It’s the time of year where the insatiable desire for football consumes us just as Egypt was consumed by the locusts in Biblical times. This is why a week before training camp begins, we all make predictions on the season, the roster and statistical benchmarks. From now until opening day my predictions, especially those for the final roster, will change more than Michael Jackson’s facial reconstructive surgeries. Without further ado, here is my Philadelphia Eagles Final 53: Pre-Camp Prediction.
1. Michael Vick “Starter (S)”
2. Mike Kafka
3. Nick Foles “Rookie (R)”
Odd man out: Trent Edwards
You have heard it all offseason, but this is Vick’s last season to prove he has what it takes to bring a title to the city of brotherly love. He is the clear starter. In fact going into camp all 3 quarterback spots are as close to etched in stone as possible. Nick Foles, a third-round pick in April, has the third quarterback position wrapped up and is likely the quarterback of the future for the Eagles. Ironically, it’s the backup spot that has potential to be up for grabs. However, with Edwards underperforming throughout minicamps, Kafka has been dubbed Vick’s backup.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 1
4. LeSean McCoy “S”
5. Dion Lewis
6. Bryce Brown “R”
Odd man out: Chris Polk “R”
LeSean “Smoke” (as I call him), McCoy is arguably the best back in the league and unquestionably in the top 5. He broke the ankles of countless defenders on his way to scoring 20 touchdowns. It gets a bit murkier after that. The only halfback left on the roster with NFL experience is Lewis. Oddly enough he backed up McCoy at the University of Pittsburg and will be given every opportunity to do just that as an Eagle.
With that said there are two rookies on the roster that are gunning to be in McCoy’s shadow: Brown and Polk. As a seventh rounder and undrafted rookie free agent (URFA) respectively, they are probably just fighting for the third spot. However don’t discount these guys as they were both considered high draft picks at one point. Out of high school, Brown was the second highest rated running back behind Trent Richardson who Cleveland selected with the third overall selection. Unfortunately for Brown he was never given an opportunity at University of Tennessee, nor Kansas State after he transferred. The positive is that he has very little wear and tear, but the question is does he have the experience and vision. If it weren’t for medical red flags on Polk’s knees and hip, he would have likely been a second day selection in April, but unfortunately for him (but fortunate for the Eagles) he went undrafted. He should have a huge chip on his shoulder. However he is currently the odd man out and should occupy a practice squad spot.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 7
7. Stanley Havili “S”
Odd man out: Emil Igwenagu “R”
The most pressing question is, do the Eagles even keep a fullback on the active roster this season? In the 80s and 90s some teams sometimes carried two, but in the pass happy league of the 21st century, fullbacks are about as prevalent as Bubonic Plague in modern times. The Eagles let 2011 starter Owen Schmitt walk in free agency for one of two reasons. They were either fully confident that Havili would be minimally a competent starter or they had no plans of carrying a fullback in 2012. Personally I think it’s the former because McCoy was very successful when running behind a fullback last year.
Igwenagu has a chance to upset Havili, however if he does it will be because of his hybrid ability to play tight end. More on him in the tight end section.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 5
Wide Receiver: 6
8. DeSean Jackson “S”
9. Jeremy Maclin “S”
10. Jason Avant
11. Riley Cooper
12. Marvin McNutt “R”
13. Damaris Johnson “R”
Odd man out: Chad Hall
The top 4 wideouts remain the same as 2011 with Jackson (and his new contract) and Maclin as the starting dynamic duo. With the Dark Knight Rises around the corner the question begs, who is Batman and who is Robin? Unheralded Avant will man the slot as he has done so well for years. Cooper, who is a great blocker and special team player, currently is the fourth option.
The Eagles typically keep 6 receivers, and with Steve Smith leaving for free agency, who takes over for him? Answer: Marvin McNutt. The 6’3” 220 lb Michael Jordan-like handed (seriously who remembers those giant Gatorade bottles from the 90s that had MJ’s hand wrapped around the entire thing??) Iowa prospect. He is perfect for the red zone and has an inside track to be the fifth receiver.
