With the preseason coming to an end, the Eagles will be faced with some difficult decisions between now and the league mandated 4:00 PM deadline on Saturday. Roughly 1,184 players will hit the waiver wire at once, creating a frenzy, as NFL owners voted to approve the new rule change of a one day roster cut-down earlier this offseason. Some men will see their dreams realized, while others may never get another opportunity. Thus is the harsh reality of the National Football League.
Without further adieu, he is my prediction for the Eagles final roster:
Quarterback (2): Carson Wentz, Nick Foles
Wentz has had a phenomenal camp. The second year quarterback looks much more comfortable commanding the offense than he did last summer. The sky truly is the limit for the young signal caller.
Matt McGloin had his share of struggles this summer, and they continued throughout the preseason. While McGloin has played the most of any quarterback this preseason, he only managed to complete 76 of 109 for 501 yards, with one touchdown against three interceptions. McGloin is a veteran, and should be able to find work around the league as a backup quarterback.
Foles appears to be healthy enough going into the regular season, and the team will likely keep just two quarterbacks on the active roster, while likely reserving a third spot on the practice squad for a developmental quarterback.
Running back (4): LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement
Blount brings some attitude to the Eagles backfield, and his rugged running style is tailor-made for December football in the NFC East. Sproles serves a number of roles on this team and will continue to see his fair share of snaps.
Smallwood returned to form over the last couple of weeks after missing significant time this preseason with a hamstring injury. Availability has been an issue in his young career, but when he has played, he's been very effective running between the tackles and has shown improvement in pass protection. He also serves as the primary kick returner. Merrill Reese said "The best all around back on this roster is Wendell Smallwood." There you have it.
Glassboro, NJ native Corey Clement has performed well over the summer, and has earned the final spot. Clement has had a great camp, and appears much more comfortable catching the ball than he did back in OTAs. His limited use in the preseason finale was very telling that the team values him as a potential piece for the future. He should pair well with Wendell Smallwood, as the young duo look to invigorate the Eagles running game.
IR: Donnel Pumphrey
Wide receiver (5): Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Nelson Agholor, Mack Hollins, Marcus Johnson
Free agent additions Jeffrey and Smith are the starters on the outside, with Agholor now manning the slot for the since departed Jordan Matthews. Agholor has had a great camp, but the true test will be how he performs when the bullets are live. To me, he is the X factor of the receiving corp.
Mack Hollins had a strong preseason debut, showing off his strength and athleticism on his touchdown catch. At 6-foot-4, 221lbs, Hollins brings intriguing size and speed to the offense and becomes the teams fourth wide receiver. He is also a core member of Dave Fipp's special teams unit.
Marcus Johnson has been a camp standout. Johnson opened a lot of eyes this summer after spending some time with the first-team offense while Jeffery was sidelined. Much like Hollins, Johnson's game is speed, strength, and versatility. Johnson tallied 5 catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns this preseason, and has grown into a role on special teams.
Greg Ward was a former quarterback at the University of Houston, and has made a smooth transition in becoming an NFL wide receiver. Ward offers the flexibility to play in the slot, return punts, and cover kicks. The team really seems to like him, and if he makes it through waivers unclaimed I expect him to join the practice squad, where Mike Groh can continue to work on his development.
Bryce Treggs will be a difficult cut, as he has had a strong camp, and has really shown up this preseason. The one thing hindering Treggs, is that he is not a special teams contributor - virtually a requirement for a reserve wide receiver. If the Eagles are unable to trade Treggs to a team with wide receiver needs - such as say, Chicago or Buffalo - I expect him to be claimed by a team off waivers. He can play in this league.
I also doubt the team wants to expose rookie fifth round pick Shelton Gibson to waivers, but I think that might be their only option. Practice squad candidate if he clears.
Tight end (4): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton, Billy Brown
To me, Trey Burton is a player who is not talked about nearly enough. Burton gives the offense a different dimension with his versatility, and even spent some time at slot receiver this week. He provides Carson Wentz with another reliable weapon.
Undrafted rookie tight end Billy Brown picked things up quickly and has shown flashes this summer. I think the team really values his upside, and will look to keep him in the building as a potential replacement for Celek next season rather than risk losing him to waivers. Additionally, Trey Burton becomes a free agent after the season, potentially leaving the team with only Zach Ertz under contract going into next season.
Offensive line (9): Jason Peters, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Chance Warmack, Halopoulivaati Vaitai, Stefan Wisniewski, Dillon Gordon
The starters are set, and on paper it looks like one of the teams strongest units. Former first round pick Warmack provides depth at both guard positions, while Wisniewski serves as Kelce's backup, and as a reserve guard.
Vaitai improved over the course of last season, and provides quality depth as a swing tackle. Gordon made the team last year as an undrafted free agent, and the team likes to use him in a myriad of ways - tackle, blocking tight end, and even fullback. He hasn't been as sharp over the last couple of weeks, so the Eagles may look to the waiver wire for a developmental tackle to take his place.
