July 23, 2017
Over the last couple of weeks, we've been previewing each of the Eagles' positional groups, one by one. Here we'll combine them all into one convenience place.
The quarterback depth chart:
Obviously, Wentz is the unquestioned starter heading into 2017, unlike last year when he entered training camp as QB3. Most NFL people see that as an advantage to the quarterback, knowing that he is 'the man,' as long as the player has the temperament to handle it, which Wentz seemingly does.
As for Wentz's skill set, about midway through camp a season ago, it was very clear (to me, anyway) what Wentz's strengths and weaknesses were. Seriously, go read this. Sometimes training camp can provide false reads of players. That was not the case with Wentz. His positive and negative traits were easily identifiable. Everything we saw in camp carried over into the regular season.
In his rookie season in the NFL, Wentz did a lot of encouraging things. He showed arm strength, mobility, toughness, leadership qualities, and smarts. That's a good start. However, one of the most important traits for an NFL quarterback, accuracy, was an issue at times. More specifically, Wentz had a propensity to sail passes over the heads of his receivers.
Throughout OTAs and minicamp, Wentz's tendency to sail passes continued. He has to fix that, and soon.
The Eagles spent a lot of money on their backup quarterbacks over the last two seasons. Chase Daniel ate up $5 million in cap space in 2016, and he'll count for $6.1 million in dead money in 2017 following the Eagles' decision to release him this offseason. Daniel did have one pass attempt that he completed for 16 yards though, so maybe it was all worth it.
Meanwhile, Foles signed a new two-year deal worth $11 million. That's a lot of money wrapped up in two backup quarterbacks.
While there's certainly a great argument that the Eagles mishandled their backup quarterback situation over the last two years, money-wise, there's little question in my mind that Foles is a significant upgrade over Daniel. While Daniel doesn't have much of a resume in actual games, I did get to see him in training camp every day for a month, and obviously, as everyone saw, his play in the preseason was uninspiring.
Foles' name is now tainted after a bad tenure with a horribly run Rams team, but in my view, he's an excellent backup, and there's an argument to be made that's he's better than a very small handful of quarterbacks that will start Week 1 this year.
Last season with the Chiefs, Foles stepped in for Alex Smith against the Colts and Jaguars. The Chiefs won both games, with Foles providing quality backup play. Here are all of Foles' pass attempts from that game:
There's some good, some bad above, but Foles is clearly a quarterback you can win games with in a pinch. Should the Eagles need him at some point, he'll be in an offense he already knows, and should be able to provide competent QB play.
McGloin has appeared in 13 games over his career, all with the Raiders, starting seven. His career record there was 1-6. Here are McGloin's professional and college numbers:
With Wentz and Foles ahead of him, McGloin will be the Eagles' third quarterback, at best. Around half the teams in the NFL only keep two quarterbacks. The Eagles themselves were one of those teams a season ago, when they only kept Wentz and Daniel after trading Sam Bradford. McGloin is essentially competing against himself and the Eagles depth in general for a roster spot.
Nah. Obviously, Wentz is the starter, and Dane Evans is a camp arm. If you really, really squint hard enough (or if you're just a Penn State alum), maybe you can see a camp battle (I disagree that it even is one) between Foles and McGloin. Barring some unforeseen amazing play from McGloin in camp, the depth chart is very clearly Wentz-Foles-McGloin-Evans.
First, here's a look at the running backs likely to make the final 53-man roster:
Beyond Blount, Sproles, Pumphrey, and Smallwood, 2017 undrafted free agent Corey Clement and 2016 undrafted free agent Byron Marshall will try to prove that they deserve to stick on the roster. And then there's Ryan Mathews, who the team is almost certain to release.
The Eagles have an interesting group of backs. Before they signed the 6'0, 250-pound Blount, their top three backs averaged a height and weight of 5'8, 189:
Sproles has been a skilled receiver for the entirety of his career in the NFL. His value is in creating mismatches against opposing defenses, and obviously, on special teams. Pumphrey and Smallwood both showed glimpses of receiving ability in college as well as offseason practices, but they will have to prove that they can be effective that way in games. They will also have to show that they can be trusted in pass protection.
