July 24, 2016
Over the last week, we have rolled out training camp previews at each of the Philadelphia Eagles' positional groups. For your convenience, we dumped them all into one spot.
The Eagles used a lot of resources to move up in the 2016 NFL Draft to select Carson Wentz, and there's little question that he will be the face of the franchise ... eventually. However, in 2016, as Doug Pederson noted, there's a good chance Wentz will start the season watching games from the sidelines in street clothes, as he will likely be inactive on game day at the start of the season. As the season goes on, who knows?
For now, the Eagles' quarterback depth chart looks like this:
|Sam Bradford||Chase Daniel||Carson Wentz|
“I wanted Sam on this roster way back even when I was hired," said Doug Pederson. "One of the first things I did was evaluate his game last year and really liked what I saw. All intentions were, and are, he comes in being the No.1, being the starter. My feelings haven’t changed there whatsoever.”
While Bradford is atop the food chain for now, all three quarterbacks received an equal number of reps throughout OTAs and minicamp. That is an extremely rare trend that is expected to continue at the start of training camp, with Bradford seeing his reps increase as the season draws nearer. Expect to see a ton of Wentz in the preseason games.
The Eagles have the NFL's least amount of available cap space in 2017 and 2018. As Bradford himself acknowledged, his time as "the guy" in Philly is short after the Eagles traded up for Wentz. Bradford' cap number is $22,500,000 in 2017, $13,000,000 of which the Eagles will save if he is released, $17,000,000 if he is traded. On the financial end alone, it is extremely unlikely that Bradford will be on the team in 2017.
If you're a Sammy Sleeves supporter, soak up as much of him as you can now. If you're not, take solace in knowing that he'll soon be flipped into a draft pick as long as he doesn't tear another ACL or throw 20 INTs this season.
At some point, Wentz will make the jump from QB3 to QB1, with Chase Daniel holding firm as QB2. It's only a matter of when.
The Eagles' running back situation heading into training camp this season is less than ideal. The top four running backs currently on the Eagles' roster are Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, and Kenjon Barner. Of the four, there's a good chance that only Smallwood will be back with the team in 2017.
Let's take a look at each of those four backs individually:
This offseason, both Mathews and DeMarco Murray were on the trading block. The Eagles were going to trade one and keep the other. When they traded Murray, Mathews became the lead back, out of necessity.
When Ryan Mathews got playing time last season, he was very good. He carried the ball 106 times for 539 yards (5.1 YPC) and 6 TDs, which made him the most productive runner on the team. We stress that he was a good "runner." Mathews had some spectacular moments, like this one in Carolina.
It was later revealed that Mathews made this run with a tweaked groin. However, Mathews was not good as a receiver, having more than his share of ugly drops, like this one in Atlanta.
Mathews is not a great fit for Doug Pederson's offense. Pederson has said that he wants to be able to move his backs around to create mismatches for opposing defenses in the passing game. That is not at all a strength of Mathews'.
As we noted in the quarterback training camp preview, the Eagles have the NFL's least amount of available cap space in 2017 and 2018. If the Eagles release or trade Mathews next offseason, they will save $4,000,000. The Eagles don't necessarily want Mathews long term, and yet they're kinda screwed in 2016 without him in the short term. In that sense, as we noted in our Eagles dumpster fire piece, Mathews is kind of like the Sam Bradford of running backs.
Sproles missed the voluntary portion of Eagles offseason workouts. The coaching staff genuinely didn't seem to to be too concerned about that. Unlike Mathews, Sproles is a very good fit for an offense that plans on using its backs heavily in the passing game.
Expect Sproles to used more creatively in Pederson's offense than he was in Chip Kelly's, but likely only for one year, as Sproles is 33 years old and in the final year of his deal.
Smallwood was a fifth-round selection of the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft, and a player Pederson seems to really like. In OTAs and minicamp, Smallwood showed an ability to be a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, which again, feels like a prerequisite in Pederson's scheme.
The area where Smallwood needs the most work is in pass protection, a deficiency of his that we showed in greater detail back in May. Duce Staley will have the task of coaching Smallwood up in that regard before the Eagles can trust him to play in regular season games.
Barner, in my view, will head into 2016 Eagles training camp on the bubble to make the final 53-man roster as he was a year ago. In the preseason game against the Colts last year, Barner had a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown that unquestionably helped him secure a spot on the team.
While he showed a glimpse of playmaking ability against the Colts in August last season, Barner did not take full advantage of his opportunities in the regular season a year ago.
On the 2015 season, Barner had 28 carries for 124 yards (a 4.4 average) and a long run of 19 yards. On paper that looks OK, but Barner had a multitude of mistakes in limited action.
The biggest mistake was against the Patriots. The Eagles had a seven-point lead and the ball at the New England 28 with just over a minute to go. The Patriots had no timeouts and no hope. The one and only thing you cannot do in that situation is fumble ... and that's what Barner did.
Barner was fortunate that the Eagles defense got a stop on the ensuing Pats drive, but that is really just an unforgivable play.
As a receiver, Barner struggled. He caught nine passes on the season, and couldn't make much happen with them after the catch, gaining just 22 yards (a 2.4 YPC average) and one first down. He also had three drops on passes that are as easy as it gets in the NFL.
Barner's 2015 season is, of course, a small sample size, but there were far too many glaring mistakes for the amount of time he got to play.
