Ranking candidates to win Eagles' last few skill position roster spots

Ranking candidates to win Eagles' last few skill position roster spots

The Eagles have a pretty deep roster, but not all 53 spots are locked up. 

Among those spots up for grabs over the next few months are notably two or three skill positions spots, likely one running back and one or two receivers. 

These battles will be two of the more enjoyable ones this spring or summer, because while there are some front-runners, those spots seem to be pretty open for competition. 

Let’s take a closer look (we also talked about it in the latest Eagle Eye pod at the bottom): 

Running back

On the roster: Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement

The top two are total locks. The Eagles traded for Howard, who is third in the NFL in rushing yards over the last three seasons. And they drafted Sanders in the second round. Neither of them are going anywhere. And as long as Clement is healthy — he’s still recovering from a knee injury that ended his 2018 season early — I expect him to be back on the roster. He had a promising 2017 season and was a hero in Super Bowl LII.  

Open spots:

It seems likely the Eagles are going to carry four running backs. They kept four coming out of training camp last year and have held four for most of the time under Doug Pederson. In 2017, they came out of camp with five, but that was because they forced Donnel Pumphrey on the roster for a short time. Count on four this year. 

The candidates, ranked

Wendell Smallwood: Go ahead and count out Smallwood at your own peril. This guy has been cut by fans and media members for a couple years now and it still hasn’t happened. No, he’s never thrived in the feature role, but he’s been fairly productive in three years after being taken in the fifth round. In fact, 2018 was his most productive year yet. He had 364 yards on the ground with three touchdowns and an average of 4.2 yards per carry. He also caught 28 balls and had two receiving touchdowns. He can do a little bit of everything, including returning kicks. I’d list him as the favorite for now. 

Josh Adams: Pretty strange rookie season for Josh Adams. He didn’t make the initial 53-man roster but then ended up leading the team in rushing before basically getting benched in the playoffs. We found out he had a shoulder injury and had offseason surgery, so maybe that was part of the reason. He isn’t practicing yet. The problem with Adams might be his lack of versatility. He caught just seven passes last year and is probably better suited for first and second downs, which is when Howard or Sanders will be on the field. He also hasn’t been a return man. 

Boston Scott: Scott is certainly interesting. It’s hard to look at the 5-foot-6 running back and not think of Darren Sproles. Scott joined the Eagles in December, so this will be his first offseason with the team. He was a sixth-round pick by the Saints out of Louisiana Tech last year. If the Eagles want someone to fill that Sproles role of a pass catcher out of the backfield, maybe that’s Scott. Although he didn’t catch the ball a ton in college, he seems pretty smooth doing it. He might also be able to punt return, but he didn’t do that in college either. Some projection with him, but we’ll see what he can do this summer. 

Donnel Pumphrey: The fourth-round pick from a couple years ago is back on the Eagles’ roster, but is a dark horse for this job. He’d need to really impress this spring and summer. But just last training camp, he really had a legitimate chance to make the team before he got hurt and Smallwood stayed healthy. I don’t like his chances, but they might be a tad higher than you’d think, in that they’re non-zero. 


On the roster: Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside

I don’t think there’s much arguing with these four. Sure, maybe Agholor gets traded, but I think it’s unlikely at this point and if he doesn’t get dealt, he’s clearly on the roster. And JJAW was a second-rounder; he’s making the team.

Open spots: 1 or 2

After keeping five receivers out of camp in 2016, the Eagles have kept six in each of the past two seasons at initial cuts. My guess would be they go with six again. (Just to see how far they’ve come, the five they kept initially in 2016 were Jordan Matthews, Agholor, Josh Huff, Dorial Green-Beckham and Paul Turner.) 

The candidates, ranked

Mack Hollins: I think Hollins will make the roster if he can just get on the field. That hasn’t been easy for him. It’s been an unusually long rehab. He wasn’t even on the field for the start of OTAs earlier this week, which seems crazy. But if he does return, he’s a really good special teams contributor and was a fourth-round pick a couple years ago. He had a promising rookie season too, catching 16 passes for 226 yards and a touchdown. 

Shelton Gibson: On one hand, he’s a really good gunner on the punt team. On the other hand, the Eagles desperately needed a speed receiver last year and he still couldn’t get on the field. His over-hyped training camp last year didn’t translate into productivity or even snaps when the games mattered. His one catch in 2018 was a 48-yarder. 

Charles Johnson: Most recently, Johnson was the top receiver in the now-defunct AAF, but the 30-year-old has been around pro football for a while. He was a seventh-round pick in 2013. It might seem strange to keep a 30-year-old dude as a deep reserve/special teamer, but Johnson did get a few first-team reps during Tuesday’s practice in the absence of Jeffery. 

