Stock Up, Stock Down After Philadelphia Eagles' 2nd Preseason Game
All eyes were on new cornerback Ronald Darby after he was acquired in a marquee trade by Philadelphia between its preseason opener against Green Bay and the home exhibition opener against the Bills. Fittingly against his former team, the 23-year-old showed glimpses of why the Eagles parted ways with receiver Jordan Matthews to get him.
While Darby isn't alone among Eagles who have turned heads in a positive way through the first half of the preseason, not every player is doing himself favors as training camp makes way for the soon-to-come grind that is the regular season.
Some are simply going through understandable growing pains while others' roster positions are in danger, but all are worth delving into. A sluggish start individually all too often means continued struggles throughout the season, although ebbs and flows are a natural part of any player's progression.
As we inch closer and closer to Week 1 against the Washington Redskins, let's highlight a handful of players who are making names for themselves—for better or for worse.
Stock Up: Ronald Darby
Two preseason plays do not make a season, but it's safe to say Eagles fans saw exactly what they wanted and needed to see from their prized new cornerback in his unofficial Philly debut.
Darby became the Eagles' best cornerback immediately upon arrival, and he showed a level of play that no other corner on the roster can match. Two passes from Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor came Darby's way, both intended to Anquan Boldin. Darby jumped both of them, just barely dropping a pick-six opportunity before snaring an interception on a deep route and returning it 48 yards.
Simply put, the combination of pure instincts, ferocity and top-flight speed Darby possesses is something the Eagles haven't had on the perimeter in a few years.
The preseason outing wasn't just a flash in the pan, either, as he picked off Carson Wentz in practice and drew rave reviews from teammates upon their first glimpses of him, per Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media.
Before the Darby trade, the Eagles were in serious trouble at corner with neither of the rookie draft picks, second-rounder Sidney Jones and third-rounder Rasul Douglas, poised to contribute much in 2017. It's becoming safe to say that landing him was worth the expense of losing Matthews, whom the Eagles were likely headed to difficult contract negotiations anyways.
Stock Down: Donnel Pumphrey
With the short amount of time that we see players in preseason outings, one poor performance isn't worth overanalyzing. When the poor performances accumulate, though, worrying can be justified.
That's the territory the Eagles are entering with rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey, who's now two-for-two in underwhelming preseason outings. Pumphrey's three carries went for minus-three yards, and he went for 20 yards on two catches, failing to separate from defenders to make much happen.
Of course, the transition to the NFL can be difficult for players who rely on their quickness. But running backs coach Duce Staley has still found a lot of positives in what goes beyond the stat sheet, per Mo Brewington of USA Today: "He's tough. You watch some of the film you see him picking up blocks, [he's] not scared to put his nose in there. ... He's a tough kid. I think it starts with toughness, and he has that."
Special teams coach Dave Fipp opted to give Pumphrey another shot at punt returns after a dismal showing against Green Bay. He didn't muff any punts this time, but the rookie only produced 11 yards on three returns.
It's not the end of the world if the fourth-round pick isn't capable of making an impact in 2017, but ideally he would fill the role of Darren Sproles with younger legs and allow Philly to rest up their all-important all-around back.
Without Pumphrey playing with confidence and ease through the preseason, though, he may struggle to even suit up early on in 2017.
Stock Up: Derek Barnett
Just as Eagles fans are altering their preconceptions with Pumphrey after a few preseason games, they're doing the same with fellow rookie Derek Barnett—only in the polar opposite fashion.
The first-round pick shredded first-team offensive tackles many years his senior once again versus the Bills, adding another sack that gives him three in preseason. Barnett utilized his refined dip-and-rip move on several occasions that showcased his speed and also blew back linemen before cutting inside for pressure.
Most impressively, the former University of Tennessee record-breaker showed off his ridiculous motor that just keeps going all the way to the whistle. On one particular play, he saw Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman escape pressure and scramble more than 10 yards away. While most pass-rushers would have given up on the play, Barnett closed the gap quickly and helped to force the QB out of bounds.
Given the fact that Barnett just turned 21 and the wealth of pass-rushing options in defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's arsenal, the rookie needed a big preseason to force his way into a large role. He's having more than a big preseason.
Now, Schwartz has an enviable problem of figuring out which players to take snaps from in order to get Barnett on the field as much as possible.
Stock Down: LeGarrette Blount
Let's go ahead and get the obvious out of the way: LeGarrette Blount has not performed this preseason, including in camp. He has 17 yards rushing on nine total carries in two games and had a bad fumble against the Bills.