With an injury prone starter at running back and a pair of backups in Sproles and Smallwood who are not built (or ready) to be three-down backs, the Eagles need a reserve who can be competent as a runner, as a receiver, and in pass protection. Barner must show the new coaching staff that he can do all three consistently. So far, I just haven't seen it.
The Eagles have a pair of undrafted free agent running backs on the roster in Byron Marshall (Oregon) and Cedric O'Neal (Valdosta State).
Marshall is an interesting player. In 2014, he had 74 catches for 1003 yards and 6 TDs for the Ducks. He also carried the ball 52 times for 392 yards and 1 TD. In 2013, he was primarily a running back, when he rushed for 1038 yards and 14 TDs on 168 carries (6.2 YPC). He missed most of the 2015 season with an ankle injury.
The Chiefs' offense under Doug Pederson featured a lot of jet sweeps, which would play well to Marshall's skill set. He is a versatile player who can play running back, wide receiver, and return kicks, however, he obviously wasn't so good at any of those three things to be drafted. He obviously fits the bill as a running back with receiving ability.
A highlight reel:
On an Eagles team that again, only has one running back almost certain to be on the roster in 2017, there is a very good opportunity for Marshall and/or O'Neal to at least earn a spot on the practice squad, and maybe more.
Oh, and don't rule out the possibility of the Eagles adding a veteran running back to the mix.
In case you're wondering what the 2017 NFL Draft looks like at running back, it's likely going to be loaded with talent.
Clearly, the Eagles' wide receivers must be much better in 2016 than they were in 2015. Miles Austin and blocker extraordinaire Riley Cooper are both gone, which is a good start, but they weren't the only culprits last season when it came to dropped passes. (As an obligatory reminder, the Eagles led the NFL in drops last season).
The Eagles' crop of wide receivers heading into camp in 2016, much like in 2015, is very young. Unfortunately, the Birds don't have any receivers with a 1000-yard season to their credit.
Below are the ages of the five receivers most likely to make the team:
Let's look at them individually:
Matthews is a very good player who is likely to make a boatload of catches over a long NFL career. However, his coaches to this point in his career have not shown that they want him playing on the outside. Should his career continue along that path, he can be a premier slot receiver, which of course isn't the worst thing, but may be his ceiling. We'll see if Doug Pederson and Co. expand his role in 2016.
Over his first two seasons in the NFL, Matthews has impressive numbers -- 152 catches, 1869 yards, 16 TDs. He is also a tireless worker, constantly trying to improve his game.
Agholor's rookie season was a clear disappointment. There were some (self included) last preseason who thought Agholor could contend for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. Oops. Agholor played in 13 games (starting 12), and produced just 23 catches for 283 yards and 1 TD.
On the final day of minicamp, Agholor seemingly proceeded directly from the NovaCare Complex to Cheerleaders Gentlemen's Club, where he was accused of rape. No charges will be filed against Agholor, however, he will certainly face distractions in the aftermath of that incident.
Agholor has talent. There were certainly glimpses of it in the preseason a year ago, as well as in the final meaningless game in the Meadowlands against the Giants. Look at the burst here:
Coming out of high school, Agholor was Rivals.com's 18th-highest rated recruit in the nation. His freshman season at USC, he produced just 19 catches for 340 yards and 2 TDs. In his sophomore season, he had 56 catches for 918 yards and 6 TDs. It wasn't until his junior season that Agholor broke out with a season in which he caught 104 passes for 1313 yards and 12 TDs. In his last seven games (#LastSevenGames) that season, he had 62 catches for 908 yards and 8 TDs.
In other words, maybe Agholor is a player who just needs some time to adapt to new surroundings before he'll realize his potential? That's certainly a more optimistic view than, "He's just not good."
There was a time that some in the Eagles organization thought that Huff had a higher ceiling than Jordan Matthews. I'm not sure anyone thinks that anymore. Huff, like Agholor, has had moments where he has shown explosiveness, like here:
Unfortunately, those moments have been too few and far between. Huff has the ability to be a good runner after the catch, but he still lacks polish as a receiver. During OTAs and minicamp, we cited Huff as a player who did not impress, as he had a number of drops.
In two years, Huff has just 35 catches for 410 yards and 3 TDs. That's not good enough. Year 3 will be a pivotal one for Huff. He must make a big jump in 2016.
Randle spent the first four seasons of his career with the Giants, posting the following decent numbers:
Last season, in two games against the Eagles, Randle had nine catches for 123 yards and a TD.
Randle has good size at 6'2, 208, and his numbers have generally gotten better as his career has progressed. However, he has also developed a reputation as a poor route runner, and was often blamed for some of Eli Manning's interceptions.
In OTAs and minicamp, Randle didn't show much, although he missed some time after having gallbladder surgery. He'll have the chance to compete for a starting job.
Givens had a very productive season as a rookie, but his career has been on a downward trajectory since. His numbers:
The Eagles don't have much in the way of receivers who can stretch the field vertically. Givens ran a 4.41 40 at the 2012 Combine and he has a 16.6-yards-per-catch average for his career. He also has three years of experience playing alongside Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.
Graham was formerly a third round pick (69th overall) of the Buffalo Bills in the 2012 NFL Draft. After fizzling out in Buffalo, Graham has been with the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, and New Orleans Saints. The Eagles are Graham's fifth team in as many years in the NFL. His career numbers:
Like Givens, Graham has good speed. At the 2012 NFL Combine, he ran a 4.41, but is probably a long-shot to make the team.