Blount, meanwhile, gives the Eagles the bruising back element that they would otherwise be missing. He was especially good last season in third- and fourth-and short situations, which is an area where the Eagles' offense struggled last season. Blount could also have added importance to this team that he may not elsewhere because of Doug Pederson's penchant for gambling on fourth down.
Pederson would prefer a three-down back who can run inside, run outside, catch, and pass protect. He doesn't have that, and running back may once again be an offseason need after the 2017 season.
Still, this group can be unspectacular but effective if the Eagles can find the right balance. The trick for the Eagles' offensive coaching staff will be finding a way to utilize all the strengths of their backs, while not being predictable in calling plays. That's easier said than done.
Training camp could reveal hints as to how the Eagles intend on using their diverse committee of backs.
First, a look at the wide receivers likely to make the final 53-man roster:
In 2015 and 2016, the Eagles had one of the worst wide receiver corps in the NFL, if not the worst. They most definitely improved that unit with the free agent acquisitions of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, but they are certainly not among the "top (fill in the blank of whatever your Eagles fan friend has unrealistically ranked them)" in the league, as we mentioned in our Eagles dumpster fire piece earlier this offseason.
• Jeffery is very talented and has put up big numbers in the past, but he also comes with some injury and suspension concerns. That said, Jeffery looked like the real deal during OTAs and minicamp, where he was easily the Eagles' best receiver.
• After a promising start to his career in Baltimore, Smith was very bad with the 49ers the last two seasons. He has to prove he's closer to the player he was with the Ravens than the one he was in San Francisco.
• Jordan Matthews is a nice slot receiver, but that appears to be his ceiling.
• Nelson Agholor's first two seasons in the NFL were atrocious, but after a decent (and I stress decent) spring, people are putting him in the Hall of Fame. Agholor suddenly being good is wholly unrealistic. We'll see.
• Hollins should contribute immediately on special teams. To be determined if he can make any kind of impact early in the regular offense.
Beyond those five receivers, I would order the rest of the group competing for a job like so:
If we're looking at the Eagles' top 5 receivers this year vs. last year, it looks like the chart below:
The Eagles are far from done rebuilding their receiving corps, but that is still a big difference.
A look at the depth chart at tight end:
Over the last two years, Ertz suffered early season injuries, limiting his effectiveness in the first half of the season. Also in each of the last two seasons, he turned up his production big-time late in the season.
Ertz's production by month the last two years:
While Ertz's production was less meaningful to Eagles teams that were already out of the playoff hunt, and something of a tease, he has shown that he can be a major weapon in the Eagles' offense if he can stay healthy.
There's also the argument that Ertz has not had quarterback consistency over the course of his career. In 2013, he had Mike Vick and Nick Foles. In 2014, he had Foles and Mark Sanchez. In 2015, he had Sam Bradford. And finally, in 2016, he had Carson Wentz.
There's something to that, as rapport between a quarterback and his receivers can take time.
If Ertz can be the receiver he has been late in the season, but in meaningful games, there's no reason he can't be a top-five type of receiving tight end in the NFL. It'd also be nice if he could make more of an effort in trying to get yards after the catch.
As for the rest of the bunch:
• Celek took a million dollar pay cut this offseason, reducing his salary from $4 million in 2017 to $3 million. A season ago, Celek signed a contract extension that essentially served as a pay cut as well.
Celek is easily still the best blocking tight end on the roster, although at the age of 32 he isn't quite what he once was in that regard. In recent years, Celek's receiving numbers have fallen off dramatically. In 2016, Celek averaged less than one catch per game and he did not score a touchdown for the first time in his career.
He is scheduled to count for $5 million against the cap in 2018. While he has had a long, productive career in Philadelphia, there's no way he will stick on the roster at that time at that number. If you're a Celek fan, enjoy him now, because this could be his last year in Philly, unless he takes another substantial pay cut once again next offseason.
