Grading Philadelphia Eagles' Final 53-Man Roster
After a spring of OTAs, summer of training camp practices, and four preseason contests, the Philadelphia Eagles officially narrowed their roster down to the league-mandated 53 players. There were definitely some surprises—just three running backs made it, and Alex Henery actually got his release. The Eagles added eight players to their practice squad as well, with a high percentage of those being Chip Kelly’s former Oregon Ducks.
Six of the seven players selected from this year’s NFL draft made the Eagles’ roster, with fifth-round rookie Ed Reynolds as the lone cut (although he still made the practice squad). For now, it appears as if the Eagles will go with just three players at the running back position, which seems unusually low, especially considering Chris Polk’s Grade 2 hamstring injury.
The defense has a solid rotation on the line, although the depth at the inside linebacker position may be lacking. On the special teams side, the big story of 2014 will be how undrafted rookie kicker Cody Parkey can hold down the position; it’s extremely rare for a serious playoff-caliber team to go with such an inexperienced player at kicker.
Here’s an evaluation of the 53 players the Eagles chose to keep. These 53 are in no way set in stone; in fact, Kelly will probably sign at least one player released from other NFL teams, and that will already change the final 53. Grades are based on strength of the players at that particular position.
Nick Foles entered the 2014 preseason as the unquestioned starter for the first time in his NFL career, and expectations are high that Foles can follow up a Pro Bowl season in 2013 with another spectacular campaign.
Veteran Mark Sanchez was the subject of trade rumors following both his tremendous preseason and the season-ending ACL injury to St. Louis Rams starter Sam Bradford, but keeping Sanchez gives the Philadelphia Eagles one of the top backups in the league.
Second-year player Matt Barkley turned in a fine performance in his final preseason contest, and his job was never really in jeopardy to G.J. Kinne. In fact, after spending last year on the practice squad, Kinne didn’t make it this season.
The Philadelphia Eagles have one of the NFL’s best all-around backs in LeSean McCoy, a two-time Pro Bowler still in the prime of his career. McCoy is complemented by multidimensional threat Darren Sproles, as fine a receiver out of the backfield as there is in the game.
Third-year back Chris Polk managed to hold off Matthew Tucker, Kenjon Barner and Henry Josey for the last running back spot. Polk played well in limited snaps last year (8.9 yards per carry, three touchdowns on 11 rushes), and the team didn’t feel his hamstring injury was severe enough to warrant a trip to short-term injured reserve.
What’s surprising is that the Eagles didn’t keep another running back behind Polk. This means the organization must feel Polk will be ready for the Week 1 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
By releasing Barner (waived/injured), the Eagles don’t forfeit the conditional seventh-round pick the team was going to trade for him. Tucker, who led all NFL running backs in touchdowns this preseason, was added to the practice squad.
RBs Matthew Tucker and Kenjon Barner among Eagles cuts, team announces— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) August 30, 2014
Josey didn’t parlay a phenomenal August into a roster spot with the Eagles, but he did sign with Jacksonville’s practice squad.
It seemed a certainty that four wide receivers would make the 53-man roster—Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff. Huff was a possible candidate for injured reserve, but he managed to avoid that.
The Philadelphia Eagles really like Brad Smith’s versatility, which gave him the fifth receiver spot. Smith will see most of his snaps as a slot receiver.
Veteran Arrelious Benn was placed on IR for the second time in as many seasons, meaning he’s never actually played a game for the Eagles since being signed in the summer of 2013. Damaris Johnson was a jack of all trades in preseason, carrying the football, catching passes and returning both punts and kicks. He didn’t get a roster spot in Philadelphia, but he did sign with Houston.
Jeff Maehl managed to win the final roster spot, with his biggest advantage perhaps being his choice of college (Oregon). Maehl played in just four contests in 2013, catching four passes for 67 yards and a touchdown. He’s a solid blocker and knows the system well.
Ifeanyi Momah missed the practice squad, although he did turn in a much better summer than 2013. The Eagles added two receivers to the practice squad in Will Murphy and Quron Pratt.
The first three tight ends on the Philadelphia Eagles were no surprise. Brent Celek is a talented veteran who can catch passes and block. Second-year player Zach Ertz is a potential breakout candidate and a mismatch nightmare for opponents.
Hybrid fullback/tight end James Casey played sparingly in his first season in Philadelphia, but he has two more years on his contract.
The surprise was the addition of undrafted rookie Trey Burton, one of just two undrafted rookies to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster. Burton turned in a terrific summer, and the organization is high on his skill level.
