Eagles' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIAugust 16, 2021

Eagles' Projected Winners of Key Position Battles

0 of 3

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    This past Thursday, the Philadelphia Eagles played their first game with new head coach Nick Sirianni on the sidelines. They fell 24-16 to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field, but the score isn't important during preseason matchups.

    What is important is how certain players performed, especially those who are locked in a battle for either a starting job or a roster spot. And there are quite a few players on the Eagles' roster who need to make a strong impression in order to get an opportunity for the 2021 season.

    Philadelphia still has two preseason games remaining (Thursday vs. the Patriots and Aug. 27 at the Jets), so there's still time for roster battles to swing the other way. However, the early days of training camp have given us an indication of the decisions the team may be most likely to make.

    Here's a look at how several key battles are going during camp for Philadelphia, along with projected winners for each.

Running Back

1 of 3

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Miles Sanders is going to be the Eagles' starting running back. It's possible his work load will be reduced a bit and others will get more opportunities to touch the ball, but the 24-year-old will be No. 1 on the depth chart when the start of the regular season arrives.

    However, there's a battle for playing time taking place behind him, with Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kerryon Johnson, Jason Huntley and Kenneth Gainwell all looking to carve out roles on the Philadelphia offense. There's not going to be room for all of them, though.

    The Eagles only ran the ball 11 times during the preseason opener, so that didn't reveal too much. But on their first unofficial depth chart, Howard and Scott (both returning players) were listed at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, while everybody else (other than Sanders) was listed together at No. 4. And Howard got the start against Pittsburgh with Sanders not playing.

    So, Howard seems to be trending toward making the team, and it's difficult to imagine the Eagles would cut either Scott or Gainwell, who was a fifth-round pick in the 2021 NFL draft and has exciting pass-catching potential. That means Johnson and Huntley will be the odd backs out in this roster crunch.

    Projection: Howard, Scott and Gainwell earn roster spots

Left Tackle

2 of 3

    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    The battle for the starting left tackle spot hasn't turned out to be much of a battle at all. Even though the Eagles are only one-third of the way through their preseason schedule, it seems pretty obvious who will be protecting quarterback Jalen Hurts' blind side during the 2021 season.

    Although Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard are listed as co-starters for now on Philadelphia's depth chart, the job is the former's to lose for the rest of camp. The 24-year-old has impressed, while Dillard is currently out due to a knee injury. Still, Sirianni isn't ending the competition.

    "Still got a lot of time, so we're not there yet," the coach said, per Martin Frank of the Delaware News Journal. "Just want to see Jordan get better every single day."

    That seems like it's been happening. And it would be a surprise if anybody other than Mailata, a seventh-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, is lining up at left tackle in Week 1 of the regular season.

    Projection: Mailata starts at left tackle

Defensive End

3 of 3

    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Derek Barnett was a first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, and he's started 30 games for the Eagles over the past three seasons. It seemed likely he would be the starter at right end to begin the 2021 season, but the performance of one of Philadelphia's camp standouts has put his job in jeopardy.

    Since getting drafted in the fourth round in 2018, Josh Sweat has played 39 games in three seasons with the Eagles, but he's made only three starts (all in 2020). But the 24-year-old has been one of the biggest stars of training camp, and he's quickly made an impression with his play at practice.

    "The dude is an animal," Dillard said, per Mike Kaye of NJ.com. "He's just a freak athlete, and it's just fun to go against him because iron sharpens iron."

    It's time for Sweat to get a starting opportunity, especially because Barnett hasn't quite played up to expectations at the NFL level. Both will get playing time either way and be part of the mix on the Eagles' pass rush, but it will be Sweat listed atop the depth chart.

    Prediction: Sweat starts at right end