Braxton Miller: Miller joined the Eagles’ practice squad in early September and stayed there the rest of last year. A former third-round pick and big-name college quarterback at Ohio State, Miller is certainly intriguing. He could catch the eye of Pederson as a gadgety-type player and maybe a returner. Pederson has talked Miller up some this offseason. 

Greg Ward: Like Miller, Ward is a former college quarterback (Houston) still making the transition to receiver. His time with the Eagles dates back to 2017, but he also played in the AAF. The Eagles brought him back again this offseason, though it seems like Miller is the new favorite project. 

DeAndre Thompkins: The rookie from Penn State got a nice chunk of change to come to the Eagles and is intriguing because of his speed and his potential as a punt returner. But Thompkins had a problem with drops in college and might be more of a longer-term project. Maybe a practice squad guy. 

Marken Michel: The brother of NFL running back Sony Michel, Marken Michel went to the Calgary Stampeders in the CFL after he didn’t make the Vikings’ roster in 2016. He was the CFL West Division Rookie of the Year in 2017.

Carlton Agudosi: The Rutgers’ product is 6-6, 220 pounds, so he definitely stands out on the field. He didn’t put up big numbers in college but spent some time on the Cardinals’ practice squad in 2017. 

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Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

Predicting Eagles' 53-man roster after spring practices

The last time I predicted the Eagles’ 53-man roster was before OTAs and minicamp, so we have more to go on now. 

The Eagles had a total of 13 practices and reporters were allowed to watch seven of them. Based on what I’ve seen over the last several weeks, I’ve updated my prediction: 

Here is is: 

QB (3): Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson 

This didn’t change. Thorson didn’t have a very good spring, but I still think they’re going to use a roster spot on him. Over the last couple weeks, he’s looked overwhelmed and has made some poor decisions and equally poor throws, but he’s a fifth-round rookie. Unless he’s awful in training camp, I think this is his spot. 

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

No changes here either. These guys are pretty much cemented. Goedert had a tremendous spring. 

WR (6): Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson, Nelson Agholor, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Marken Michel  

I think these top four guys are still making it. I know Hollins still isn’t a full-go, but his ability on special teams keeps him around. Last time, I had them keeping five receivers, but I think there’s a chance they keep six. And I think there’s a better chance of them keeping an extra offensive player than a defensive player. Then, I gave this last spot to Michel, but there are plenty of candidates: Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward, Charles Johnson. I think that’s a pretty talented group, talented enough that one of them will do enough to force the Eagles to keep six wideouts. 

OL (10): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Andre Dillard, Stefen Wisniewski, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor 

The only change from the last time is Wiz is back on here after being re-signed. That kicked Ryan Bates off the list, but he has a chance to stick as a practice squad player. I do wonder about Pryor’s job security. He was a sixth-rounder last year and they kept him on the roster all year, but with Big V’s emergence as a guard, there might be less of a use for Pryor, who they might be able to keep around on the practice squad. 

RB (4): Jordan Howard, Miles Sanders, Corey Clement, Boston Scott 

The big change here is Scott over Wendell Smallwood. No, I don’t think it’s really fair to compare Scott to Darren Sproles and I’m not on the hype train yet, but Scott had a good spring and might be a more complementary player than Smallwood or Josh Adams. And his ability as a punt returner is what might most help him make the team. 

DE (5): Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat, Shareef Miller

No changes here, although I do think Daeshon Hall might push for a job. I’ll need to see more from him when the pads go on. 

DT (5): Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Tim Jernigan, Hassan Ridgeway, Treyvon Hester 

Last time, I had just four DTs, but keeping five makes sense and I was able to steal a spot from the cornerback group (more on that soon). Hester and Ridgeway might be competing for the same spot, but there’s a decent chance both are on the roster. 

LB (5): Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, L.J. Fort, Zach Brown, Nate Gerry

I kept six last time because I wasn’t sure which player to remove. Sorry, Paul Worrilow. It’s not that he had a bad spring, but that knee injury did flare up and it’s starting to feel like all five of these guys are definitely going to be on the roster. 

CB (5): Ronald Darby, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Sidney Jones, Cre’Von LeBlanc 

You’ll notice the omission of Jalen Mills, who is still coming back from a lengthy foot injury. While other recovering players have been working out on side fields, Mills has been noticeably absent and I’m beginning to wonder just how close he is. I heard a few weeks ago that he was expecting to be ready for training camp, but we’ll see. Until I see him doing something, I’m not ready to keep a roster spot for him. I don’t think the PUP is out of the question. 

