A lot happened this week for the Eagles, and while it sure changes the makeup of the team, it may not heavily affect the outlook for today’s position group: the front seven. A serious strength here, the players on the bubble, especially along the defensive line, are almost exclusively promising youngsters that we should expect to see snapped up if they reach the practice squad.
The drama here is figuring out how the rotation of Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Vinny Curry, and Derek Barnett will shake out at defensive end, which young defensive tackles will take advantage of Beau Allen’s injury-caused absence, and how much of a gap the Eagles see between Mychal Kendricks and rookie Nathan Gerry.
The Locks: Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Fletcher Cox, Timmy Jernigan, Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks
A lot of the “Safe Bets” probably belong on this list too, but consider this a list of guaranteed starters and the Eagles brand new first round pick who looks on his way to being a starter sooner rather than later. Graham, Cox, Hicks, and Bradham are established forces on the defense and Jernigan has had rave reviews since arriving this off-season. Barnett’s garnered the same kind of hype and looked worth it against Green Bay Thursday. This group of players is here to stay, hopefully for many years.
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Safe Bets: Vinny Curry, Chris Long, Beau Allen, Mychal Kendricks, Nathan Gerry, Najee Goode
Now the crowd starts to form for playing time at defensive end. Curry is the second highest paid (base-salary) player on the Eagles roster this season and while his sacks have diminished cutting him would be $6 million dollars even more expensive for the Eagles. He isn’t going anywhere and perhaps returning to a more rotational defensive line will bring back his best seasons of productivity.
Kendricks has survived trade rumors the past two off-seasons but the Jordan Matthews trade this week proves sometimes where there's smoke there's fire. Part of the Eagles feeling safe trading Matthews was the emergence of Nelson Agholor and Mack Hollins and their faith in Torrey Smith, and Kendricks’ best case for remaining in Philadelphia might be the lack of other options in the linebacking corps.
Gerry, the Eagles’ fifth-round pick out of Nebraska and a converted safety, and Goode, a veteran who has played 45 games for the Eagles over the past four years, are the favorites to be backup linebackers but the team has provided little competition.
Bubble: Steven Means, Alex McCalister, Elijah Qualls, Destiny Vaeao, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Don Cherry
Means has been impressive for the Eagles the past two preseasons but is stuck trying to make progress at the most log-jammed position on the roster. He got his first sack in 2016 and has at least out-lasted Marcus Smith to this point. McCalister, a seventh-round pick a year ago, spent his rookie season adding strength and bulk.
Qualls got a late start due to injury and the same Pac-12 school schedules that caused Isaac Seumalo to miss OTAs a year ago. Vaeao impressed as an undrafted rookie a season ago, playing in all 16 games and recording two sacks. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz repeated specific praise for both of his young defensive tackles while commending the entire group Sunday, calling Qualls “hard to handle” and a player “on the rise.”
Grugier-Hill, Cherry, and Walker all joined the team as rookies in 2016. Neither Cherry, a Villanova product who spent the year on the practice squad or Walker, a seventh round pick from Oregon who suffered a torn ACL, played during the season. At least one or two of them should make the roster, and that number could go up if Kendricks is removed from the equation.
Practice Squad Watch: Winston Craig, Justin Hamilton, Gabe Wright
Craig is an undrafted free agent out of Richmond. Hamilton is also a former UDFA who has spent most of the past two seasons on the Seahawks practice squads. Wright, also entering his third season, has played 12 games for the Lions and Browns over the past two years. Of this group, Hamilton has received the most praise and probably has the best chance of making the roster, as potential spots open up if Beau Allen remains injured when the season begins.