There is so much quality depth along the offensive line, that I can even see them keeping a tenth blocker (Darrell Greene or Tyler Orlosky). With that being said, I'm still going with the nine listed above.
Defensive end (5): Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, Chris Long, Steven Means
First round pick Barnett had a impressive preseason, and I'd like to see him in the mix at defensive end at Washington on Sept. 10. Curry has had a relatively quiet summer, and if Barnett continues to show promise, he could play himself into the starting lineup sooner rather than later.
The Eagles just signed Means to a one-year contract extension on Wednesday, acknowledging his consistency throughout camp. Means possesses one of the most violent bursts off the line that I've seen, and is everything you look for in a situational pass rusher. He also offers the flexibility to play special teams.
IR: Alex McCalister (hamstring)
Defensive tackle (5): Fletcher Cox, Tim Jernigan, Beau Allen, Destiny Vaeao, Justin Hamilton
Beau Allen came off the NFI (Non-football injury list) on August 25, returning from a torn pec he sustained this offseason. He provides solid depth, particularly effective when the team goes into their goaline package. Allen also appears to be an ideal trade candidate, as the team has received strong preseasons from defensive tackles Elijah Qualls and Justin Hamilton.
Vaeao made the Eagles last year as an undrafted free agent. He played well in limited snaps last season, earning 2 sacks and a forced fumble.
Justin Hamilton quietly had a very strong camp, and was routinely seeing time with the second team, alongside Vaeao. Hamilton has been disruptive all throughout the preseason, and adds versatility to the unit as a sound run stuffer.
Elijah Qualls was a tough cut here as he has come on as of late, but the return of Beau Allen makes him a casualty. Ideal practice squad candidate.
Linebacker (5): Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, Mychal Kendricks, Joe Walker, Kamu Grugier-Hill
After Hicks and Bradham, things get a little tricky. With the lack of depth at the position, I do not believe they look to move Mychal Kendricks. Kendricks has had as solid preseason as anyone on the roster, and has earned a bigger role on defense. Walker had an impressive summer last year before losing his season to a torn ACL, and was very active in the preseason finale. He becomes the primary backup to Hicks.
Kamu Grugier-Hill was claimed off waivers from the Patriots prior to week one last year, and has had a full offseason to acclimate himself. He is a fast, instinctive player who is a special teams demon.
Look for the Eagles to be very active on the waiver wire as they search for a sixth linebacker. If all else fails, I see them bringing back veteran Najee Goode after week one.
Nate Gerry flashed with solid play early in the preseason, looking comfortable transitioning from collegiate safety to linebacker. He has recently been dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, so I chalk it up as a redshirt season.
Don Cherry will likely return to the Eagles practice squad for a second straight season.
IR: Nate Gerry (hamstring)
Cornerback (6): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, Rasul Douglas, Dexter McDougle, Jaylen Watkins
The trade to acquire Darby gives the team a top corner to play alongside Mills. Darby is man corner who possesses 4.3 speed to matchup with NFC East wide receivers.
Robinson struggled early in camp when cast as the Eagles top cornerback. Upon acquiring Darby, the Eagles moved Robinson inside, where he appears to be settling in nicely. Robinson beat out veteran Ron Brooks, who was released earlier this week. Robinson provides veteran leadership amongst a young cornerback unit.
The team acquired Dexter McDougle from the Jets last week in exchange for safety Terrence Brooks. While McDougle had an up and down final game against his former team, the team is likely intrigued about the depth he provides from the slot.
Jaylen Watkins has bounced between safety and corner over his career, and after signing veteran safety Corey Graham earlier this preseason, they moved him back to corner. Watkins has looked much more natural playing corner, using his instinctiveness and athleticism to makes plays. His ability to play safety in a pinch helps his cause, as Maragos is a non factor on defense.
I foresee the Eagles scouring the waiver wire as they look to upgrade the cornerback depth.
Safety (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Chris Maragos
Jenkins and McLeod form one of the top safety tandems in the NFL. Jenkins is the unquestioned leader of the secondary.
Veteran Corey Graham was signed a month ago to provide additional depth, and is known around the league for his special teams prowess. He has mixed in with the first-team defense in certain personnel packages.
Maragos is one of the best special teams players in the league, and a captain for the unit.
Specialists (3): Caleb Sturgis, Donnie Jones, Rick Lovato
Sturgis and Jones had essentially no competition at their positions, and Lovato replaces longtime snapper and fan favorite Jon Dorenbos.
That makes 52, with the linebacker I have them acquiring via waivers bringing them to 53.
NFI (Non-football injury list): CB Sidney Jones
While a lot is sure to unfold over the next couple of days, this is my educated guess on what the final roster will look like on Sept. 3.