The first preseason game always gives us a ton of surprises; typically it’s a good player who looks awful or a lesser player who showed up a lot in that first game. There were several Eagles players who stood out to me from both good and awful standpoint against Tampa Bay last Thursday. It’s important to see if the players who struggled can bounce back and if the lesser-known players who played well can do so consistently.
Last week was full of week results for the Eagles. Some starters played well; others were invisible. Special teams and defense forced five turnovers, but the secondary really struggled at times. The run game was pretty solid on the other side, but the wide receiving core really struggled to gain any separation and catch the ball when they did get open.
All of this and plenty more is worth tracking on Thursday night against the Steelers.
Before I get into the notable Eagles player to keep an eye on Thursday night, I want to address the Dorial Green-Beckham trade and give my opinion. At first glance this is a really puzzling trade. The Eagles acquired a 2015 2nd round pick, at a position for which the Eagles are desperate, and only gave up a offensive lineman who wasn’t a lock to make the roster. I know the popular narrative is to say that bad teams make bad trades, or he wasn’t a great “fit,” but no team dumps a good wide receiver to a wide-receiver-needy team for a player who might not make his new team’s roster. It’s puzzling to say the least.
Maybe the Titans know something the Eagles don’t. Maybe Green-Beckham is about to get a suspension for PEDs or drugs. Maybe he’s a locker room cancer and they would have taken a half-eaten sandwich in return.
Just in terms of on-field ability, Green-Beckham is a nice addition, but not the savior. On Twitter (@randyljobst), I projected his stats this season at 40 catches, 500 yards and 6 TDs. That’s pretty fair when you consider he still has to learn a brand new offense and compete for targets with Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz and anyone else who shows up on Sunday.
DGB is a really good red zone threat and contested catch receiver. He’s not a burner or a separation receiver by any means. His max potential is Plaxico Burress. Both guys are pretty similar in size, ran about a 4.5 40 coming out of college, and have an average vertical for a wide receiver (33 inches).
It’s also important to consider the downsides to DGB. The risk of the trade is non-existent as replacing Dennis Kelly can be done in-house without anyone noticing. Because of the trade he won’t make the Eagles 53 man roster, but instead someone like Matt Tobin or Josh Andrews will (or Andrew Gardner).
The issues with DGB are his off-the-field issues, including domestic abuse in college and some effort questions in Tennessee. Also he isn’t a polished route-runner, nor is he a burner. His 4.5 speed is impressive for his size (6’5, 237), but 4.5 speed is 4.5 speed in any frame.
So you have a slightly limited wide receiver with some questions about his effort and ability to stay out of trouble.
7 Eagles Players to Watch
Chase Daniel – Daniel completed just 4 out of 10 passes last week for a grand total of 15 yards. Now I wouldn’t go to overboard with preseason stats, but I didn’t see one quality throw from those 10 attempts and that’s really troubling from the backup quarterback.
Daniel isn’t a big-armed quarterback. He makes his money with timing and accuracy. That’s hard to judge off one preseason game. It was certainly way off against Tampa Bay, but I’m still optimistic he will bounce back this week, especially with (most likely) two full quarters of work.
Nelson Agholor – Agholor had two targets and zero catches last week. He looked slow, soft and his effort was really lacking. I don’t know if he has been dealing with a minor injury or if he has lost confidence on the field, but last week that wasn’t the same player the Eagles saw as a rookie in 2015. If he is just as ineffective in the second preseason game, then you know it’s an ongoing problem and his production will be minimal this season.
Wendell Smallwood – Smallwood was not on the list of Eagles players who will be out this Thursday night (Carson Wentz, Dorial Green-Beckham, Jordan Matthews, Mychal Kendricks, Jalen Mills, Mike Martin, Hunter Sharp), so we finally get to see the rookie in game action.
Smallwood is very similar to Darren Sproles and should fill in for him if Sproles goes down this season. He’s an outstanding receiver for a back, with great speed and quickness, just not a ton of ability to get the tough yards between the tackles. Look for Smallwood to have a big game going up against inferior competition and because, let’s face it, the wide outs can’t get open so the quarterbacks might be looking to dump off to the running backs often.
Rueben Randle – Let me preface this by saying I have zero faith in Randle at this point. Having said that, the Dorial Green-Beckham trade was a bigger threat to Randle then it is to Agholor or Huff. Randle is supposed to be the outside possession receiver. I’m curious to see how he responds. My instincts says he’ll struggle to get open and probably drop the only two passes that come his way, maybe he’ll prove me wrong. He did catch over 50 passes last season so obviously there is some ability there to get open and catch passes. We just haven’t seen it yet in an Eagles uniform.
Isaac Seumalo – The rookie left guard was a big reason why the DGB trade took place. Lane Johnson most likely facing a 10 game suspension forces Allen Barbre to play right tackle or left guard. With Dennis Kelly now in Tennessee, it’s either Wisniewski or Seumalo at left guard. Seumalo is listed higher on the depth chart and has shown more ability so far this summer. Doug Pederson’s offense in Kansas City loved to pull the left guard and use him as a lead blocker on a lot of inside runs right into the defense’s B-gap.
Seumalo is a good athlete who should thrive in that role. Wisniewski should make the roster as well, but probably will serve as the backup center. They’ll want to get him plenty of reps there so he is ready to fill in should Jason Kelce go down this season. There is nothing worse in football than a team with lousy center.
Seumalo can solidify his role as the team’s starting left guard over these next two preseason games. If he does that he might not even have to play in the final preseason game two weeks from tonight.
Jaylen Watkins – Watkins was extremely active last week against Tampa Bay. He broke up several passes and was a reliable tackler in the open field. I’ve never met this Jaylen Watkins before, but if he keeps showing up he will have a big role on this team, either as the nickel corner or the top backup safety.
But one solid week in preseason doesn’t mean much, unless it becomes more of a habit than just a one game fluke. He doesn’t need to have four pass breakups again, but if he’s that active and tight in coverage again I believe he will make this roster and force somebody else out.
Eric Rowe – Rowe was outstanding when he got his chance to start on the outside last season. Ever since the 2015 season ended, he has looked out of place and slow. Maybe he worked out with Nelson Agholor in the offseason. We had so much hope for both players; now we aren’t even sure if they will have much of a role this season.
With Jalen Mills out this week, it’s a good chance for Rowe to step up and work his way back up the depth chart, especially with Aaron Grymes and Jaylen Watkins playing so well this summer.