Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles spent the past couple days getting down from 90 to 75 players ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. With one final preseason game on the slate, 22 more cuts will have to be made by Saturday to trim the roster to its regular-season limit of 53.
Although undoubtedly some difficult decisions will be made, the truth is it’s not too hard to project most positions. Barring a few complete surprises, I would volunteer there are only a handful of roster spots that are truly open and undecided at this late date—fewer than seven for sure, the number of inactives on game day.
Let’s face it: The writing is on the wall after three preseason games. In lieu of some spectacular performances, the fourth probably isn’t saving many jobs.
With that in mind, this is my last crack at nailing the 53-man roster, and while I must concede it may not be perfect, it couldn’t possibly be too far off.
In spite of all the talk about Sanchez to the St. Louis Rams, per Geoff Mosher of CSNPhilly.com, an NFL team would have to be crazy to believe that’s the guy who’s going to save its season and trade draft picks to get him. Especially when said team could’ve signed Sanchez as a free agent back in March, opting instead for Shaun Hill.
By all appearances, the Sanchez-to-St. Louis rumors are fueled by little more than folly media speculation.
Don’t expect the Eagles to release Barkley either. While such a declaration might seem as if it’s coming out of left field, the idea has been floated by members of the local media this summer such as CSNPhilly.com's John Gonzalez.
If Barkley had a miserable training camp, that would be one thing, but he hasn’t looked bad at all—the preseason numbers are a little misleading due to dropped passes and other circumstances outside the second-year passer’s control.
Considering Sanchez is only signed for one season, the Eagles have to be looking at Barkley as their potential backup quarterback heading into 2015, seeing as he’ll still be under contract.
It’s not going to be G.J. Kinne, that’s for sure.
Obviously, Foles remains the starting signal-caller coming off a historic season. The third-year veteran won’t have to look over his shoulder so long as he can stay healthy.
(4) LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Matthew Tucker, Henry Josey
McCoy and Sproles are household names that combine to form perhaps the most lethal running back tandem in the league. While there’s plenty more talent behind them on Philadelphia’s depth chart, though, who exactly will make the cut is the question.
As of now, my guess is Tucker winds up taking Chris Polk’s job. Polk entered the offseason as the presumed No. 3, but a hamstring injury has sidelined him for much of training camp and the entire preseason thus far. The third-year veteran only just recently returned to practice, admitting to Tim McManus of Philadelphia Magazine he wouldn’t be 100 percent.
Tucker is basically a Polk clone anyway—a bigger back (6’1”, 227 lbs) who contributes on special teams. The second-year runner carried 18 times for 86 yards and four touchdowns during the preseason after spending most of 2013 on the practice squad.
Speaking of the practice squad, the Eagles might’ve liked to quietly pass Josey through waivers and on to their scout team, but the undrafted back out of Missouri may have too much tape now. After 12 carries for 104 yards, a 27-yard catch-and-run for touchdown and a 70-yard gallop that was erased by a penalty, I couldn’t imagine letting this kid get away.
And with kick returner Josh Huff reportedly eyeing a Week 1 return, via Eliot Shorr-Parks for NJ.com, there’s no compelling reason to keep Barner—especially when new practice squad rules allow the 2013 sixth-round pick to be stashed.
In the end, all the hand-wringing over which wide receivers should make the team appears to have been for naught. The five we thought would make the cut back in July are the five who should make it now.
Maclin and Cooper are the unquestioned starters, while Matthews and Huff’s combination of draft status and promise assures both rookies a place on the roster.
As for a fifth receiver, Smith’s versatility renders him the obvious choice. He can line up just about anywhere on offense—even under center—or on special teams for that matter. The 30-year-old was the acting first-string slot receiver throughout training camp, and I suspect devious head coach Chip Kelly will install packages in the offense that feature this unique weapon.
