Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after 2 preseason games

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after 2 preseason games

We’ve seen all of spring practices, we’ve seen all of training camp and now, we’ve seen two preseason games. 

That’s enough to get a good guess at what the 53-man roster will look like. 

The Eagles have until 4 p.m. on Sept. 1 to cut nearly half of their players, from 90 to 53. Here’s my guess on how that goes: 

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld 

Sorry, Christian Hackenberg fans. The fifth-string quarterback won’t make the team. Neither will fourth-stringer Joe Callahan. These three are locked in stone unless a quarterback on another team goes down between now and Sept. 1 and the Eagles are opportunistic. But that doesn’t happen all the time. 

RB (4): Jay Ajayi, Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Wendell Smallwood

The top three are locks and the fourth guy keeps changing. Like almost every day. The four guys fighting for that job are Smallwood, Josh Adams, Donnel Pumphrey and Matt Jones. Right now I have Smallwood there because he’s been the best of a terrible race. At least he’s somehow managed to stay healthy. Pump and Adams are hurt right now and Jones is coming off a terrible performance in the second preseason game. 

If Sproles wasn’t 35 and coming off an ACL tear, I would have kept just three. 

TE (3): Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers

I’m concerned that Rodgers won’t be ready for the start of the season, but for now, I have him on the roster. Doug Pederson said Rodgers’ knee injury is “week to week,” which doesn’t sound good. If Rodgers isn’t ready for the opener, look for Billy Brown or Josh Perkins to sneak on the roster for a week or two. 

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward 

I know there was a report from NFL Network about the possibility of Jeffery starting the season on PUP, but I can’t see that happening. Even if he’s not ready for the opener, I really don’t think he’s going to be unavailable for six weeks, which is what would be the case on the PUP. Even if he can’t play Week 1 or 2, he’s worth that roster spot knowing he’ll come back before six weeks is up. 

Aside from that, I think the top five are locks. Gibson deserves to be called a lock at this point. Then it gets trickier. I know the team likes Kamar Aiken, but he hasn’t shown me a ton and now he’s hurt. Markus Wheaton is hurt too. I just like Greg Ward. We’ve seen him get first-team reps with Agholor out, so that lets me know what the team thinks of him. He gets the nod for now. If Bryce Treggs didn’t get hurt, he was pushing for a spot. 

OL (9): Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Pryor, Isaac Seumalo, Jordan Mailata 

The big omission on the list is Chance Warmack. I think having Pryor and Seumalo gives the Eagles backups who are just as good at guard and more versatile. So the Warmack experiment might be over. I kept Mailata on the active roster because I think the team might worry about exposing him to waivers. Maybe he makes the team and then ends up on IR a little later, sort of like what happened with Pumphrey last year. 

DT (4): Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Bruce Hector

I’m pretty confident Tim Jernigan will start the season on NFI, which forces the Eagles to go a little light at DT. They have two DEs who can move inside, so they can afford it. You’ll notice I have undrafted Bruce Hector from South Florida beating out former sixth-rounder Elijah Qualls. I’ve seen Hector overtake Qualls on the depth chart and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. 

DE (6): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Michael Bennett Josh Sweat, Steven Means

The Eagles can afford to go heavier at DE because they have guys who can move inside on passing downs with Graham and Bennett. Means is the last guy in. He won’t get to play much — he might be better off getting cut and finding a team with some playing time to offer — but he’s a valuable member of the Eagles even if it’s only during the week. 

LB (5): Jordan Hicks, Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Joe Walker, LaRoy Reynolds

You’ll notice no Nigel Bradham. We’ll get to him in a second. Those top three are locks. Walker was a guy I left off of previous predictions, but over the last few weeks, I’ve seen that the Eagles think a lot more of him than I thought. He’s their backup MIKE and a good special teamer. LaRoy Reynolds is a solid depth piece and special teamer. I think he makes the team over Corey Nelson, who has had a disappointing summer. 

CB (6): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, De’Vante Bausby

A little heavy on corners, but the Eagles have depth here. I don’t think there are any surprises here. Maybe Bausby, after getting overtaken by Maddox, gets cut. But I like him as a depth piece. 

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Tre Sullivan

I had Graham on my last prediction too; he wasn’t on the team then. I think most of us were waiting for that to happen. He’ll be the third safety, but Sullivan has earned his roster spot too. 

Specialists (3): Jake Elliott, Rick Lovato, Cameron Johnston 

Johnston hasn’t been very good this summer, but he’s the only punter on the roster. So he’s on the team. 

NFI: Tim Jernigan; PUP: Chris Maragos 

Reserve/Suspended: Nigel Bradham 

Jernigan and Chris Maragos seem destined to be on the NFI and PUP lists, respectively. Neither have practiced all summer and it doesn’t appear they’ll be ready for the opener. 

Bradham is suspended for Week 1, so he actually won’t count toward the 53-man roster. The Eagles get to keep an extra player for a week. Hooray!

