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June 01, 2021

An early look at five Eagles camp battles

Eagles NFL
120922_Eagles_Andre_Dillard_Lions_Kate_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles offensive tackle Andrew Dillard.

The Philadelphia Eagles have already begun OTAs, though those practices have been more about mental training, and less about physical competition. It won't be until training camp in July that roster battles will truly take shape. Here are five we're looking forward to.

1) LT: Jordan Mailata vs. Andre Dillard

Mailata is entering his fourth season, after being selected in the seventh round of the 2018 draft. He played his first snap in a non-exhibition football game, ever, in Week 1 of the 2020 season. There were ups and downs, but overall his season was widely viewed as encouraging. 

Dillard, meanwhile, was a first round pick of the team in 2019, who played poorly as a rookie, but was still slated to begin the season as the starting LT before a biceps tear ended his season.

Earlier this offseason, we reviewed Mailata's 2020 season, and had the following takeaways: 

  1. He's big, and he's strong (duh). You already knew that, but he also plays like a big, strong player.
  2. In pass protection, by our count, Mailata gave up seven sacks in 2020. That led all Eagles offensive linemen. However, he also played the most pass blocking snaps on the team among the offensive tackles. He was better against power rushers than speed rushers.
  3. In the run game, as the season progressed and Mailata gained more confidence, he also got nastier, which was a good sign. He has an impressive highlight reel of chucking grown men to the ground.

During the 2020 offseason, we reviewed Dillard's 2019 season, and it was a lot harder to find positives. There remains a perception that Dillard was bad when he played RT, but was fine at LT. That simply wasn't the case. More accurately, he was bad at LT, and a disaster at RT.

  1. The Eagles drafted Dillard because they loved his athleticism, which is indeed quite impressive. He has light, quick feet, and there should be little concern about his ability to mirror/match pass rushers.
  2. Dillard's biggest flaw as a rookie, by far, was his inability to anchor against power. If that doesn't get fixed, and opposing pass rushers know they can just bull rush him into the quarterback, it will likely be a fatal flaw for his NFL career.
  3. In the run game, Dillard's best hope was to stalemate with opposing defensive linemen, as he rarely moved anyone off the line of scrimmage.
  4. Despite only playing a total 343 snaps on the season (183 of which were pass blocking snaps), Dillard led the team in sacks allowed.

Eagles LT *Pass pro snaps *Sacks allowed Pass pro snaps per sack 
Jordan Mailata, 2020 502 71.7 
Andre Dillard, 2019 183 6.5 28.2 

*Pass blocking snaps via ProFootballFocus, sacks-allowed tally via PhillyVoice.

Mailata is a better football player right now than Dillard. He's also a year and a half younger, and presumably has more upside given that his first non-exhibition football game ever occurred fewer than nine months ago. He was rightfully running with the first team during the lone OTA practice the media got to see, though the bet here is that both Mailata and Dillard will both see first team snaps during the summer.

Prediction: Mailata should have a leg up, since his flaws are more correctable than Dillard's.

2) S: K'Von Wallace vs. Marcus Epps vs. Andrew Adams

Free agent signing Anthony Harris will start at one safety spot. The other spot would normally be Rodney McLeod's, but McLeod is recovering from a torn ACL, and is a lock to start training camp on the PUP list, with a good chance to remain there through the first six weeks of the regular season. 

If indeed McLeod isn't ready for Week 1, the starting safety spot opposite Harris will likely be filled by Wallace, Epps, or Adams.

K'Von Wallace: Wallace was projected by some (self included) to get a decent amount of playing time as a rookie, but that never really materialized. He really only played out of necessity when there were injuries, as he was only on the field in the regular defense for 202 snaps, or 18.3 percent. He is more of a box safety than a centerfielder type, and could be an advantageous position if the team views Harris as more of a free safety.

Marcus Epps: We reviewed Epps' 2020 season a couple weeks ago. He is purely a deep safety, as he's not going to add much value close to the line of scrimmage, unless he is matched up against a tight end man-to-man in coverage. Even as a deep safety, while he has demonstrated good ball skills on occasion, there were times in which he "bit the cheese," in which he either committed to an underneath route leaving the deep route open, or took a false step as a result of guessing on a receiver's route, leaving that receiver open. He was a liability as a tackler.

Andrew Adams: Over his five year career, Adams has played in 73 games, with 32 starts, so he has some experience, though he played so little in 2020 with Tampa that he only had 2 tackles.

It's also possible that Avonte Maddox could get a look at safety, since he has played there for the Eagles in the past, but for now we'll project him as a slot corner.

Prediction: The team will hope that Wallace steps up during camp, and wins that job.

3) CB2: Zech McPhearson vs. Avonte Maddox vs. Craig James, I guess?

The starting outside cornerback spot opposite Darius Slay is the biggest glaring hole on the roster at the moment. Maddox played there last season, but shouldn't have, while James is best suited as a special teams specialist, and McPherson is impossible to predict as a fourth-round rookie.

To be determined if the Eagles will add a no-doubt-about-it starting CB2, or if they'll add a Band-Aid to add to the competition.

Prediction: They'll add a one-year Band-Aid with starting corner experience, and that guy wins the starting job out of camp.

4) WR3: Travis Fulgham vs. Greg Ward vs. Quez Watkins vs. John Hightower vs. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside vs. the rest

DeVonta Smith will almost certainly start as a rookie, and second-year receiver Jalen Reagor likely will as well. Who is next in the pecking order will be determined in camp and the preseason games.

Under Doug Pederson, Ward was that guy, even though he was neither a threat down the field, nor a playmaker once he had the ball in his hands. His main appeal was that he actually caught the football, a skill that eluded so many of the other Eagles wide receivers over the last half decade or so.

Fulgham had a five-game stretch in which he caught 29 passes for 435 yards and 4 TDs. In the next 8 games, he had 9 catches for 104 yards and 0 TDs. Part of that was because he lost snaps to Alshon Jeffery, which remains, just... 🤯. But also, he was unable to sustain his high level of play when he did get opportunities.

Watkins and Hightower both have speed, but their value is more likely to come in certain situations, as opposed to a true No. 3 type of role. And then there's Arcega-Whiteside, who had a good camp in 2020, but once again, did not translate to the regular season.

Prediction: Ward is worth having on the roster, but the Eagles have to do better than him in that No. 3 role. The bet here is that Fulgham will get those snaps, either as a big slot, or as an outside receiver, with Smith and/or Reagor moving inside to the slot in 11 personnel.

5) RB2: Boston Scott vs. Kenny Gainwell vs. Kerryon Johnson

Scott has been the RB2 behind Miles Sanders ever since Jordan Howard went down during the 2019 season. He's sort of the incumbent, but Gainwell is an intriguing rookie with running and receiving skills, who in my opinion was excellent value in the fifth round.

The team also claimed Johnson off of waivers a few weeks ago. He had a good rookie season in 2018, before knee injuries — most notably a meniscus tear in 2019 — have slowed his career.

Prediction: It's Scott early in the season, but Gainwell eventually overtakes him.

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