of the month.
The Eagles kept five defensive ends last season and should do the same this season. They will most likely keep four of those five players active on game day. That means Brandon Graham, Phillip Hunt and Vinny Curry will be battling for playing time all season long.
Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Fletcher Cox, Antonio Dixon, Cedric Thornton
The shakedown at defensive tackle will really depend on when Mike Patterson is cleared to return to full football activities by doctors, especially for Antonio Dixon. With the way Derek Landri has played and the track record that Patterson has, Dixon has no shot of making this team with both of those players healthy. Dixon probably makes the team and stays on the active roster until Patterson comes back.
Landri and Dixon are the nose tackles at this point while Jenkins and Cox will be the under tackles.
Thornton has been really impressive as a inside pass-rusher all summer long and he's going to stick on someone's roster this season. I would hate to see him stick with anyone else. He would be a nice fifth DT who can fill in at either tackle spot on the Eagles' roster.
Brian Rolle, Mychal Kendricks, Jamar Chaney, Akeem Jordan, Keenan Clayton
Outside linebacker looks a lot better than it did a year ago. The Eagles got a flat-out steal in the second round of last April's draft with Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks is a outside linebacker who can lock up on even the most athletic tight ends and give plenty of support against the run. He isn't a finished product yet, but he should be a huge upgrade for the Eagles at strong-side linebacker.
Brian Rolle looks to have the weak-side linebacker spot secured. Jamar Chaney may not earn a starting role this season, but he is getting extra reps with the first team nickel defense. That is a really good sign for a player that struggled so much in nickel packages last season. He can play all three linebacker positions and will be a very valuable backup linebacker this year.
Keenan Clayton and Akeem Jordan are two players that I just can't cut. Jordan is a solid veteran who excels on special teams. He also did a nice job filling in at strong-side linebacker down the stretch last season. Clayton is an exceptional coverage linebacker. He hasn't proven to be much more at this point, but he is a player you can move around in certain nickel and dime packages.
DeMeco Ryans, Casey Matthews
The Eagles really struck gold this offseason when they traded for DeMeco Ryans. They got a leader and a stout run defender at linebacker for the first time since Jeremiah Trotter was in his prime in the early 2000s. The defense should look night and day from where they were at last season.
Casey Matthews will serve as Ryans' backup. Ideally, he will be able to spend the the entire season learning from Ryans. Matthews was way out of his league last year as the immediate starting middle linebacker. A full season on the bench would do wonders for him down the road.
Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Joselio Hanson, Brandon Boykin, Curtis Marsh
The Eagles now have the depth at corner to fully utilize a press coverage. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is back on the outside where he belongs. He isn't as physical as Nnamdi Asomugha, but he has the speed to recover against any outside receiver.
Joselio Hanson appeared to be on his way out after the Eagles drafted slot corner Brandon Boykin in last April's draft, but Hanson has been playing lights out all summer long. Hanson should retain his slot corner job while Boykin can step in on dime packages and also serve as a backup outside corner.
Curtis Marsh is a good press corner prospect. He has great size at 6'1" 200 pounds, and made the switch from running back to corner in college. He's still a raw player at the position and should develop into a starting corner by the time Asomugha is either released by the Eagles or retires.
Marsh will serve as the top backup outside corner and a key contributor on special teams.
Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, O.J. Atogwe, Colt Anderson
Jaiquawn Jarrett appears to have played his way out of the roster completely. He's actually regressed from last season, where he struggled to see the field. Jarrett doesn't have a grasp of the defense and can't bring anybody down in the open field. Not good for a safety.
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are the starting safeties. They played well together last season and should continue to get better together both individually and as a unit after demonstrating a lot of chemistry together on the football field.
O.J. Atogwe will serve as the team's backup safety at both spots. He isn't the same player he was two years ago, but he can still be a solid role player and a good mentor for the young guys. The other backup safety might end up being Colt Anderson.
Anderson is still recovering from ACL surgery last December, but is right on track to be ready for the season opener. He is going to earn a roster spot once he is healthy because of his ability on special teams. There may not be a better player in the NFL at covering kicks.
Right now the Eagles don't have another safety ahead of Anderson that deserves a roster spot. Maybe they wait for someone better to be released by another team, or maybe they trade a player like Darryl Tapp in order to acquire a better backup safety. Last season they kept five safeties on the roster. Right now I have them keeping four, assuming that Anderson will be ready for the season opener.
Alex Henery, Chas Henry, Jon Dorenbos
Alex Henery made the Eagles' transition from David Akers a pretty smooth one. After two easy misses in Week 4 last season, Henery didn't miss a field goal under 50 yards the rest of the way, He followed that up with a game-winning 51-yard field goal against the Steelers in the preseason opener.
Chas Henry should retain his punter job despite good competition from Mat McBriar. Henry was perfect as a holder on Alex Henery's field goals last season. Henry also showed his power on a 54-yard punt against the Steelers. Until McBriar consistently out-punts Henry, Chas is here to stay.
Jon Dorenbos has been one of the best long snappers in the NFL for a while now. He doesn't botch snaps and doesn't give up penetration inside. He is as solid as they come at the position.