Howie on Trey Burton: He is really athletic. Big body that can run and catch. Those guys are hard to find #Eagles— Eliot Shorr-Parks (@EliotShorrParks) August 30, 2014
Left to right, the Philadelphia Eagles boast one of the finest offensive lines in the league. Jason Peters and Evan Mathis are All-Pro players, and Jason Kelce will soon join them. Todd Herremans is a talented guard who can also play tackle.
Last year’s first-round pick Lane Johnson is currently suspended for performance-enhancing drugs (which means he does not count as a roster spot), and newly extended lineman Allen Barbre is the obvious candidate to replace him.
Matt Tobin was a preseason darling, and he’s the new Barbre for his ability to fill in well at both tackle and guard. With Julian Vandervelde’s back surgery, David Molk won the backup center job quite easily. Andrew Gardner was signed from Houston for his versatility, and that helped win him a roster spot. And 2012 fifth-rounder Dennis Kelly grabbed the final offensive line spot.
When Johnson returns from his suspension, it’s likely the Eagles will release either Kelly or fourth tight end Trey Burton.
Last year, defensive coordinator Billy Davis did a fine job of coaxing strong seasons out of his linemen. Fletcher Cox was drafted to be a 3-technique defensive tackle but fared well as a 5-technique end, still registering more quarterback hurries (39) than J.J. Watt (38).
Bennie Logan is a bit undersized to be an ideal nose tackle that lines up directly over the center, but he will be spelled by seventh-round rookie Beau Allen, an impressive combination of size and strength. Look for Allen to begin to take Logan’s snaps, or at least work his way into the regular rotation.
The other end spot opposite Cox will be manned by run-stopper Cedric Thornton and pass-rusher Vinny Curry, two players who complement each other extremely well.
Fifth-round rookie Taylor Hart underwhelmed this preseason, but he still landed a spot on the 53-man roster. Camp surprise Brandon Bair stole the final spot, beating out last year’s backup nose tackle, Damion Square, who signed with Andy Reid in Kansas City.
The Philadelphia Eagles knew they were going to keep Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks on the 53-man roster, with this year’s first-round pick, Marcus Smith, a lock as well to make the team.
Collectively, that’s a solid positional unit, but there’s not a lot of depth behind them. Brandon Graham is miscast as a 3-4 outside linebacker and will see more time at 4-3 end, although he did make the roster. Travis Long was a camp favorite for his ability to play both inside and outside linebacker, but a torn ACL has sidelined him for the 2014 season.
Najee Goode and Casey Matthews earned reserve inside linebacker spots. Goode’s role on the team is no surprise, but Matthews looked like a likely camp cut. Outside linebacker Bryan Braman is more of a special teams player who will see limited action on the defensive side of the ball. Inside linebacker Emmanuel Acho was a practice squad addition.
As expected, the top five cornerbacks on the Philadelphia Eagles all made the roster.
Cary Williams is the No. 1 corner, and the team has to be hoping he can follow a solid 2013 campaign with another productive season. Williams’ $8.1 million cap hit for ’15 suggests he’s likely in his final year in Philadelphia.
Bradley Fletcher seems to have held off Nolan Carroll for the starting spot opposite Williams, but that may change if Fletcher falters at all during the season. Nickel cornerback Brandon Boykin is a top playmaker who will likely spend ’14 in the slot again. He’s fantastic at this role, having picked off six passes a year ago, including the division-clincher in Week 17.
Rookie fourth-rounder Jaylen Watkins underwhelmed in preseason and could be a healthy scratch to start the season.
The Philadelphia Eagles are banking on free-agent addition Malcolm Jenkins to fill that void left by Brian Dawkins many years ago, although this may take some creative scheming on the part of defensive coordinator Billy Davis.
Nate Allen held off Earl Wolff to win the other starting safety spot. Allen is more of a coverage safety, while Wolff plays in the box and defends the run well.
Reserve safety Chris Maragos was brought over from the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks. He’s a special teams ace who will see limited snaps on defense. Fifth-round rookie Ed Reynolds was released after failing to make an impression in training camp, although he was added to the practice squad.
Ed Reynolds passes through waivers. Eagles to add him to practice squad, per source.— Tim McManus (@Tim_McManus) August 31, 2014
Chip Kelly took a risk by parting ways with fourth-year kicker Alex Henery, a 2011 draft pick who missed a key field goal in the NFC Wild Card loss a year ago, and two more this preseason.
This gives the job to undrafted rookie Cody Parkey, a trade acquisition from the Indianapolis Colts. Parkey showed off his tremendous leg strength in preseason when he made 54- and 53-yard field goals in the same preseason contest.
Veteran punter Donnie Jones is one of the best in the business, as is long snapper Jon Dorenbos. The return duties saw a slew of candidates, with Nolan Carroll and Darren Sproles the likely players to hold down the kick and punt returning duties, respectively. When Josh Huff returns from his injury, he may take over as the kick returner.