Predicting Last 5 In, Last 5 out for Philadelphia Eagles Final 53-Man Roster
This time of year may be considered the “dead season” to most in the NFL, but all around the league, there are fringe players busting their butts right now, working hard to try to sneak into a roster spot. You have to figure most teams, including the Philadelphia Eagles, probably only have a handful of jobs that are truly open—maybe about five on average.
Ultimately, those jobs will be determined over the course of a grueling summer of training-camp practices and preseason games. Even then, barring major improvements or falls from grace, the writing might be on the wall in many cases.
Time will tell who Eagles head coach Chip Kelly and his staff choose for the final few slots on their 53-man roster. Or, perhaps we can just take a glimpse into the ol’ crystal ball. I’m seeing…10 players—five who are going to make the cut, plus five more who will not.
The future is still unclear. These players all still have time to change their fate. But who will take advantage of the opportunity?
In: RB Henry Josey
Henry Josey might seem an odd choice to make the Eagles’ roster, given the current depth situation at running back. LeSean McCoy is the workhorse, Darren Sproles the change-of-pace back and Chris Polk contributes on special teams.
Expect the Birds’ coaching staff to give serious consideration to carrying four backs this year, though. Josey is that good. The 22-year-old led the nation with 8.1 yards per carry as a sophomore at Missouri. Then after a catastrophic knee injury erased his 2011 campaign, Josey returned to the gridiron to post a second consecutive 1,100-yard season.
Before Josey’s incredible return to the football field, Missouri team physician Dr. Pat Smith described the injury as “a tragic fluke, a one-in-a-million type of injury” to Vahe Gregorian of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Despite the comeback, the knee obviously turned teams off at the draft, which is how Josey wound up in Philadelphia as an undrafted free agent. Now, as Les Bowen writes in the Philadelphia Daily News, the Eagles are hoping for a "medical miracle."
Stashing Josey on the 53-man roster might make more sense than you think. Sproles traditionally plays primarily on passing downs and is an unlikely candidate to replace McCoy full time in the event the starter can’t perform, and Polk is a bit of a plodder. Josey might be just the dynamic type of back who could fill McCoy’s shoes if called upon.
In: OT Dennis Kelly
If Dennis Kelly winds up on the Eagles’ 53-man roster, he might want to buy Lane Johnson a steak dinner.
Paul Domowitch, for the Philadelphia Daily News, reports Johnson could be facing a four-game suspension. While we await official word to be handed down from the league office, concern mounts over the depth at offensive line. Veteran journeyman Allen Barbre is expected to take over for Johnson in the event of an absence, but behind Barbre, the Eagles are thin on established depth.
In fact, Kelly is one of the few reserve linemen on the roster with actual NFL experience. The 2012 fifth-round pick started 10 games as a rookie at right guard and tackle.
Kelly wasn’t exactly very good, but he was thrust into the lineup before he was ready due to a rash of injuries—it was an impossible situation for everybody. That experience could come in handy, though, were another starter to be absent for any reason.
Kelly spent the entire ’13 season on the Eagles roster, but he was unavailable the first few weeks while recovering from back surgery and was never activated for a game. We probably shouldn’t read too much into that, except that it’s probably safe to say his spot on the team was not assured—at least, it wasn’t.
In: DE Joe Kruger
Seventh-round draft picks are often forgettable, especially when they spend their rookie season on injured reserve. Don’t sleep on Joe Kruger to make the final squad, though.
Kruger suffered a shoulder injury in the final preseason game last season, and that was that for his first year in the NFL. Or was it? As Jimmy Kempski writes for Philly.com, Kruger may not have been practicing or helping the Birds on the field, but the defensive end out of Utah wasn’t exactly idle, either.
Kempski reports Kruger has bulked up quite a bit since his arrival. The 22-year-old came into the league at 269 pounds, but according to the team's web site, Kruger reached his goal of getting up to 290 pounds this offseason.
The Eagles did use a fifth-round pick on Taylor Hart in this year’s draft, which, along with Vinny Curry, might make for a seemingly crowded group of reserves at end. Considering how much defenses typically rely on rotating linemen, though, there’s undoubtedly room for one more.
