I feel like I just did this article, not because this is me predicting the Philadelphia Eagles 53 man roster, but because I am doing so with a new head coach, defensive coordinator, offensive coordinator and brand new schemers on both sides. Probably because I did back in 2013. Three years later we are back to a completely different look on both sides of the ball with all different coaches.
Anytime you have a situation like the Eagles had back in 2013 and have again this year, you will a lot of roster turnover. The 3-4 defensive fits from last year now have to prove they can perform well in a 4-3 defense in order to keep their roster spot. Same applies to certain offensive players like Josh Huff and Kenjon Barner.
That’s the difficult spot I am in right now. I am attempting to predict which 53 players will make this roster before seeing how these guys perform in the new schemes outside of a few practices. Every year I can do this and I typically get about 47 out of 53 spots right, but this year is also a challenge because the Eagles have a ton of depth. They aren’t loaded at the top of their roster, but from about their 40th best player to their 70th best there really isn’t a huge drop-off. That will make the next month pretty entertaining, but also a little bit heartbreaking.
Philadelphia Eagles 53 Man Roster Prediction
Quarterbacks(3): Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Carson Wentz- This one is pretty much a lock barring any major injuries. Bradford is here to keep the team competitive and ease Wentz into a starting role in another year or two. Ideally he starts all 16 games, Daniel is the backup and Wentz is inactive on gameday while he transitions into the league. Now if someone gets hurt or if Brafrod struggles all bets are off. There is no real contender for a roster spot after these three.
Running Backs(4): Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Kenjon Barner- There isn’t any serious competition for roster spot here, it’s just a matter of the Eagles keeping three or four backs. Mathews is a top 10 back in this league when healthy, it just doesn’t happen for a full season very often. Because of that and Sproles’ age, this roster will need to carry four backs. Smallwood and Sproles will be incredibly versatile weapons in the backfield. Either guy can line up as a wide reciever or run the ball up the gut with power. Barner is a nice #4 back. He can contribute on special teams, is a good receiver and is elusive in the open field. He probably doesn’t dress on gamedays unless someone is hurt, but he is a very serviceable backup.
Wide Recievers(6): Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Rueben Randle, Chris Givens, Cayleb Jones, Byron Marshall- This is where some tough decisions are going to be made, with both roster spots and who will get the most snaps on Sundays. You can go ahead and pencil in Matthews in the slot and outside in most 12 formations(one RB, 2 TE, 2 WR). The real compeition here is who will play outside in the three wide formations(which I believe will be a huge part of this offense) and who will round out this roster at wide reciever.
I really don’t think there is a clear cut guy after Matthews, but I think we will see a good mix of Randle, Givens and Agholor. Randle is your possession receiver, Givens is your true deep threat and Agholor is your separation wide out. This group is getting a ton of criticism, but from 1 to 4 I really like this group. I don’t think you can put any of these two guys against another team’s top two wide outs, but one through four they are pretty solid.
Immediately after the draft the Eagles made sure they signed two prized undrafted free agents, Cayleb Jones from Arizona and Byron Marshall from that school we used to have a bias for. Jones can fill that Riley Cooper role without all the dumbassery off the field. Jones is a 6’3, 200 pound plus receiver with good quickness for his size (6.99 3-cone drill) and should develop into a very good special teams player.
Marshall is listed at wide receiver, but he’s really an offensive weapon(OW). He can play running back, wide receiver and return kicks. Think of him as a Darren Sproles in training.
Tight Ends(3): Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton- Pretty obvious choice here. Ertz is the #1 guy here and primed for a major breakout season. Celek is a solid overall tight who is nearing the end of his career. Burton is a versatile piece who is a special teams ace and can play a little full back as well. I would be worried if anyone suffered a major injury here, but if they all stay healthy this is one of the best tight end groups in the league.
Offensive Line(9): Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Dennis Kelly, Allen Barbre, Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivaati Vaitai- Forget about everything you witnessed from the Eagles offensive line last season. They were weak at both guard spots and fundamentals went out the door and were replaced with an obsession with tempo. This time around the Eagles have a pro bowl caliber right guard and plenty of able bodies at left guard. This will be a much better group in 2016.
