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September 05, 2017

Are the Eagles good? Full roster review, offense edition

Eagles NFL

The Philadelphia Eagles have finalized their 53-man roster, sat out on waivers, and filled out their 10-man practice squad. With their first game of the season kicking off in a mere five days, let's take a deep look at the roster on both sides of the ball, starting with the offense.

Quarterback

QB1 QB2 
Carson Wentz Nick Foles 


The fate of the Eagles' organization lies in the hands of Carson Wentz. If he ends up being the franchise quarterback the team hopes he is, the Eagles will immediately have a major leg up on half the teams around the league who are still looking for answers at quarterback. If he isn't, the front office and coaching staff will likely all be fired, and the team will essentially have to start over. No pressure, kid.

After an up and down but very promising rookie season, Wentz had a great training camp, as well as a decent preseason. In the eight training camps I've covered since 2010, Wentz's training camp performance was the best I've seen of any Eagles quarterback. That's not a high bar considering the list of names who have started at least one game for the Eagles during that span: Sam Bradford, Mark Sanchez, Nick Foles, Michael Vick, Matt Barkley, Vince Young, and Kevin Kolb. 

Still, Wentz's improvement in training camp from Year 1 to Year 2 is encouraging. In training camp a season ago, Wentz's strengths and weaknesses were very easily identifiable. After just two weeks of camp last year, we had them pegged. In the strength column, we noted the following:

  1. Size
  2. Arm strength
  3. Athleticism
  4. Aggressiveness
  5. Climbing the pocket
  6. Improvization
  7. Throwing on the run

On the negative side, we identified the following:

  1. Consistent accuracy
  2. Wobbly throws
  3. Locking in on receivers

This camp, the strengths were all still there, but Wentz improved on his weaknesses, most notably with his accuracy. Most second year quarterbacks make a positive jump, as our Matt Mullin noted that sophomore slumps are something of a myth. I fully expect Wentz to progress significantly in his second year in the league.

As for the backup, for the second straight year, the Eagles opted to keep just two quarterbacks, though they swapped out free agent bust Chase Daniel for Nick Foles. There is valid concern about Foles' arm soreness, which was later identified to be a strained flexor tendon. After speaking with a doctor about flexor tendon injuries, it would seem that a heavy dose of rest is indeed what was best for Foles, as the team stated all along. He should be a go for Week 1 if needed.

Running back

LeGarrette Blount Darren Sproles Wendell Smallwood Corey Clement Donnel Pumphrey 


If you're upset with the ordering of the above depth chart, please note that I'm not married to it. Any ordering of the top three backs is fine by me, as clearly, the Eagles do not have a three-down "do everything" back who can run inside, run outside, catch the football, and pass protect at a high level.

The player who comes closest to doing all those things well is Sproles, whose usage has to be limited because of his small stature. Sproles has averaged under four carries per game over his 11-year NFL career.

Blount is a huge 250-pound back who excelled in short yardage and red zone situations for the Patriots a season ago, while Smallwood is something of a slasher.

One of the most improved players on the team from Year 1 in training camp to Year 2 was Smallwood, who ran with authority in the tackling practices, and showed some good things against the Dolphins in the third preseason game. Smallwood's playing time will be dictated by how well he is able to pass protect. If the team can trust him there, he'll see the field quite a bit. If they don't, he won't.

The trick for the Eagles' offensive coaching staff will be finding a way to utilize all the strengths of their backs, while not being predictable in calling plays. That's easier said than done.

As for Pumphrey and Clement, I would not expect to see them active on game day unless the Eagles sustain some injuries.

Wide receiver

Alshon Jeffery Torrey Smith Nelson Agholor Mack Hollins Marcus Johnson Shelton Gibson 


While the Eagles' wide receivers are still not going to scare any of their opponents the same way other teams' do, it is obviously a far better group than the team put on the field a year ago.

Jeffery is the best of the group, of course, as the team loves his catch radius, his ability to win contested catches, and his ability both in the red zone and down the field. There were valid concerns about Jeffery's rapport with Wentz throughout camp, as Jeffery's own positional coach noted that he was 'behind' after he missed a chunk of camp with a shoulder injury. To be determined if Wentz and Jeffery will be clicking on Week 1.