Blount has failed to impress thus far, and Matt Lombardo of NJ Advance Media has gone as far as to say that "it wouldn't be surprising to see LeGarrette Blount among the Eagles' cuts" even though he's been getting the biggest share of the first-team carries to this point.
It's tough to believe that Blount's struggles would carry that much weight to the point where he could go from the No. 1 back to a roster cut. The Eagles have a deep stable of running backs, and most of the younger guys are outperforming Blount. But this is the preseason. Blount is 30, coming off a Super Bowl-winning season in which he carried the ball 334 times and missed several practices early in camp due to personal reasons, per Lombardo.
If Blount doesn't have the fire to show his skills before the season on a new team, that's concerning. It's not concerning enough to rip up the Eagles' current plan at running back, at least until those struggles emerge in the regular season.
Keep a close eye on the former New England Patriot, but don't assume his roster spot is in jeopardy just yet.
Stock Up: Corey Clement
Part of the outside noise about Blount's future is due to the influx of young backs behind him on the depth chart, and Corey Clement is the one rising quickest in the minds of some Eagles fans.
The undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin has emerged from a strong offseason and training camp with more impressive play in the preseason, coming to fruition against the Bills. Clement carried the ball eight times for 34 yards and a touchdown.
He drew direct praise from head coach Doug Pederson after the game, per CSN Philly's Mitchell Gladstone:
“Corey's been doing a really good job for us. He's a tough kid, as you can see, he's a tough runner, hard runner, smart kid. He's done everything we've asked him to do. He's put himself in a good position. He's competing with the other running backs there at his position, and just excited for him to score tonight.”
The 5'10", 220-pound back has his work cut out for him to make the roster, starting camp behind Blount, Wendell Smallwood, Sproles and Pumphrey. Unlike the last two, Clement can't boast a lot of skills in the passing game, so he'd have to prove without a doubt that he can make a big impact in the run game to steal a roster spot.
In the unlikely event that Blount doesn't last long in Philly, Clement would be the ideal replacement as he could replace his short-yardage acumen and bruising rushing style.
Stock Down: Alshon Jeffery
There's obviously no questioning Alshon Jeffery's place. He'll be the No. 1 guy as long as he's healthy. But his shortcomings as an Eagle up to this point have been well-documented.
Jeffery missed time in camp and the preseason opener with a shoulder strain, and he caught only two of his five targets Thursday for 23 yards. A comment by wide receivers coach Mike Groh that may have been inconsequential inside his own mind made the rounds as a blistering headline, per Jeff Kerr of 247Sports: "I think he's behind. Anytime you miss the amount of time that he did, he's a little bit behind. Fortunately, we have time for him to catch up."
Naturally, it didn't take long for Jeffery to be asked about Groh's comments, which Jeffery disagreed with. Per Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ Advance Media, the former Chicago Bear replied with "not at all" when asked if he was behind.
It would be understandable if Jeffery was behind, coming into a new offense and missing critical practice time through training camp and the preseason. But as the No. 1 wideout, his dedication to the craft and the playbook and to building chemistry with Carson Wentz should be higher than anyone else.
The Eagles are undoubtedly going to get production from Jeffery if he remains healthy, but let's not forget this is also essentially a one-year tryout for Jeffery to land the No. 1 job long-term and a fat contract along with it. Every step he takes is going to be criticized heavily.
Stock Up: Mychal Kendricks
No player's "Stock Up" assertion on this list can be taken as literally as that of Mychal Kendricks, whose increased level of play is quite honestly just upping his trade value.
The linebacker who has previously failed to find his place in Schwartz's defense, Kendricks has been everywhere in the first two preseason games. He has an interception in each outing, even though coverage is considered a weakness of his, and also got to the quarterback for one sack.
While his future has been up in question for quite some time, his public request to be traded fell on deaf ears this offseason. But that was likely due in part to there not being much of a market for Kendricks, who played in less than 27 percent of defensive snaps last season, per Pro Football Reference.
Although preseason games need not be overanalyzed, it can't be ignored that Kendricks has appeared a different player through two exhibitions thus far in 2017.
The Eagles seem to be going with more two-linebacker sets this season and bringing on a fifth defensive back to allow more box play from Malcolm Jenkins and safeties. That makes Kendricks an expendable piece, especially with the depth at defensive end.
But if he carries his preseason effectiveness into the regular season, perhaps he'll force his way into Schwartz's plans.