Predicting the 53-Man Roster for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013: Defense
The offseason is over. Football is back. Training camp is finally here.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, the 2013 season will be about erasing the painful memories from 2012.
We all know what happened. The Eagles were expected to rebound from a disappointing 8-8 season in 2011. Things looked bright in the first month of the year, as the Eagles won three of their first four games, all with late offensive scores and big defensive stops.
But the Eagles fizzled out, losing their next eight games and 11 of the final 12 games to end the Andy Reid era after 14 seasons.
In 2013, the Eagles have brought in former Oregon standout Chip Kelly, who has been one of the top offensive coaches in the nation for a number of years. Nobody knows what to expect for the Eagles this season.
In fact, nobody even knows who will be on the roster in 2013. The following slides will attempt to predict the final 53-man roster for the defensive side of the ball. This is a pre-training camp prediction, so it will likely change over the next few weeks.
Click here to check out my projected offensive players.
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The Eagles have just two players on their roster listed as a defensive tackle. Veteran free-agent signing Isaac Sopoaga is guaranteed a roster shot because he's the only true nose tackle on the roster.
The Eagles still have not officially announced their defensive formation in 2013, but it is rumored to be a variation of a 3-4 defense. Sopoaga graded out very poorly in 2012, per Pro Football Focus, and he will be 32 years old this season. But he will be expected to give the Eagles anywhere from 20-40 snaps per game this year.
Veteran Antonio Dixon is the other defensive tackle. He doesn't have experience playing as a 3-4 nose tackle but he is a massive body who is solid against the run. It makes sense for the Eagles to keep him on the roster.
Defensive Tackles: Isaac Sopoaga (1), Antonio Dixon (2)
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Last year's first-round draft pick Fletcher Cox is the only defensive end guaranteed a starting spot. He is an emerging star who has the potential to earn a Pro Bowl spot with a big 2013 season.
The rest of the players will be fighting for roster spots. One will emerge as a starter. Several others will become rotational pieces.
Third-round draft pick Bennie Logan is a lock to make the team. That's obvious. Cedric Thornton has been on the Eagles for the past two seasons and should have no trouble making the team.
Clifton Geathers is a versatile defensive lineman who was specifically brought in by Kelly. Vinny Curry was a second-round pick in 2012 but he failed to distinguish himself in limited playing time at the end of the season. David King and Joe Kruger are seventh-round picks who have an uphill battle to make the team. One or both figures to be a practice squad candidate. Undrafted free agent Damion Square is in the same scenario, although one scout called Square one of the top under-the-radar signings.
Defensive Ends: Fletcher Cox (1), Bennie Logan (2), Cedric Thornton (3), Damion Square (4), Clifton Geathers (5), Vinny Curry (6)
Five linebackers are virtually guaranteed a roster spot for the Eagles. DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks figure to be the starting inside linebackers. Last year's breakout player, Brandon Graham, veteran Trent Cole and free-agent signing Connor Barwin figure to be competing for the starting spots at outside linebacker.
Other players in the mix include Casey Matthews and Jamar Chaney, solid special teams players who really haven't shown much on defense during their tenure with the Eagles. Emmanuel Acho, a sixth-round pick of the Cleveland Browns in 2012, has never played a down in the NFL. Phillip Hunt was picked by many, including myself, as the breakout player on defense in 2012, but he failed to show anything during limited production.
Everette Brown is a former second-round pick who is looking to jumpstart a career that never really got started. Chris McCoy has bounced between the NFL and the CFL. Jake Knott is an undrafted free agent. And Jason Phillips is a good special teams player who was signed in the early days of free agency.
It's virtually impossible to know which players will get the final few spots at linebacker, especially without seeing any of them play.
Linebackers: DeMeco Ryans (1), Mychael Kendricks (2), Brandon Graham (3), Connor Barwin (4), Trent Cole (5), Jason Phillips (6), Phillip Hunt (7), Casey Matthews (8), Emmanuel Acho (9)
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Free-agent signings Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are the likely favorites to win the starting job, even if Williams has done absolutely everything in his power to alienate himself from the fanbase before training camp has even started.
Last year's nickel corner Brandon Boykin showed lots of potential. Big things are expected from him this season. The same applies for seventh-round pick Jordan Poyer, who has already been described as one of the biggest steals from the draft.
The rest of the corners will likely be competing for one spot, at the most. The candidates include Curtis Marsh, who has been a major disappointment since the Eagles wasted a third-round pick on him in 2011; Brandon Hughes, a solid special teams player; and Trevard Lindley, who hasn't played a down since his rookie year with the Eagles back in 2010.
Cornerbacks: Bradley Fletcher (1), Cary Williams (2), Brandon Boykin (3), Jordan Poyer (4), Brandon Hughes (5)
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The quarterback battle will obviously be the most hyped of the preseason, but it's the safety competition that might be the most competitive. The Eagles have six players who are essentially competing for four spots.
Free-agent signings Kenny Phillips and Patrick Chung are expected to be the starters. That is, if Phillips can stay healthy. He's a former first-round pick who helped the Giants win a Super Bowl in 2011. He is exceptional against the pass but he has been experiencing knee problems this offseason.
Last year's starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are both on the fence for a roster spot. Allen is a former second-round pick who has been picked by some as a breakout player for the 2013 season. He did show flashes of potential during his rookie season in 2010.
Fifth-round pick Earl Wolff has already received some first-team reps. He could enter the season as a starter, a backup or off the roster.
Veteran Colt Anderson is the best special teams player on the team. He doesn't offer much as a safety, but he's extremely valuable against punts and kicks.
Safeties: Nate Allen (1), Earl Wolff (2), Patrick Chung (3), Colt Anderson (4)
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There isn't any drama at kicker or long snapper. Alex Henery will be the kicker for the third straight season. Veteran Jon Dorenbos is still the long-snapper.
The battle at punter will be interesting. Veteran Donnie Jones, a former two-time All-Pro, will battle Brad Wing, a standout punter at LSU, for the starting job.
Damaris Johnson said he will handle most of the kick returning duties this year, and he figures to see time as the punt returner again. DeSean Jackson, who has four return touchdowns, including the greatest play in NFL history, should receive some time at punt returner again too.
Special Teams: Alex Henery (K), Donnie Jones (P), Damaris Johnson (KR), DeSean Jackson (PR)