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Eagles trying to trade for unicorn Patrick Peterson

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Eagles trying to trade for unicorn Patrick Peterson

Fans tired of watching Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby get burned might not be alone based on a report that the Eagles are trying to swing a trade for Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson.

According to Jason La Canfora for CBS Sports, the Eagles are among the NFL teams working on ways to land Peterson and have been discussing a swap with the Cardinals "for weeks." It's unclear how many suitors reached out, though La Canfora also mentions the Saints.

Retired cornerback Bryant McFadden, now with CBS Sports, tweeted the Patriots are in on Peterson as well, adding the seven-time Pro Bowl selection would prefer the Saints.

One thing is for sure: Peterson's top priority is getting out of Arizona.

Whether the Cardinals will oblige is another story, but the Eagles' heavy interest is at least mildly surprising given the coaching staff's staunch defense of Mills and Darby in recent weeks.

Mills' and Darby's performances have been inconsistent in 2018 — though, the Eagles did win the Super Bowl with the starting duo. Then again, a move to to acquire Peterson might be as much about the future as it is this year.

Darby will be a free agent at season's end. Mills is signed through only 2019, and the Eagles certainly aren't feeling any urgency to reach an extension. Second-year corner Sidney Jones should move into a starting role eventually, but the depth chart gets murky after that.

Adding a shutdown corner like Peterson would improve the secondary immediately while also providing some semblance of stability. The 28-year-old is under contract through 2020.

As always, it would come with a cost, and not just the draft picks packaged in a trade. Peterson is due $11 million in 2019, $12 million in 2020, and realistically, both sides will probably want an extension — Peterson for the guarantees, the Eagles for the years. And one can only imagine what the Eagles would have to send to the Cardinals to facilitate this deal, especially with multiple teams in talks.

Price matters, of course, although Peterson is a unicorn of sorts. He's the rare combination of a special talent who's both under contract and in his prime.

Any Eagles trade discussion needs to begin with the reality the team is currently 3-4, but opportunities like this don't come along often. Assuming there's truth to the report — Cardinals general manager Steve Keim declares most trade rumors "false" — you can understand why the Eagles are so involved in the conversation.

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Doug Pederson and the myth of the ineffective running game

Doug Pederson and the myth of the ineffective running game

Doug Pederson was asked several different ways why he abandoned the run in the second half Sunday, and his answer has been the same.

He didn’t run because it wasn’t working.

“You're talking about a big, physical, powerful Carolina defense,” Pederson said Monday. “Tough team to run the football against, anyway. But yet we came out with 300 plus yards passing, very efficient there, and took advantage of some things in the passing game.”

After taking a 17-0 lead on the Panthers Sunday at the Linc, the Eagles ran 14 plays more plays and just one was a run.

Those three drives netted just 22 yards of offense, two first downs and no points and took a total of only 6:51 off the clock.

Most importantly, the Eagles’ inability to move the chains in the fourth quarter gave the Panthers the opportunity to put together three straight long TD drives and shock the Eagles, 21-17.

The NFL of 2018 is a passing league. But with a big lead and the football on your home turf in the fourth quarter? Why not run the ball more?

“Let me ask you to block 700-pound men sometimes,” Pederson snapped at a reporter. “It's not because of lack of effort. It's not because of scheme. Listen, they get paid over there, they being the defense, get paid a lot, Carolina, to make plays on us. When it breaks down, it breaks down.”

Here’s the problem with Pederson’s comments.

The notion that the Eagles couldn't run the ball against the Panthers in the second half is wrong.

Flat-out wrong.

The Eagles' running game was actually working in the second half. And Pederson apparently didn’t even realize it.

Yes, the running game stalled in the first half. The backs ran 14 times for 24 yards before halftime, a paltry 1.7 yards per carry.

But in the second half? The backs averaged a healthy 4.4 yards per carry.

And Wendell Smallwood, who Pederson was so reluctant to use down the stretch, actually averaged 7.0 yards per carry after halftime, with runs of two, eight, eight and 10 yards.

Incomplete passes stop the clock. Runs keep it rolling. And the Eagles really needed just one more first down Sunday to put the Panthers away.

Yet the first 11 snaps after the Eagles went up 17-0 were pass plays, and the Eagles’ lone fourth-quarter running play was huge, an eight-yard Smallwood carry on 2nd-and-10 down to the 14-yard line with a minute left.

If Pederson knew the Eagles were having success running the ball in the fourth quarter, it’s a mystery why the Eagles didn’t run it more.

If he didn’t realize it, then there was some kind of breakdown between Pederson and the Eagles’ quality control staff, whose job is to track this info during a game and make sure Pederson has it.

Either way, it’s not good.

Nobody is saying Smallwood is a superstar, but the reality is he’s a functional back who was picking up positive yards in the second half and is averaging 4.7 yards per carry after halftime this year.

What if the Eagles ran just one more time on each of those fourth-quarter drives?

What if Smallwood got the ball on 3rd and 2 on the 14-yard line?

We’ll never know how things would have turned out, but they couldn’t have been any worse.

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