• A season ago, Burton was one of the stars of training camp, and he still only played 29 percent of the team's offensive snaps in the regular season despite horrid play from the wide receivers. He is an excellent special teams player, and has flashed potential in the regular offense, but his hands can be an issue. In 2016, by my count, Burton had four drops on 37 catches, for a drop rate of 9.8 percent. By comparison, Jordan Matthews, who is often criticized (rightfully) for his hands, had a drop rate of 9.9 percent.
Burton's blocking and his hands will have to improve to see more opportunities in meaningful offensive situations.
• As for Denham and Brown, the Eagles really seemed to want Chris Pantale to give them a reason to keep him on the roster last season, but he could not. That serves as evidence that the Eagles could consider keeing a fourth tight end if someone wows them, but it's more likely that either Denham or Brown end up on the practice squad.
From a developmental standpoint, Brown is an interesting player. In 2016 at Shepherd University, Brown had 99 catches (led D2) for 1580 yards (second in D2) and 22 TDs (tied for second in D2) as a wide receiver. He has since bulked up a bit in preparation of playing tight end in the pros.
First, here's a look at the depth chart at offensive tackle:
In 2016, Jason Peters led the NFL in false starts, with 10 of them. In fact, the next closest player had six. Still, despite that flaw, Peters had a very good season (outstanding for his age), as he kept his rookie quarterback clean.
At some point, Peters' body is going to break down. As we noted in our Eagles dumpster fire piece, you have to go all the way back to 2001 to find a player older than Peters who started at least 10 games at left tackle in a season. In other words, we're in something of uncharted waters in regard to a player of Peters' age starting at the most important position along the offensive line.
The Eagles will rest Peters as much as they can during training camp to keep his body fresh, which was an approach that paid off last season.
At right tackle, there was a noticeable difference in the play of the offense in general in games that Lane Johnson played, and ones he didn't.
The Eagles were 5-1 in games that Johnson played last season, with an average of 27.7 points scored per game. In games he missed, the Eagles went 2-8, with just 20.1 points scored per game. That's not a coincidence. After Johnson was lost for 10 games with a suspension, the Eagles had to play four different right tackles in his absence, and struggled mightily to pass protect on that side of the line. His (presumed) presence this season should give the Eagles a significant boost.
As for the backups, the Eagles aren't quite as deep at tackle as they are on the interior of the line, but they do still have competent depth. The first guy off the bench would be Vaitai, who would fill in at right tackle if either Peters or Johnson went down. Johnson would likely slide over to left tackle in the event Peters got hurt.
Beyond Vaitai, the Eagles have a seasoned veteran in Allen Barbre, who can fill in at multiple spots along the line, though his roster spot isn't guaranteed. And then there's Dillon Gordon, and intriguing athletic converted tight end who was playing the role of the sixth lineman in jumbo sets during spring practices.
Tobin has experience at tackle as well, though he'll have an uphill climb to make the roster this year, as will Hart and Salako.
First, here's a look at the depth chart at guard and center:
|Eagles interior OL||1||2||3||4|
|LG||Isaac Seumalo||Allen Barbre||Dallas Thomas||Aaron Neary|
|C||Jason Kelce||Stefen Wisniewski||Josh Andrews||Tyler Orlosky (R)|
|RG||Brandon Brooks||Chance Warmack||Darrell Greene|
After an offseason of speculation, it would appear that the Eagles will hang onto Jason Kelce for at least one more season, barring a trade, which now appears unlikely. Kelce did not play well in the first half of the season in 2016, but his play picked up significantly late. As any Eagles observer is aware by now, Kelce's athleticism allows him to do things in the screen game and the outside run game that other centers couldn't dream of doing, but his lack of bulk is a major hindrance against much bigger defensive tackles.
On one side of Kelce is Brooks, who was something of an underrated free agent signing last offseason, even with his battle with anxiety, which caused him to miss two games. When he played, Brooks was quietly among the best guards in the NFL last season. He and Lane Johnson pair to form perhaps the best RG-RT combination in the league.