As every team does every offseason, the Eagles brought in a handful of undrafted rookie free agent wide receivers, some other street guys, and they return one receiver from last season. This year, they are Jonathan Krause, who was on the team a year ago, as well as Cayleb Jones, Hunter Sharp, Paul Turner, Xavier Rush, Marcus Johnson.
Seemingly every year, an off-the-radar receiver becomes a camp darling, but undrafted wide receivers don't make the team as often as you might think. By my count, over the last 10 years, only Damaris Johnson (2012) and Hank Baskett (2006) made the team as undrafted free agent receivers, and in Baskett's case, the Eagles traded former third round pick Billy McMullen for him.
Ah, finally we come to a position of strength on the Eagles offense. Unlike at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, there is true reason for optimism in 2016 at the tight end position, where the Eagles have talented starters as well as quality depth.
Back in January, the Eagles locked up Zach Ertz through 2021 on a five-year extension worth $42.5 million. A day later, they signed Brent Celek through 2018 on a three-year deal worth $12 million.
Over the last three seasons, Chip Kelly's offense employed a heavy dose of three wide receiver sets, which did not play to the personnel strengths of his players, at least in 2014 and 2015. To be determined if Doug Pederson employs his tight ends more than Kelly did.
Let's take a look at each tight end individually:
As we noted in our Eagles fantasy football preview, below is a list of every tight end in NFL history who had at least 2000 receiving yards after their first three seasons in the league:
Ertz is one of 17 tight ends in NFL history to achieve that. Also, apparently Walter White was a football player before he became a chemist / drug lord.
A look at Ertz's stats year-by-year through three seasons:
A season ago, Ertz was dealing with a sports hernia injury which slowed him down early on. Over the last four games, Ertz caught 35 passes for 450 yards.
The area where Ertz hasn't produced is in the end zone, but there's really no discernible reason why he shouldn't. All indications are that Doug Pederson's system will attempt to be as quarterback-friendly as possible, whereas Chip Kelly's offense centered around the running game. With that premise in place, since Ertz is more of a receiving threat than a punishing blocker it's reasonable to conclude that his playing time should increase, and he may become more of a focal point of the Eagles' offense in 2016.
In 2015, Celek had 27 catches for 398 yards and three TDs. Ertz was a bigger threat in the passing game, but Celek was clearly the best blocking tight end on the team. With two (maybe three) quality tight ends on the roster, the Eagles may seek to get both Ertz and Celek on the field more than in previous years, especially with a dearth of intimidating wide receivers.
Celek is 31, and the only skill position player left on the roster from when Pederson was still with the Eagles in 2012 as the quarterbacks coach.
Trey Burton's lack of playing time under Chip Kelly always baffled me. In training camp and the preseason, Burton looked like a legitimate weapon in the passing attack, but for whatever reason he never got opportunities in games that mattered. I remember the Thanksgiving debacle against the Lions, when Burton had a catch and run of 43 yards in the first quarter:
My reaction after that play:
OK, good play Trey. You're done for the day now.— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) November 26, 2015
And sure enough, that was pretty much it for Trey until the Eagles were down by 38 in the fourth quarter. Playing behind Ertz and Celek on the depth chart, it's not as if Burton is going to get 400 or so snaps this season, but certainly his skill set warrants some kind of role in this offense.
As we noted in our latest 53-man roster projection, Chris Pantale was the pleasant surprise of spring practices, as he made several difficult catches and was getting the majority of the reps whenever the Eagles used a fullback. He has an excellent chance of making the roster as a fourth tight end, but will have to show he can be physical when they put on the pads.
The final tight end on the roster is MJ McFarland, who has a steep uphill climb to make the team.
The Eagles' offensive line underwent the beginnings of a transformation this offseason. The Birds added OG Brandon Brooks in free agency, and then drafted a couple offensive linemen for the first time since Lane Johnson was selected fourth overall in 2013. Because the Eagles had such a long gap in between drafting offensive linemen, they became the oldest offensive line in the NFL, at an average age of 29.2 years old.
Throughout OTAs and minicamp, the Eagles' starters looked like this:
Barring injury, you can mark down four of the five spots above in ink. The only starting spot seemingly up for grabs is at LG. Let's take a look at the starters individually, and then we'll try to sort out the Eagles' OL depth.
Peters is a borderline Hall of Famer, but he battled injuries a season ago and his career is clearly in decline. The Eagles have the most cash spending toward the 2017 salary cap in the NFL by a wide margin, and they are going to need to clear up space next offseason. In 2017, Peters will be 35 years old with a cap number of $11,200,000. The Eagles would save $9,200,000 if they released or traded him.
Meanwhile, this offseason, the Eagles gave Lane Johnson a five-year contract extension worth $56.25 million ($11,250,000 per season). The next closest RT in the NFL makes $6,750,000 per season. Johnson won't be playing RT very long at that number.
It's a near certainty that this will be Peters' last season with the Eagles, so enjoy him while you can.
Back in May, Doug Pederson named Barbre the starter at LG.
"Right now it is Allen Barbre's job," he said, "and I think again that's something we did through the draft and a little bit of free agency is to kind of shore up that spot. I really like where we're at. I like the depth at that position right now. But yeah, Allen Barbre is my guy and he's our starter."
Barbre did not play well a season ago, and he's now 32 years old. He also counts for $1,950,000 on the cap in 2016, $1,650,000 of which the Eagles could save if he were to be cut or traded. It would be a significant benefit if one of the Eagles' younger and cheaper options were to outperform Barbre and win that job outright in camp. It's somewhat puzzling why it's Barbre's to lose.
Kelce had a bad season a year ago, and he'd probably be the first to acknowledge that. However, Kelce has been a good player in the past, and he's still only 28 years old, so there's reason to believe he can bounce back.
It's somewhat noteworthy that the Eagles selected Isaac Seumalo in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft, and signed Stefen Wisniewski in free agency. While Seumalo is working at LG (for now), his primary position in college was center. Meanwhile, Wisniewski has started every single game he has ever played in the NFL (77 of them), with his primary position being center as well. That could be a motivating factor for Kelce.
In 2015, the Eagles' lack of quality guard play often stalled their rushing attack and allowed interior pass rushers like Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy to wreck games. Guard was as glaring a hole on the Eagles' roster as you'll find. The acquisition of Brooks will drastically upgrade one of the guard spots.
Brooks is an interesting case. He was not invited to the 2012 NFL Combine, but had an amazing pro day. At 6'5, 346 at the time, Brooks ran a 4.99 40, had a 32" vertical jump, he did 36 reps on the bench press. In other words, he's a massive human being with impressive athleticism.
One of the things the Eagles' offensive line has lacked for quite some time is an interior lineman who can move defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage against their will. Brooks can be that for the Eagles.
As noted above, Johnson is almost certainly going to be the Eagles' LT in 2017, but for now, he'll play out one last season on the right side. Johnson is already a really good player. With youth and incredible athleticism, he'll only get better.
Seumalo was the third-round selection of the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft, but he has yet to practice with the full team, as his school (Oregon State) runs on the quarters system. Therefore, we haven't yet gotten any kind of look at him yet. Doug Pederson said that Seumalo will be working specifically at LG, which is the lone spot seemingly up for grabs along the offensive line. That's a good sign for Seumalo to have a legitimate chance to win that job.
It's worth noting that rookie offensive linemen started for Pederson's Kansas City Chiefs in each of the last three years:
Seumalo represents the best chance for an Eagles rookie to start in 2016.
In OTAs, Wisniewski was working as the second team center. As noted above, he has 77 starts under his belt in the NFL and has never been a backup. He represents legitimate competition for Kelce, as well as very solid depth along the interior of the Eagles' offensive line. Wisniewski could also be a contender for the starting LG job.
In 2012, Doug Pederson was still the Eagles' quarterbacks coach. There are only four offensive players from that roster who remain with the team -- Jason Peters, Jason Kelce, Brent Celek, and... Dennis Kelly!
Every year, Dennis Kelly gets written off, and every year he makes the team. The Eagles drafted Kelly to play in the system that Pederson is bringing back to Philly, which bodes well for his chances to survive yet again in 2016. To take it a step further, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the Eagles view Kelly as the first OT off the bench. During OTAs and minicamp, Kelly was working as the second team RT. In the event Johnson went down, you just plug Kelly right in at RT. In the event Peters went down, the Eagles could move Johnson over and again, just plug in Kelly at RT.
Tobin was projected to win a starting guard spot a season ago, but he was beat out by Andrew Gardner in camp. Tobin then started 13 games at RG after Gardner was lost for the season with an injury. It did not go well.
This offseason, the Eagles have kicked Tobin outside, as he has been working as the second team LT behind Jason Peters, which is mildly interesting. Tobin is more athletic than he is powerful, so kicking him out to the edge makes sense.
Gardner won the Eagles' starting job at RG last season, and he has OT/OG versatility. Working against Gardner is the fact that he's now 30 years old on a team that clearly has its eye toward the future.
Vaitai, the Eagles fifth round selection, plays a position where the Eagles' starters are very clearly set, with Johnson and Peters in place. The Eagles also have a number of reserves with NFL starting experience, which means that Vaitai isn't likely to be the first guy off the bench should something go wrong.
It's more likely that the Eagles are trying to groom Vaitai to become a replacement for Johnson at RT whenever Johnson takes over for the aging Peters at LT. Vaitai is a good bet to make the team, but he'll likely be a inactive on game day. (If the entire country would like to run with "Vaitai inactive" stories for the next month, that would be wonderful, thanks).
Andrews made the team a season ago, and stuck around for the entire season. With a new coaching staff and better backup competition in place, he'll have to re-prove himself in 2016.
Greene was a road-grating guard in college who moved defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage in the run game. He was a Combine invite and thought of as a late-round prospect. During his tenure at San Diego State, he tested positive for marijuana and was suspended for six games. However, according to NFL.com, he was contrite for his mistakes, and "came back to start the final seven games of the year, helping the team produce two 1000-yard rushers for the first time in school history."
Greene received the most guaranteed money among any undrafted rookie free agent in the NFL this offseason. That should at least guarantee him a spot on the practice squad.
Bunche was on the Eagles practice squad for the entirety of the 2015 season. In OTAs, he worked primarily with the second team offense at LG, although it should be noted that Isaac Seumalo was absent.