We know who four of the five starters are with the only open spot at left guard. Wisniewski and Seumalo are the most likely candidates to start at left guard with an early edge going to Wis. I think they bring Seumalo along slowly and keep him on the bench as the first guard/center up should any injury occur. He will be a starter eventually, but there is no need to rush him in if he doesn’t earn the job right away. Kelly and Barbre stick on this roster one more year because they can play four line spots. That versatiity is everything when you are trying to keep just 8 or 9 offensive linemen on your 53. Vaitai will be the inactive OL who makes this roster, but I think he eventually takes over at right tackle when Johnson moves to the left side and Peters either retires or gets released, but not until 2017 or 2018 at the earliest.
Defensive End(5): Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Connor Barwin, Marcus Smith Alex McCalister- The switch back to the 4-3 was a huge move for Graham, Curry and Smith. Graham and Curry have the potential to be dominant 4-3 ends, especially in wide-9 fronts(both have experience there from 2012) while Smith has a chance to turn his career around playing at a more natural position for him.
Barwin is the wildcard here. Does he start over Curry, play a hybrid type role or just settle in as a rotational guy? I really have no idea. McCalister is a guy everyone should be very intrigued by. I was scouting a top 50 prospect from Florida when he caught my one. He was born to rush the passer out of wide-9 sets. He’s long, explosive off the snap and has an incredible bend. He will be a nightmare for slower offensive tackles. Keep an eye on him during preseason. He may be torching some 2nd and 3rd string tackles quite often.
Defensive Tackle(4): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Mike Martin, Aziz Shittu- About as top heavy as you will find at any position group. Cox should be an All-Pro and could even garner a few DPOY votes. Logan should be just as good as a 4-3 tackle. I still think he’s a better fit as a 3-4 nose tackle, but he will still be solid in the new scheme and he will be playing for a new contract in 2017.
The depth at defensive tackle is wide open. Beau Allen and Taylor Hart were good fits in the 3-4, but I’m not sure they have the penetration ability to stick in this new scheme.
Linebackers(6): Nigel Bradham, Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Joe Walker, Myke Tavarres- Again the Eagles have another position with quality starters but a lot of unanswered questions with their depth. Bradham will be the SAM, Hicks will stay in the middle and Kendricks will play in his natural spot, the WILL. Goode is proven enough to be relied as a key reserve and he can play in the middle or on the outside. Walker, a 7th round draft pick, and Tavarres, a UDFA, are both raw, but highly athletic linebackers who will need to play well on special teams to earn roster spots over Bryan Braman.
Cornerbacks(6): Eric Rowe, Nolan Carroll, Jalen Mills, Ron Brooks, Leodis McKelvin, Jacorey Shepherd- A ton of depth here, but I have no idea who locks up the top two corner spots. It’s going to be really interesting watching these guys battle over the next month. I believe, because of the depth, the Eagles will keep 6 corners and keep the starters pretty fluid throughout the season as the evaluate who they can develop and invest in long-term.
Safeties(4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Blake Countess, Chris Maragos- Jenkins and McLeod should form the top safety duo in the league outside of Seattle. Countess, the Eagles 6th round draft pick, is a versatile defensive back who can cover in the slot and play as a deep safety. He’s only 5’9, but is very fluid in the open field. Maragos is a special teams ace and very underrated as a fill in safety. He gets compared to former Eagles special teams standout and backup safety Colt Anderson, but Maragos is a much better athlete. There is no need for the Eagles to keep 5 safeties, especially if they do keep 6 corners.
Special Teams(3): Cody Parkey, Donnie Jones, Jon Dorenbos- Dorenbos and Jones are locks, nothing to see here. The kicker battle is interesting. If Parkey is back to his 2014 form he wins this job before preseason is up. If he isn’t, Caleb Sturgis has a real shot. Right now reports are mixed on who has the edge, but I don’t think either guys wins it until we get a couple games into preseason.