On the other side of Kelce will likely be Seumalo, who got the first crack at the starting LG spot during spring practices. Seumalo played LG, RG, and RT his rookie season, and showed promise as a potential long-time starter in the NFL, with the versatility to play multiple positions should other guys along the line go down. He could become a valuable asset to the Eagles for the foreseeable future for the flexibility that he allows.
As for depth, the Eagles are loaded with it along the interior of their OL. Barbre, Wisniewski, and Warmack have a combined 167 career starts. I would imagine it's unlikely that there's another team in the NFL that can boast that much experience among their interior OL backups.
As for the deeper depth along the OL, the player to watch is center Tyler Orlosky, who was a highly rated prospect by some heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, but did not get drafted. He sat out spring practices with a strained MCL, but it is expected that he will be ready to go for camp.
First, here's a look at the depth chart at defensive end:
|LDE||Brandon Graham||Vinny Curry||Steven Means|
|RDE||Chris Long||Derek Barnett (R)||Alex McCalister||Marcus Smith|
Because of the importance of the position, and the Eagles' solid depth here, we'll address each player one-by-one:
There's an argument to be made that Graham was the Eagles' best player in 2016, as he generated a lot of pressure, and was excellent against the run. He also happens to be on a very team-friendly contract, so the Eagles are finally getting a lot of bang for their buck on a player who had a slow start to his career.
Graham isn't without his detractors, however. Many observers can't get past the fact that his season high total of sacks over his career is 6.5. That's a narrow-minded way of reviewing his overall play the last two seasons, although it's certainly fair to say that at some point Graham is going to have to convert more of his pressures into sacks.
We have Long listed with the starters, but if all goes well with rookie Derek Barnett, Long likely be a starter for long.
After the Eagles made the obvious decision to release Connor Barwin prior to the draft in a money-saving move, they were left with a gaping hole at defensive end. Long turned 32 years old this offseason and should provide defensive line depth. He is more of a traditional 4-3 defensive end than Barwin was, although, like Barwin, Long's career is in its waning stages.
Long does represent formidable competition for Barnett to have to go out and earn a starting job.
After the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there were a lot of Eagles fans that hated the selection of Barnett, which really surprised me. I polled the unhappy fans why they didn't like the pick, and the reasons were all over map. A sampling:
You can convince me to some degree on point No. 8. I disagree with all the rest and went into much greater detail on why back in May.
During spring practices, which aren't great for evaluating line play because they're not in pads, Barnett flashed some serious ability, getting the best of Lane Johnson on a number of occasions. Once the pads go on, there may not be a player I'm more interested in watching than Barnett.
During the 2016 offseason, Curry signed a five-year, $46.25 million contract. In the first year of his new deal, Curry had a disappointing season, posting just 26 tackles and 2.5 sacks while playing only 42.6 percent of the Eagles' defensive snaps.
Curry's cap numbers over the remainder of his deal, via OverTheCap.com:
Next offseason, if the Eagles decided to move on from Curry and get out of that deal, they would save $5 million in cap space, with $6 million in dead money.
Curry just turned 29 in June. There's no more wiggle room for upside or potential. For Curry to have any chance of sticking with the team beyond the 2017 season, his production must increase drastically. With the Eagles having already added Long and Barnett this offseason, it will be difficult for Curry to produce, as his snaps could be limited even further.
Still, Curry can help the team in 2017. He was injured early in the 2016 season, and said he wasn't back to 100 percent until the last quarter of the season. If he can produce anything close to the nine sacks and four forced fumbles he had in 2014, that'll be a big help to the defense from a player whose expectations have dropped.
Means had a great camp a season ago, and he made the team, however, he didn't often suit up, as he appeared in just eight games. Means isn't much of a special teams contributor, so he'll either have to improve there this offseason, or have another really strong camp at DE to stick. It helps that Marcus Smith is almost certainly on his way out.
I know McCalister is a fan favorite (or hope, or whatever) for his freakish length and athleticism, but I'm sorry, I just don't see anything there at all. I think he's a long shot to make the roster.
Smith voluntarily missed all of OTAs, because, um... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
When he showed up for mandatory minicamp, Jim Schwartz buried him on the fourth team defense, behind Means and McCalister.