Ifeanyi Momah made a surprisingly strong push, starting in two preseason games, but he proved unreliable. Arrelious Benn didn’t appear to have any explosion in his comeback from a torn ACL and save for some glimpses on special teams never pushed for a job. Jeff Maehl’s spot was seemingly made redundant by Huff and Smith.
Should the Eagles keep six? None of the players on the fringe has much to offer, so I can’t think of a reason why. Momah could be a prime candidate for the practice squad, though.
(3) Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey
No real surprises here. Celek and Ertz both figure to be featured prominently in the offense. Casey also saw his snaps increase down the stretch last year, not to mention he’s a key special teams contributor.
Of the other three tight ends the Eagles brought to camp, only Trey Burton remains on the roster. The undrafted rookie out of Florida seems a decent candidate for the practice squad, however, as he appears to be a ways away from producing in the NFL.
(9) Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Allen Barbre, Andrew Gardner, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly
(1) Suspended: Lane Johnson
Do the Eagles need nine offensive linemen? Probably not, and they’re even less likely to keep 10 once Johnson is eligible to return from a four-game suspension. That being said, it’s difficult to say who they should part with.
The two reserves whose spots are all but assured are Tobin and Molk. Based on metrics site Pro Football Focus’ grading system (subscription required), Tobin rates tops among all offensive guards this preseason, while Molk is second among the centers.
The Eagles have been developing Tobin since last year when he was an undrafted rookie out of Iowa. After signing a futures contract with the Birds in January, Molk has that all-important backup center spot nailed down after the club agreed to an injury settlement with Julian Vandervelde, per Zach Berman for Philly.com.
Either Gardner or Kelly could get the boot as a result of the numbers game, yet both have been solid in preseason action. At least one of the two is likely to remain until Johnson returns, though, otherwise the unit gets awfully thin in a hurry in the event of an injury.
Perhaps the first month of the season could serve as an extended tryout between Gardner and Kelly. Again, all of these players have looked strong this summer, so what’s the hurry to let competent players reach the open market?
From left to right, Peters, Mathis, Kelce and Herremans return as starters, while Barbre—signed to a contract extension in June—takes over for Johnson at right tackle for at least four games.
Chip Kelly left the door open for Barbre to keep the job even longer during his opening camp address to the media, via PhiladelphiaEagles.com, but last year’s fourth overall pick should be able make his way back into the starting lineup eventually.
(5) Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, Taylor Hart
The big surprise at defensive end, of course, is Bair, who was an afterthought heading into training camp. But at 29 years old, it’s looking like the Oregon product is finally going to appear in his first NFL game since entering the league in 2011 thanks to a strong preseason. He understands the scheme and is making impact plays, so believe me, it’s a welcome development.
Cox and Thornton will start, with Curry expected to take over for Hart on obvious passing downs—think closer to 40-50 percent of the defensive snaps this year for the 2012 second-round pick.
This year’s fifth-round selection, Hart, was a disappointment in preseason action and does not appear ready to contribute at this level at all. He’s another Oregon guy, though, so you can be sure Chip Kelly’s staff knows what it was getting into. Besides, that’s too high of a draft pick to release out of training camp, and I’m not so sure he would clear waivers to make it to the scout team.
Fortunately, with so much depth at the position, the Eagles should be able to make do with Hart playing only a handful of snaps per game, if he’s even active at all most weeks.
(2) Bennie Logan, Beau Allen
Pretty straightforward here. Logan’s grip on the starting nose tackle job might’ve slipped some after an injury-plagued summer, but the 2013 third-round pick is still an important piece with the versatility to kick outside to end.
Allen may be just a seventh-round pick, but he’s had a very impressive preseason. I’m not sure it was enough to unseat Logan full time, but at 333 pounds, he’s the heaviest defensive lineman on the team. That figures to be enough to carve out a role in short-yardage and goal-line situations at the very least—with perhaps more to come.
(6) Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman, Travis Long
In the battle between Graham and Long for the fifth outside linebacker spot, the Eagles choose…both.
