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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Why keeping Carson Wentz off the field was the smart move

Why keeping Carson Wentz off the field was the smart move

How much have things changed?

From 2000 through 2009, Donovan McNabb threw 513 passes in the preseason — an average of more than 50 per year.

That’s an entire season’s worth of meaningless passes.

At the time it seemed to make sense. That’s just how NFL head coaches went about things. The starting quarterback played a little in the first game, a little more in the second and into the third quarter in the third, and nobody ever really questioned it.

Those days are over, and for the first time in at least 30 years — probably much longer and maybe ever — the Eagles will go into the regular season with a quarterback who never saw the field in the preseason.

Carson Wentz is healthy. But will he be ready?

Listen, we've had a lot of good work with him in training camp,” Doug Pederson said. “We had a lot of great work against Baltimore this week in practice, and I'm real comfortable with where he's at right now in his development, his growth with the team, and with the offense. … I'm comfortable where he is, how he's leading this football team, and just felt like this was another opportunity to look at the other guys play.

The NFL only maintains preseason stats since 2000, but just going from memory I know the Eagles’ opening-day quarterback has played in the preseason every year going back to the late 1980s.

The Eagles open the regular season Sept. 8 against the Redskins, and by that point Wentz will have gone almost exactly nine months since his regular season ended in Dallas last Dec. 9.

I expect us to play at a high level,” Zach Ertz said. “We have to have a fast start, and that’s what we’re going to work on the next two weeks. A lot of us will start focusing on the Redskins now because we never really play in that fourth preseason game, so I expect us to come out and play at a high level. I don’t think there’s going to be rust. We’ve been together for so long, we’ve ran so many routes. The two practices against the Ravens were really good for us.

There is precedent for an Eagles’ quarterback barely playing in the preseason.

In 2012, Michael Vick only threw seven passes in the preseason. He played briefly in two preseason games, suffering a hand injury in the preseason opener against the Steelers and a rib injury a week later against the Patriots.

He didn’t play again until the opener in Cleveland, when he threw four interceptions against the Pat Shurmur-coached Browns.

Here’s a look at the work the Eagles’ starting QBs have gotten each preseason since 2000:

2000: McNabb [4 games, 63 passes]

2001: McNabb [3 games, 37 passes]

2002: McNabb [3 games, 38 passes]

2003: McNabb [3 games, 39 passes]

2004: McNabb [3 games, 44 passes]

2005: McNabb [3 games, 51 passes]

2006: McNabb [4 games, 31 passes]

2007: McNabb [2 games, 20 passes]

2008: McNabb [3 games, 54 passes]

2009: McNabb [3 games, 61 passes]

2010: Kolb [3 games, 53 passes]

2011: Vick [3 games, 36 passes]

2012: Vick [2 games, 7 passes]

2013: Vick [3 games, 38 passes]

2014: Foles [3 games, 48 passes]

2015: Bradford [2 games, 15 passes]

2016: Wentz [1 game, 24 passes]

2017: Wentz [3 games, 23 passes]

2018: Foles [2 games, 26 passes]

2019: Wentz [Did not play]

His rookie year, Wentz suffered a rib injury in the preseason opener against the Buccaneers and didn’t play again until opening day, when he threw for 278 yards and two touchdowns in a 29-10 win over the Browns. 

And that was his NFL debut.

This is a much more experienced, much smarter, much more prepared Carson Wentz.

Pederson seems to really like where Wentz is at right now both mentally and physically, with the opener 16 days away.

I think from a leadership standpoint, on and off the field, how he's really taken charge of the team, not just the offense but the team, some of the things that I see, I see him really opening himself up to the offense from the standpoint of letting the offense work,” Pederson said. “And that just comes from time with the system and developing his repertoire of plays and what he likes and getting comfortable. He's really done an outstanding job. And even physically from his rehab back in the spring all the way through training camp, he's clicking on all cylinders. His mind is good, his body feels fresh, and all the things that we've seen through camp … that was the deciding factor (in not playing him).

