Monday, November 24, 2014
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Pre-camp 53-man, er 52-man Eagles roster projection

Training camp is just a few days away, and at appropriate times throughout the next few weeks, we'll update the projected 53-man roster. The following will serve as somewhat of a starting point only, since the players have yet to even practice in pads. For that reason, the idea was to stay conservative in some spots.

Pre-camp 53-man, er 52-man Eagles roster projection

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles prepare for practice. (Matt Rourke/AP)
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles prepare for practice. (Matt Rourke/AP)

Training camp is just a few days away, and at appropriate times throughout the next few weeks, we'll update the projected 53-man roster. The following will serve as somewhat of a starting point only, since the players have yet to even practice in pads. For that reason, the idea was to stay conservative in some spots.

As Chip Kelly likes to say, his depth chart is set in sand, and so is mine. There will be changes along the way.

To note, I only listed 52 players, with some wiggle room to sign a player cut by another team, as the Eagles tend to do at the end of every training camp. 

Quarterback (3): Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley

Obviously, Foles is "the guy," and then you have the backup QB battle between Sanchez and Barkley. At this point, Sanchez appears to be the heavy favorite. Both struggled at times in OTAs and minicamp, but Sanchez looked better despite having to learn an entirely new offense. If there was a significant threat that GJ Kinne would be poached by another team off of the Eagles' practice squad, I would be more inclined to say he can legitimately push Barkley for the third QB job. However, because the Eagles can likely safely keep all four QBs, Barkley's job on the 53-man roster should be safe, even if he continues to struggle.

Running Back (4): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker

Last season, the Eagles kept three running backs -- McCoy, Bryce Brown and Polk. This year, the dynamic at running back is changed some because Sproles is more of an "offensive weapon" than he is a traditional running back. If LeSean McCoy were to get hurt, Sproles' role might increase, but Polk would likely get the bulk of the carries. Therefore, can Sproles be thought of as "depth," or just an added weapon on the offense? If it's the latter, the Eagles might be wise to keep an additional back. Because Tucker has some special teams experience from 2013 and has more familiarity with the offense, I'll give him the nod at this point over UDFAs Henry Josey and David Fluellen.

Wide Receiver (6): Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl

Maclin, Cooper, Matthews, and Huff are locks. Beyond that, there will be a bunch of receivers vying for what I believe will be two final spots. The most glaring omission here is Arrelious Benn, who actually played well in OTAs and minicamp. The biggest thing working against Benn is his durability issues. If you're a backup, first and foremost, you have to be able to play special teams. Secondly, the coaching staff needs to know that you will be ready to go if the team needs you to fill in on the regular offense/defense. You don't want to have to constantly deal with a player on the back end of your roster who can't stay healthy enough to play specials or fill in when needed. Therefore, with four locks already in place at the wide receiver position, I think that Benn will have to thoroughly out-play Smith and Maehl to win a job. If it's close, I believe both Smith and Maehl will win those last two spots.

And no, I'm not yet on the Ifeanyi Momah bandwagon, although he does look markedly improved from last year. Damaris Johnson has become something of an afterthought.

Tight End (3): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey

Last year, the Eagles kept four tight ends. This year, the roster is better and there won't be room for a marginal fourth tight end, unless somebody like Trey Burton kills it in camp.

Offensive Line (8+1): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly

Lane Johnson's suspension opens up a spot for someone else to make the roster for at least four weeks, as Johnson will not count toward the 53. More specifically, it probably opens up a spot along the offensive line. The biggest beneficiary of Johnson's suspension could be Dennis Kelly. With Allen Barbre assuming a starting role for the first quarter of the season, Kelly will be the only backup offensive lineman on the roster with any kind of legitimate NFL playing experience.

Of the other backups, the team seems to like Matt Tobin, who could potentially step into Barbre's role as a reserve at any of the four tackle/guard spots. At the center position, I have Molk beating out Julian Vandervelde.

Look for the Eagles to be scouring the waiver wire for offensive linemen released by other teams at final cutdowns.

Defensive Line (6): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen

The only player here that I don't see as at least a near lock to make the team (barring some sort of unlikely Vinny Curry trade) is Beau Allen. The wildcard among the defensive linemen is Joe Kruger, who did not stand out in training camp last year and was placed on IR for the season. He'll have to be a lot better this training camp to make the 53-man roster. Kruger just turned 22 in June, so he does have youth on his side, but until he shows something, he has to be considered on the outside looking in. Damion Square made the roster last year, but he'll have better competition this time around.

And from a storyline perspective, former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva will be interesting to watch. He could be an appealing player for the practice squad, from a work ethic and background standpoint.

Outside Linebacker (5): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman

Barwin, Cole, and Smith aren't going anywhere, obviously, and Braman was targeted as a special teams contributor, so he should be safe. The big question here is Graham, who has shown glimpses as a pass rusher, but simply isn't a fit as a three-down linebacker in Billy Davis' system. Can the Eagles find a trade partner for Graham if some other 4-3 team out there loses a defensive end? That seems unlikely, but it's not out of the question. If Graham is not traded, he'll probably survive, although it might be in his best interests if he were just released.

The other player to keep an eye on here is Travis Long. He was signed by the Eagles during training camp last year, played well, and stuck on the practice squad. Long will be nearly two years removed from an ACL tear he suffered in November of 2012 at Washington State.

Inside Linebacker (4+1): Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode, Jake Knott, Casey Matthews

Kendricks and Ryans are locked in as starters at inside linebacker, with Goode showing enough last season to feel good about his spot on the roster. Jake Knott was suspended by the league for four games, so he won't count against the 53-man roster when the season begins.

And then there's Casey Matthews. Some Eagles fans won't like it, but Matthews probably starts camp inside the bubble. He's a special teams contributor, and he was actually a backup at OLB last year in addition to ILB. With Knott suspended, Jason Phillips coming off an ACL tear, and the fact that Matthews beat out Emmanuel Acho a year ago, I like Matthews' chances. 

Cornerback (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins

This one is easy. The above five players are probably all locks. However, it will be interesting to see if the starters this year remain Williams and Fletcher, or if Carroll can shoehorn himself in.

Safety (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds

This one seems fairly easy as well. Jenkins is locked in as a starter, with Allen and Wolff battling it out opposite him. Maragos was brought in to bolster the Eagles' special teams, and Reynolds is a fifth-round pick who will have every opportunity to make the team.

It was already going to be an uphill climb for Keelan Johnson to make the roster, and he didn't do himself any favors by getting arrested in Arizona a few days ago.

Kicker, Punter, and Long Snapper (3): Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, and Jon Dorenbos

It doesn't appear that the Eagles were ever really serious about giving Alex Henery any legitimate competition. Barring some unlikely veteran signing, Henery will be the Eagles' kicker this year. Donnie Jones is running unopposed at punter, as is Jon Dorenbos at long snapper.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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