Thursday, July 2, 2015

Eagles 53-man roster projection, updated after seven training camp practices

When projecting the Eagles' 53-man roster throughout training camp last year, it was often difficult finding 53 players worthy of a spot on an NFL roster. You would find 49 or 50 guys worthy of an NFL job, and the rest of the spots would be populated with replacement level players. This year, there are more players to like, which creates difficult decisions in trimming down to 53. That's a good problem to have.

Eagles 53-man roster projection, updated after seven training camp practices

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When projecting the Eagles' 53-man roster throughout training camp last year, it was often difficult finding 53 players worthy of a spot on an NFL roster. You would find 49 or 50 guys worthy of an NFL job, and the rest of the spots would be populated with replacement level players. This year, there are more players to like, which creates difficult decisions in trimming down to 53. That's a good problem to have.

Before camp began, we projected the Eagles' 53, er 52-man roster. Below, we'll note what we said then, and how things have changed (as we see it) after the first seven practices of camp.

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

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: The QBs who will likely make the team have not changed. The play of the backup QBs, however, has improved drastically. Both Sanchez and Barkley have looked far better in training camp than they did in OTAs and minicamp.

Running Back (3): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: None of the backup running backs behind Sproles and Polk have stood out in any meaningful way. While Chip Kelly noted that Tucker is "firmly entrenched in that fourth spot right now," at this point, the additional RB spot is probably better off being used at another position, such as along the offensive or defensive line. Tucker can probably be stashed safely on the practice squad, where the Eagles can elevate him to the 53-man roster if they suffer an injury at RB.

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

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: No changes here. After Cooper, Maehl, and Maclin all missed at least parts of practice on Friday, I remain convinced the Eagles will keep six wide receivers. Brad Smith has put together a really solid camp and is looking more and more like a lock to make the roster, which leaves one open spot. I still have Maehl ahead of Arrelious Benn, but will continue to keep tabs on Maehl, who missed practice on Friday because he was in a walking boot. 

While he's still not yet active roster worthy, Momah has looked much better, and could serve as a player on the practice squad who mimics opposing WRs with good size. Also look for BJ Cunningham and underdog Quron Pratt to challenge for a spot on the practice squad. The preseason games will be enormously important for those guys.

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

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: Again, no changes here. I like Burton's chances for the practice squad, but he has not stood out so much that his value to the team would eclipse the need for extra OL/DL depth.

Offensive Line (9 + 1 suspended player): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson (suspended), Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly

Addition: Andrew Gardner

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: Andrew Gardner has been in the league since 2009 and is already on his sixth NFL team, but the Eagles have had success recently with other journeyman types like Evan Mathis and Allen Barbre. Gardner has been running with the second team offense at left tackle, and has been specifically mentioned by both Lane Johnson and Pat Shurmur as a capable backup. We'll add him to the offensive linemen already projected to make the team.

Defensive Line (7): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen

Addition: Damion Square

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: Square has been running quite a bit with the first team DL at NT, but he also has versatility to play 3-4 DE. The Eagles finished the season with only six defensive linemen, but I think they'd prefer seven. I think the Eagles would like to try to continue to develop Joe Kruger, but I'm not sure he has shown enough to warrant a spot on the final 53 just yet. If they can keep him on the practice squad, great. If another team poaches him, so be it.

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

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: Long is a victim of the numbers game, again, unless Graham is traded. But for now, no change here.

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

Addition: Emmanuel Acho

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: For the second straight training camp, Acho has flashed. As noted above, Matthews was not only an ILB reserve and special teams contributor, but he was a reserve at OLB. This year, after using their first round pick on Marcus Smith, the Eagles have better depth at OLB, which makes Matthews somewhat less valuable. Matthews' versatility is fine and good, but he hasn't been a better ILB than Acho. Knott won't count against the 53-man roster for the first four weeks, so Acho can slide in as a roster survivor... for four weeks, anyway. 

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

Pre-camp thinking: 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.

A week into camp: No change.

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.

A week into camp: No change.

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.

A week into camp: Murderleg has improved since OTAs, but he still has no real chance to unseat Henery.

Bubble boys (first three out): Matthew Tucker, Travis Long, Arrelious Benn.

Week One inactives: Barkley, Maehl, Kelly, Allen, Graham, Acho, Watkins, Reynolds.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

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