September 02, 2020
One week from tomorrow, the NFL season will officially kick off.
While the Eagles will have to wait a few days longer for their first game action of the year, there's a ton of work that needs to get done between now and then, namely trimming the roster down to 53 players. And with so many injuries piling up —and rules regarding the practice squad, as well as injury designations, being different to help account for COVID-19 and a shortened offseason — Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson and the rest of the Eagles braintrust will have some tough decisions to make when it comes to roster management.
What the Eagles final roster will look like is mostly known, with a few battles on the bubble yet to be decided. But how good is that roster? And how far will it be able to go in a season unlike any in the past? That's the real question that now needs answering.
As we do from time to time, let's take a look around at what the local and nation media are saying about the Birds...
Since the "What They're Saying" part of this headline typically implies some sort of hot take, we'll start with a story that was full of them: Sheil Kapadia's "Bold Predictions" story over at The Athletic, in which he offered up one big prediction for each NFL team.
And the one for the Eagles has to get fans excited...
Philadelphia Eagles: Miles Sanders will produce 2,000 yards from scrimmage.
He was at 1,327 yards from scrimmage as a rookie, and that was with playing just 53 percent of the offensive snaps. It took until about midseason for Sanders to understand his reads and the Eagles’ run scheme. Once things clicked, he put the offense on his back for stretches at a time. Sanders has no competition in the backfield, and he looked like a special pass-catcher as a rookie, averaging 10.2 yards per reception. If he can stay healthy, he’s going to be a huge part of the Eagles’ offense. [theathletic.com]
Crossing the 2,000-yard threshold would require — *carry the one* — and additional 673 yards from the second-year back. But that's not all that impossible. Sure, the additions of Jalen Reagor and John Hightower, two speedy wideouts with YAC ability, could eat into some of Sanders' receiving yards, but he is the clear No. 1 at running back this season and is in line for a workload increase should he stay healthy.
And those potential threats to his receiving production? Well, they might not be as big of threats as you might think, with the Eagles lining Sanders up all over the field in camp, a la Brian Westbrook, before he went down with an injury and the team opted to keep him off the field out of caution.
That last part alone should be an indication that the Birds have big plans for the Penn State product in Year 2.
The viewable portion of Eagles training camp came to an end over the weekend, with the team now switching to a more regular-season practice schedule. So, it's as good a time as any to take a look at what was learned about the team down at NovaCare, as well as some individual players who stood out, for better or worse (more on that in a bit.)
We'll start with Brandon Gowton of Bleeding Green Nation, who says the Eagles are who we thought they were — a good, not great, team that will compete for a playoff spot.
9 - The Eagles’ overall outlook isn’t dramatically different
I thought the Eagles were looking like a 9-7 team heading into camp. I still think they’re around that.
I definitely feel better about the wide receivers and the defense. But I also feel much worse about the offensive line.
I have a hard time feeling like the Eagles will be straight up bad with Pederson and Wentz at the helm. But I don’t think this team will be in strong contention for that No. 1 seed. [...]
But, hey, maybe the Eagles will exceed expectations. That’s always more fun than watching them fail to live up to lofty ones. [bleedinggreennation.com]
That's kind of what happened in the second half of last season, even if it wasn't that way from the outset. Many had written off the Birds before they went on a late-season run, with a massively shorthanded roster, to win the division and make the playoffs.
Speaking of Eagles expectations, ESPN's Jeremy Fowler took a look at the 12 playoff teams from a year ago and ranked them in order of most likely to return to the postseason this year.
The Eagles, unfortunately, came in pretty low on the list.
9. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have plenty to overcome before the season even starts.
Philadelphia entered the offseason with All-Pro Brandon Brooks at guard and former first-round pick Andre Dillard at right tackle. Now, Matt Pryor, a player with one career start, and Jason Peters, signed to play guard at age 38, take over those spots after Brooks and Dillard were lost to season-ending injuries.
"It's gonna be all on Carson Wentz to put together a full season and elevate that team," an NFC exec said. "He's very talented, but obviously the injuries have hurt him. He will have more speed on the outside this year." [...]
Evaluators agree new defensive additions Javon Hargrave and Darius Slay upgrade the line and secondary in big ways. Slay, in particular, is a luxury the team simply hasn't had on the back end in a while. Slay's 56.4 Pro Football Focus ranking last year in Detroit isn't ideal, but many evaluators give him a pass because he ran heavy man coverage without much pass-rush help, and his relationship with the Lions had soured. [espn.com]
In his morning newsletter on Wednesday morning, Inquirer Eagles writer EJ Smith offered up a couple of players who were the most impressive during training camp.
The first guy he mentioned was Malik Jackson, who was one of the team's big signings last offseason but barely played after suffering an early season-ending injury. He's back now, and has looked great so far at camp (EJ is hardly the only one to identify Jackson as a standout at camp).
And with Javon Hargrave going down with a pectoral injury, that's got to be comforting to Jim Schwartz and the rest of the Eagles coaches...