S (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Andrew Sendejo, Tre Sullivan

Folks want to cut Sendejo to save a compensatory pick, but I don’t see it happening. Sendejo has been working as as starter as McLeod recovers, so I think he’s their third safety for now. Sendejo had a good offseason, so he would need to play poorly this summer to get cut. 

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

Unless Kamu really applies himself to becoming a kicker, these three are set.

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3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

3 Eagles land in PFF's top 50 NFL players going into 2019

There’s plenty of hype surrounding the Eagles this season and there should be. The Birds are coming off back-to-back playoff seasons and have a really talented roster. 

They also have three players on the ProFootballFocus’ list of top 50 players heading into the 2019 season.

(For reference, the Eagles had four players in their top 101 players from the 2018 season.)

In the top 50 list, the Cowboys also have three players (29. Travis Frederick, 32. DeMarcus Lawrence, 40. Zack Martin), the Giants have one (43. Saquon Barkley) and the Redskins don’t have any. Sorry, Washington. 

Let’s take a look at the Eagles on the list: 

41. Brandon Graham 

Here’s what they said: Sacks don’t tell the whole story for any player in the NFL, and no player epitomizes that more than Graham. He’s recorded double-digit sacks in PFF’s system only once (2017) but has been as consistent as they come from an overall pressure and pass-rush grade standpoint. He has recorded 45 or more pressures in six of his last seven seasons in the NFL and has earned 81.0-plus pass-rush grades in five of them.

My take: It’s true that sacks don’t tell the entire story, but Graham had just four last season. That’s too low. He was hampered by an ankle injury at the start of last season and it showed; he got off to a slow start. But Graham has been consistently disruptive over the past few years. He’s a very good player, but falls short of being great. I don’t know if he's a top-50 player, but it is nice to see his all-around game get recognized because his sack total has never officially gotten to double digits and he’s never made a Pro Bowl team. 

24. Jason Kelce

Here’s what they said: Kelce’s four-year overall grade (91.1) ranks fourth among the 94 interior offensive linemen with at least 2,000 offensive snaps played since 2015, and his 93.4 run-block grade ranks first among the same group of qualifiers. Most recently, Kelce earned a career-high 88.0 pass-blocking grade in addition to his 80.7 run-blocking grade in 2018. He also earned a 94.6 run-blocking grade throughout the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017, a single-season mark that ranks first in the PFF era (2006-18) among qualifying centers and one that landed him PFF’s top run-blocker award in 2017.

My take: Kelce was the highest-ranked center on the list and the second-highest offensive lineman behind OT David Bakhtiari at No. 13. It’s high praise for Kelce, but he deserves it. He had a really good season in 2018 and has consistently been one of the top centers in the league for a while now. You can argue about whether or not he’s the best center in the league, but there’s no questioning whether or not he’s one of the best. With his football knowledge, Kelce keeps getting better despite being over 30 and despite all his injuries. He’s been an All-Pro the last two years, but hasn’t made the Pro Bowl in those seasons, which is an absolute joke. 

4. Fletcher Cox 

Here’s what they said: It’s a shame that Cox plays in the same league as Donald; he’d be the unanimous decision for top defensive interior if it weren’t for the Rams' superstar. Cox’s pass-rush win rate in 2018 (20.9 percent) is the fourth-best single-season mark of any defensive interior in the PFF era. And his 91.2 pass-rush grade this past season, another career high for the big man, also ranks inside the top 10 among qualifiers since 2006.

My take: The only players ranked higher than Cox were 1. Aaron Donald, 2. Tom Brady, 3. Bobby Wagner. That’s some impressive company, but it’s about time Cox gets his due. He’s a dominant player. Is he the fourth-best player in the league? I don’t know. What PFF does, ranking players regardless of position, is really tough. Is Cox better than Patrick Mahomes, who comes in at No. 6 or Drew Brees, who comes in at No. 5? I have a hard time saying he is. But that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Cox is an absolute wrecking ball. He’s gone to four consecutive Pro Bowls, but finally made his first All-Pro team in 2018. PFF is right, it’s a shame he’s playing in the same era as Donald, who is a future Hall of Famer. But it’s not just Donald; there have been plenty of other great interior lineman over the last few years — Gerald McCoy, Ndamukong Suh, Damon Harrison, Geno Atkins, Kyle Williams, Jurrell Casey. It has taken a long time for Cox to get his credit, but he really is one of the best players in the league. 

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