Carson Wentz’s recovery will remain the biggest story for the Eagles throughout the spring and summer, and Nick Foles will be the first-team quarterback in his absence. But one passer whose development will be a source of significant interest for the Eagles the next three months is neither the Eagles’ MVP candidate nor the Super Bowl MVP.
It’s a 24-year-old, third-string quarterback with only 23 career pass attempts who likely couldn’t be picked out of a lineup on Broad Street.
Nate Sudfeld, whom the Eagles signed to their practice squad last September after he was waived by the Washington Redskins, has generated behind-the-scenes intrigue throughout the Eagles organization.
Teams are often careful not to overstate their optimism in an unproven player. Yet Sudfeld has been independently praised by owner Jeffrey Lurie, top executive Howie Roseman, and coach Doug Pederson this offseason – not to mention teammates.
“We have one quarterback who should have been the MVP, one who was the Super Bowl MVP, and one who could potentially be an MVP,” wide receiver Mack Hollins said.
That sounded like an extreme case of hyperbole, but Hollins was sticking with that claim because of what he saw from Sudfeld in practice last season.
The receivers will spend considerable time with Sudfeld the next few months. Even though Wentz participated in passing drills at last Tuesday’s practice, he has not been cleared for full-team work and likely won’t return anytime soon. Foles was slowed last offseason by a sore elbow, which sidelined him for the entire preseason and much of training camp. The Eagles know what Foles can do, so it would be prudent for them to manage his workload. That leaves Sudfeld in position to get more work than any other third-string quarterback in the NFL.
“I’m going to manage [Foles], but not because of the elbow,” Pederson said, “I do want to see Nate. I want to see him a little bit more extensively with the offense.”
This has been a talking point for Pederson since February. He has repeatedly emphasized how important this offseason will be for Sudfeld. When Sudfeld arrived last September, most of the team’s practices were devoted to game-planning and not to developing down-the-depth-chart players. That’s why so much of Sudfeld’s growth will come during the next few months when the team can see him in a different format than in-season practices. They’ll begin to learn whether Sudfeld’s future is as bright as they say, or if there’s a reason he was available for all 32 teams to sign last September.
“Excited to get quite a bit of reps and continue to play in this offense and actually get live reps in it,” Sudfeld said. “Because other than actually playing in [Week 17], I didn’t get many reps in the offense last year. I was kind of doing scout-team stuff. So going through reads, making decisions, putting the ball where it needs to be, it’s a lot of fun and exciting.”
The only public glimpse of Sudfeld came in last season’s regular-season finale, when Sudfeld completed 19 of 23 passes for 134 yards in three quarters against the Dallas Cowboys. It was an encouraging first performance, although it wasn’t necessarily surprising for those inside the NovaCare Complex.
“We’re all very excited about” Sudfeld, Lurie said. “I attend practice all the time. Nate is very, very impressive.”
Roseman said Sudfeld’s skill set is “tremendous” because he’s “incredibly smart, athletic, good frame, can make all the throws.” Roseman even heard positive reviews from starting defensive players who faced the 6-foot-6, 227-pound quarterback on the scout team. The Eagles believe Sudfeld can be a No. 2 quarterback in the NFL with the potential to become a starter. The optimism in Sudfeld was shared by former offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, who took a keen interest in him last year.
A three-year starter at Indiana, Sudfeld was one of the Big Ten’s top quarterbacks before Washington drafted him in the sixth round in 2016. He was a surprise cut last season, and the Redskins wanted to keep him on their practice squad. Sudfeld chose to come to the Eagles. Even when the Indianapolis Colts tried signing him to their active roster in midseason, Sudfeld elected to stay in Philadelphia because of his comfort with the team and what the decision-makers thought about him. The Eagles promoted Sudfeld to the active roster and displayed their confidence by making him the No. 2 quarterback instead of adding a veteran after Wentz’s injury in December. That meant Sudfeld was one hit away from taking snaps in the Super Bowl.
“He just got better,” Pederson said. “The things we saw in practice really gave us a lot of confidence as a staff to, if he needed to go in, he could go in and … sustain the role. And that’s why this offseason is going to be big for him. Get him caught up in the offense.”
DeFilippo put Sudfeld through a one-on-one workout before every game last season. That was the most individual coaching Sudfeld received. However, he also benefited from being around Wentz and Foles, sharing in their early-morning meetings and their in-game discussions.
“I feel a lot better [after] being coached last year by Flip and Frank and Doug, and being around Nick and Carson,” Sudfeld said. “I feel a lot better, I feel like I’m a lot of stronger, kind of growing into my body a little bit more. But I just feel like getting more reps, whether it was scout team or now, any player is going to get better with reps.”
Tight end Zach Ertz, who joined Sudfeld and Wentz on a mission trip to Haiti in April, called Sudfeld a “grinder” and noticed that he is at the Eagles facility “all the time.” That approach has earned Ertz’s respect. Ertz added that Sudfeld is willing to do whatever tasks are required of a No. 3 quarterback, yet is not satisfied to remain a third-stringer.
The Eagles’ quarterback depth chart is impossible to penetrate when everyone is healthy. Sudfeld realizes this. That’s why he must take advantage of the next few months. It’s an opportunity to validate the Eagles’ confidence. He could progress to be Wentz’s backup in 2019, assuming Foles plays elsewhere, and he might eventually become an attractive trade target for a team seeking a quarterback.
Then again, he also could flounder with more work. Despite the optimism, the evaluation remains incomplete. There will be a far better idea of Sudfeld’s development by the end of August.
“I don’t try to keep count of the amount of reps I’m getting,” Sudfeld said. “A lot can happen, a lot out of my control, so I’m trying to do my best to be the best player I can tomorrow and the next day. If I keep stacking good practices together, good things will happen.”