The sixth spot goes to Damaris Johnson, leaving Chad Hall looking for work elsewhere. Johnson is the all-time leader in all-purpose yards in college football. And get this – he did it in only 3 years. So why did he slide on draft day faster than the rise and fall of Snooki? He was dismissed from Tulsa before his senior season for undisclosed reasons and he stands about as high as a Chihuahua on his hind legs. However on the flip side, he is as fast and agile as DeSean Jackson, and although he is a small target Vick said he has “sticky” hands after he lit up minicamps. According to CSN Philly, Johnson will “likely” be the punt and kickoff return man for the Eagles. He looks not only like a roster lock, but should be active on game day.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 3
Tight End: 3
14. Brent Celek “S”
15. Clay Harbor
16. Brett Brackett
Odd man out: none
Figuring out the tight end position after the underrated Celek has provided me with as much difficulty as pronouncing “pasghetti” during my toddler years. Harbor, a fourth round draft pick from 2010, was supposed to be the dynamic, seam stretching, pass catching side kick to Celek. Ironically he became a very competent run and pass-blocker and even had a few great running plays throughout the season. However after several drops in 2012, he has done more than enough to lose his job, and maybe even his roster spot. Brackett is the 2012 version of 2010 Harbor. He made plays all over minicamp and is breathing down Harbor’s neck.
The Eagles typically keep 2, and sometimes 3 Tight Ends. Add in the fact that Massachusetts prospect Igwenanu is multi talented Fullback/Tight End hybrid and you we certainly have a few roster battles at this position.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 6
Offensive Line: 9
17. Demetress Bell “S”
18. Evan Mathis “S”
19. Jason Kelce “S”
20. Danny Watkins “S”
21. Todd Herremans “S”
22. King Dunlap
23. Dennis Kelly “R”
24. Brandon Washington “R”
25. Steve Vallos
Odd man out: Julian Vandervelde, D.J Jones, Mike Gibson
The starters remain mostly intact from last season: Mathis (LG), Kelce (C), Watkins (RG) and Herremans (RT). Unfortunately arguably the best left tackle in the league, Jason Peters, ruptured his Achilles tendon working out a few months back. Bell and Dunlap will be a roster battle for the final starting position. I fully expect Bell to take the King out. However whoever loses will be a valuable backup at both tackle positions.
Most NFL teams keep 9 or 10 offensive lineman on the roster and 6 are locked up. I think two rookies crack the final roster. Brandon Washington played some tackle in college, but was really a guard. He is a massive guy, but very nimble for his size. Mudd will really love working with him. His main competition is Julian Vandervelde from last year’s draft class. That makes 3 tackles and 3 guards currently on the roster. Since tackles are more important than guards, especially with a brittle boned quarterback like Vick, another tackle cracks the roster. I predict Dennis Kelly to beat out D.J Jones. Most draftniks predicted Kelly to not only go undrafted, but possibly not even be picked up as an URFA. However, Mudd, the legendary offensive line coach, hand-picked him for a reason. Just look what he did with fellow sixth round draft choice Kelce.
Finally since there is only one true center on the roster, he needs a back up. Gibson, Vallos, and Dallas (hate the name) Reynolds are all vying for that final roster. Honestly at this point it is almost as close as USA female sprinters Allyson Felix and Jeneba Tarmoh in the finals at the Olympic Trials (they had the first ever photo finish tie). Gibson and Reynolds were Reid and Castillo (when he was offensive line coach) projects. Vallos was picked up during the Mudd era and that’s why I’m giving him the early nod.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 8
Special Teams: 3
26. Alex Henery “S”
27. Chas Henry “S”
28. Jon Dorenbos “S”
Odd man out: Ryan Tydlacka
Henery and Dorenbos are absolute locks. So much so they don’t even have competition. Henry, the punter, started off shaky but finished strong. There have been mixed reports as to Tydlacka being cut or not. Even if he isn’t, he has a mountainous climb ahead.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 1
Defensive Line: 10
29. Trent Cole “S”
30. Mike Patterson “S”
31. Cullen Jenkins “S”
32. Jason Babin “S”
33. Antonio Dixon
34. Fletcher Cox “R”
35. Derek Landri
36. Vinny Curry “R”
37. Brandon Graham
38. Phillip Hunt
Odd man out: Darryl Tapp (traded)
After the draft where 2 of the first 3 picks were on an already strong defensive line, I was filled with jubilee and melancholy – clearly conflicting feelings to say the least. I thought wow this is going to be a phenomenal line with stars and depth all along the defensive front. However, then I realized at least one very talented player was not going to be able to stay on the roster, but the questions was who?
If an NFL team running a 4-3 defense keeps 10 defensive linemen, it is typically 6 defensive ends and 4 defensive tackles. However, I think the Eagles break that mold this year and split it evenly. There are 5 starting quality, some with star potential, defensive tackles on this team and all of them make it. They are: Patterson, Jenkins, Cox, Dixon and Landri. Washburn loves to sub his lineman and keep them all really fresh. Expect fairly even numbers across the board for these guys as they are all really good.
