Due to the uncertain nature of the roster, some rookies may be asked to step into starting roles immediately. Others may need to take a back seat while their skills acclimate to the professional level. Still others may struggle to make the final roster altogether, eventually settling for a temporary spot on the practice squad.
What can we expect from these eleven college prospects? How will Andy Reid and the rest of the Eagles coaching staff seek to utilize their skill sets? Who has the best chance of making a positive change to the team?
Let's take a look.
The right side of the Eagles offensive line was one of the weakest points in an otherwise prolific offense last season. As a unit, the line gave up 49 sacks and 95 quarterback hits, making it the fourth-worst line in the league.
Although old for a rookie, Danny Watkins has enough talent to step into a starting role by week one. Watkins starred as a left tackle at Baylor, but Andy Reid has already told PhiladelphiaEagles.com that he envisions the rookie playing guard:
"Right now I'm looking at guard. I don't know what side though...He can really play any position you need him to play."
While current starting left guard Todd Herremans has played at a near-Pro Bowl level for the past several seasons, there is speculation that he could be moved to the right side of the line. Since Michael Vick is a left-handed quarterback, the Eagles need to bolster the right side of the line to protect his blind spot. Herremans, with his wealth of NFL experience, could be the best option.
However, an upgrade to the right side can come from either switching Herremans' position or inserting Watkins into the mix. That leaves either starting left or right guard as a landing spot for the Eagles' first overall pick.
Of course, there is always an outside chance that Reid could have Watkins challenge Winston Justice for the starting right tackle position, but guard would be a more natural fit for the rookie.
Since the Eagles declined to sign longtime veteran Quintin Mikell to a new contract, chances are good that a new starting strong safety could be roaming the defensive side of the ball come week one.
After the team picked up Jaiquawn Jarrett in the second round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Andy Reid gushed about the young man's tackling ability, even going so far as to compare him to legendary Eagles safety Brian Dawkins in an interview with CSN Philly:
“It’s not fair to compare him to Brian Dawkins, but they’re the same stature, same size, same speed, but they’ll both torch you. Different personalities, different guys, but I don’t think you want to run over the middle on either one of them.”
According to the folks at CSN Philly, Reid is already talking about Jarrett as if he is the team's starting strong safety. Although Kurt Coleman, the team's seventh-round pick in 2010, filled in nicely for Nate Allen during the end of last season, he is still a little rough around the edges and could lose the starter battle to the more skilled Jarrett.
The Eagles' starting right cornerback position is up for grabs after a sub-par 2010 campaign by Dimitri Patterson. Former starter Ellis Hobbs will likely retire due to injury and Patterson is slated to become a free agent.
However, 2011 third-round pick Curtis Marsh may not be the immediate answer. Although the Eagles acquired a talented player with a great deal of promise, Marsh's scant two years of cornerback experience is not enough to thrust him into an immediate starting role.
In a recent interview with PhiladelphiaEagles.com, Andy Reid alluded to the fact that the raw prospect will need some work before he can become a starter:
"What you’re getting with Curtis is big, strong, physical, fast, and very, very intelligent cornerback who doesn’t have quite as much experience as some of the other guys in the draft. But we feel like, with our coaching here and his athletic ability, we’ll really develop him into a fine football player and have a starter eventually here for the Philadelphia Eagles."
With veteran Joselio Hanson firmly entrenched in the nickel slot, chances are that Marsh will be fighting Trevard Lindley for playing time on special teams and in select defensive packages for the duration of his rookie year.
With veteran players Ernie Sims, Omar Gaither and Akeem Jordan all slated to leave via free agency, the Eagles have needs at all three linebacker positions.
Although it's highly unlikely that fourth-round pick Casey Matthews will begin his professional career in a starting role, he still presents value as a backup at all three positions and as a special teamer. As expected, Andy Reid expressed great faith in the young player, although he appears uncertain about how Matthews will fit into the Eagles defense:
"[Matthews] can play either strong side or weak side or the MIKE. I'll get together with Juan and figure out exactly where we'll use him...I know he can step in and be your MIKE linebacker. He's highly intelligent and he did that at Oregon in their nickel package...At the same time, he played WILL in their base package so you got to see him do that. I have confidence he can go play whatever position out of the three that we have there."
With second-year man Jamar Chaney the leading candidate for the starting MIKE linebacker, there is a good chance that Matthews will slide in as his number two on the depth chart. Backup WILL is also a possibility for Matthews, but he will first need to beat out second-year man Keenan Clayton for the job.
After 12-year veteran David Akers expressed a dissatisfaction with his transition tag, the Eagles apparently decided that it was time to start looking at replacement kickers.
Taken in the fourth round of the 2011 NFL Draft, Alex Henery was the first specialist taken by any team, and with good reason. Many scouts and draft experts had him rated as the best kicker in this year's draft.
