The Philadelphia Eagles have added depth and talent at multiple positions this offseason. Howie Roseman was quoted as saying he wants competition to, “dictate what’s best for our football team.” Throughout training camp (if there is one) there will be fierce competition on offense and defense. In this article I am going to go through the top 5 depth chart battles and give my thoughts on each
5) Wide Receiver Depth
With Alshon Jeffery starting the season on PUP (physically unable to perform), the three locks to make the roster at wide receiver will most likely be, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, DeSean Jackson and Jalen Reagor. After those three players, the position becomes a bit murky. The candidates for the rest of the position group are as follows: 5th round pick John Hightower, 6th round pick Quez Watkins, the recently acquired Marquise Goodwin, last year’s practice squad guys Greg Ward, Robert Davis, Deontay Burnett and Shelton Gibson, and finally, Marcus Green, Khalil Tate, and Manassah Bailey. There are a lot of bodies in the room right now and if there is a training camp, I currently view the position filling out with the Eagles keeping six wide receivers, with Alshon Jeffery starting the year on PUP.
After Reagor, Jackson, and Arcega-Whiteside the competition heats up. There has been an influx of youth added to this position and players will be gunning for jobs. I think this starts with Greg Ward. He should undoubtedly be the number one option at slot heading into training camp, but that doesn’t make him an absolute lock to make the roster. If Watkins or Hightower outperform him, then they should have the job. The rookies however, have a disadvantage due to not having a rookie minicamp and less time on the field and in the facility and being around the coaches. This is why the competition at not only slot but, the position as a whole will be so interesting to see how it plays out.
Marquise Goodwin, however, is as close to being a lock as a player can get without it being set in stone. The reasoning behind this can be seen in many ways. First, he provides what the Eagles lacked last year, depth as a speed receiver. After DeSean Jackson went down last season, there was no one who could step in and replace that element of the offense. Goodwin changes that. Second, Carson Wentz has already talked about how much he likes Goodwin, saying,”…going out and getting Marquise (Goodwin). I’ve been watching him on tape for years through crossover tape through the league and everything. Just extremely impressed with who he is as a player and the speed and the dynamic he brings as well.” Wentz’s voice matters a lot to the organization. Finally, Goodwin’s aquisition included the Eagles trading a draft pick. While it wasn’t a high pick, it was a pick nevertheless. Howie Roseman values every pick and I don’t think he’d outright cut Goodwin unless he absolutely shows next to nothing in training camp/preseason action. However, due to the lack of offseason activity, having a vet like Goodwin around may entice the Eagles to keep him on the roster. The competition and skills put on display will ultimately dictate the position.
4) Defensive End Rotation
The starting defensive ends will be Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham respectively, but like the wide receiver position, the depth of the position will feature fierce competition between a bevy of players: Josh Sweat, Genard Avery, Daeshon Hall, Joe Ostman, Shareef Miller, Casey Toohill, and possibly a veteran pass rusher that the team has yet to add. Josh Sweat is the most talented of the bunch currently on the team. Sweat flashed last season with 4 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, and 11 QB hits. Genard Avery was acquired in October of last season and only played 33 snaps for the team. It has been reported that the Eagles want to get Avery a full offseason in their defensive system before using him as a full on rotational piece. This offseason/training camp will be huge for Avery. After those 2 players (Sweat and Avery), the depth of the position is a bit in question. Toohill, Hall, Miller, and Ostman will likely compete for the fifth DE spot unless the team brings in a veteran pass rusher. Toohill is an athletic rookie who was selected in the 7th round but he is a bit undersized, Hall showed some potential as a pass rusher but he is working his way back from a torn ACL suffered in December, Shareef Miller was on the practice squad all last year and Joe Ostman is a bit of a wild card. The coaching staff reportedly really liked what they saw out of Ostman during the 2019 training camp and had he not gotten injured, he would’ve made the 53 man roster. If Ostman can recapture some of the ability that he showed in training camp last year and the team doesn’t sign a veteran, I believe he will be the fifth defensive end on the team. The current free agent options were detailed in an article on the Blitz.
Currently the Eagles linebacker room consists of TJ Edwards, Nate Gerry, Jatavis Brown, Davion Taylor, Duke Riley, Shaun Bradley, Alex Singleton, and Dante Olson. In my opinion, this is the most unpolished position on the roster. Edwards is the most talented of the bunch and has been picked by many as the Eagles breakout candidate for the 2020 season. He will likely be the teams starting middle linebacker. Nate Gerry, a favorite of the coaching staff , is the veteran (weird) of the group and will likely be the starting strongside linebacker. Gerry showed improvements last season in coverage and his speed was a plus. However, he showed room for improvement in the mental processing area and his tackling was dreadful at times. Gerry also showed great toughness in playing with a core muscle injury all season, which he had surgery on in the offseason. As a converted safety, Gerry’s play last year created valuable experience as a fulltime linebacker and it shows room for development. As the veteran in a young linebacker room and heading into his second year as a full-time starter, Gerry has to step up.
