Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Final Eagles 53-man roster projection

Before camp began, we projected the Eagles' 53, er 52-man roster, and then again after the first seven practices, and then once more after the first two preseason games.

Final Eagles 53-man roster projection

0 comments

Before camp began, we projected the Eagles' 53, er 52-man roster, and then again after the first seven practices, and then once more after the first two preseason games

MORE: McLane/Berman predict the roster

With the final preseason game in the books, here is my final 53-man roster projection, with analysis showing the progression from pre-camp all the way through the last preseason game. First, a snapshot:

More coverage
 
Kempski's Corner: Three concerns from win over Colts
 
Eagles report card: Submit your grades
 
POLL: Which NFC East opponent is toughest?
 
PHOTOS: Eagles 30, Colts 27
 
WIN: Make picks in our weekly pro football contest
 
DOWNLOAD: Philly Pro Football app
 
FORUMS: Will the Eagles repeat as NFC East champs?
 
Latest NFL odds

And now for the analysis:

Quarterback (3)

Pre-camp: Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Unchanged

Final projection: Unchanged

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.

After two preseason games: Sanchez has looked so good that people have (wrongly) begun to question if he should start in place of Foles. I do see a scenario in which Barkley could be cut, but it's highly unlikely. If the Eagles felt that GJ Kinne has been better than Barkley and are comfortable with him as the "number 3" QB, the Eagles could choose to keep just two QBs, with Kinne on the practice squad. After all, as long as Foles and Sanchez are healthy, Barkley will be inactive on game day anyway. However, a lot of things would have be true for that to happen:

• The Eagles would have to think that Kinne is better both now, and in the long term. (I'm personally not on board with either of those two things).

• They would have to be confident that they could keep Kinne on the practice squad without some other team poaching him. They could then call Kinne up if Foles and/or Sanchez got hurt.

• They would have to really want to fit another player onto the 53 that they would otherwise have to cut, and while I do think the Eagles have better depth this year, I don't think there's a 7th defensive lineman or or a 6th wide receiver that has to be on the team over Barkley, who the team could continue to develop at the most important position in sports.

Again, that possibility is probably somewhere around 1%, but it's north of zero.

Final projection: Perception of whether or not Barkley is better than Kinne is skewed because of Barkley's high expectations and Kinne's low expectations, but Barkley is the better QB. Kinne will stick on the practice squad.

Running Back (4)

Pre-camp: LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker

A week into camp: Tucker out

After two preseason games: Tucker back in

Final projection: No new changes

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.

After two preseason games: Chris Polk has been out for an eternity (in "training camp time") with a hamstring injury. Because Polk is so injury prone, the Eagles cannot afford to only go with three running backs, especially when Darren Sproles isn't a guy you can hand the ball to 15-20 times in a game. Polk is an effective player and a nice fit in the Eagles' offense when healthy, but can you trust him? He's too good to cut, and too risky injury-wise to not have additional reserves behind him if needed.

Henry Josey made a statement in the second preseason game against the Pats, but I still don't see him as a realistic 53-man roster candidate. However, he may have solidified a home on the practice squad, and perhaps made Polk's hamstring heal more quickly.

Final projection: Josey has been good, but the second team OL has dominated this preseason, and all of Josey's production has come against backups. That makes him hard to evaluate. Barner looked OK as a running back, but showed nothing as a returner. Of the backup running backs beyond the top three, Tucker has done the most against legitimate competition.

As for Chris Polk, there's the old adage, "You can't make the club in the tub." However, Polk is a very good player, and far more talented and valuable to the team than whoever the 53rd player on the roster will be. It's an easy decision to keep him, in my opinion.

Wide Receiver (6)

Pre-camp: Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Jeff Maehl

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Maehl and Huff outArrelious Benn in

Final projection: Huff in

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.

After two preseason games: The big question mark now is Huff, who has an AC sprain in his shoulder, with no timetable on a return. Huff had a nice kickoff return for a TD in the first preseason game with the help of an enormous lane to run through, but he has not looked comfortable at all at receiver throughout training camp. The injury aside, Huff may not be ready to play receiver in the NFL yet, and I'm unconvinced he should take up a roster spot solely as a kick returner. This is a situation in which the Eagles could "red shirt" Huff by placing him on IR.

As for Maehl and Benn, the big knock on Benn is that he struggles to stay healthy. He has not missed a day of camp yet, and has done a lot of little things well at receiver and on special teams. Maehl, meanwhile, has missed time and had a careless fumble against the Pats.

Final projection: Benn has been better than Maehl, in my opinion. and has more raw ability/upside. Huff's injury doesn't appear to be very serious, and I'm in the minority in my thinking that he;s not ready to contribute yet in the NFL, so I'll yield to the consensus.

Tight End (4)

Pre-camp: Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Unchanged

Final projection: Trey Burton in

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.