Jones was with the Eagles a season ago, and was working with the second team offense at RG during OTAs.. He has 10 games of playing experience (no starts) with the Rams in 2013 and 2014.
Johnson won the Rimington Award for being the top center at the FCS level. According to Mark Emmert of the Portland Press Herald, Johnson played every snap the past three years.
Johnson worked with the third team offense at center in OTAs.
Gordon, who is listed at 6'4, 322, entered OTAs as a tight end, wearing number 83. The Eagles then moved him to the offensive line. He now wears number 69.
The Eagles' defense will have a totally different look to it in 2016 when the Birds transition from a two-gapping 3-4 defense to a attack-style 4-3. That change will have the greatest effect on the Eagles' defensive linemen.
Speaking on 94.1 WIP way back in January, Jim Schwartz said some things worth getting fired up about.
"We’re not gonna be a two-gap 3-4," he said. "I want those defensive lineman to be attacking. I want those guys to be creating and wreaking some havoc and putting pressure on the quarterback. They’re not gonna be playing at the line of scrimmage and grabbing guys and trying to keep the linebackers clean. I think we have some good guys up front. We can take the handcuffs off of them a little bit and get some more production out of them."
That is music to the ears of Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, and even Connor Barwin.
"I was very fortunate in Tennessee to have Jevon Kearse, to have Albert Haynesworth, to have Kyle Vanden Bosch, to have Kevin Carter, Robaire Smith, some really talented players up front," said Schwartz in a different interview. "In Detroit, we drafted that way. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, brought in Kyle Vanden Bosch, had Cliff Avril. Went to Buffalo, had Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, as talented of guys as you're ever going to be around."
Schwartz gave his former players credit for being talented, however, the numbers suggest that Schwartz helped their pass rush numbers significantly. Below are the 13 players Schwartz mentioned, and the number of sacks they had per 16 games with him, and without him.
As you can see, 11 of the 13 players above got to the quarterback more frequently with Schwartz than without him. You can probably expect the same out of the Eagles' defensive linemen this year as well.
Let's take a look at the Eagles' defensive linemen, individually:
Our long national nightmare ended when Cox signed a six-year contract extension worth $103 million.
Cox is easily the best player on the Eagles' roster. He is a dominant, disruptive force who had 71 tackles, 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles a season ago as a defensive end in a two-gapping style defense that typically hinders statistical accomplishments. As noted above, in the Eagles' new 4-3 scheme, Cox will have more leeway to attack upfield and go after the quarterback from his new defensive tackle position.
Logan is a very unheralded player but played very well early last season before some injuries derailed him a bit. His domination in the preseason games was almost comical. Logan is on the final year of his deal, and should be a man possessed this season. (Not that he doesn't work his ass off as is).
Logan was an unselfish player at LSU, and then again with the Eagles through his first three years in the league, content to eliminate offensive linemen and open up opportunities for other players to make plays. This will be his first chance in a long time to be a penetrating disrupting force, and I believe he has the skill set to be just that.
Barwin's fit was perfect as a 3-4 outside linebacker, as he was a complete player. He could play the run, drop into coverage, and rush the passer. While some of Barwin's skill set may be wasted in a 4-3, the transition to 4-3 DE should be a snap.
Many have wondered whether Barwin should be moved to the SAM linebacker spot. My buddy Tommy Lawlor at IgglesBlitz.com wrote a great piece on why Barwin should absolutely be a DE in Schwartz's scheme.
There's an argument to be made that no player's talents were as wasted the last three seasons as Curry's, who produced at a high level whenever he got playing time. In the Eagles' 3-4 scheme, Curry was relegated to sub package work, getting in the game only on obvious passing downs.
In the Eagles' 4-3 alignment, Curry should see his snaps increase dramatically. Curry's best season came in 2014 when he posted nine sacks and four forced fumbles while getting on the field for less than a third of the team's defensive snaps.
In my view, Graham doesn't get enough credit for making the difficult transition from 4-3 DE to 3-4 OLB, actually playing a lot better than many thought he would despite a lack of eye-popping stats. Graham made himself into a more complete player, learning how to effectively play the run and even drop into coverage, which was something that not many thought he'd be able to do. He'll be moving back to his more natural fit as a 4-3 DE, where he can just put his head down and rush the passer.
Through two seasons after being selected in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, Smith has 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks. Time is running out for him to begin to produce.
After a decent rookie season with the Tennessee Titans in 2012, Martin's productively has been nearly non-existent. In 2015, he played five games, and then did not appear at all in eight straight games before being placed on injured reserve at the end of the season.
Coming out of college at Michigan, Martin was a highly athletic, but undersized defensive tackle. He put up extraordinarily impressive numbers at the 2012 NFL Combine:
Martin's signing could be an indication of the type of quick, athletic defensive linemen the Eagles will begin targeting to play in Jim Schwartz's defense.
Allen is entering his third year with the team after being selected in the seventh round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In two seasons, he had 38 tackles and 0.5 sacks in a reserve role. At 6'2, 333, Allen was a good fit as a run-stuffing NT in the Eagles' former 3-4. Can he make the transition to a penetrating 4-3 DT?
Again, Hart was a member of the 2014 draft class, and he was clearly brought aboard to be a two-gapping 3-4 defensive end. Chip ... any interest?
