LAST year your Eagles finished 14 – 3 overall, 4 – 2 against the division, first place in the NFC East, Top Seed in the Conference, and lost the Super Bowl by a field goal. As is the case with successful teams, free agency has plucked a few feathers from the roster, but General Manager Howie Roseman has contained that spill. We’ve also had some coaching defections, but those may not prove as painful as the national media likes to think.
But enough chin wagging! Let’s look at how the Eagles 2023 roster looks 24 hours or so, before the NFL Draft.
QB: Jalen Hurts is the class of this division, but that doesn’t mean he still doesn’t have a ton to prove. For many he answered the question of “Can he be a Franchise QB?”, by his play in 2022, and taking the Eagles to the Super Bowl. If one near MVP season, and a Super Bowl were enough, Carson Wentz would get more love than he does from this fan base. Fair being fair, Hurts has to have more than one great year, before we’re using the term “elite”.
Still, Hurts is the best in this division. His arm strength and accuracy are on par with Prescott, but Hurts forces fewer throws into underneath coverage. He’s also more mobile, and practically unstoppable with the QB Sneak (that several teams sought to outlaw). The measure failed, and now teams are pouting and vowing to imitate what they just sought to eliminate. It truly is an Eddie Murphy/Dexter St. Jacques moment, for Hurts. (Check it out. And you’re welcome.)
That said, in two seasons as the starter, Hurts has missed games in both, just as a natural consequence of how the coaching staff uses him. So it’s imperative to get the right back-up. Which is where Marcus Mariota comes in. He’s a better scheme fit than Gardner Minshew was last season, as mobility is part of Mariota’s game.
With Mariota as the back-up, it means the RPO threat never leaves the field. This is a point that the Eagles silently hammered home, by adding Ian Book as the third stringer. (Seriously, YouTube some video of this kid in college. The Eagles scouting department seriously deserves some sort of award. (+)
RB: Gone are the 1,200 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns of Miles Sanders. Taking up the mantle (so far) is Kenneth Gainwell. He’s fine as a utility player, but he doesn’t break tackles, run creatively, or have “take it to the house” type speed. In fact, in 225 touches (regular and postseason), he has exactly one play for 30 yards or more. Behind him is utility player Boston Scott, who is a great utility player, but who lacks the same traits that Gainwell lacks.
Injury-prone Rashaad Penny signed an heavily incentivized contract, in what is likely a last ditch attempt to have a career. When Penny is healthy, he’s explosive and powerful. He’s a physical runner who can also accelerate away from defenders; but out of the 82 games he’s been under contract for, he’s only suited up for 42 of them, with just 11 starts.
Last, and probably still least, is Trey Sermon. Sermon logged 2 carries last year for 19 yards (9.5 ypc.) so of course the logical place for him was wasting away on the Practice Squad last year. There are no clear answers here, besides the back-by-committee approach, which telegraphs an offense’s intent. (-)
At 230 pounds, A.J. Brown is the size of an elephant and runs like a deer. He caught for 1,496 yards and 11 scores, often seeming to do so at will, from anywhere, regardless of who was how close to his body. (Like in this picture.) Oh yeah! And his best friend in the world, just so happens to be his QB. And last year was their first season on the same team. And now they get to refine their connection.
If that sounds like a nightmare, consider this: If you try to double Brown, you’re just leaving room for DeVonta Smith, who is Brown’s polar opposite. Smith is a precise route runner, who capitalizes on the holes that secondaries leave when trying to contain an explosive athlete like Brown. Smith also has the more reliable hands of the two, and his grabs quietly eat up clock.
If Brown is an uppercut from Mike Tyson; then Smith is a chloroformed rag in a gloved hand, from your backseat, in a deserted parking lot. Either way, you’re going to sleeeep. Quickly. The only time that one of these guys doesn’t terrorize a secondary, is when both of them are doing it.
The fall-off after that is steep. Quez Watkins is blazingly fast, but his hands are so very suspect. He literally handed two turnovers to Dallas last year, during a 34 – 40 loss (and he’s mad that we’re still mad about that). Like Watkins, Devon Allen also sports 4.3 speed, but spent 2022 on the Practice Squad. Former Falcon Olamide Zaccheaus was just signed and he also has the speed to make house calls.
