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: 5-6
Jeff McLane: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Ifeanyi Momah.
The Eagles’ first three receivers -- Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews -- are set. After that it gets a little tricky. Josh Huff isn’t going anywhere, but I’m suspicious that he won’t start the season on the active roster. He currently has a shoulder injury and is out indefinitely, but Chip Kelly said on Tuesday that his receiver didn’t suffer a break, didn’t need surgery, and will likely be back soon. I’m not sure it’s that simple. Huff said on Tuesday that he suffered an “AC shoulder sprain” in the Patriots game. An AC shoulder sprain can be anything from a Grade 1 “simple sprain to the AC joint with minor damage to the ligament and no separation of bones,” according to Sportsinjuryclinic.com, to a Grade 6 “full rupture of both AC and CC ligaments with the clavicle being displaced inferiorly or downwards.” When I asked Kelly if there was a separation, the Eagles head coach said that he was only told [by Eagles trainer Chris Peduzzi, I assume] that there was no break.
Perhaps Huff’s injury is only a Grade 1 sprain, he heals fast and is back by the start of the season. (If so, I wouldn’t expect him to dress early on). If not, the Eagles have several options, one of which is sending him to IR-designated to return. Huff would then be eligible to return to the active roster eight weeks later. Each NFL team is permitted only one player designated to return. Would they expend it on Huff? I’m not so sure. There is also the possibility that Huff is placed on permanent IR, which would mean he was done for the season. If his shoulder injury is deemed significant enough – remember, defensive end Joe Kruger spent all of last season on IR with a shoulder injury – the Eagles would have the luxury to essentially give Huff a redshirt season. He has obvious talent, but the third-round draft pick could benefit from a season to watch and learn. He’s been asked to play multiple spots and the overload of information has seemed to affect his performance on offense. He’s had trouble hauling in catchable passes in training camp. The Eagles thought he could return kicks, and he showed in the preseason opener that he can hit the hole and finish as he did on a 104-yard TD return. But his other return attempts have been unproductive.
That’s a lot of information on Huff, but if he ends up on IR, it opens up a roster spot for another receiver and my guess is it would be Jeff Maehl. I have Ifeanyi Momah on the roster, despite his special teams limitations, because the Eagles aren’t deep on the outside. He’s probably the No. 3 receiver there behind Maclin and Cooper. Momah has made great strides this season, but he still has hiccups, like he did against the Patriots (fumble, end zone drop). Brad Smith is versatile. He can line up outside, but is probably better suited to the slot, where he has played most of camp. He can run and throw, too, but many fans would prefer if Kelly tossed those trickery plays. Smith is also a solid special teams performer.
Zach Berman: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn.
Jeff Maehl, Arrelious Benn, Damaris Johnson, B.J. Cunningham, Will Murphy, Quron Pratt, Kadron Boone.
I think Maehl has the edge on Arrelious Benn for the last possible spot because he’s faster and more effective on the outside. Benn, aside from two notable plays against the Patriots (a blocked punt, catching Momah’s bobble), really hasn’t done much in camp or the preseason. Like Maclin, he’s coming back from an ACL. Like Maclin, he doesn’t look as explosive. Like Maclin, he may eventually come around. But Kelly seems to always have positive things to say about Maehl. He may be trolling the media and fans, but he obviously has a sense of comfort with his former Oregon players. That being said, I still have Maehl not making the cut if Huff starts the season on the active roster. I wouldn’t be surprised if Maehl even gets Kelly’s nod ahead of Momah. Damaris Johnson has value, but he’s been sliding down Kelly’s list since the coach’s arrival. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him land in Kansas City with Andy Reid after the Eagles likely release him. B.J. Cunningham and Will Murphy are practice squad candidates. Quron Pratt has pass-catching abilities, but seems to struggle in getting separation.
LIKELY TO KEEP: 3
Jeff McLane: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey.
Aside from perhaps quarterback, tight end is probably the easiest position to predict. The Eagles will keep the same three as last season. While Zach Ertz has been deemed an ascending star, Brent Celek is still a very good, tough as nails tight end. He is likely to get as many snaps as he got last season because he’s still a better blocker than his second-year teammate. Celek can still get vertical and make tough catches downfield. He’s had short stretches before when he’s had some ball-catching problems, but he’s been as sure-handed this camp and preseason as I think I’ve ever seen him. It will be difficult to keep Ertz off the field. He can beat most linebackers and out-position and out-muscle most safeties in passing situations. His blocking is better, but it still needs work to be on par with Celek. James Casey is a luxury third tight end. He may not like being the third wheel, but he still plays on all of special teams and will get on the field when the Eagles want two run blocking tight ends.
Zach Berman: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey.
Emil Igwenagu, Trey Burton, Blake Annen.
Emil Igwenagu was first acquired by the Eagles as a fullback. He made the transition last season and spent most of last season on the practice squad. He has competition for that spot with two undrafted rookies. Trey Burton is the better receiver of the two. He isn’t very large (6-3, 235) for a tight end and struggles as a blocker. But he can get open. Blake Annen can get square and take on edge rushers. He had issues with drops in the spring, but has gotten better in that regard.