Six defensive ends should make this roster; however with the depth at defensive tackle, only 5 are going to crack the roster. Babin and Cole are entrenched as starters. Curry is locked in because he was a second round pick in April. The final two spots are between former first rounder Graham, CFL star Hunt, and established former NFL starter Tapp. If Cole and Babin weren’t possibly the best tandem in the league, Tapp makes this team easily. However the younger and easy on the salary cap Hunt and Graham make the roster due to their higher upside. Tapp is a good candidate for an early season trade to a team with injuries at defensive end. Expect a sixth or seventh round pick.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 4
39. Mychal Kendricks “S” & “R”
40. DeMeco Ryans “S”
41. Brian Rolle “S”
42. Casey Matthews
43. Jamar Chaney
Odd man out: Akeem Jordan, Moise Fokou, Keenan Clayton, Greg Lloyd
What a turnover at linebacker! Whoever thought Ryans would start for the Eagles! This potentially is the biggest offseason move from any team around the league! Ryans brings back the Dawk swag, leadership and stability that made this defensive terrifying to play against. Kendricks was also a fantastic pick up who can do anything asked by Castillo. Rolle and Chaney will battle for the weakside position, where I believe Rolle will win out. Chaney will be the backup at both outside linebacker positions. Matthews, and his added 20 lbs of muscle, will serve as backup to Ryans in the middle. Due to the lack of talent after these five, and the abundance of talent in the defensive backfield, the Eagles only carry five linebackers on the active roster in 2012.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 5
44. Nnamdi Asomugha “S”
45. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie “S”
46. Joselio Hanson
47. Curtis Marsh
48. Brandon Boykin “R”
49. Cliff Harris “R”
Odd man out: Brandon Hughes
It’s amazing the depth at cornerback after the Eagles traded perennial pro-bowler Asante Samuel. Asomugha and DRC, both former pro-bowlers themselves, are well-established starters. The slot position battle might be the most entertaining one to watch throughout training camp. Hanson, one of the best slot corners in this pass happy league, will face stiff competition from UGA star Boykin. Also, do not discount URFA, Harris out of Oregon. He is a dark horse to win the slot position. Both he and Boykin are from the same mold. They can both play any corner position and make plays as return men. All of the aforementioned men make the final 53.
The Eagles will keep six corners this year leaving the inexperienced Marsh to battle Hughes. Both of these guys are supreme athletes, but need more experience playing the position. The preseason games are where this roster battle will be won and lost. I give a strong edge to Marsh, as he was drafted in the third round in 2011 and he started to make plays at the end of the year (2 pass break ups) in limited action. Hughes should be a practice squad candidate.
Likely to change (on a scale 1 – 10): 5
50. Nate Allen “S”
51. OJ Atogwe “S”
52. Kurt Coleman
53. Jaiquawn Jarret
Odd man out: Colt Anderson, Phillip Thomas “R”
This is another deep position, but not a top heavy one making this a very difficult position to predict. Allen, who suffered a knee injury late in 2010 clearly showed ill effects through the first half of last season. Towards the end he was playing extremely well and I predict a huge year from him. Coleman, the incumbent starter, has the smarts and tenacity but just doesn’t quite cut it physically, but is as good as a backup gets. Late addition, Atogwe, who is the grandfather of this group makes the team on experience alone. Don’t be surprised if he starts, even without injuries to other players.
The final safety spot goes to Jarret. Everyone seems to be down on him because he was a second round pick last year. However, I urge you to remember that no one had a real offseason last year and that hurts rookies, especially ones making the jump from a school like Temple where he played, that much more difficult. He looked terribly slow (and sometimes just downright terrible) on the field last season but that’s because he was thinking, not reacting. Also, who doesn’t look bad one on one against Larry Fitzgerald. I think Jarret pleasantly surprises many fans this year.
However, if Jarret doesn’t show great improvement, when special teams demon and fan favorite Colt Anderson gets medical clearance (either midyear after 6 weeks on the PUP or next season), Jarret will be tossed to the wolves without a thought.
That’s a wrap! Could 11 rookies, which I predicted, really make the roster? How about the possibility of 5 URFA making the team! Has that ever been done in league history? Well let the comments rip!
Players on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list:
1. Colt Anderson – Safety
2. Jason Peters – Offensive Tackle
1. Brandon Hughes – CB
2. Emil Igwenagu – FB
3. Julian Vandervelde – G
4. D.J. Jones – OT
5. Greg Lloyd – LB
6. Phillip Thomas – S
7. Chad Hall – WR
8. Chris Polk – RB