Britain Covey spent 2022 being a very lackluster return man, and may not see final cuts this season. Tyrie Cleveland was added to the roster from Denver, and it remains to be seen why Philadelphia did so. Unless it has to do with his college career, where he showed he could make a living, deep down the middle, as a 6’2 target with really good (not great) 4.46 speed.
Interestingly, Greg Ward is still on the Eagles roster. Ward is a decent, not great receiver, but he’s an awesome utility player. In just 40 games played, he’s caught 10 TD’s, and has some PR experience. He’s works well in the red zone; and having been a running QB in college, innately gets where he needs to be on a scramble drill. Lot of unusual tools in that box, and he’s only 28. Which may be why Zach Pascal was (surprisingly), allowed to walk. (+)
TE: Dallas Goedert is the best player at this position in the division. He is both a very good receiver, and a solid blocker. Last year he posted 702 yards and a catch rate of 79.7 percent. He did however, miss 5 games. The best ability is availability, and Goedert hasn’t played a complete season since 2018.
Jack Stoll is virtually an offensive lineman. He doesn’t have the size at just 247 pounds, but the Eagles potent run game wouldn’t be the same without him. Stoll won’t scare anyone as a receiver, but he catches what he’s thrown (78.6%). Third on the list is Grant Calcaterra. Same dimensions as Stoll, but polar opposite as a player. Catches well, but his blocking needs work.
Fact is, the Eagles need to address the lack of depth here. Goedert misses time. Period. The team needs a contingency plan for when (not if), that happens again. (+)
OT: Last year only six QB’s were sacked more than Jalen Hurts. Given that he missed two games, that’s an even more alarming stat. Of the 38 sacks allowed, LT Jordan Mialata surrendered 6.5 of them. He’s a mauling run blocker, but keeping the QB upright is the most important part of a LT’s job.
For the second season in a row, RT Lane Johnson didn’t allow a sack, and drew just three flags all season. Offensive linemen don’t get credit for yards gained, but Johnson is the best at not costing his team yards. There will a bust of him Canton, Ohio someday.
Jack Driscoll can play everywhere on the line, except the pivot. He’s filled in ably in Lane’s absence, but is ultimately better kicked inside, because he has clear issues with speed on the edge. Roderick Johnson and Fred Johnson are also on the roster. (+)
G: While LG Landon Dickerson only surrendered half a sack last year, he was penalized 13 times for 89 yards. That’s enough yardage to wipe out a touchdown drive. He has to improve in that department. On the other hand, the guy is a flat-out mauler both in pass protection and especially when blocking for the run.
Sua Opeta has been a spot starter and has done some mop-up duty as an Eagle, but now he may have the inside track on the starting gig vacated by Isaac Seumalo. Tyrese Robinson is the third player at this position. The playing is strong, but there isn’t a clear second starter. (-)
C: Future Hall Of Famer Jason Kelce returns for another run at the Lombardi. Behind him is a successor that the Eagles drafted, with Kelce’s help in scouting. That successor is Cam “Beef” Jurgens. With Kelce’s retirement being perhaps 17 games away, the Eagles want to get Jurgens feet wet soon, so there’s talk of playing him at Guard in 2023. Cameron Tom is a decent insurance policy. (+)
In A Nutshell: This Offense has no holes, but it does have cracks in the foundation. With the RB’s currently on the roster, the run game won’t scare anyone, but it’ll be functional. As long as it is, the play-action, and RPO stuff, still makes this one of the most explosive teams in the entire league. (+)
DE: Josh Sweat notched a career-high 11 of the Eagles 70 sacks, returned an interception for a touchdown, and led the team with 15 tackles for loss. Brandon Graham at the age of 34, came back from an Achilles tendon tear, to post a career-high 11 sacks, despite only starting one game. Tarron Jackson and Matt Leo are also on the roster. Expect the Eagles to address this position early in the Draft. (+)
DT: Fletcher Cox started every game and turned in his best season since 2018, posting 43 tackles, 7 for losses, and 7 sacks. He returns at age 32 in what may be his final as an Eagle, largely to be a mentor. Jordan Davis blew no one away with his rookie stats (18 tackles, 1 for loss). This season more will expected as he’s no longer behind Javon Hargrave.