McCalister is a rookie seventh-round draft pick, and an intriguing talent. At Florida, he was able to get to opposing quarterbacks with his size and athleticism, however, he lacked an impressive repertoire of pass-rush moves. Additionally, he didn't often finish tackles strongly, he was often slow to recognize fakes, and at 240 pounds he was easily moved in the run game.
In the pros, McCalister is going to be a situational pass rusher only, unless he can improve the rest of his game drastically. And even in that limited role, he's going to have to develop more pass rush moves.
McCalister has obvious physical traits, but a long way to go before he can contribute consistently in the NFL. I would project that he'll be a "redshirt IR" guy, a practice squad player, or if the team is afraid he'll get poached, he'll make the team but be inactive.
Braman will likely make the team as a special teams standout, but will not see the field in the regular defense barring an emergency. Braman's value on the punt block team cannot be understated.
• Steven Means has some intriguing ability at DE. He could be a sleeper to make the roster if guys like Marcus Smith falter.
• Destiny Vaeao, Aziz Shittu, and Connor Wujciak are undrafted rookie free agents the Eagles brought aboard after the draft. Of the three, Vaeao received the most meaningful reps in OTAs.
Heading into the 2016 season, the Eagles' linebacker position could be a major strength... or complete disaster. There probably isn't a positional group on the roster with as much "boom or bust" potential.
The three starters are set, with Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, and Nigel Bradham serving as the unquestioned starters. Beyond them, the Eagles' depth at linebacker is untested.
Let's look at the linebackers individually.
Hicks was a beast as a rookie. In the eight games he played, he had 50 tackles, three fumble recoveries, a forced fumble, a sack, two interceptions (including a pick-six), and he knocked out Tony Romo for half the season. Unfortunately, his season was cut short when he suffered a season-ending pectoral tear in the second meeting against Dallas.
The Eagles were pleasantly surprised when Hicks was still available in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft, although he was likely still on the board because of his injury history at the University of Texas. In 2012, Hicks missed the final 10 games of the season with a hip flexor injury. In 2013, his season was cut short by an ACL tear.
Hicks is a gifted football player, but he must prove that he can be a durable one as well.
Like Hicks, Kendricks is athletically gifted, however, he must prove that he can stay healthy as well, as he has yet to play all 16 games in any one season in his four year career (although he has missed just nine games overall). Kendricks also has to show that he can play well consistently.
It appeared as though Kendricks had broken out during the 2013 season, when he racked up 106 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 4 fumble recoveries, and 3 interceptions. Kendricks was a blur, making plays all over the field, especially near the end of that season. However, his production fell off in 2014, and then again in 2015.
Kendricks is a very good blitzer, and at his best when he can attack downhill, as opposed to when he is asked to read and react. In Jim Schwartz's attack-style defense, Kendricks will have an opportunity to rejuvenate his career. At just 25 years of age, there is certainly plenty of room for Kendricks to become a better player.
Bradham was a former fourth round pick of the Bills in 2012. He had his best season with Buffalo under Schwartz in 2014 when he had 104 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, an INT, and 7 pass breakups. Both Schwartz and current Bills coach Rex Ryan have cited Bradham's ability as a coverage linebacker.
Goode is a career special teamer. He and Deontae Skinner are the only Eagles backup linebackers with any experience at all, and even then, Goode only has one career start, which came in 2013. Barring another veteran linebacker addition, Goode is likely to start a game at some point this season, as it is unrealistic to think all three Eagles starting linebackers will remain unscathed for 16 games. For that reason, Goode is a very under-the-radar player of importance this season.
Walker is going to have play well on special teams to secure his roster spot, although certainly, a lack of depth at linebacker will help his chances. Walker feels like a player who will find a role on the team as a reserve or sub-package linebacker who sticks around in the league longer than your typical seventh-round pick, albeit as a back of the roster type.
If not for a good pro day performance, Walker may not have been drafted, but he impressed enough to be taken with the third-to-last pick of the 2016 NFL Draft. He is a solid tackler with good athleticism, although he lacks thump. I would project Walker to make the 53-man roster, and possibly even be active on game day as early as Week 1.
Long was a Chip Kelly favorite, who was poised to make the team in 2014, before he tore his ACL in the fourth and final preseason game against the New York Jets. The following August in 2015, he tore that same ACL once again in training camp. Long also tore an ACL in 2012 when he was with Washington State. With three ACL tears, Long has to be viewed as a long shot to make the roster.
Tavarres received the second-highest signing bonus among undrafted free agents in the NFL after the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Draft. That will all but guarantee him at least a spot on the practice squad. Tavarres is undersized at 6'1, 230, but he is an athletic linebacker. And he can do flips.
Guase is another undrafted free agent. At Rutgers a season ago, he had 96 tackles, 12 for a loss of yards.
Skinner managed to stick on the Eagles' practice squad for the entirety of the 2015 season. He is a thicker linebacker, at 6'1, 250. Skinner played in seven games for the Patriots in 2014, starting one.
If there's one positional group where the Eagles' defense definitively doesn't have any "standout" players, that would be at cornerback. Still, while there are no notable stud players on the corners, the Eagles do have quite a bit of depth, and there should be a heated competition at corner throughout the summer.
Let's look at the corners individually:
McKelvin was the first of five corners selected in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft, 11th overall, in a class that included Pro Bowl selections Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Aqib Talib, and Brandon Flowers. However, he didn't quite begin to break out under he played under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz in Buffalo in 2014, when he was 29-years old and in his seventh year in the league.
