5 Undrafted Philadelphia Eagles Who Could Prove to Be Gems
There is plenty of intrigue following first-round pick Marcus Smith. There is plenty of hype surrounding second-round pick Jordan Matthews. Meanwhile, 15 undrafted free agents are trying to make a name for themselves with the Philadelphia Eagles this summer. A handful of them will actually make the team.
One or two might even turn out to be gems. That could be anything from a quality starter or role player to an eventual Pro Bowler.
Typically, you can get a sense of which undrafted free agents have a better shot at making the roster than others, an important first step toward making it in pro football. On the contrary, determining whom among them is destined for a long-term NFL career is not so easy. Nonetheless, we took a stab at identifying the top five most promising prospects from the Birds' postdraft haul.
Henry Josey, RB
In 2011, Henry Josey was off to a monster sophomore campaign at Missouri. Through 10 games, the star running back had racked up 1,168 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. He would finish the season with a nation-leading 8.1 yards per carry—a season that would end in near tragedy.
Josey suffered a horrific knee injury that threatened not only his football career, but his way of life. “A one-in-a-million type of injury,” Mizzou’s head physician Dr. Pat Smith told Vahe Gregorian for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
As Les Bowen for the Philadelphia Daily News writes, the road back was a long one for Josey:
The first surgery reconstructed the MCL and the patellar tendon, along with repairing the meniscus. The second was an arthroscopic "cleanout," Josey said, to get rid of stray fragments. The third repaired the ACL.
Josey eventually put in 14-to-16-hour days at a rehab facility, he said. Scar tissue had to be broken down. Flexibility had to be gained by painful degrees - painful for Josey and for the trainers who were helping him.
After missing the entire 2012 season, Josey remarkably returned to the gridiron for the Tigers last year. That was impressive enough. Then he proceeded to rush for 1,166 yards and 16 touchdowns.
There is little doubt Josey would’ve been selected at the draft were it not for lingering concerns about an injury of such magnitude. Perhaps had he not forgone his senior season, another year would’ve eased some of those fears. Instead, the Eagles wound up landing this potential steal as a free agent.
Making the team won’t be easy in Philadelphia’s crowded backfield. Regardless, never count a man out when he has Josey’s combination of talent and determination.
Blake Annen, TE
Considering he often went undetected in the University of Cincinnati’s offense, it’s no surprise Blake Annen was flying under the radar leading up to the draft. Annen recorded just 19 receptions for 218 yards and two touchdowns during his college career.
All it took for Annen to get on the map, though, was Cinci’s pro day. There, the tight end reportedly clocked in at 4.41 seconds in the 40-yard dash, according to Gil Brandt for NFL.com. Based on combine numbers, that would’ve been the top time at the combine for Annen’s position, not to mention faster than all but six running backs and wide receivers invited to Indianapolis.
6'4", 247-pound Annen has rare speed for a tight end. His NFL.com scouting report also describes him as a “scrappy” blocker.
Apparently, the only catch is that he has a long way to go before he becomes a productive weapon in the passing attack. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer noted that while Annen may be built like a ton of bricks, “you can see he needs to work on his receiving.”
That being said, if Annen can contribute on special teams, he can lock up a roster spot this summer. Or, if the Eagles are lucky, perhaps they can stash him on the practice squad for a season. But tight ends with Annen’s natural athletic ability don’t come along often, so this is one undrafted project who might be worth the investment.
Josh Andrews, G
Eagles starting guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans turn 33 and 32 respectively this season, and there is little in the way of proven depth behind them, much less developmental prospects. So when the draft failed to produce any help, the front office brought in a series of rookie free agents to compete for a backup job.
Of the three, the most promising appears to be Josh Andrews, if based on playing experience alone. Andrews was a three-year starter at left guard for Oregon State. The other two prospects are moving from tackle to the interior.
It’s difficult to quantify an obscure offensive lineman’s college career in any meaningful or digestible manner. In Andrews’ case, at least we know he faced quality competition coming out of the Pac-12. Furthermore, Oregon State’s offense was strong in his final two seasons, finishing 37th and 29th in the nation in scoring in 2012 and ’13, respectively.
Andrews may have a good shot to make the team based simply on the lack of known quantities among the players against whom he's competing. If he makes it that far, he could wind up being one play away from being pressed into action. All of that experience could wind up coming in handy.
Being first in line in the event something bad happens doesn’t automatically mean Andrews will turn into a gem. If he gets that far, though, it means the Eagles are hoping he does.
Daytawion Lowe, S
Every draft, a handful of decorated players will inevitably slip through the cracks. One such player wound up on the Eagles roster in Daytawion Lowe, a second-team All-Big 12 safety.
A durable three-year starter at Oklahoma State, Lowe is one of the more active safeties in the nation. He finished first on the team in tackles in 2011 and ’12 and was runner-up in ’13. All told, he racked up 199 takedowns over those three years.
Lowe also made his presence felt with a number of momentum-changing plays. He ended his college career with 7.0 tackles for loss, 3.0 sacks, 19 passes defensed, five interceptions and five forced fumbles, numbers that demonstrate the versatility to create chaos all over the field.
Despite all of that activity and high tackle numbers, Lowe’s NFL.com scouting report indicates that he misses too many tackles. And while he possesses decent size at 5’11”, 196 pounds, his overall skill set is described as “lacking.”
Lowe also faces competition from a suddenly crowded safety corps in Philadelphia. Malcolm Jenkins, Earl Wolff and Ed Reynolds are all basically assured roster spots. Chris Maragos probably is too, and seeing as Nate Allen kicked off the offseason as one of the starters, he seems safe as well.
However, if Lowe can get on to the practice squad and continue getting on tape, he might impress coaches and eventually crack the 53-man roster. He may not be an amazing physical specimen, but he certainly held his own in the Big 12.
No Eagles rookie free agent has a better opportunity to make an impact in 2014 than Carey Spear. Assuming he can beat out veteran Alex Henery this summer—probably not the tallest of orders—Spear would presumably take over the club’s place-kicking duties full time.
Spear already owns one clear advantage over Henery: leg strength. In three NFL seasons, Henery has never finished higher than 20th in touchback percentage on his kickoffs. As a senior at Vanderbilt, Spear’s rate of touchbacks on 62.7 percent of his kicks would’ve been good for sixth in the league in ’13.
Henery’s lack of range on field-goal attempts really ties the head coach’s hands at times as well. Two separate coaching staffs have entrusted the former fourth-round pick to attempt five field goals of 50 or more yards in his three years as a pro. Seventeen kickers tried at least that many last season alone.
Meanwhile, Spear informs Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com that his range is 66 yards.
The only real question remaining is whether Spear can is more accurate, reliable. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to draw a direct comparison right now. The hash marks are wider in college, which means field goals are often attempted from more extreme angles that actually increase the level of difficulty.
So far, it sounds like Henery has the edge in terms of accuracy. Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the incumbent has been better during OTAs and minicamps thus far.
Still, there is plenty of time remaining for this battle to play out. My gut feeling is Spear’s superior physical ability will eventually win out over Henery’s limitations. Don’t downplay the importance of this competition, either.
The Eagles stand to benefit more than a lot of folks realize from an upgrade at kicker.