Milton Williams is more of a situational player, who despite not starting, posted 36 tackles with 9 for losses, as well as 4 sacks, He can also be moved to End. Marvin Wilson and Kentavius Street are more penetrators than run pluggers. It looks as if these reserves are built with an eye towards pass rush, with little concern for trench warfare. (+)
OLB: Haason Reddick posted 49 tackles (11 TFL) and led the team with a career-high 16 sacks. Nicholas Morrow comes over from the Bears, presumably to fill the coverage role vacated by Kyzir White. Patrick Johnson splits his time between here and at DE. He influences lots of plays, but seldom makes one.
Kyron Johnson and Davion Taylor may not make it to final cuts this season. Taylor was drafted as a project, but the Eagles haven’t put the time in. They might be about to lose a gem. (+)
MLB/ILB: With the departure of T.J.Edwards, Nakobe Dean will become the eye of the storm, in Philadelphia. More instinctual and a better athlete than Edwards, this move is expected to be an upgrade. That however, hasn’t been seen yet. Shaun Bradley and Christian Elliss are the reserves, but since Edwards rarely missed a down, they don’t have a ton of experience. (-)
Undrafted rookie Reed Blankenship was forced into 4 starts last year, and played better than anyone had a right to expect. He’s probably going to have to compete for a starting job in 2023, but his competition won’t have an easy contest. He has more aggression than the departed Marcus Epps, and brings his arms to his tackles.
When the Eagles decided not to overpay Chauncey Gardner, they opted to bring in Terrell Edmunds. Edmunds is an in the box thumper, but his coverage is better than decent. So he’s an excellent pick-up, and possibly an upgrade over last year. K’Von Wallace and Justin Evans are on the roster for now, but the Draft is in a couple of days. So we’ll see. (+)
CB: Darius Slay turned in 14 passes defensed and 3 interceptions. His 58% completion rate was a little high, but not alarming. On the other side is James Bradberry with 17 passes defensed, and 3 picks with a 57% completion rate, in 2022. There are no free or easy meals throwing against these guys.
Avonte Maddox is a capable Nickel, but he’s missing more and more time with injuries. You have to wonder if this is why the Eagles added Greedy Williams. Williams was a second round flame-out in Cleveland. But c’mon, it was Cleveland. So the Eagles are willing to take a flier on him.
Josiah Scott had a rough 2022. He had 2 interceptions, but he also allowed 68.8% completion rate. Zech MacPhearson is a fourth rounder who acquits himself nicely, but the bench holds a strong grip on those without Draft pedigree. Josh Jobe and Mario Goodrich are longshots to make a deep roster. (+)
In A Nutshell: Every defensive lineman on this team can be described as ‘disruptive’. Every. Single. One. Point to the other team in the NFL that can say that. This unit poisons offenses at the root, by destroying blocking concepts. If you can’t block, you can’t play. Anyone expecting the Eagles Defense to take a major step back, because of a couple free agent defections, can’t see the forest because of the trees. (+)
K/P: Kicker Jake Elliott didn’t attempt many Field Goals in 2022. He was 20/23 (87%) 6/8 from 40+, and 51/53 (95.4%) on extra points. Yes. 53 attempts. The Eagles were a scoring machine. Those 53 attempted XP’s, doesn’t mention how often they went for two. Elliott had a career-high 63 touchbacks on 91 kickoffs (69.2%). (+)
Arryn Siposs was a sore spot lat year. A punt is the first play on defense. It sets the Defense up with a good or a bad situation. So his 45.6 yard per punt average and his 39.6 yard net, are just too far apart. Additionally, 20 of his 44 boots (45.4%) were returned for an 8.0 yard average. All of that needs to change. (-)
In A Nutshell: Elliott isn’t needed much, but when he is, he’s a great bet. I wouldn’t call him a sure thing and risk a paycheck on him! But I could wager a pineapple without batting an eye. Our punting game however, didn’t do much to help this team in 2022. This unit is more good than bad, but when it’s bad, it’s fish rotting in a nightstand bad. (+)
BOTTOM LINE: Eagles fans are told not to expect 14 – 3 again. Fine. Keep it. Especially with 15 – 2, 16 – 1, and 17 – 0 still out there. Realistically, as it stands, this is probably an 11 or 12 win team. This team can score with ANYBODY, while making it harder to score for everybody. It’ll be interesting to see what happens to this roster in the next 48 hours.