The starting weakside linebacker position will be determined in training camp. In my opinion it will be either Jatavis Brown or Duke Riley. Davion Taylor may also insert himself into the discussion. Brown was profiled in my free agency recap. He reminds me a lot of Kamu Grugier-Hill, in his athleticism and ability to contribute on special teams. He brings 4.4 speed, great physicality as a tackler, ability in coverage and starting experience. Duke Riley is a very athletic linebacker and he has starting experience but is mainly a special teams contributor. Davion Taylor flashes off the screen when you watch him but he’s extremely inexperienced. The potential is there but it will take a couple seasons before he can be a definite starting level linebacker in the NFL. Shaun Bradley and Alex Singleton will likely compete for the final linebacker spot and mainly contribute on special teams, with Olson headed to the practice squad.
As a whole, currently the Eagles linebacker position features a whole lot of meh currently with potential. The Eagles have a specific type of linebacker they like: fast, can contribute on special teams and the ability to be at least average in pass coverage but they don’t value the position at all to invest in acquiring premium level talent.
Versatility is the word here. Every player can be moved around. In the slot, in the box or as the single high safety. At least one starter can be penciled in: Rodney McLeod at free safety. After him, the position consists of Jalen Mills, Will Parks, rookie K’Von Wallace, Marcus Epps, Rudy Ford, Elijah Riley, and UDFA Grayland Arnold. The main players competing for a starting job will be Mills, Parks, and Wallace. First on the depth chart at strong safety should be Jalen Mills. He has experience in the Eagles system and the strong safety position will allow him to maximize his strengths as a player. His main strength as a player has always been his physicality, whether in coverage or as a tackler. However, I don’t think Mills will solely be just the strong safety. He can cover the slot, play up near the line or as a deep high safety which should allow him to play to his strengths. In base packages though, I think he will be the safety opposite McLeod. Parks and Wallace will compete for the third safety role. Each offer a bevy of versatile skills, as does every safety in the room. I think due to the versatility of each safety and the talent level each has, we will see the Eagles use 3 safeties on the field at times like they did in 2017 with Corey Graham. For example, if Wallace or Mills is in the slot or playing the hybrid linebacker role, you could have McLeod and Parks as the two high safeties. The last four players Epps, Ford, Riley and Arnold will compete for the last safety spot or last two if the team decides to keep 6 safeties. Their roles will primarily be on special teams. Ford and Arnold are my picks for the last two spots. There are a lot of exotic looks Jim Schwartz can employ due to the versatility in the room and the competition this summer should be extremely intense.
1) Number 2 Cornerback
The competition to start opposite Darius Slay will undoubtedly be the most vigorous of all the battles. Between Trevor Williams, Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones, one of these three will emerge. Williams has battled health issues the past few seasons but when healthy he is a starting level corner in the NFL. Maddox will likely have a leg up on Jones and Williams because of the talent and ability he has put on display since being drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 draft. Sidney Jones’s expectations after being drafted in the 2nd round of the 2017 draft were sky high. However, injuries have derailed his career. I profiled what Jones has at stake on the 2020 season last week. The competition will ultimately come down to Maddox or Jones in my opinion. Regardless of who is starting opposite him, Darius Slay will elevate whoever is in the secondary with him.
The slot position will also feature a dose of competition between incumbent, Cre’Von LeBlanc and new addition Nickell Robey-Coleman. Robey-Coleman will likely win the job and due to the versatility of each member of the secondary, LeBlanc may be the odd man out unless he absolutely shows why he should be on the roster. The competition in the secondary as a whole will be the most heated of the entire training camp (if there is a training camp). Players will be competing for jobs and vital roles on the defense. Every player will want to put their skills on display and the intense competition should create some entertaining dynamics and the Eagles coaches and front office will have extremely tough decisions to make, in deciding who gets what job/role and who is no longer with the team.
What this all Means
Howie Roseman has done a great job of assembling talent and depth at many positions. This roster is the most competitive the team has had in years. This is because of the youth movement that has happened with this and the amount of versatile players Roseman has acquired. With the uncertainty of whether or not training camp will happen, it’d be a huge let down if there is no training camp and we are deprived of a pre-season and seeing what the competition dictates for the roster. In all, the Philadelphia Eagles roster will feature a bevy of versatile players who will all vie for roster spots and prominent roles on offense and defense.
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