Early Projections for Philadelphia Eagles' Final 53-Man Roster
With free agency and the 2014 NFL draft out of the way, we have a good sense of what the Philadelphia Eagles will have to work with in the season ahead. Now the question is how the pieces will fall into place.
Over the next several months, the Eagles’ front office and coaching staff will begin the arduous task of whittling down the current 90-man roster to just 53. OTAs, mini-camps, training camp and preseason contests will all factor into the decisions.
The Birds only just held their rookie mini-camp over the weekend, so it’s way too early to get a true sense of the depth chart. That being said, now that we know who the team is choosing between, we can make some educated projections as to what the final roster could look like.
Ahead, not only do we predict the 53 players who will make the cut, but we construct the club’s depth chart as well. It’s only May, but how many surprises can there really be?
QB1 Nick Foles
QB2 Mark Sanchez
QB3 Matt Barkley
Any insinuation that the Eagles should have taken Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the No. 22 pick in this year’s draft is beyond absurd. Who does Nick Foles need to stab to gain a little respect?
Foles is coming off of one of the most historic seasons for a passer in either franchise or NFL history. After posting a record 29-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio last season (playoffs included), there is almost zero possibility he could be more efficient in 2014. The fact that there is somebody on the roster who’s even capable of that should be enough, though.
As for the backup job, most were quick to hand Sanchez the title when he signed with the team in March. I’m not so convinced it’s that simple.
No doubt, Sanchez—a five-year veteran with 62 starts under his belt—owns the inside track for the responsibility. With a career 71.7 passer rating, though, Sanchez needs to prove he’s a definitively better option than Barkley. That’s not necessarily a given.
While it’s not reflected in the numbers (30/49, 300 YDS, 0 TD, 4 INT), Barkley didn’t look totally lost while making appearances in some impossible relief situations as a rookie. Just saying, don’t write off last year’s fourth-round pick quite yet.
RB1 LeSean McCoy
RB2 Chris Polk
RB3 Henry Josey (R)
Anybody challenging McCoy, the reigning NFL rushing champion, for his spot on the depth chart? No. Okay, moving on.
The reason the Eagles were comfortable moving Bryce Brown during the draft—besides the Buffalo Bills’ insane offer of a conditional fourth-round pick, or his lack of fit in head coach Chip Kelly’s scheme—was Polk. Polk was already beginning to steal snaps from Brown last December, his downhill rushing style gashing defenses in limited opportunities.
Philadelphia may need a third back now, though, for reasons we will delve into further in a moment. The early front-runner may be Josey, an undrafted free agent out of Missouri. Josey led the nation in yards per carry in 2011 before a knee injury struck him down, costing him a year of football. He returned to rush for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns in ’13.
Josey doesn’t have much experience catching the football out of the backfield or on special teams. Darren Sproles can catch the ball, though, and Polk plays special teams. If there’s one more roster spot for a back, it may be reserved for a talent like Josey.
RBX Darren Sproles
If Shady were out for any reason, Sproles would not be the guy to carry the load, contrary to popular belief. That simply isn’t his role. Sproles has never toted the rock more than 93 times in a season throughout his entire career. In three of the past four, he posted more receptions than rushes.
Sproles could be an invaluable tool for the Birds, and he’ll certainly be on the field a lot more than Polk or any other back not named McCoy—just not to pound the ball between the tackles. Think of Sproles as more of a wide receiver or all-purpose weapon than a conventional running back.
WR1 Jeremy Maclin
WR2 Riley Cooper
WR3 Jordan Matthews (R)
WR4 Josh Huff (R)
WR5 Brad Smith
With DeSean Jackson out of the picture, Maclin will finally get the opportunity to prove he can be the No. 1 option in the passing game over the long haul. Cooper is an adequate secondary option for now, although a little too limited for an every-down player for my liking.
For now, Matthews is expected to operate out of the slot during his rookie year. Chip Kelly likes to shuffle the deck, so realistically the rookie second-round pick should line up all over the place in three-wide receiver sets—of which there might be fewer given the offseason addition of Sproles and anticipated emergence of tight end Zach Ertz.
Huff will be forced to provide immediate depth as a rookie. At least he should already possess an understanding of the basic concepts of Kelly’s offense, coming from Oregon and all.
Smith’s versatility should buy him the fifth and final roster spot at receiver. Besides contributing on special teams in coverage or as a returner—a must this far down the roster—the former collegiate quarterback is a receiving, rushing or passing threat as well. Chip tried to work him into the offense last year after the team added him in November, but with a full offseason to get acquainted, Smith has the potential to become an even bigger cog going forward.
TE1A Brent Celek
TE1B James Casey
Tight end could almost be considered two different positions in Chip Kelly’s offense. Celek is the primary in-line tight end, and while Ertz is slated for a huge increase in both playing time and production, I’m not sure the coaching staff would put him on the field full-time just yet.
