The Eagles will narrow their roster from 90 to 75 by Aug. 26 and to 53 for the regular season by Aug. 30. The Inquirer’s beat reporters will spend the next eight days predicting who stays and who goes. Here’s the lineup:
LIKELY TO KEEP: 5
Jeff McLane: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins.
The Eagles will have some straightforward decisions to make when it comes to deciding which five cornerbacks make the roster. The only real question at this point is whether Nolan Carroll can push Bradley Fletcher for a starting spot. Fletcher was sidelined for the first two preseason games with a groin injury. He was arguably the team’s best corner during spring workouts and the first week of training camp. He finally returned this week and started on Thursday night against the Steelers in place of Cary Williams (hamstring). He was solid both outside and inside (he moved to a slot in the dime defense) and snagged an interception with a diving grab on the right.
Fletcher has looked OK this summer. He struggled when targeted in the preseason. He may be the corner that will be most affected by the greater emphasis on illegal contact downfield. He drew two penalties against Pittsburgh. They may have been ticky tack calls, and officials may loosen the strings in the regular season, but having his hands cut off could seriously limit his effectiveness. Carroll isn’t as long, but he’s faster and appears to have better ball skills. Fletcher will begin the season as the starter, but the hook may be a short one. Williams, like all corners, will have issues with the tighter restrictions, but he shouldn’t be as stunted. Both Williams and Fletcher have essentially one year left on their contracts.
Brandon Boykin has drawn as many downfield penalties as anyone on the Eagles and he didn’t even play against the Steelers. Boykin flashed throughout camp and once again made a credible argument that he could start outside. The Eagles believe the 5-foot-9 corner is better suited to the slot. That may be true, but he would probably be an upgrade over both starting outside corners, in my opinion. Rookie Jaylen Watkins’ development in the slot could allow the Eagles more flexibility with Boykin. Watkins has looked more comfortable inside than out. He played some safety in college, but right now looks destined to stay at corner. The Eagles typically dressed only four corners on game days last season, so Watkins may have to sit and watch for a while. That’s fine.
Zach Berman: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins.
Roc Carmichael, Curtis Marsh.
It was a bit surprising to realize the Eagles had only seven corners in camp. It is always a position of great need around the NFL. There just aren’t many top-flight corners. Their job has increasingly become thankless. Roc Carmichael and Curtis Marsh were on the roster last season, so losing both signifies an upgrade (although the jury is out on Watkins). Carmichael has a little more use because he can be play both in the slot and outside. He was brutalized in the Bears preseason game. Marsh was torched against the Patriots and his struggles carried over into the Steelers game. Neither has any practice squad eligibility left.