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By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
The Eagles have a roster of 90 players filled, not including additional rookies who have received minicamp invites. That number will need to be whittled down to 90 at the start of OTAs and then down to 53 by the start of the regular season with an additional 10 spots available on the practice squad.
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 earlier this week, especially with someone as prone to make trades as Howie Roseman at the helm. Still, it is fun to look at what players may be the ones to watch during that time period.
With that, here is my way too early projection of the 2019 Eagles 53-man roster and practice squad.
Carson Wentz, Nate Sudfeld, Clayton Thorson
This position is essentially locked down. Wentz is the unquestioned starter, the team placed a second-round tender on Nate Sudfeld and then took Thorson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
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.
Wide Receivers (6)
Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, DeSean Jackson, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Mack Hollins, Deandre Thompkins
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, but Mack Hollins has the inside track based on his performance in 2017 as well as his willingness to play on special teams.
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 provides 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 will give the return man a spot on the 53-man roster if Darren Sproles does not return. There is a scenario where Blake Countess could nab that spot, but he lacks experience returning punts, which is the area that the Eagles have been missing in the absence of Sproles.
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 year of control give Adams the inside edge, though a trade of either back over the course of training camp would not be surprising.
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, Johnny Gibson Jr.
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 replacement to Stefen Wisniewski.
The Eagles have a couple of free agents compete to take the spot that Chance Warmack once occupied on the line. Johnny Gibson, Ryan Bates and Iosua Opeta will be the three favorites for the spot, but Opeta is raw. Bates and Gibson are both versatile, but whichever can backup center Jason Kelce will get the leg up. Since Gibson is a guard/tackle and Bates is a swing tackle, Gibson is ahead of the curve at learning the new position.
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. Look for Howie Roseman to deal the young tackle like he did Matt Tobin two years ago. Big V is a far superior player, however, and should bring back for than a fifth-round pick.
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 both 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 worse defensive line. 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, at the expense of receiver Deandre Thompkins, with Countess taking the “return-man” spot, but the team would 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 to become a star in the span of a few months.
Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Zach Brown, TJ Edwards, Paul Worrilow, LJ Fort
Linebacker is the position with the most flex as only Bradham and Kamu would seem to have a roster spot set aside for them and the team has shown a tendency to acquire special teams players at the position close to the start of the season.
Returning player Paul Worrilow fits the bill of the special-teams ace and rotational player the Eagles like.
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. That said, the Eagles could choose to release him to free up that same fourth-round compensatory pick instead of releasing Andrew Sendejo.
Fort 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 one of the team’s best linebackers in 2019. I would be shocked if he did not make the roster out of training camp, but Alfieri is no slouch and could find his way onto the roster over someone else, too.
The addition of Zach Brown was a big shakeup to this portion of the roster after I had originally prepared it. Nathan Gerry took a huge leap forward in 2018, but I am not convinced he will outplay any of the six guys on this list.
Gerry’s spot could be saved by the fact that he was drafted by the team a few seasons ago, but good teams are willing to move on. He could also take another big leap forward and make the team comfortable with moving on from Fort or another linebacker.
Defensive Tackles (4)
Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, Hassan Ridgeway, Tim Jernigan
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.
Noticeably missing from this list is playoff hero Treyvon Hester, who was a PFF darling in 2018 and did extremely well in his limited reps (much like LJ Fort at linebacker). With the two recent additions to provide two excellent depth options, Hester seems to be left without a roster spot. Trying to cut the roster down to 53, Hester was my final cut. It came down to he or Josh Sweat and while he 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 could become the 2019 version of Steven Means in 2018, who really should have made the roster, but was forced off in a roster crunch. He would have been good to have around following the Derek Barnett injury and the loss of Hester could hurt in that same way.
Defensive Ends (5)
Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Shareef Miller, Josh Sweat
Barnett, Graham and fourth-round pick Shareef Miller are locks for the roster. Curry is essentially a lock for the roster, too. With Curry and Shareef being added to the roster, Chris Long will most likely not return as his role would seem to be decrease.
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 Ryan Fulse, OL Ryan Bates, OL Iosua Opeta, TE Josh Perkins, DT Treyvon Hester, LB Joey Alfieri, WR Marken Michel, S Tyrell Gilbert, S Delvon Randall, S/LB Jerry Iweh
Fulse and Opeta are both players with extremely high upside, but are coming from places where they will be matched up against competition that is far superior to what they faced last season. They are both guys the team would like to hang onto, but just aren’t ready to contribute and won’t get a 53-man roster sport just to be kept from other teams.
Bates, as mentioned above, has a good chance of making the roster if he learns the inside positions, particularly center. John Gibson gets the nod since he has already played guard and would therefore have the inside track to that situation.
Perkins and Hester are both good enough to make an NFL roster, but, barring an injury, seem likely to be victims of a deep roster. Hester could find himself on the 53-man, but the team would have to give up on 2018 draft pick Josh Sweat for that to happen. It would be a surprise if either of these guys clear waivers.
Randall and Gilbert are both 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 the pair around to join the roster in 2020.
Alfieri has a chance to make the roster, but it would seem they need to beat out Nathan Gerry, TJ Edwards, LJ Fort, or Paul Worrilow and I just don’t see him doing that (or the Eagles cutting LJ Fort should he not do well in training camp). 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 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.
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.
QB Luis Perez, RB Nico Evans, DT Kevin Wilkins