The Eagles will encounter tough decisions when determining their 53-man roster. During the next two weeks, The Inquirer's Eagles beat writers will try our best to predict who stays and who goes. The NFL deadline for teams to trim rosters from 90 to 80 is Aug. 27. Final cuts are due by Aug. 31. Here’s the lineup:
Wed, Aug. 15: Offensive line
Thur., Aug. 16: Defensive tackles
Fri., Aug. 17: Cornerbacks
Mon., Aug. 20: Running backs
Tues., Aug. 21: Wide receivers / tight ends
Wed., Aug. 22: Linebackers
Thur., Aug. 23: Safeties
Fri., Aug. 24: Quarterbacks / Specialists
Mon., Aug. 27: Defensive ends
LIKELY TO KEEP: 5-6.
WHO STAYS: Jason Avant, Chad Hall, DeSean Jackson, Damaris Johnson, Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper.
WHO GOES: Elvis Akpla, Mardy Gilyard, Jamel Hamler, Brian Hernandez, McKay Jacobson, Tiger Jones, Marvin McNutt.
INJURED RESERVE: Ron Johnson.
The bygone days of the Eagles lacking in quality starting receivers let alone ones deep on the roster is now all but a distant memory. The team has two of the better young ball-catchers in the league, although Jackson and Maclin aren’t really pups any more. Jackson is entering his fifth season in the NFL; Maclin his fourth. If they want to be mentioned among the top duos in the league Jackson has to rebound from last season’s contract-distracting performance and Maclin has to deliver upon the promise he showed in his first two seasons.
Avant remains the Eagles’ slot receiver, and while he was mistake-prone last season, he did manage to better most of his receiving numbers for the sixth straight season. The next three or four on the depth chart should make Andy Reid and Howie Rosman’s decision on cut-down day very interesting. Riley Cooper has been out for more than three weeks with a broken collarbone and still has about three more to go before he’s back. There’s a contingent of fans out there that have little love for the 6-foot-3 receiver, but Cooper is a viable option to back up either Jackson or Maclin on the outside and did fine work when he filled in for both last season. He’s also a more-than-competent special teams player and will make the squad even without a preseason. He could miss the opener.
Johnson was a training camp wonder. You could see how much the Eagles grew to trust him with each additional repetition they gave the undrafted rookie with the first team. Johnson looks to have the punt return job locked up, although Jackson will surely be used in case of emergency. He shined in the preseason opener against the Steelers, but came back to earth Monday night against the Patriots. He’s small (a generously-listed 5-8) and has a bit of checkered past, but Reid likes his tinker toys.
Hall is one of those toys. Keeping Johnson would seem to make Hall expendable. He really doesn’t have a place on the roster now. But Reid and Mornhinweg love the receiver. He does everything he’s asked, catches nearly everything thrown in his direction and you can’t have enough of those guys on your roster. I think he’s a surprise survivor. I’m sure most disagree. He’s certainly a better receiver right now than McNutt, who can’t get separation. That’s a problem in the NFL. McNutt was targeted three times in the preseason opener and had zero catches. He did not have a pass thrown in his direction on Monday night. He’s been playing some special teams but hasn’t stood out. He’s a draft pick, has size (6-3) and could be kept on the roster as a developmental receiver. But I think the Eagles can stow him away on the practice squad.
LIKELY TO KEEP: 2-3.
WHO STAYS: Brent Celek, Clay Harbor.
WHO GOES: Brett Brackett, Chase Ford.
The Eagles are unlikely to keep three tight ends even though they are expected to run more two-tight end sets than they have in the past. So it’ll be two that stay and those two are no-brainers. It didn’t appear that way at the beginning of the camp. The Eagles were flirting with bringing in a veteran to push Harbor, who had a sloppy spring. But their public pursuit of another tight end looks as if it did the job just fine. Harbor had a strong camp. I didn’t watch every pass thrown to the third-year player, but of the throws I did see, he didn’t drop one. He was targeted six times on Monday night and caught all six passes for 30 yards including two for touchdowns. Consider the message got.
Celek has been quiet this preseason, but that’s OK. He doesn’t have to prove anything. His health, because he is such a physical player, remains a concern, though. Brackett shot out of the gate at the start of camp, but he’s faded. He’s a decent pass catcher, but his blocking is a work in progress. He still has practice squad eligibility. The Eagles like Ford, an undrafted rookie out of Miami. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land on the practice squad ahead of Brackett.