Ultimately, the Eagles saw something in Kruger that made them want to use a coveted selection, even if it was only a seventh-round pick. Assuming he can stay healthy this time around, you have to figure he has something of an inside track to making the team.
In: ILB Jason Phillips
Speaking of 2013 additions that may have gone forgotten, allow me to reintroduce Jason Phillips. The interior linebacker was signed during last year’s free-agent period, but he suffered a torn ACL in training camp that knocked him out for the year.
Now that Phillips is back on the field, you have to think the Eagles are going to give him every chance to make the roster. After all, he was brought here to bolster a special teams unit that looked like it could oftentimes still use a little help last season.
There’s probably no need to remind Birds fans that the New Orleans Saints’ game-winning field goal to seal Philly’s playoff exit was set up by a long kick return. It certainly didn’t go overlooked by the organization, which added special teams aces Bryan Braman and Chris Maragos during the most recent free-agent period.
Phillips doesn’t offer much in the way of depth at interior linebacker, although he did start two games for the Carolina Panthers in 2012. He’s a proven commodity on special teams, however, an area head coach Chip Kelly has made it no secret he finds very valuable.
The main caveat here is whether Phillips is fully recovered from his injury. Assuming he is 100 percent, look for Phillips to finally wrestle a job away from Casey Matthews.
In: ILB Jake Knott
There’s little question that Jake Knott’s impending four-game suspension for use of peformance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) hurts his chances at making the final roster. Ultimately, if the Eagles are going to take their best 53 players, regardless of off-the-field transgressions, my guess is Knott will make the cut.
After all, Knott did just go through a full season on the Eagles’ roster, appearing in 12 games. And frankly, the Birds lack depth at the interior linebacker position.
Knott’s appearances were mostly limited to special teams in 2013. However, he could hardly be worse than Casey Matthews, Jason Phillips has been in the league longer and has likely maxed out his potential as a defensive reserve and, as we’ll delve into deeper in a moment, the Birds don’t seem to have much faith in Emmanuel Acho.
That group comprises the most relevant of Knott’s competition for a backup job, which is not saying all that much. The suspension certainly will not go overlooked for a fringe player such as Knott; I’m simply not convinced the organization truly has any better options (aside from Najee Goode, he seems like a stone-cold lock to make the team at this juncture).
For that matter, we’ve actually seen very little of Knott in a defensive capacity. Regardless, if he has a strong summer, it’s not so far-fetched that they have a spot for him once he’s eligible to return.
Out: ILB Emmanuel Acho
Emmanuel Acho became something of a mild fan favorite after the 2013 preseason, so much so that a segment of the Eagles’ fanbase was legitimately upset when he failed to make the 53-man roster out of training camp. My suggestion: be prepared for more of the same.
Originally acquired from the Cleveland Browns in a player-for-player swap of running back Dion Lewis last offseason, Acho was incredibly active in exhibition games, particularly the final contest. The interior linebacker racked up 11 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble against the New York Jets.
Following his release on cut-down day, it actually took over a week for Acho to land on his feet on the New York Giants’ practice squad, justifying the Eagles’ decision. However, the 2012 sixth-round pick was re-signed by the Birds in October, appearing in six regular-season games before being busted down to Philly’s scout team.
Acho will take his best shot again this summer, but I’m not sensing a lot of love from the rest of the league. Obviously, NFL coaching staffs and front offices can see the potential, but regardless of the reason, Acho just hasn’t been able to stick.
Out: OLB Travis Long
It’s seldom a bad thing when a head coach speaks at length about the improvements a fringe player made in the last year. Chip Kelly did just that when he was asked about Travis Long during minicamps, as Geoff Mosher detailed in a story for CSNPhilly.com.
He's really improved. I think obviously when we got him, he was coming off of an injury. Spent a year on the practice squad and didn't miss any time, but you could tell he was still recovering from the injury, but has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team.
I think he'll be able to contribute from a special teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot. So he's definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now.
Long is widely considered a dark horse to make the roster, although some of that is because a lot of people probably forgot he existed.
After suffering an injury in his senior year at Washington State, Long went undrafted, and the Eagles were one of the only teams even interested once he was medically cleared last July. Long, who is an outside linebacker in the Birds’ scheme, racked up 20 sacks in his collegiate career.
