The Eagles are set to begin padded practices on August 17th. For many, this signifies the real start of training camp. There are several exciting and intriguing storylines currently surrounding the organization both on the field and off as the offseason heads into its final juncture (with there being no pre-season).
NOTE: This list is not ranked in order of importance or significance
1) Receiver Room Revamped
The Eagles added 4 new receivers in the offseason.
- Jalen Reagor
- John Hightower
- Quez Watkins
- Marquise Goodwin*
*Goodwin has opted out of the 2020 season
There will be 3 new faces in the wide receiver room in 2020. However, the return of DeSean Jackson, who played in 3 games last year due to an abdominal injury, can be equated to a new face. A legit deep threat, Jackson brings ELITE speed each and every time he’s on the field. A glimpse of the Wentz-Jackson connection was seen last season for one game in which Jackson hauled in 8 catches on 9 targets for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. In his only complete game played Jackson averaged 19.3 yards per catch (17.7 on the season). A healthy DeSean Jackson and a rejuvenated Carson Wentz is a scary sight for secondaries across the NFL. With Marquise Goodwin opting out, it is absolutely pertinent that Jackson stays healthy.
Alshon Jeffery has been placed on the Active/PUP list. This means he will still be counted towards the roster and if he isn’t cleared to play before the regular season, he’ll have to be moved to the reserve/PUP list and be sidelined until week 6. Understanding this, the rest of the wide receiver room will likely come down to Jalen Reagor, John Hightower IV, Quez Watkins, JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Greg Ward.
Outside of DeSean Jackson who is the starting Z receiver, the other two starting wide receiver positions will be up for grabs. In my opinion, the X will come down to Arcega-Whiteside and Reagor, who has been said to be cross training at both wide receiver positions. Arcega-Whiteside was drafted to eventually replace Alshon Jeffery at the X position. After an underwhelming, injury riddled rookie season, seeing how Arcega-Whiteside has developed this offseason will be interesting. The slot position should be Greg Ward’s to lose. John Hightower IV has talent, potential and the body attributes to contribute from the slot in his rookie season.
With the circumstances surrounding Alshon Jeffery and Marquise Goodwin, a young receiver will have to step up. Arcega-Whiteside was a second round pick, it is time for him to play and put his skillset on display. Reagor was a first round pick, he has the talent and he will find a way to get on the field. Opposite DeSean Jackson, the talent is there and someone has to step up. There is talent in the secondary to challenge the young receivers, mainly Darius Slay. The young guys are talented and they have a lot of potential, the first step towards actualizing that potential will begin this week.
2) What are the Eagles doing at Linebacker?
Jatavis Brown has retired. He was expected to be a starter on this defense. Unless the team adds someone the Eagles linebackers for the 2020 season will be:
- TJ Edwards
- Nathan Gerry
- Duke Riley
- Alex Singleton
- Davion Taylor
- Shaun Bradley
- Dante Olson
The Brown departure further decimates a position that was already bare to begin with. The most talented player in the room is TJ Edwards, who the Eagles are said to be bullish on heading into his 2nd year. He will be pencilled in as a starter at the middle linebacker position. Nate Gerry can be expected to start at the weakside position. The strongside linebacker position will likely be decided in the coming weeks. Rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley will likely be the traditional linebackers battling for this spot, however, there are other possibilities.
3) Roster Versatility
Versatility is a concept that has been echoed throughout the walls of the NovaCare complex. It is evident through the construction of the roster. Looking at the safety position, the Eagles added 2 safeties and resigned another (Will Parks, K’Von Wallace, and Jalen Mills). Each of the three have experience playing linebacker and it can be expected that they will play some linebacker in 2020.
Much has been made about the Eagles depth at the defensive end position or lack thereof. The Eagles added Vinny Curry this past week and Javon Hargrave in March. The base defensive tackle position will once again be operated on a rotation basis with Fletcher Cox, Malik Jackson, and Hargrave. The fourth spot will be between Anthony Rush, Hassan Ridgeway, and Raequan Williams. This pertains to the defensive end position because of the crossover that can occur with both the defensive tackle position and the defensive end position.
Brandon Graham can play defensive tackle, as can Vinny Curry. Malik Jackson can play defensive end, as can Fletcher Cox. Players can be used in multiple ways based on matchups and defensive packages. Jim Schwartz and Matt Burke have to be salivating at the opportunity to truly dive into this defensive line and the rewards it can and should yield.