Smith's base salary this season is $889,515, with a roster bonus of $594,000 coming on the third day of training camp, according to former NFL agent Joel Corry. If the Eagles were to trade (lol) or release Smith prior to the third day of camp, they would save $1,483,515.
That is a no-brainer.
First, here's a look at the depth chart at defensive tackle:
|DT||Fletcher Cox||Destiny Vaeao||Elijah Qualls (R)||Justin Hamilton|
|DT||Tim Jernigan||Beau Allen (injured)||Gabe Wright||Winston Craig (R)|
Fletcher Cox was a dominant defensive tackle last season. Opposing offenses often identified him as the player they could not let beat them, and he still posted decent numbers. On the season, he had 43 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and one forced fumble.
Still, the Eagles need more from him.
Considering the new six-year, $103 million contract extension he signed last offseason, Cox is expected to play at an elite level, not "just" a great one. Cox also missed a portion of OTAs, for which he was rightfully criticized (though some of it was a little over-the top). I can say with some level of confidence that Cox's three-day absence from OTAs probably won't cost the Eagles any games this season. However, you'd prefer that one of your self-described "leaders" of the team just show up for everything.
The defense will go as Cox goes. If he can be the elite play-making force the Eagles paid him to be, the effect of his play will trickle down to the edge rushers outside, as well the linebackers and defensive backs behind him.
At the other starting DT spot, the Eagles traded draft positioning for Timmy Jernigan, who will replace free agency departure Bennie Logan. Jernigan has been a solid player for the Ravens, posting good numbers from his defensive tackle position, shown here:
Jernigan is in the final year of his rookie contract, and will be a free agent after this season. While his current price tag may be low now (a smidgen over a million on the 2017 cap), the Eagles may be in a similar situation next offseason with Jernigan that they were in this offseason with Logan.
During spring practices, Jernigan showed the ability to penetrate through the line, although as we always note, line play is very difficult to evaluate when players are not going full contact in pads.
As for the rest:
• Beau Allen suffered a serious pectoral injury in April. It is unknown when he'll be fully recovered.
• Destiny Vaeao returns after making the team a year ago as an undrafted free agent. He's just a guy, and will have to earn a roster spot once again.
• Elijah Qualls was picked in the sixth round, much later than draft experts had him slated. He missed most of the spring because his college (Washington) is on the quarters system. Qualls will have some catching up to do.
• Gabe Wright got a lot of playing time during the spring after signing with the team this offseason, even getting some first-team reps, but that was mainly because Jernigan, Vaeao, and Allen have all missed varying amounts of time during the spring with injuries.
• Winston Craig is something of a dark horse to make the roster, in my opinion, as the Eagles lack quality depth at DT.
• As for Justin Hamilton, uh, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
First, here's a look at the depth chart at linebacker:
|OLB||Nigel Bradham||Najee Goode|
|MLB||Jordan Hicks||Joe Walker||Don Cherry|
|OLB||Mychal Kendricks||Nathan Gerry (R)||Kamu Grugier-Hill|
As PhillyVoice first reported a few weeks ago, Jordan Hicks injured his hand while on his honeymoon in Greece. To be determined if Hicks will be a full go when training camp begins.
Hicks has been a playmaker through his first year and a half in the NFL. In just 24 games (he missed eight games his rookie season), here are his numbers:
Hicks is a Pro Bowl-level talent, and the young quarterback of the defense. His continued development is crucial to the success of the defense.
At the other starting spot, Nigel Bradham returns, but with questions. According to Tim McManus of ESPN, Bradham will avoid jail time for his alleged assault of a "cabana boy" last summer. However, while Bradham may have avoided more serious consequences from the courts, he may still face discipline under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
That is only one of two off-field incidents that Bradham was involved in last year. McManus' report also notes that Bradham is scheduled for a July 24th hearing stemming from his October 2016 arrest for carrying a loaded gun in his carry-on bag at the airport.
In 2016, Bradham played more snaps than any other Eagles linebacker.