In 2014, in his only season with Schwartz, McKelvin was really good. After the first seven weeks of the 2014 season, McKelvin had four interceptions, which led the NFL. He was playing at a Pro Bowl level. Unfortunately, that season was cut short when he fractured his ankle in the Bills' 10th game and he was done for the season.
Now 30 (he'll turn 31 before the 2016 season begins), McKelvin will get his second chance to play for Schwartz on his second team with the Eagles. McKelvin was an under-the-radar free agency signing before the NFL's free agency period began, as the Eagles quickly inked him to a two-year deal worth $6.2 million four days after the Bills released him.
As we first speculated way back in May, McKelvin is likely to land one of Philly's starting cornerback jobs, and I've liked what I've seen from him as a competitor. When he gives up a completion, he's angry. When he makes a play, he lets the receiver know it. He brings energy to practice.
A season ago, Rowe had his "Welcome to the NFL" moment when he was forced into action against Calvin Johnson in a national spotlight game on Thanksgiving in front of the entire country. Johnson had a monster game that day, and Rowe was heavily criticized. (Personally, I didn't think he played that poorly). From there on out, Rowe played well, starting the last five games of the season.
Enter a new coaching staff, and Rowe found himself initially in OTAs as the nickel corner. McKelvin and Ron Brooks were the "starters" with the first team offense. When Rowe would enter the field as the nickel, he would play outside, with Brooks moving inside to the slot.
That was before Nolan Carroll began practicing. When Carroll felt healthy enough to go, Carroll assumed Rowe's spot as the first-team nickel, with Rowe being bumped to the second team.
At the conclusion of OTAs and minicamp, we named Rowe as one of five players who disappointed in spring practices. Generally speaking, the Eagles' defensive backs had a boatload of pass breakups, but Rowe didn't really get in on the action all that much.
Most Eagles observes (self included) figured Rowe to be a slam-dunk starter in 2016. That may not be the case after all. He's going to have to earn his way into the starting lineup in training camp. To note, I've been asked quite a bit if Rowe could be traded.
Rowe will count for $1,109,060 against the Eagles' cap this season. If he's traded, he'd count for $1,356,744. On the financial end alone, trading him would make no sense whatsoever. But beyond that, the Eagles aren't trading a talented corner for pennies on the dollar because he had a lackluster spring.
Carroll was a training camp star a year ago, winning a starting job and outplaying Byron Maxwell during the regular season until he broke his ankle in the aforementioned Thanksgiving game against the Lions.
Carroll was a free agent this offseason, when he seemingly drew concerns around the league about that ankle, as he signed a modest one-year, $2,360,000 contract to stay in Philly.
As noted above, Carroll initially missed time in OTAs. When he was ready to play, if practice reps are any indication, he jumped Rowe on the depth chart. Carroll is very much in the hunt for a starting job.
Brooks (5'10, 190) is bit undersized, but is known as a physical defensive back who is also a quality special teams player. Over the last two seasons, Brooks has 18 special teams tackles. Here he is destroying a poor Patriots tight end:
In his four-year career, Brooks has a grand total of zero INTs, forced fumbles, sacks, and fumble recoveries, so he's not exactly Charles Woodson.
Still, Schwartz has familiarity with Brooks, who has consistently been running with the first-team defense all spring.
We've covered Mills at length, as he was a spring camp darling, drawing praise from players, coaches and media. Malcolm Jenkins went as far as to say that Mills is competing for a starting job.
A lot of times in minicamp and OTAs, rookies look like, well, rookies. Mills looked nothing like a rookie, in terms of his demeanor. Pederson noted that Mills doesn't back down from the Eagles' veteran receivers, and why should he? This is a guy who had to cover Odell Beckham Jr and Jarvis Landry in practice every day at LSU, in addition to an absurd list of receivers he faced playing in the SEC:
Here is a list of WRs drafted into the NFL that Jalen Mills played against during his college career at LSU: pic.twitter.com/yjU40OBZvl— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) June 11, 2016
Having said all of the above, when you watch Mills' games at LSU, he wasn't exactly the most willing tackler on the field. Doug Pederson has said that he is going to run a physical camp. It's one thing to impress in shells and shorts. We'll see if Mills can play at the same level when they put on the pads.
Shepherd is an interesting case. A season ago, the Eagles felt comfortable enough to trade Brandon Boykin, which opened up a clear path for Shepherd to become a "starting" slot corner as a rookie sixth-round draft pick. Soon after, Shepherd tore his ACL and was done for the season.
Enter a new coaching staff, and Shepherd not only has to show that he has recovered from that injury, but he has to win over his new coaches. Shepherd did not compete in team drills during the spring, so he's a little behind some of the other corners competing for jobs.
Rice is sort of a forgotten man, but he did make the 53-man roster a season ago and remained on it for the entire season. Like Shepherd, he has an entirely new set of coaches to try to impress.
• Randall Evans was a sixth-round pick in 2015, but he spent all but the final game of the season on the practice squad.
• Aaron Grymes had a four-year college career at Idaho from 2009-2012, where he had just three interceptions and 13 pass breakups. He played for three years with the Edmonton Eskimos from 2013-2015, where he had eight interceptions and 14 pass breakups.
• C.J. Smith is an undrafted free agent who had 16 pass breakups and 4 INTs in 2015 with Carson Wentz's North Dakota State Bison.