After starters Cole and Barwin, Graham is the only other player on the roster who’s actually sacked an NFL quarterback all by himself. Graham may not be a fit for the 3-4, but the 2010 first-round pick has proved he can rush the passer regardless of scheme, something Philly’s defense would desperately lack otherwise if Cole were unavailable for any reason.
Then again, it’s quite clear the Eagles like Long. They started playing him at interior linebacker, suggesting they are trying to shoehorn him into a roster spot. Furthermore, as Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com observed, Long was running with the first-team kick coverage unit during the Week 3 preseason game—often a sign a player will make the team.
Obviously, Smith is making the team as a first-round pick, whether he’s a big contributor or not as a rookie. And Braman was brought in through free agency almost exclusively for his special teams prowess, not to mention received a nice chunk of guaranteed change for signing, according to Spotrac—the former Houston Texan isn't going anywhere either.
Seeing as so many of these players contribute on special teams, it really isn’t an issue to carry six. That goes double once we make it to the next slide.
(3) DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode
Remember, Travis Long is the acting fourth interior linebacker. With that in mind, there is precedent for only keeping three. In 2013, the Eagles only carried three outside linebackers, occasionally siding Casey Matthews over from his spot on the inside to help out.
With no established talent behind Ryans, Kendricks and Goode, it appears the club will attempt the same/opposite with Long.
If his preseason performance has been any indication, Kendricks is on the verge of taking over as the heart and soul of Philadelphia’s defense. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis has repeatedly stated his intent to reduce Ryans’ snaps, and the only way that works is if the 2012 second-round pick is ready to fill those shoes.
(5) Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm. Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh will not be part of Philadelphia’s 53-man roster.
The Eagles avoided having to carry substandard depth at the cornerback position with two simple moves. First, they added Carroll through free agency, a competent corner who started 22 games for the Miami Dolphins over the past two seasons. The front office followed that up with the selection of Watkins out of Florida in the fourth round of May’s draft.
While Watkins is unlikely to have an impact in 2014, Carroll appears poised for a big role. How big? He may have the opportunity to unseat Fletcher for a starting job.
The coaching staff seems content with Williams on the opposite perimeter based on which side Carroll has seen the bulk of his playing time this summer.
Not to be lost in the shuffle is Boykin, who finished second in the NFL with six interceptions in 2013. The 2012 fourth-round pick is still relegated to his slot-specialist role, but he is arguably the best in the business after all.
(5) Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds
Again, no real surprises. The Eagles signed Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints during free agency to solidify the back end of their secondary. It appears he’ll be teaming with Allen to accomplish that task.
Wolff was competing with Allen for the starting job, but the 2013 fifth-round pick failed to gain much ground in their battle this summer. Fellow fifth-rounder Reynolds is a bit of a project, but with several other veteran safeties in the mix like Wolff, the defense isn’t exactly relying on his contributions.
That includes Maragos, who was largely signed for his special teams expertise yet might have more to offer coming over from the Seattle Seahawks' dominant defense.
(3) Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos
You would be hard-pressed to find anything negative to say about Jones as punter or Dorenbos as long snapper. As specialists go, those are two of the safest, most consistent players in the NFL—Pro Bowl caliber even.
As for Alex Henery, there is little doubt the Eagles would like to go in a different direction at kicker. Chip Kelly has openly admitted the team is scouring the waiver wire, according to Martin Frank for The Delaware News Journal.
Unfortunately, the Eagles are running into the same problem they did during free agency, that being the lack of quality alternatives available.
They still have one on the roster in the form of Cody Parkey, who they acquired in a swap of camp bodies with the Indianapolis Colts. Parkey couldn’t beat out 41-year-old Adam Vinatieri, though, so I’m not certain he’s a far superior option to Henery.
My guess is when the Eagles get down to 53 players on Saturday, Henery is the one left standing—but that could change quickly. Whether it’s the next day or a month or two down the road, Henery will be replaced. First, the front office has to locate somebody better.
Easier said than done, as it turns out.