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August 16, 2023

Can wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland crack the Eagles' roster?

Eagles wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland had a strong preseason performance in Baltimore and stood out in joint practices against the Browns. What's his future with the team?

During a clear beatdown of the Browns in joint practices at the NovaCare Complex on Tuesday, the most emphatic moment of the afternoon came from the Eagles' second-team offense. Backup quarterback Marcus Mariota lofted a pass down the left sideline that wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland hauled in for a touchdown. The Eagles' sideline went wild, as entrenched starters ran on the field to celebrate Cleveland and the big play. 

Big plays have been a recurring theme as of late for Cleveland, who's entering his age-26 season and is in his first offseason with the Birds. 

There's always one wideout who has a strong camp and vaults into the city's consciousness. Earlier in the summer, I thought that was Joseph Ngata, the undrafted rookie receiver out of Clemson who was catching everything thrown his way. Was he going to be the figure who snagged a potential roster spot as the sixth WR? He totaled four yards on one catch in the Eagles' preseason opener in Baltimore. He was even quieter in the Eagles' two joint practice sessions with the Browns. 

Cleveland, however, was the standout receiver against the Ravens, totaling a game-high 68 yards on five catches, including some nice reps with QB3 Tanner McKee. After Tuesday's practice, Cleveland discussed how that Baltimore performance amped him up a bit, saying, "The last preseason game, I got a lot of snaps and that gave me a lot of confidence."

That clearly carried over to Tuesday, which was a far cry from Monday's sloppy offensive effort from the Birds. Cleveland noted that Tuesday had "a lot more juice, a lot more energy" and credit for that partially goes to him. That touchdown had his teammates hyped and the offense dialed one up for Cleveland immediately again on a two-point conversion attempt. Caught. Boom. Eight-point swing from the Mariota-Cleveland connection.

There are four absolute roster locks for the Eagles' wide receivers in A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Olamide Zaccheaus. I'd be pretty comfortable adding return specialist Britain Covey to that list, too. The Eagles might not even carry six wideouts on their initial 53-man roster, but if they're considering it, Ngata and Cleveland would be the two bubble candidates. 

There's a contrast to them. 

Ngata is more than three years younger than Cleveland and the team guaranteed him more money than any other member of this undrafted rookie free-agent class. He comes from a Clemson program that has a string of recent successful pros at wideout.

Cleveland is the grinder who's played 320 special teams snaps over the last three years for the Broncos. Outside of Jake Elliott, the Eagles' special teams unit has been suspect in the Nick Sirianni era and that goes well beyond Kadarius Toney's utterly deflating punt return in the Super Bowl. Any sense of stability there should be welcomed. It's an overlooked need until everyone on the planet who's watching TV notices the other team's returner streaking down the sideline!

It's a philosophical toss-up between a longer-term developmental upside play or a vet who could maybe help out on special teams, which is the exhaust vent leading to the reactor core of an Eagles team that otherwise possesses Death Star potential. 

The Eagles themselves have made it abundantly clear that they don't want to play anyone of consequence in the preseason. Joint practices this week against the Browns and next week against the Colts are the new norm when it comes to August competition. For Thursday night's preseason matchup with the Browns, I'll be keeping my eye on Ngata and Cleveland. I expect neither to make the initial 53-man roster at this juncture, but in a football world that is trying to make the preseason as low stakes as possible, fans should take any ounce of juice that they can get. 

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