Look around the league. 

Drew Lock of the Broncos is out for at least the opener with a thumb injury he suffered against the 49ers. 

Tom Savage of the Lions has been out most of the preseason with a concussion he suffered against the Patriots. 

Nate Sudfeld is out indefinitely with a broken left wrist. 

We all saw Cam Newton in a walking boot Thursday night in Foxboro.

Wentz is healthy, and if the price of that is a little bit of rust for a series or two against the Redskins, it was well worth it.

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Rodney McLeod was just ready to hit somebody, but will he be ready for the opener?

Rodney McLeod was just ready to hit somebody, but will he be ready for the opener?

For nearly a year, all Eagles safety Rodney McLeod wanted to do was tackle somebody. He wasn’t waiting a single snap longer.

McLeod made the wrap-up on the Eagles’ first defensive play of the game against the Ravens on Thursday night, a seven-yard completion. Two series later, he chased scrambling quarterback Trace McSorley down for a one-yard loss on 2nd-and-10 in the red zone, a series that ultimately ended in a field goal.

In all, McLeod finished with three tackles in one quarter of action, but it was enough for the eighth-year veteran to declare himself ready for the Eagles’ regular season opener against Washington.

“I don’t think that ever was a question,” McLeod said postgame. “When we set out for training camp, this was the focus in mind and the goal, to get some action Game 3, and I think everybody said they liked what they saw.

“I’ll continue to build, continue to work and get ready for the Redskins.”

McLeod hadn’t appeared in an NFL game since tearing the MCL in his right knee Week 3 of last season, almost 11 months to the day of his preseason return.

All that time, he’s been thinking about hitting people.

“It’s been a build-up,” McLeod said. “It’s been a challenge, honestly. Been growing each week. Got a little early hit unexpected early on in camp. Then this week I actually had a lot more contact than I thought I would have, and then today obviously tackling all the way to the ground.

“This is the first time I’ve done that since last year, so it feels a little weird, but once you make that first tackle, it’s like, alright, now we’re right back at home.”

Signed as a free agent in 2016, McLeod has 130 tackles, two sacks, 18 pass breakups, six interceptions and two forced fumbles in 46 starts with the Eagles. He was a key cog in the club’s Super Bowl run.

The injury marked McLeod’s first long-term absence as a pro. After the game, the 29-year-old stuck around the locker room for almost the entire media period, opening up to reporters about not only his recovery or first game back, but his feelings missing that time with his teammates.

“It was hard,” said McLeod. “In this game, you want to be there every step of the way. You want to be in the meeting rooms, you want to be out on the field making plays. Those are moments you can’t get back and moments you look back on and you cherish, and for me not being out there it was difficult. Me being a leader on this team, it was hard. You almost feel like you let guys down.

“You miss it so much and it’s hard being away watching the game from the couch. I’m a vocal guy, so I just wanted to be around the team.”

McLeod was wearing a brace on the surgically repaired knee, which he’s not planning on doing all season — though he’ll do whatever it takes to be on the football field on Sundays.

“Whatever’s gonna make me comfortable, whatever’s gonna make me be able to play fast as possible, do my job and make plays, that’s what I’m gonna do,” said McLeod.

The brace didn’t appear to hinder McLeod on Thursday.

“I thought he moved around well,” Doug Pederson said. “Of course, I'll evaluate the film, look at it in the morning and watch him some more closely, but overall felt like he really settled in, did a nice job.”

Pederson said it was good for McLeod to “feel the energy, feel the nervousness” of getting back into a game and making that first tackle, a sentiment the safety shared.

“100 percent,” said McLeod. “It felt like a rookie all over again in a sense just being out for so long and going through an injury like I did.

“You always just question yourself on how it’s going to be and you try to envision a little bit, and I think I envisioned it how it played out today – me making tackles and me flying around like I never left.”

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