4) The Secondary after Darius Slay
Darius Slay is the Eagles number one corner. The addition of Slay gives the Eagles the best corner they’ve had in nearly a decade. His addition and the impact it will have cannot be understated.
After Slay the position becomes a bit murky. The second cornerback position will be a battle. Sidney Jones vs Avonte Maddox. Second round pick vs Fourth round pick. Maddox flashed in his rookie season (2018). In 2018, per PFF Maddox was the number one corner in yards allowed per coverage snap during the regular season. He ranked 4th in passer rating allowed when targeted (59.9). As a fourth round pick, Maddox was a pleasant surprise. In 2019, it was a different story. While Maddox wasn’t completely terrible, he didn’t flash as much and gave up a 85.1 passer rating on 75 targets (per Pro-Football-Reference). Predominantly in the slot in 2019, Maddox had an up and down year.
Sidney Jones had his best year as a pro last season. That isn’t saying much. Throughout his 3 year career there has been more bad than good. Jones has battled injuries, inconsistent play and confidence issues. It’s been a rocky road for Jones. This offseason he’s worked with renowned cornerbacks trainer, Ronnie Braxton. I profiled Jones’ offseason in an article earlier this offseason. Altogether, this may be Jones last opportunity. He’s on the last year of his rookie deal and he’s had an up and down career to this point. In the words of Howie Roseman, “It’s time for Jones to go prove it.” It’s time for Jones to put his talent on display.
The nickel corner position will be Nickell Robey-Coleman’s to lose. Cre’Von Leblanc has been the Eagles starting nickel when healthy for the last three years. The Eagles reportedly view NRC as a top nickel corner in the league and he has showed that talent in his career.
5) The Safety Room
As stated, the Eagles added versatility at the safety position. The team resigned Rodney Mcleod, Jalen Mills, and converted Mills from a cornerback to a safety. They then added Will Parks in free agency, K’Von Wallace in the draft, and Grayland Arnold and Elijah Riley as undrafted free agents.
The current starters at this position, in my opinion are Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills. This is subject to change. K’Von Wallace is talented and he’s played everywhere on defense except the defensive line. As has Will Parks. In my opinion, this position will be the most competitive in terms of competition in training camp when the live action practice revs up this week. There are 4 guys who can all play multiple positions and do them quite well.
6) The Coaching
The Eagles shuffled their coaching staff this offseason. Offensively and defensively, changes have been made. I profiled each of the offensive coaching staff moves in March. It will be interesting to see the different sets Rich Scangarello and Doug Pederson come up with as well as seeing Press Taylor in his new role as passing game coordinator.
The defensive staff mainly added two faces: Marquand Manuel and Matt Burke. Manuel takes the reigns as the new secondary coach and Burke takes over as the leader of the defensive line room. Manuel will be tasked with developing several young guys and improving the play of Sidney Jones. Burke mainly has to just show up to work. That’s how much talent and ability the Eagles defensive line possesses.
The main thing with most of these coaching moves as well as the roster moves is the versatility each brings. Manuel has been a defensive coordinator, as has Burke. These coaches will not be confined to their specific positions and offer the ability to assist defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
7) Showtime Sanders
Miles Sanders will be the Eagles undisputed RB1. The team has not added anyone that could be referenced to as the team going in a committee approach, instead choosing to give Sanders the ball and let him go. He will be the workhorse and it will be on him to lead the Eagles running game week in and week out.
Sander comes into 2020 with a bit of a chip on his shoulder saying, ” I could say, definitely wanted to win Rookie of the Year, definitely thought I could have been in the conversation of Rookie of the Year,” Sanders said. “But that just puts a bigger chip on my shoulder. I don’t really think about it too much no more. That was last year, but I just play with a big chip on my shoulder, and that’s what I use to just motivate myself and keep grinding.”
Sanders will have full authority to grind and showcase his talent.
8) The QB Room
Carson Wentz is healthy and he’s added on some serious muscle. Wentz is primed for a MVP season, somewhat resembling his 2017 season. The Eagles have built the roster to fit his skillset by adding nothing but speed at the wide receiver position. Wentz has stout protection up front with the return of Jason Peters. It’s up to him to go out and show the football world who he is.
The backup QB spot will likely go to Nate Sudfield due to his knowledge of the Eagles system and the lack of actual on field practice time second round pick, Jalen Hurts has had. In my opinion, Hurts is the more talented QB, but he still has room for improvement and he still has to gain more knowledge of the Eagles extensive playbook. The Eagles QB centric offensive staff should help aid Hurts in his transition.