Celek was one of the most dominant blockers at his position in the NFL last season, which proved to be an immense help in the league's No. 1 rushing attack. Blocking also happens to be one of Casey’s specialties. Ertz would likely wind up playing more than Casey if Celek was out, but the offense might look a lot different.
TE2A Zach Ertz
TE2B Blake Annen (R)
My sense is the Eagles could play out of a lot more two-tight end formations this year. Ertz has another year under his belt, and the offense needs to compensate for the loss of DeSean Jackson. That could make Ertz a de facto starter of sorts even as a so-called second tight end.
Annen is probably a long shot to make the roster in all honesty and would be better served by a year on the practice squad. That being said, the undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati is a very intriguing size/speed prospect who lacked production in college. He needs to bulk up a bit, but if he can pitch in on special teams, Annen might be able to crack the team this year.
LT1 Jason Peters
LT2 Allen Barbre
Although we’re only going to list him as Peters’ backup, the truth is Barbre is probably the primary reserve at almost every position along the offensive line but center. The journeyman veteran has experience practically everywhere and was surprisingly effective when filling in last season.
LG1 Evan Mathis
C1 Jason Kelce
C2 Julian Vandervelde
Vandervelde can also play guard if the Eagles are really in a pinch, which probably gives him the nod over David Molk, who was signed to a futures contract in January. Either way, it’s hard too imagine the organization is very comfortable with the depth along the offensive line’s interior.
RG1 Todd Herremans
RG2 Donald Hawkins
The Eagles brought in three undrafted free agents to try out at guard, which is highly suggestive that one will earn a job. My stab in the dark is Hawkins. He earned second-team All-Big 12 honors at right tackle in 2013 but is probably a little undersized to play on the outside at the next level. If Hawkins gets the position change down, he could surprise.
RT1 Lane Johnson
RT2 Dennis Kelly
Kelly didn’t dress for a single game last season after having back surgery over the summer, yet he spent the entire year on the roster. The team brought in Kevin Graf, an undrafted free agent out of USC, but there’s already an unheralded prospect at guard. Kelly started 10 games in 2012 at guard and tackle, so his experience could come in handy.
If anything were to happen to Peters on the left side where the All-Pro was going to be out for an extended period, you have to wonder whether Johnson would slide into his spot.
LDE1 Cedric Thornton
LDE2 Vinny Curry
LDE3 Joe Kruger
Thornton was a pleasant surprise in ’13, as he turned out to be a dominant run defender. Who knew? Unfortunately, that’s all he does. Curry bounced back and forth between right and left end last season, but the defense would probably be better served if he consistently replaced Thornton in passing situations.
Kruger was a seventh-round pick last year but spent the season on injured reserve. Defensive line depth being the issue that it is, he makes the team if he shows anything this summer.
NT1 Bennie Logan
NT2 Beau Allen (R)
A sizable number of Philadelphia fans insist the Eagles should’ve taken Louis Nix out of Notre Dame in the third round of the draft, but the fact is Logan has established himself as the nose tackle. The team expects him to bulk up to 320-325 pounds for this season, which is plenty big enough to make an impact along the interior.
Allen was selected in the seventh round, which was a worthy investment considering the nose tackle is only on the field roughly 50 percent of the time in this defense. Damion Square served as Logan’s backup last season but was invisible the few times he was on the field.
RDE1 Fletcher Cox
RDE2 Taylor Hart (R)
Cox really seemed to wear down toward the end of last season, which might’ve had something to do with his playing 75 to 85 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps in 10 of their last 12 games according to the game-charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). That’s too high.
Curry subbed for Cox quite a bit, but the defense might be better served with him at the opposite end. That’s where Hart comes in. The fifth-round pick out of Oregon should be able to step in and give Cox some breathers right away.
LOLB1 Connor Barwin
LOLB2 Bryan Braman
Barwin was extremely influential in making sure the Eagles’ transition to a 3-4 alignment was not an abject failure in its first season. He’s very strong in run support, his size and athleticism allows the coaching staff to do all sorts of things with him in coverage and he can even rush the passer. Barwin does it all.
Braman, a former teammate of Barwin’s on the Houston Texans, was signed as a free agent mostly for his special teams contributions. If he happens to add anything in a situational pass-rush role, that would be a bonus.
LILB1 Mychal Kendricks
LILB2 Najee Goode
Kendricks really grew as a playmaker in his second season, racking up four sacks, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. You’d still like to see him become a surer tackler or have more success in coverage, but at only 23 years old, Kendricks’ ceiling is still very high.
On top of contributing on special teams, Goode filled in for Kendricks for one game last season and managed not to break anything. There is a ton of competition at inside linebacker, but Goode seems to have the upper hand right now.
