Predicting which 53 players will survive to the final Eagles roster got a bit easier with the release of Marcus Smith and surprise trade (and almost release) of Allen Barbre. Smith’s release was less surprising after an off-season that saw the team add veteran Chris Long and rookie Derek Barnett, but it’s still rare to see a first round pick exit after three seasons with four sacks to his name.
Both those players lie outside the scope of this article, which will focus on the skill players vying for rungs on the depth chart. These competitions promise a tad more suspense and well, competition, than the quarterback position previously discussed. There, Nick Foles holding down the backup spot seems only slightly less secure than Carson Wentz’ unadulterated march towards the starting role.
Among the wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends incumbent contributors mix with new blood at every role. Positions that were the team weakness a year ago look set to breed improvement through competition alone, not to mention the considerable influx of talent. But who’ll still be on the team in a month?
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Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Matthews, Darren Sproles, Zach Ertz
Matthews, Sproles, and Ertz are head and shoulders above the other returning players on this list in their contributions to the team. Matthews has been dogged by both injuries and trade rumors this summer as he enters the final year of his rookie contract, but there is no possibility the leading wide receiver of the last two seasons will lose his spot during camp.
Jeffery is the biggest off-season headline. The Eagles wanted to add weapons to the offense and among others, they sought out the biggest name on the free agent market. Jeffery has torn up camp and provided no buyer’s remorse.
LeGarrette Blount, Torrey Smith, Mack Hollins, Wendell Smallwood, Donnel Pumphrey, Trey Burton
Blount and Smith are free agent acquisitions who, despite lacking the fanfare of Jeffery, still have a pedigree in the NFL that suggests they belong on this team. Blount had 18 rushing touchdowns with the Patriots last year and appears a perfect complement to Sproles and the Eagles’ young backs. Smith is coming off the worst season of his career in San Francisco but has impressed on and off the (practice) field already in Philadelphia.
Smallwood and Burton are the returning players and both appear in good shape within the organization. Burton, originally an undrafted free agent signee, had a relatively expensive restricted free agent tender placed on him to keep him around. He surpassed Brent Celek as the second leading tight end on the team last season. Smallwood is a noted favorite with running backs coach Duce Staley and is seemingly fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his rookie season prematurely. He’s also a viable option at kick returner should the Eagles look to the future beyond Sproles.
Hollins and Pumphrey were both selected in the fourth round by the Eagles and neither seems in ill shape with the team. Hollins, in particular, was a lauded selection and has been backing up that impression in camp. Both will face competition for their spots but both have the advantage of having a fresh draft pick invested in them.
Brent Celek, Nelson Agholor, Shelton Gibson
Now the players providing that stiff competition for the rookies and new veterans. Agholor is a former first round pick who is in danger of following the Marcus Smith route out of town. With two disappointing seasons in the books, he has been taking advantage of Matthews being sidelined this summer. Thriving under lowered expectations, he’s been the star of camp, already survived past Dorial Green-Beckham, and it will be hard to see the team leaving him off the roster if he keeps it up.
Gibson is a different story, a fifth round pick who has been overshadowed by fellow rookie Hollins and Agholor in camp. He’s had issues with drops, and despite that not being unheard of for a fifth round rookie, it’s hard to see him taking a spot from any of the receivers previously mentioned. If the Eagles roll with six wide receivers he’s probably on there, otherwise it’s unlikely.
Celek is a tough name to put on this list, but it’s due to the Eagles newest signing: rugby star and new tight end Adam Zaruba. Celek is the most productive tight end in Eagles history, and while he has seen his role become more dedicated to blocking and had just 14 catches last season, it is odd to think he might be ousted due to a 26-year-old rookie years removed from football. It makes more sense from a salary standpoint for the Eagles and Celek to part ways next season, so consider him the least likely to be cut on the bubble.
On the Outs
In some ways it’s odd to find Mathews here. He led the team in rushing in 2016 and was heralded as the much better option than DeMarco Murray in 2015. Despite being noticeably injury prone he has managed to suit up for 13 games each of his two seasons in Philadelphia. While it is the injuries that have limited him to just 261 carries over that same period, ironically it is also likely thanks to an injury that he remains on the team. The Eagles stand to save $4 million by releasing Mathews but are unable to do so until he passes a physical.
Practice Squad Watch
Byron Marshall, Corey Clement, Adam Zaruba, Paul Turner, Bryce Treggs, David Watford, Marcus Johnson, Greg Ward, Billy Brown, Anthony Denham
Most of the players least likely to make the team can take solace in the fact that they are young enough to qualify for the practice squad of the Eagles or any other team. Some here are familiar faces: Marshall, Turner, Watford, Johnson and Denham all spent time on the Eagles practice squad last season.