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July 29, 2018

Eagles rookie Matt Pryor could make other offensive linemen expendable

Eagles NFL
Carroll - Eagles Stock Isaac Seumalo and Matt Pryor Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Isaac Seumalo and Matt Pryor during OTAs at the NovaCare Complex.

One of the early bright spots of the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason, both in the spring and the first few days of training camp, has been rookie offensive lineman Matt Pryor, a sixth round pick of the team in the 2018 NFL Draft.

The appeal of Pryor is his size and versatility. During spring practices, he worked with the second-team offense at right guard, and with the third-team offense at right tackle. At 6-foot-7 with nearly 36-inch arms, pass rushers are forced to take very wide angles to try to get around him. At 328 pounds, Pryor should also be capable of anchoring against power rushes.

Of course, there's a reason Pryor lasted until the sixth round of the draft. The downside to Pryor during the pre-draft process was a perceived lack of athleticism. At one point during his college career, Pryor's weight was up near 400 pounds, but he got to 328 by the NFL Combine. In that respect, perhaps the Eagles saw a player with ideal length who could become more athletic with better regular conditioning. It's noteworthy that the Eagles have been impressed with his feet so far this offseason.

"I think Stout [Eagles offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland] has been really impressed and pleased with where he is with his progress," said offensive coordinator Mike Groh. "I think he can cross-train both inside and out at tackle. Love his size. Obviously, he's got good foot quickness, and another guy that brings his lunch pail to work every day. He's quiet. He's smart. He's picking it up. He can articulate the offense when asked questions. So, really pleased where he is the after three days."

Pryor's ability to pick up the offense mentally also stands out, especially considering the Eagles are cross-training him, as Groh noted above.

"We’re asking him to do a lot from a mental standpoint, because he’s playing two different positions," said Stoutland in June. "It’s not like he’s going from right guard to left guard. He’s playing right tackle, and then he has to flip the switch because I teach those players differently. I think he’s doing a great job, but there’s a lot of room to improve, and that’s the mission right now."

A season ago, the Eagles kept eight offensive linemen at 53-man cutdowns. They were the starting five of Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson. The reserves were Halapoulivaati Vaitai (swing tackle), Stefen Wisniewski (backup any of the three interior line spots), and Chance Warmack (backup guard). After the Eagles' Week 2 game against the Chiefs, Seumalo and Wisniewski essentially switched roles, with some Wisniewski-Warmack "left guard by committee" hi-jinx mixed in.

The Eagles' current first- and second-team depth chart along their offensive line looks like this:

 Jason PetersStefen Wisniewski Jason Kelce Brandon Brooks Lane Johnson 
 Halapoulivaati VaitaiChance Warmack Isaac Seumalo Matt Pryor Taylor Hart 

Here is how I would project the Eagles coping with a injury to each of their five OL starters:

  1. Jason Peters: Vaitai would fill right in, as he did last year.
  2. Stefen Wisniewski: Warmack would fill in, as he did late in the season last year.
  3. Jason Kelce: Wisniewski would slide over to C, with Warmack filling in at LG.
  4. Brandon Brooks: Warmack would likely fill in at RG.
  5. Lane Johnson: Vaitai would fill in at RT, as he did in 2016.

The Eagles could lose at least one starter, and still be covered reasonably well. There are also several scenarios where they would be just fine if they lost a second starter, in which Vaitai and Warmack would fill in.

With Pryor's emergence, that could make a player like Seumalo expendable. In 2017, the Eagles were able to trade Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre prior to 53-man cutdowns for draft picks. During 2016 training camp, they traded Dennis Kelly for Dorial Green-Beckham. In other words, Howie Roseman has shown a comfort level in shipping off reserve offensive lineman.

While Seumalo struggled last year, he is still only a third-year player, and the versatility that he brings is still a valuable trait. 

"We love his position flexibility," said Groh. "We like the fact that he can play center and guard for us, and even bump out to tackle, and he’ll play a big tight end for us too. An old saying in the NFL is the more you can do, the more valuable you are. So, he's got a lot of value right now."

Seumalo might have more value to one of the other teams around the league that can't even field a decent starting five, much less any kind of reasonably capable depth.

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