In addition to earning a stellar reputation as a kicker at Nebraska, Henery also made a name for himself in the punting game as well. In a recent press conference, Andy Reid hinted that not just Akers, but also punter Sav Rocca should fear for their jobs:
"We'll just see how everything goes with our kicker and punter as time goes on, David [Akers] and Sav [Rocca]. We sure are glad to have Alex aboard. He was the best in college football. At this particular time, it was hard to pass him up."
A team simply doesn't draft a specialist in as high as the fourth round without planning to use him immediately. While it's highly unlikely that Henery would take over both the kicking and punting duties for the Eagles, one thing is certain. Barring a horrendous preseason, he will be a starting specialist for the team in 2011.
With Jerome Harrison likely seeking a starting position with another squad, the Eagles need a running back to compliment LeSean McCoy. What better man for the job than fellow Pitt alum Dion Lewis?
Stolen in the middle of the fifth round, Lewis projects to be a No. 2 back right away. In addition to his prolific running skills, he has the pass-catching ability that Andy Reid craves in his running backs. Although Lewis will need more polish if he wants to see significant playing time, Reid appears to see promise in the rookie:
"We brought [Lewis] in, put him in the running back mix. He can do everything for you as far as running the football and catching the football. He's going to have to work a little bit on his pass blocking. We'll get him coached up on that."
Although nothing is certain, Lewis should have no trouble beating out Eldra Buckley for the primary backup slot.
As mentioned before, the Eagles offensive line obviously needed a tune-up after last season. To provide depth, the team grabbed Iowa offensive guard Julian Vandervelde in the fifth round.
Unlike some of his other draft picks, Andy Reid appears to have a clear idea for how to use Vandervelde. Brought in to provide competition, the rookie will be the likely replacement for backup guards Nick Cole and Reggie Wells, who are almost certain to depart via free agency.
Seven-year veteran center Jamaal Jackson has sustained two major injuries within the past two seasons: a torn ACL in 2009 and a torn triceps muscle in 2010. Mike McGlynn appears at least capable of carrying on in his stead, so that could spell curtains for Jackson, who turned 30 this year.
In 2011, McGlynn's backup could be Cincinnati product Jason Kelce, who Andy Reid will likely pit against veterans A.Q. Shipley and Dallas Reynolds during training camp. Although small for the center position at only 280 pounds, Kelce has his positive qualities. According to Reid, he can provide legitimate competition at the backup center position:
"He brings just what you would think, a tremendous amount of toughness and quickness and want-to to [the center] position. It will be good competition at that position there."
However, Kelce will need to bulk up significantly if he expects to give Shipley and Reynolds (both weighing in at over 315 pounds) a run for their money. Otherwise, he could be looking at a practice squad position.
In the sixth round, the Eagles again dipped into the linebacker pool, seeking to shore up their depth with Ohio State's Brian Rolle.
To hear Andy Reid tell it, Rolle has already solidified a spot as the backup WILL linebacker:
"An outside linebacker, predominantly weakside linebacker/nickel linebacker, from Ohio State. Brian is a rare breed man. He's not real tall, he's put together like no other and he makes plays all over the field. If you look at the linebackers, he's one of the finest athletes in that group."
However, with competition from incumbent Keenan Clayton, Rolle will certainly not have the job handed to him. He will need to play bigger than his compact 5'10" frame and prove himself to be an asset on special teams if he hopes to make the final roster.
For the third and final time, the Eagles added talent to their ailing linebacker corps with the addition of seventh-round pick Greg Lloyd.
According to Andy Reid, Lloyd's physical play will be an asset to the MIKE position:
"[Lloyd is an] inside linebacker, in our system he'll be a MIKE linebacker. Big, physical guy from Connecticut. He's very good inside the tackles. He was banged up last year. coming off of knee surgery, so he's really had the year off. He'll come in here and compete. He'll give us tremendous competition."
If Lloyd proves himself to be fully recovered from his knee surgery, he may show enough promise to win the number two or three MIKE position. The Eagles struck gold in the seventh round last year with the selection of now-starting linebacker Jamar Chaney. While it's doubtful that lightening will strike twice for the team, Lloyd certainly has the tools to make a positive impact on the defense.
The drafting of USC fullback Stanley Havili could spell the end for beloved Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver, who suffered a horrific knee injury this past season.
While Owen Schmitt has filled in admirably for Weaver, earning a Pro Bowl alternate selection in 2010, the Eagles saw fit to add competition to the mix. Although Havili's receiving skills could make him a decent number three halfback, Andy Reid appears to see him as more of a fullback:
"He can block, he can catch...He was the most gifted of all the fullbacks...You're looking at a guy that can carry the football for you, in particular he did quite a bit of it in the one-back sets that they had. In their two-back sets, he'd be a fullback that could block you and at the same time catch the football. He'll add competition to our fullback spot."
It's currently up in the air whether Havili makes the Eagles' final roster, as he possesses a different set of skills than Schmitt. Since NFL teams rarely carry two fullbacks on a roster, Havili could find himself on the practice squad if he doesn't beat out Schmitt for the starting position.