Jackson came into camp as a somewhat-forgotten entity overshadowed by the Eagles’ signing of Javon Hargrave this offseason. The 2019 free-agency signee played just one half of football for the Eagles last season before a Lisfranc foot fracture cost him the year. The season before with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Jackson had a down year in which he was benched and eventually released.
This season sets up a campaign for him to reestablish himself as one of the best interior pass rushers in the league, as my colleague Jeff McLane pointed out last week.
With Hargrave missing the last two weeks with a pectoral strain, Jackson has finally gotten the chance to play for an extended time alongside Fletcher Cox, who missed last year’s training camp with his own foot injury. Cox, who draws frequent double-teams, will help Jackson during the season, and it’s been the case in training camp, too. Jackson has been dominant at times, very noticeably wrecking a two-minute drill in the first live-contact practice of the summer. He’s been consistently disruptive, a promising sign for an interior pass-rushing unit from which the Eagles will need production. [inquirer.com]
Over at The Athletic, Bo Wulf took the exercise of picking camp winners and losers to the extreme, ranking all 79 Eagles players on how well they performed at camp.
His No. 1? Well, you'll have to click over to find that out, but perhaps the last section provides a bit of a clue.
After that, he went with a rookie wide receiver, but probably not the one you'd think...
2. John Hightower – Keeping in mind that training camp as presently constructed is designed for wide receivers, particularly speed receivers, to impress, Hightower was better and more versatile than advertised. His speed stood out on vertical routes down the sideline — bookended by impressive catches past Rasul Douglas on the first day and past Avonte Maddox on the last day — but his ability to “win big” was a pleasant surprise.
Entered camp: Fighting for a roster spot.
Leaves camp: Likely in line to get offensive snaps as the fourth wide receiver in Week 1 with Jalen Reagor sidelined. [theathletic.com]
That tracks, as Hightower received the most "up" votes among Eagles media in Jimmy Kempski's annual stock up/stock down poll.
When it comes to picking a "stock down" player, there was even more of a consensus among the media who are down at NovaCare every day, with Sidney Jones being the runaway winner. Interestingly enough, Bo has him as the second-to-last player in his rankings.
78. Sidney Jones – Back on the coddling bad investments front, Jones is putting the “can’t make the club in the tub” axiom to the test. It’s hard to make a serious case that he’s done enough to earn a roster spot after missing most of camp and failing to impress when he was on the field. He offers no help on special teams, and the secondary already has enough “position-less” players so as to negate the importance of Jones’ versatility.
Entered camp: The time is now.
Leaves camp: You can’t see me. [theathletic.com]
Is there still a chance for Sidney Jones to turn it around? There's a recent history in Philly of a cornerback having an absolutely awful training camp and going on to having a massive impact on the season. That brings us to Dave Zangaro's mailbag on NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Who is your candidate for the pat robinson “looked horrible in camp but ends up doing great during the season” award this year? Could be due to switching positions/sides or just a step up in play. Thanks!— CJ (@CJ83134755) August 31, 2020
Dave identified two players who fit the bill, Sidney Jones and Genard Avery, who was acquired via trade last season and checked in one spot ahead of Jones in the above rankings from The Athletic.
Will either of them bounce back and have a Patrick Robinson-like season?
This is a tough question because typically if a guy is horrible in training camp he doesn’t make the team unless there’s an investment in him. So I came up with two names: Sidney Jones and Genard Avery.
With Jones, there were some high expectations even coming into this summer. We thought he was going to compete for a starting gig and then he didn’t and got hurt on top of it. But will the Eagles really cut him? Maybe they trade him but there’s still a good shot he’s on the roster. And based on what I saw from Avonte Maddox in camp, I’m not really sold on him being the answer. So at least there might be a possibility for Jones to get some playing time. And if he can stay healthy, you never know.
And with Avery, the reason the Eagles might keep him is because they traded a 4th-round pick on him last season. Even if he ends up on IR, that doesn’t mean he’s out for the season, not this year. This year, unlimited players can be brought back from IR as long as they spend at least three weeks out. So Avery has a chance to stick around and he has some juice if Jim Schwartz figures out how to use him. [nbcsports.com]
That's certainly interesting, considering a day earlier, Zangaro's colleague Reuben Frank posted his 10 Observations column, and No. 9 was pretty straightforward: "I think the Eagles are going to cut Sidney Jones."
That's it. No explanation. Nothing. And based on the other reports coming out of camp, there seems to be a decent chance he's not on the roster by next week.
Of course, the Eagles wouldn't have to cut him if they can find a trade partner...
The Eagles have some holes to fill, and Howie Roseman has yet to make one of those training camp trades he's known for. Could Sidney Jones be the guy to move? Jimmy Kempski identified him as an option to be traded recently, and it seems he's not alone in that belief.
CB Sidney Jones
Based on his pedigree and versatility, Jones is probably the most valuable trade chip on the Eagles’ roster bubble. The cornerback hasn’t participated in team drills since the first week of padded practices due to a lower-body injury. According to The Athletic’s Joe Person, the Carolina Panthers are looking for secondary help, so perhaps Jones could fetch an offensive tackle like Greg Little or Dennis Delay in a player-for-player swap. [nj.com]
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