Is it dumb to project the 53-man roster in May before the team has even practiced together once? Yes. Yes it is. So maybe don't think of this exercise that way. Think of this more as a starting baseline of where the current roster is at, and what players will begin competing for jobs when OTAs begin next week. Let's go position by position.
QB (3): Nick Foles, Matt Barkley, Mark Sanchez
This is probably the easiest position to figure out in terms of who will make the team. However, there will be an interesting USC vs USC battle for the backup QB job between Barkley and Sanchez. My money is on Barkley, although I may be in the minority there. The only other QB on the roster currently is G.J. Kinne. Expect the Eagles to add one more arm for training camp.
RB (4): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker
McCoy and Sproles are locks, and even Chris Polk seems to have found solid standing on this team with the Eagles trading away Bryce Brown. One player to watch this camp is Matthew Tucker, who played well in camp last year. He could make the leap to the 53 man roster. Undrafted free agents Henry Josey and David Fluellen could battle for practice squad spots.
WR (6): Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl
Maclin, Cooper, and the two rookies will make the team, of course, but the final 2 spots will be up for grabs. Smith had 5 special teams tackles in 6 games last year and presents some versatility in the offense. Maehl is a marginally talented player at the NFL level, but just strikes me as the kind of guy Chip Kelly will want around because he'll trust what he knows. One player who has gotten some early buzz is undrafted LSU WR Kadron Boone. From Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly:
Said one AFC personnel man who scouted the former LSU wideout: “He’s gonna make that team.”
“He’s not a bad receiver; he’s a pretty good receiver,” the scout added. “He just got caught up in a place that has two pretty good receivers. He’s going to be fine. I honestly believe he can play either way (outside and slot), and that’s what’s going to benefit him.”
Receiving skills are great, but the Eagles don't lack talented receivers. For an undrafted free agent to make the team, he's going to have to prove he can outperform Smith and Maehl on special teams.
Arrelious Benn recently had a pay cut forced on him. He'll have to stay healthy and impress in camp to stick.
TE (3): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, James Casey
The Eagles kept 4 tight ends heading into the 2013 season, with Emil Igwenagu being the 4th guy. This year I think they'll head into the season with just 3, unless somebody really 'wows' them. The two incoming players to watch will be undrafted free agents Blake Annen, who ran a 4.41 at the Cincinnati pro day, and Florida's Trey Burton, who can play a variety of positions. If there's one spot where an undrafted rookie can force his way onto the team with a good camp, it's at TE.
OL (8): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson, Allen Barbre, Julian Vandervelde, Matt Tobin
The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and a very solid backup who can play multiple positions in Allen Barbre. However, as noted earlier in the week, it is the 2nd oldest OL in the NFL, and the depth along the OL is questionable. Matt Tobin, Michael Bamiro, Julian Vandervelde, and David Molk have played a grand total of 25 career snaps in the NFL combined, which leaves Barbre and Dennis Kelly as the only backups on the team with any legitimate experience. Kelly showed glimpses that he's NFL-worthy in 2012, but was often a healthy scratch in 2013, so I wonder if he's just a poor fit in Chip Kelly's system.
Vandervelde will battle it out with Molk for the backup center job. Otherwise, the rest of the spots are wide open. We'll give the 8th OL spot to Tobin, who the team appears to like.
Look for the Eagles to add an experienced vet between now and Week 1.
DL (6): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen
Cox, Logan and Thornton are an intriguing young group, and should start once again this season, with Curry working in situationally on passing downs. Despite being a 5th round pick, former Oregon Duck Taylor Hart could also contribute immediately, as he should know exactly what DL coach Jerry Azzinaro wants from him. There won't be much of a learning curve there. Beau Allen could also contribute quickly in short yardage situations.
Joe Kruger is an interesting name to watch as well. He's a 6'6, 290 pound DE who spent the 2013 on the IR with a "shoulder injury." However, he probably would not have made the team had the Eagles not stashed him away for the season, as he did not impress all that often in training camp. He'll have to be much better in 2014 to make the team. Kruger's measurables are ideal, but if I'm handicapping it, he'll start off camp on the outside looking in.
There's also Damion Square, who made the team last year, but will have stiffer competition in Allen this time around.
OLB (5): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman, Brandon Graham
Barwin, Cole, and Smith are locks, obviously, while Braman was brought in to be a special teams contributor. Brandon Graham simply isn't a fit in the Eagles' 3-4, and it was somewhat of a surprise that he was not dealt during the draft. Perhaps the offers just aren't there. Even if all the Eagles can recoup at this point is a late round pick in 2015, the Eagles should probably just move on. Getting a late round pick might be the best option, and allowing Graham to play for a team where he'll be a better fit would clearly be best for him. For now, we'll slate Graham to make the team since he does have some value on obvious passing downs, but stay tuned.
ILB (4): Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode, Casey Matthews
It would have been interesting to see what the Eagles would have done with DeMeco Ryans if they drafted C.J. Mosley in the 1st round. Mosley was one of the "sexy six" players the Eagles had targeted, but he was snapped up by the Ravens with the 17th overall pick. So for now, Ryans need not worry. He and Kendricks will remain the starters in 2014. Najee Goode played well for the Eagles last year, and could be the primary backup at ILB. Nobody is going to like this, but Casey Matthews may be that next "upgradeable" (is that a word?) guy that just lingers on the roster for years.
CB (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins
QB aside, this was probably the easiest position to forecast.
S (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds
The Eagles added 3 new safeties this offseason, so we'll project 5 to make the team, although there's certainly the possibility that they only keep 4. The only lock to make the roster of the players above is Malcolm Jenkins, and to a lesser degree, Earl Wolff. The rest of the bunch needs to at least be solid to stick.
K/P/LS (3): Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos
Jones and Dorenbos don't have any competition. As for the kicker spot, the Eagles brought in a player in Carey Spear with a great nickname ("Murderleg") and a highlight reel of big hits on kickoffs. His actual kicking accuracy, however, isn't on par with Henery's. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen the Eagles give Henery some competition in the form of a veteran.
Final spot: Jason Phillips, Travis Long
I did this exercise last year, and came up with about 46 or 47 Eagles players who fell into 1 of 3 buckets: legitimate NFL players worthy of a roster spot in the NFL, rookies projected to make the team, or up and comers from the practice squad who seemed ready to legitimately earn a roster spot. This year I have 51 or 52, depending on what you think of Casey Matthews. The team is improving in terms of depth, however, they're not on the same level of the Andy Reid heyday years, when you would come up with 56 or 57 players and have to shave off 3 or 4 to get to 53.
The final 2 players I'll note will be ILB Jason Phillips and OLB Travis Long. Phillips seemed like a very good bet to make the team before tearing his ACL. If his recovery goes well enough, he could push for a roster spot, especially considering the Eagles placed such a high value on special teams during free agency.
Long tore his ACL in November of 2012, went undrafted, but impressed enough in camp last year to find a home on the practice squad. This year he'll be 2 years removed from that injury and could push for a roster spot at OLB, where his chances will go up even further if the Eagles do indeed trade Brandon Graham.
For informational purposes, here are the players who are/aren't eligible for the practice squad.
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