RILB1 DeMeco Ryans
RILB2 Jason Phillips
Folks probably forgot the Eagles signed Phillips during last year’s free-agency period. That’s fair—he never saw the field after suffering a torn ACL early in training camp. Phillips is a special teams ace, though, so as long as he’s recovered, he probably has a good shot at cracking the roster.
Ryans is still probably over-cast as a three-down linebacker in a 3-4 scheme at this stage of his career, although he uses veteran savvy to get by. The lack of a real backup plan is a tad troubling as well, but the two-time Pro Bowler still brings a lot to the table.
ROLB1 Trent Cole
ROLB2 Marcus Smith (R)
Note the exclusion of Brandon Graham from this depth chart. The draft came and went, and the 2010 first-round pick is still here, but I believe he gets traded before the final cutdown to a 53-man roster.
As for Cole and Smith, no real surprises here. Cole came on strong at the end of last season, racking up 8.0 sacks over the final eight games of the regular season. Smith is raw—he only had one productive season as a pass-rusher at Louisville—and likely needs time to learn his craft.
CB1 Cary Williams
CB2 Bradley Fletcher
CB3 Nolan Carroll
Lack of depth at outside cornerback wound up rearing its ugly head at the worst possible time for the Eagles during their first-round playoff loss to the Saints. When Williams went down with an injury and had to come out for a play, Roc Carmichael was sent into the game as a replacement. Quarterback Drew Brees promptly found Carmichael on the next play to convert a crucial 3rd-and-12.
Williams returned immediately after, but the damage was done. New Orleans went on to score a touchdown on the drive.
Carmichael was a late addition to the roster last September. Presumably not wanting to get caught with their pants down again, the Eagles went out and signed an insurance policy in Nolan Carroll during free agency. Carroll started 22 games for the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons, so he’s a more-tested option if Williams or Fletcher are unable to go for any reason.
NB1 Brandon Boykin
NB2 Jaylen Watkins (R)
The Eagles consider Boykin a “slot specialist,” and it’s not difficult to see why after he finished second in the NFL with six interceptions in ’13. That’s doubly impressive considering the nickel cornerback was only on the field roughly 50 percent of the time in Philadelphia’s defense.
Watkins may eventually start on the outside, but my guess is he’ll begin his rookie season behind Carroll on the depth chart, serving instead as Boykin’s primary backup. The fourth-round pick has experience playing all over the secondary, so the role should suit him just fine for now.
S1 Malcolm Jenkins
S2 Nate Allen
S3 Earl Wolff
S4 Ed Reynolds (R)
S5 Chris Maragos
One of the misconceptions here is the Eagles use conventional “strong” and “free” safety roles. Wrong. Under Chip Kelly, there is simply a “left” and a “right” safety, with both players having interchangeable responsibilities. That allows the depth chart to serve as more of a pecking order.
Jenkins’ name is penned into one of the slots. The exiled New Orleans Saint agreed to a three-year contract worth $8.5 million guaranteed with Philadelphia less than an hour into the start of free agency in March. He’s here to play.
The other job will be awarded in a training camp battle between Allen and Wolff. Allen started 16 games in ’13 and improved gradually as the season went on. A fifth-round pick last year, Wolff held his own in 11 appearances as a rookie. My guess is Allen holds a slight edge there. He was solid—albeit unspectacular—last season, particularly in the second half.
The coaching staff will pay lip service to Reynolds as part of that competition, but consider this a redshirt season for the fifth-round selection out of Stanford. And Maragos seems to be here to play exclusively on special teams.
One scenario to watch out for: If Allen should lose the gig to Wolff, does his roster spot become expendable? Daytawion Lowe out of Oklahoma State was one of the club’s more intriguing rookie free-agent signings after the draft. Hm...
K Carey Spear (R)
Without knowing too much about Spear, an undrafted free agent out of Vanderbilt, I assume he has the leg up on incumbent Alex Henery. Henery’s mediocre field-goal accuracy (82.1 percent) and touchback rates (41.1 percent) are an unbearable combination, so if Spear is an improvement in either area, he should win a competition between the two with ease.
In the event a quality veteran were to get cut in late August, don’t be surprised if neither Spear nor Henery ultimately come away with the job.
P Donnie Jones
Jones was signed to a multi-year deal during the offseason after posting Pro Bowl-caliber numbers in ’13—33 punts downed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line compared to only five touchbacks and 28 returns. It wouldn’t be a stretch at all to say one or two of his clutch kicks probably won the team games.
LS Jon Dorenbos
This will be Dorenbos’ ninth season as Philadelphia’s long snapper. Seeing as you probably can’t remember the last time he made an errant snap, that can’t be a bad thing.