A few months ago, Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz said that the Eagles may have one of the best safety tandems in the NFL by the time the season is over. He may actually be underselling them.
Like they do along their defensive line, the Eagles have a major strength at the safety position. Let's look at the players individually.
Jenkins is, in my view, the second best player on the entire roster, and one of the best safeties in the NFL. He can hit, he can cover slot receivers man-to-man, he can play centerfield in single-high looks, he's an instinctive player, and he's considered one of the leaders in the locker room. If only he could catch the football!
McLeod will start opposite Jenkins, and while he is only 5'10, 195, which is less than ideal, he plays bigger than his size. From 2013-2015, when he was a three-year starter, McLeod had 233 tackles, 18 pass breakups, 5 interceptions, and 7 forced fumbles. As you might expect from a smaller safety, he has good range. Here's McLeod in 2014 against the Broncos. He was actually called for a hit on a defenseless receiver on this play, but watch his ability to get to the sideline from his center field position:
McLeod possesses similar athleticism to Walter Thurmond, but is a far more physical player in run support.
A couple weeks ago, we noted that Countess is a lot like McLeod, in that they are both small players who play bigger than their size.
While Countess is a hair under 5'10, he is more than willing to stick his nose in, fight through blocks, and make tough tackles. For that reason, the Eagles have been lining Countess up at safety through OTAs and minicamp.
Countess' and McLeod's measurables (coming out of college) are incredibly similar:
Under the new coaching scheme, the Eagles clearly don't care if their safeties are a little smaller than ideal, as long as they can cover like corners and play with a physical demeanor. McLeod went undrafted when he entered the league in 2012, while Countess didn't come off the board until the sixth round. The Eagles will be thrilled if Countess' career path mirrors McLeod's.
Maragos is of course a special teams extraordinaire, and a near lock to make the roster. A season ago, Maragos played 304 snaps with the regular defense, so he does have experience playing on the back end in Philly. He's not going to make many plays on the defensive side of the ball, but he's a competent defender who will do his job in a pinch.
Reynolds was a fifth round pick in 2014, and failed to make final cuts coming out of training camp both in 2014 and 2015. He spend the entirety of the season in 2014 -- and the first 10 games of 2015 -- on the Eagles' practice squad. Reynolds was called up to the 53-man roster for the final six games of the season in 2015, and his highlight was a game-sealing interception against the Buffalo Bills. For the third straight year, Reynolds will be on the bubble.
Watkins has positional versatility, but he'll get his first look this season under Schwartz at safety. Watkins made the 53-man roster in 2014, but was cut after training camp in 2015. He was picked up by the Bills and landed on their practice for 12 games, before the Eagles re-signed him to their 53-man roster for the final five games of the season. Like Reynolds, Watkins is once again on the bubble.
And finally, we wrap up our training camp previews with the specialists, where there is actually one semi-intriguing roster battle. That would be Cody Parkey vs. Caleb Sturgis.
Let's look at each of the specialists individually.
The Eagles looked like they might be screwed at kicker prior to the 2014 season, when Alex "Noodle Leg" Henery was battling it out with Carey "Murderleg" Spear. Remember that debacle? Good times.
When it became abundantly clear that Henery just wasn't going to be a competent kicker, the Eagles traded RB David Fluellen to the Indianapolis Colts for Parkey, which ended up being a steal. Parkey made 32 of 36 field goal attempts, and connected on all 54 of his PAT attempts. He made the Pro Bowl as a rookie.
In 2015, Parkey played in just three games and was placed on IR after tearing multiple muscles in his groin.
In fairness, Parkey did have the opportunity to watch greatness at the Eagles media field goal kicking competition before he got hurt. (I won that competition last year, and I'm going to win it again this year).
So Parkey has that going for him.
After Parkey was injured last season, for the second consecutive year, the Eagles were left scrambling to find a kicker. They settled on Sturgis, AKA "Power Sturge." In his first game against the Redskins, Sturgis missed a 33-yard field goal, as well as an extra point. The Eagles lost by three. A month or so later, Sturgis missed a 32 yard field goal against the Dolphins in a game the Eagles lost by one point.
As Andy Reid would say, "We can all count. Those points would've helped."
Still, on the season, Sturgis was 18 of 22, which is better than what the Eagles could have hoped for after being forced to sign a kicker three weeks into the season. But certainly, Parkey was the more accomplished kicker of the two.
In the past, I used to look at all of Dorenbos' punt snaps each season. I'm less psychotic these days, so I've stopped doing that. There are some who think Dorenbos has never had a bad snap. They ware wrong. In fact, in 2012, Dorenbos had a really bad season. He was far better in 2013, and I can't recall anything particularly egregious in 2014 or 2015.
Dorenbos has competition this season in John DePalma. I watched DePalma for a bit during OTAs and minicamp, and can say fairly confidently that Dorenbos' roster spot is safe ... unless, you know, Dorenbos' newfound celebrity goes to his head.
Donnie is running unopposed in camp this year, because Donnie J'owns. It's somewhat noteworthy that Jones fired agent Drew Rosenhaus, then hired David Dunn, fired Dunn, and then hired Ken Harris. That could signal that Jones is looking for a new deal, which makes sense seeing as he's arguably a top five punter but is only the 15th-highest-paid punter in the NFL.
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