There’s just one problem: No matter how good Long is, the odds are stacked against him. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are the starters. First-round pick Marcus Smith is assured a job. Braman received a small amount of guaranteed money to sign a free-agent deal in the offseason. And Brandon Graham, while overlooked and perhaps not a great fit, is still a tremendous pass-rusher in a limited role.
Unless Graham were to get traded between now and the start of the season, it’s hard to see where there’s room for Long.
Out: NT Damion Square
There wasn’t a bigger indictment of a player’s performance in 2013 than that of Damion Square’s with the Eagles’ selection of Beau Allen in the seventh round of the draft. The team also signed undrafted free agent Wade Keliikipi to round out the competition at nose tackle behind Bennie Logan.
In all honesty, Square didn’t even play that much last season—only 150 snaps all season, according to the game-charters at Pro Football Focus (subscription required). When he was on the field, though, Square was practically invisible. The guy hardly made a play all year.
So why would Square be one of the final five on the chopping block?
Well, for starters, he is versatile. While Square mostly lined up at nose, especially once Isaac Sopoaga was traded away midseason, he did get some work in at end as well. If the Eagles believe he adds any value in that capacity, they might increase his odds of sticking around.
Then, there’s also the simple fact that obviously the coaching staff saw something in Square last year. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Alabama, not only did Square make the team out of training camp, but he was also actually getting playing time the first couple of weeks of the season.
Later, it appeared Square was getting playing time mostly out of necessity, a feeling furthered by all the competition. Given a year to bulk up and hone his craft, though, it may not be fair to rule Square out of a roster spot completely. He has a lot to prove but don’t be surprised if he makes a push this summer.
Out: WR Arrelious Benn
The Eagles were hoping they found a steal when the team acquired Arrelious Benn from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a sixth-round pick last offseason. Instead, the Birds got pretty much the same thing out of the wide receiver that his previous employer did one year earlier, which was nothing.
Benn landed on injured reserve after tearing his ACL in training camp. Sadly, both parts of that sentence are becoming a theme for the 2010 second-round pick. He wound up on IR in two of three seasons with the Bucs as well, including once for an ACL tear during his rookie campaign
Since the ’11 season, Benn has reeled in a meager four passes for 26 yards while appearing in eight games. That’s in stark contrast to his first two NFL seasons, during which he racked up a promising 55 receptions for 836 yards and five touchdowns over 29 games.
Benn only turns 26 in September, so there’s still time to get his career back on track. Yet, while it may be tough giving up on a promising talent like Benn, the fact is the coaching staff can’t rely on him to stay healthy. Plus, the Eagles suddenly appear to be a little top-heavy at the receiver position, so he’ll have to stand out on special teams as well in order to earn a roster spot.
The Eagles already released Benn once this offseason, but they brought him back at a lower salary. The next time, however, could very well be the final nail in the coffin for his tenure in Philly.
Out: WR Ifeanyi Momah
Last year, Ifeanyi Momah was seriously a long shot to make the 53-man roster. The wide receiver had spent the previous year out of football with a torn ACL, and even then, he was incredibly raw, having posted just 39 receptions in four years at Boston College.
This time around, it might be different. As Sam Donnellon writes in the Philadelphia Daily News, the difference is already night and day in the eyes of head coach Chip Kelly.
He's not just trying to figure out, "Where do I line up at the snap?" He already knows where he's going and he's lining up and reading coverages and has a better understanding in terms of how it's supposed to look.
I think he feels more comfortable here. There's not a newness in terms of "this is not my first time doing this, and what does this look like, where am I supposed to be, how does that work?"
Let’s face it, pretty much every fan wants this guy to make the team. Momah stands 6’7”, and according to reports, he clocked a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at his tryout last offseason. One would be tempted to think a player with those measureables would be virtually indefensible. That alone is what could make Momah one of the toughest players to release.
In this case, however, I’ll need to see the improvement with my own eyes. Last summer at training camp, Momah didn’t look sharp or stand out at all. He had a long way to go in terms of development, so much so that he didn’t even make a single team’s practice squad.
I can envision a pure athlete of Momah’s caliber making strides, but even then, he’s likely still going to be rough around the edges. Factor in doubts over whether he could contribute on special teams, and it’s still really difficult to see him winning one of the final roster spots coming out of camp.
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