After two preseason games: No added commentary, other than that Zach Ertz is going to be really good.

Final projection: It's going to be really hard to cut Trey Burton. At a minimum, he has made that decision tough for the Eagles. Normally, the proposition of having a player poached from the practice squad is an overrated fear, in that teams tend to like their own players. However, Burton has legitimate versatility and receiving skills, and teams around the league are bound to have interest. In 2015, James Casey will count for $4 million again the cap, with no penalty to cut. The Eagles could look at Burton as a possible eventual replacement if they can get him to improve his blocking.

Offensive Line (9 + 1 suspended player)

Pre-camp: Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Lane Johnson (suspended), Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly

A week into camp: Andrew Gardner in

After two preseason games: No new changes

Final projection: Dennis Kelly out

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.

After two preseason games: The question here is... Assuming no injuries, who gets cut once Lane Johnson returns from his suspension Week 5? My guess is Kelly.

Final projection: The backup OL was thought by many (including myself) to be a potential weak spot heading into the season. Instead, OL depth may actually be a strength after (dare I say) dominating preseason performances. Dennis Kelly is caught in a numbers crunch.

Defensive Line (7)

Pre-camp: Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Taylor Hart, Beau Allen

A week into camp: Damion Square added

After two preseason games: Square out

Final projection: Brandon Bair in

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.

After two preseason games: I almost added Brandon Bair here, but he has some things working against him, most notably that he turns 30 in November. In a competition between Bair and Square, I would normally err on the side of the younger player (Square), but I'm not sure how much upside Square has, so I'm less swayed in this instance. Bair has played well in the first two preseason games, and probably deserves a roster spot. But personally, I'd prefer to stick Bair on the practice squad in favor of a kickoff specialist (see below).

Final projection: Brandon Bair had a solid preseason, and will likely be the pre-camp dark-horse to make the roster.

Outside Linebacker (6)

Pre-camp: Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Marcus Smith, Brandon Graham, Bryan Braman

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Unchanged

Final projection: Travis Long in

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.

After two preseason games: No added commentary.

Final projection: The Eagles don't have any superstars at OLB, but they have plenty of depth. Travis Long will also serve as ILB depth.

Inside Linebacker (3):

Pre-camp: Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Najee Goode, Jake Knott (suspended), Casey Matthews

A week into camp: Casey Matthews outEmmanuel Acho in

After two preseason games: No new changes

Final projection: Acho out, Knott already out

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.

After two preseason games: Acho thought he had the team made last year, but the Eagles didn't think he played well on specials. If he has improved on special teams, he'll make it this year, as he is the best ILB of the group after Kendricks, Ryans, and Goode. 

Final projection: Last year, Casey Matthews made the team as an ILB who could also fill in as a backup at OLB. Travis Long is this year's version of Matthews, but as an OLB who can also play ILB in an emergency situation.. 

Cornerback (5)

Pre-camp: Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll, Jaylen Watkins

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Unchanged

Final projection: Unchanged

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.

After two preseason games: No added commentary.

Final projection: CB was pretty much the easiest position to forecast from start to finish.

Safety (4)

Pre-camp: Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Unchanged

Final projection: Ed Reynolds out

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.

After two preseason games: Nate Allen has the starting job on lock. Otherwise, no added commentary.

Final projection: If Ed Reynolds were drafted last year, he'd have a much better chance of survival. Unfortunately for him, this Eagles team is much better and deeper than they were last August. Reynolds has not stood out in any way, and missed a major opportunity to intercept a deep ball against the Jets that instead went for a touchdown. If Reynolds is cut, the Eagles will try to stash him on the practice squad.

Kicker, Punter, and Long Snapper (3)

Pre-camp: Alex Henery, Donnie Jones, and Jon Dorenbos

A week into camp: Unchanged

After two preseason games: Dustin Hopkins added (signed after Buffalo cuts him)

Final Projection: Parkey in, Hopkins and Henery out (Hopkins was never on the team)

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.

After two preseason games: Murderleg got worse, and Henery missed a 47 yarder badly against the Pats. We covered Hopkins at length on Monday, when we suggested he could initially be a kickoff specialist and possibly more in the future.

Final Projection: After converting on 54- and 53-yard field goals, Parkey will not only make the team, but he is a surefire Hall of Famer.

Practice squad

QB GJ Kinne, RB Kenjon Barner, RB Henry Josey, WR Jeff Maehl, WR Ifeanyi Momah, WR Will Murphy, OT Kevin Graf, OG Dennis Kelly, LB Emmanuel Acho, S Ed Reynolds.

Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski

Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
0 comments
 
comments powered by Disqus
About this blog
For news, stats, video, live chats and more, Red Zone is the place to find Eagles coverage you can't get anywhere else.

Jimmy Kempski Philly.com
Latest Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected