By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
There is no doubt that things change quickly in the NFL and there will surely be some injuries during training camp and/or the preseason games. The team may also make some additions, as they have been doing, especially with someone as prone to make trades as Howie Roseman at the helm.
The moves have been continually shaping the roster and changes have had to be made since my initial way-too-early projections.
With just over a week until the Birds start camp and begin preparing for their preseason games, my updated projections are below. If you read my previous projections, all changes have been written in bold.
Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
Luis Perez would have to look like the most incredible quarterback in Eagles history to force the team to trade Sudfeld in order for him to find his way onto the 53-man roster.
Cody Kessler has a chance to make the roster, but the team would first need to be so impressed with him that they trade (or give) away Thorson or Sudfeld. That seems unlikely.
Wide Receivers (5)
Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins
Alshon, DeSean and JJAW are all locks for the roster. The only way that Agholor isn't on the roster is if another team comes around and offers a king's ransom in exchange for him, so he should be around two.
There will be a fifth-receiver on the roster no matter what. Mack Hollins had the inside track based on his performance in 2017 as well as his willingness to play on special teams, but the fact that he is, in theory, a speed guy who hadn’t been able to run for 15 months is concerning and does not bode well for the third-year man. He has promise, but the Eagles cannot afford to use too many spots on injured players or projects that cannot contribute right away. Hollins very well may find himself on the PUP list or even the IR to start the season, but the hope is that such a situation does not come to pass.
Five receivers is a bit thin, but with both Goedert and Ertz being excellent receiving options at tight end and Rodgers also having previous success in the passing game in the NFL, the Eagles can afford to run with a thin position.
Running Backs (4)
Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard, Corey Clement, Josh Adams
Second-round pick Miles Sanders will be on the roster for years to come and Jordan Howard will be able to take some reps to both protect him and ease him into the league. They are essentially locks to be on the roster.
Corey Clement is clearly the third-best back on this roster and should improve over his injury-hampered 2018 season. He will provide that change of pace back and will be the guy next to Deandre Thompkins on returns to advise him on what to do.
Hot take: Wendell Smallwood is a good running back who can be a role player. He deserves the fourth spot here and will be on an NFL roster for Week 1, even if it' not in Philadelphia. From a roster-building perspective, Adams has the higher potential and is under team control in 2020 whereas Smallwood is a free agent following this season. That extra control could give Adams the inside edge, though a trade of either back over the course of training camp would not be surprising.
Boston Scott has a shot at claiming that fourth spot on the roster and comes with the same control that Adams does. That said, Scott has no track record to lean on in the NFL while Adams can boast that he was the top rusher for the Birds just a season ago - and he was injured during that time.
Tight Ends (3)
Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, Richard Rodgers
Ertz and Goedert will be with the team for the foreseeable future, so they will be on the roster.
Rodgers figures to be the third tight end because he is a better blocker than Josh Perkins and is an established veteran presence for the team. Perkins is good enough to make the roster and could push out Rodgers, however that seems unlikely.
Offensive Linemen (9)
Lane Johnson, Brandon Brooks, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Peters, Andre Dillard, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor, Stefen Wisniewski
The five starters will be with the team and you don't draft a top-10 player and then not give him a roster spot, so the team has six spots already committed to the line there.
The Birds cannot leave Jordan Mailata exposed if they plan to keep him and there is no reason to give up on the Australian prospect. He won't be amazing in 2019, but you can do far worse for a fourth or possible fifth-string tackle.
Matt Pryor may figure to be the starter at right guard should Brooks not be ready to start the season. The team seems to think highly of him, so he may become the new Chance Warmack, only he hopefully has skill and ability. If the team chooses to move on from any offensive lineman on this projection, Pryor would be the one to lose a spot, however.
The return of Wisniewski give the Eagles versatility back on the inside and provides a competent to above average center for the team to lean on in the case of a Jason Kelce injury that does not require them to move another starter. Wiz will likely get the chance to compete for a starting spot even if Brandon Brooks is healthy to start the 2019 season.
A name you do not see on this list is Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Big V is limited to the tackle positions and Peters, Johnson, Dillard and Mailata gives the team four lineman that can only play tackle. Plus Isaac Seumalo can kick over if three of those guys are injured. Having a fifth player limited to those positions is too much roster space to commit to those spots without rostering a backup center or fourth guard. Big V is good and deserves to be on the roster, but the depth at his position is staggering.
In order to account for that, the Eagles have started cross-training Vatai as a guard and he has been operating as the starter there with Kelce, Brooks, Johnson and Peters all not practicing. Still, it is hard to imagine Big V playing over Wisniewski. He’s got a chance to steal a spot, but the Eagles could get the most draft assets back for him and the fact that he has not signed an extension makes it seem like he is no longer in the team’s plans following 2019. In fact, Wiz is the only other player not signed past 2019. The team control the other guys all have gives them a better chance to make the team. Look for Howie Roseman to deal the young tackle like he did Matt Tobin two years ago. Big V is a superior player, however, and should bring back more than the fifth-round pick the team got for Tobin, especially if he shows some skill at guard.
The Eagles have a couple of undrafted free agents compete for a spot, though they’d likely remain inactive on game days. Ryan Bates and Iosua Opeta will be the favorites for the spot, but Opeta is raw. Bates is both versatile and can get the leg up by learning all five positions and taking over the role that Isaac Seumalo had prior to becoming an entrenched starter. Bates would seem to have the leg up with how much teams like the Eagles like him at center and the fact that the team might have no depth there following the end of the 2019 season.
The Eagles do not put any of the rookies on the roster, however, as they feel they have solid depth and need to address depth at other positions. They hope to get them to the practice squad and are fairly certain that at least one, if not both, of them will clear waivers.
Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Tre Sullivan, Blake Countess
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will be on the team provided they are healthy, so there isn't much to discuss there.
Tre Sullivan made huge improvements in 2018 and was the best safety through much of the playoffs per PFF. He has become a vital piece to the team and is the only safety under 28 years old that the Eagles used (other than cornerbacks who played safety). There is no reason for the Eagles to risk losing him and plenty of reason to believe he will show up in camp.
Sendejo has the inside track to the fourth safety position, but he will need to prove he is healthy and outplay undrafted free agent Delvon Randall, 2018 Eagles safety Deiondre' Hall, and the recently re-acquired Blake Countess for the position.
On one hand, the Eagles guaranteed money to Sendejo, but if he is outplayed by another safety in camp, the team could cut him to save $800,000 in cap space as well as get back a fourth-round compensatory pick (the one from Jordan Hicks) that is currently being cancelled out by a free-agent signing. His spot seems far from secure. Blake Countess is a younger player without the same injury history, a guy that the front office saw fit to draft, provides positional versatility for increased depth and has shown he can do well in a similar situation behind a defensive line that consisted of just Aaron Donald for much of the season. Countess also averaged just under 25 yards per kick return as the Rams return man in 2018, so he could provide that ability for a team without a clear kick returner.
As mentioned before, there is a scenario where both Countess and Sendejo make the roster with Countess taking the "return-man" spot, but the team would likely need to give someone else the punt returning responsibilities.
Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, Cre’Von LeBlanc
It is hard to see any changes at the position barring some kind of trade. The Eagles did not seem to get any more impact players at the position in the offseason, so the team will roll with the six guys they already had, and that is not a bad thing.
It seemed the only player who had a chance to take a roster spot as a corner was Chandon Sullivan as he was the lone corner the Eagles had spent developing last season, but in a bit of a shocking move, the Birds released him to make room on the 90-man roster. For any change to take place now, the team would need an undrafted free agent or Josh Hawkins to become a star in the span of a few months.
Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, TJ Edwards, Paul Worrilow, Nathan Gerry
Linebacker is the position with the most flex as only Bradham and Kamu seemed to have a roster spot set aside for them just a month ago and the team has shown a tendency to acquire special teams players at the position close to the start of the season.
The addition of Zach Brown was a big shakeup to this portion of the roster. He is a very good player and easily the best or second-best option at the position. Brown gives the Eagles two strong linebacker options that can play in all three linebacker spots, giving the team extra versatility they simply didn’t have with Hicks playing the middle only. As an added bonus, Brown is not tied to a compensatory pick. It would seem like injury is the only thing that could prevent him from making the roster.
Returning player Paul Worrilow fits the bill of the special-teams ace and rotational player the Eagles like to have on deck. His presence has the added benefit of being an active locker room contributor, even when he was injured, as well as provide starting experience. If he makes the roster, the team likely does not make a special teams pickup prior to the first game of the season (see DJ Alexander in 2018).
Gerry should make the roster if he is able to take another leap forward. As a draft pick of the Eagles, he has some leverage. LJ Fort or Paul Worrilow are probably the guys who he will have to beat out in camp, though Fort has limited starting experience.
LJ Fort was a PFF darling in 2018 and showed great potential as a rotational player. If he can do the same or more in training camp, he should have himself a spot. The team has the option to keep him for three seasons, so it would not be suprising to see him make the team.
That said, the Eagles could choose to release him to free up that same fourth-round compensatory pick instead of releasing Andrew Sendejo. Signing the deal for three seasons and the promise he showed last season makes that unlikely, but the team may need to release both to ensure they get both fourth-rounders. Looking at it now, only one would need to go to free up the second fourth-round compensatory pick, but the 49ers drafting two receivers means that Jordan Matthews may not even make the team. If he were to get cut, both Sendejo and Fort are blocking fourth-round picks from coming to the Eagles. I am not sure that Fort will prove to the team that he is worth a fourth-round pick, but it would be a nice surprise if he did.
They will be in competition with two good undrafted free agents in TJ Edwards and Joey Alfieri. Honestly, it is ridiculous Edwards was not drafted and he could end up being the team’s starting third linebacker or primary rotational linebacker in 2019. I would be shocked if he did not make the roster out of training camp. Alfieri is no slouch and could find his way onto the roster over someone else, too.
Defensive Tackles (5)
Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Tim Jernigan, Treyvon Hester
It is difficult to see much change at this position. All four of the guys on this list are likely to be with the team for 2019 and it would not be a surprise if at least one of Ridgeway or Jernigan is signed to an extension to keep three of them around for 2020.
Playoff hero Treyvon Hester, who was a PFF darling in 2018 and did well in his limited reps (much like LJ Fort at linebacker), was the last player cut in my original projection. It came down to he or Josh Sweat and while Hester has shown far more than Sweat, Sweat was supposed to be a high-round talent at a low-round cost and I do not see the franchise giving up on a 2018 draft pick after only one season. Hester provides invaluable depth to allow Malik Jackson to move outside following an injury and the team will want to hang on to him.
Defensive Ends (5)
Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat
Barnett, Graham and Curry are locks for the roster. I’d argue fourth-round pick Shareef Miller is essentially a lock for the roster, too, unless he suffers an “injury”. It seems unlikely a team would expose a fourth-round pick right away, especially when they only made five picks total.
Chris Long officially retired and is gone from the team, so the competition for the fifth spot would seem to come down to Josh Sweat, Joe Ostman and Daeshon Hall.
Sweat showed nothing in his limited snaps in 2018, but is still young and gets preferable treatment for being a draft pick of the team. The hope is he flashes skills in training camp, but he will likely take a roster spot from someone else even if he continues to be unproductive.
Jake Elliot, Cameron Johnston, Rick Lovato
Not much to see here. The Eagles will return all three of their specialists barring a major event as all three seem to be above average with the ability to improve. The trio are all young guys and could stick with the team for the next 15-20 years at their positions.
RB Boston Scott, OL Ryan Bates, OL Iosua Opeta, WR Deandre Thompkins, WR Marken Michel, TE Josh Perkins, DE Joe Ostman, LB Joey Alfieri, S Delvon Randall, S/LB Jerry Iweh
Scott can make the roster with a similar skill-set to that of Darren Sproles, but he is currently the third-best option as the fourth running back and will be easier to slip through waivers than Josh Adams. Scott would be an ideal fifth back to keep if the Eagles had the opportunity, but the team will need a fifth receiver. If Mack Hollins is healthy for the start of camp, Scott may pull the returner spot away from guys like Thompkins, Clement, Countess or Smallwood, depending on who the team goes with.
Opeta is a player with extremely high upside, but si coming from a place where he will be matched up against competition that is far superior to what they faced last season. The team would like to hang onto him, but he just isn't ready to contribute and won't get a 53-man roster sport just to be kept from other teams. Opeta has the kind of talent that offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland would love to unlock and could be a case similar to Mailata without the same attention that would get him picked off waivers immediately.
Bates, as mentioned above, has a good chance of making the roster if he learns the inside positions, particularly center. Johnny Gibson is arguably the most likely of the three ready to play inside immediately, but Bates has the higher upside. Many teams, including the Eagles, love the thought of him at center. If he fails to crack the 53-man, the team will make him a top priority on the practice squad as they develop him for the future and hope that he can learn all five positions to become the next Isaac Seumalo.
Perkins and Ostman are good enough to make an NFL roster, but, barring an injury, seem likely to be victims of a deep positions on the roster (in Hollins’ case, depth at other positions). It would be a surprise if these guys clear waivers were they cut outright.
Randall is a defensive backs with high upside who would provide excellent depth if any of the secondary members on the 53-man roster were to land on IR. With two safeties and two corners set to depart in free agency following the season, the team should look to keep him around for a serious shot at joining the roster in 2020.
Alfieri has a chance to make the roster, but it would seem he needs to beat out Nathan Gerry, TJ Edwards, LJ Fort, or Paul Worrilow and I just don't see him doing that. He provides depth at a weak position where the Eagles have had injury issues in the past.
Marken Michel is arguably the highest-upside receiver that the team will risk releasing and is eligible for the practice squad. The Birds like to keep an extra receiver or two around, so Michel gets the nod.
Iweh does not seem ready to be a contributor at the NFL level just yet, but his ability to play both safety and linebacker at the college level appeals greatly to defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and the coach lobbies to keep him in the building.
Deandre Thompkins could very well prove himself to be the best punt returner or overall return man on the roster in training camp and the preseason games. He could also provide an improvement over Shelton Gibson, who made only one catch for a depleted receiving corps in 2018, as the backup to DeSean Jackson. The Eagles could place him on the roster as a future deep threat/return man combo, but he’ll stick around for another shot next season if not.
Because the practice squad depends on which players clear waivers and are not claimed by other teams, the below players would figure to be the players the Eagles attempt to sign should any of the above 10 be signed by another team. There are sure to be guys cut from other rosters that the Eagles would love to give a chance, but these two would likely be the first to get a vacated spot.
RB Ryan Fulse, S Tyrell Gilbert, DE Daeshon Hall, DT Kevin Wilkins