Smith isn't expected to make catches in bulk for this offense, and he doesn't need to with players like Jeffery, Zach Ertz, and Darren Sproles handling the volume. What Smith gives the Eagles is something they haven't had since the days of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, a legitimate deep threat. If Smith can do nothing more than keep opposing safeties honest with his deep speed, that will open up the short-to-intermediate areas of the field for the rest of the offense. Smith will have to make the occasional big play on deep balls to gain that respect from opposing defenses, like he did in the third preseason game against the Dolphins.

Agholor made a lot of plays in practice, which made him something of a camp darling this year. Personally, while I believe he was greatly improved, his training camp performance was overstated, as he still struggled with drops. Agholor has to be able to catch the ball more consistently, but there's no question he has a quick twitch once he gets the ball in his hands.

Hollins showed what he can do when he caught a pass over the middle and stiff-armed his way to the end zone on literally his first play ever in the NFL. Hollins is a big target that the Eagles are cross-training both in the slot and on the outside. At a minimum, Hollins will be a core special teamer from Day 1, and could contribute in the regular offense if someone goes down.

Johnson had a great camp early on, but his momentum was slowed due to an injury. Still, he did enough early on to make the team, and will probably even be up on the 46-man roster on game day, since the team likes what they have seem of him as a gunner.

I can't see a scenario in which Gibson sees the field at all this season.

Tight end

Zach Ertz Brent Celek Trey Burton 


Ertz led the team a season ago in receptions (78) and yards (816), and yet, there's still an argument to be made for him "breaking out" in 2017, like there's been the last few seasons. With better downfield options in Jeffery and Smith, the middle of the field should be more open for Ertz to do his damage.

Ertz still isn't the blocker the team hoped he would be, and many would like to see him be more physical running with the ball after the catch, but his ability as a route runner and receiver is unquestionable.

Celek could very well be in his final year with the team, as he has a big cap hit looming next season. Celek is nowhere near the receiver he once was, and although he's still very clearly the best blocking tight end on the team, his effectiveness in that area has waned as well.

Burton is mainly a special teamer who will get some looks in the regular offense, but with an improved roster at the skill positions, he is not likely to get a substantial amount of playing time.

Offensive line

LT LG RG RT 
Jason Peters Isaac Seumalo Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson 
 Lane JohnsonStefen Wisniewski Stefan Wisniewski Stefan Wisniewski Halapoulivaati Vaitai 
 Halapoulivaati VaitaiChance Warmack Isaac Seumalo Chance Warmack  


The Eagles' offensive line struggled in the preseason, but it is a unit that is very talented, and for the first time in years, has some good continuity. While it would have been preferable for the OL to have performed better in the preseason, it would be one of my lesser concerns heading into the season.

Peters is an interesting player to watch, as he is every year now with his age. You have to go all the way back to 2001 to find a player older than Peters who started at least 10 games at left tackle in a season. That would be Lomas Brown, who started at LT for the Giants at the age of 38. As such, we're in something of uncharted waters for a player as old as Peters. How long can he continue to be a freak of nature?

Seumalo is the lone newcomer to the starting lineup this season, though he got valuable experience playing three different positions a year ago. His season at LG could be a one-year stint. The team could opt to move Seumalo to center in 2018, as the team was more than willing to trade Kelce this offseason.

Kelce had a bad start to the 2016 season, but was improved as the season wore on. As a smaller, athletic center, Kelce does things in the screen game and the outside run game that other centers around the league simply can't do, but obviously, the downside is that he struggles mightily against big nose tackles who can move him backwards both in the run game and pass game. He is what he is.

Brooks quietly had a good season at RG last year, though he is probably best remembered for missing two games due to his anxiety. He and Lane Johnson form one of the best RG-RT tandems in the NFL.

As for Johnson, when he played last season, the Eagles went 5-1. When he didn't, they were 2-8. The simple fact is that his second suspension for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing drugs greatly cost the team last year, as five different guys had to play RT in 2016.

The Eagles' OL reserve situation is very clear. Vaitai is the swing tackle, while Wisniewski would fill in at all three interior OL spots on game day. Warmack will be inactive to start the season, despite receiving a contract extension this week.

Overall

This is a better roster offensively than it was a year ago. Carson Wentz will be better in Year 2, the receivers actually deserve to be in the NFL, and the addition of Lane Johnson potentially for 16 games will give the Eagles' offense a major boost.


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