At the beginning of each training camp, I like to take a look at the roster, position-by-position. It helps me figure out where the true battles will take place, how the final 53 might shape up, etc.
This week, 90 men will take the field at the NovaCare Complex. Some are hoping to be Pro Bowlers; others would be happy with a spot on the practice squad.
Keeping that in mind, allow me to introduce the Kapadia Training Camp Rankings (yes, the name needs work). The idea is simple. Below you will find a five-tiered rating system.
Tier 5: These are the longshots. If any of these players land on the 53-man roster, consider it an upset.
Tier 4: These are the fringe guys. Don’t count them out, but they’ll very much be fighting for roster spots over the next several weeks.
Tier 3: These are your backups. They might not play a lot this season, but going into camp, they look like pretty good bets to make the team.
Tier 2: These players will be expected to contribute significantly. They’re either starters or true rotational players.
Tier 1: These are your difference-makers. They’ll be the guys responsible for determining how many games the Eagles win in 2013 and what direction the franchise is headed in going forward.
It’s not rocket science (or even sports science, for that matter). So let’s get started, beginning with the bottom of the roster. Note that certain players require longer write-ups, while others do not. Also, specialists are not included.
Tier 5: The Longshots
GJ Kinne, QB – Fascinating story, but he’s mainly here to give the offense enough arms during camp.
Dennis Dixon, QB – Some will argue he should be bumped up one category, but I don’t see it. It’s unlikely the Eagles keep four quarterbacks, and the top three spots are accounted for. If, however, Nick Foles, Michael Vick or Matt Barkley suffers a devastating injury, Dixon would have a chance.
Will Murphy, WR – Need a lot of wide receivers too during camp, especially given the new tempo. He played in Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon.
Nick Miller, WR- Has bounced around the league since 2009. Another guy to take reps.
Greg Salas, WR – Claimed off waivers last season. Don’t see him sticking.
BJ Cunningham, WR – Spent last year on the Eagles’ practice squad. Too many guys ahead of him.
Will Shaw, TE – The Eagles are expected to practice quite a bit with multiple tight ends and need bodies.
Emil Igwenagu, FB/TE – Gave some thought to bumping him up to the next tier, but the Eagles don’t need a fullback on the roster. The caveat is if James Casey gets injured in the preseason. Igwenagu has the ability to line up in the backfield as a lead blocker.
Julian Vandervelde, G/C – A fifth-round pick in 2011, he was released and then brought back last season. Has an outside chance of making it as a backup center, but that’s unlikely.
Nic Purcell, OT – The New Zealand native did not start playing football until he was 27.
Daryell Walker, DL – Hampton product made the 90-man after participating in rookie camp on a tryout basis.
Isaac Remington, DL – Played for Kelly and Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon. Was signed as an undrafted free agent.
Everette Brown, OLB – Was out of the league last year and has only played in three games since the end of the 2010 season. Seems like a longshot.
Trevard Lindley, CB – A fourth-round pick in 2010 who hasn’t played a snap since his rookie season. Re-signed with the Eagles in January.
Eddie Whitley, CB – Spent part of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad. Was an undrafted free agent in 2012.
David Sims, S – Safety is the most wide-open position on the team so anything can happen. But Sims will have a tough time sticking.
** Note: It’s worth mentioning that the players above have worked their entire lives for this shot, and I’m not discounting that. The purpose of this exercise is just to assess the roster going into camp. I’ve been proven wrong before.
Tier 4: The Fringe Guys
Chris Polk, RB – Went undrafted last year because of the shoulder injury, had a good camp/preseason and ended up earning a roster spot. Kelly played against him in college, and Polk has dropped weight. He’s in the mix for the No. 3 RB spot.
Matthew Tucker, RB – Like Felix Jones, he knows up-front that Kelly liked what he saw on tape. The undrafted free agent out of TCU needs a strong camp to stick as either the No. 3 or No. 4 back.
Felix Jones, RB – The main thing he has going for him is his versatility. Jones has battled injuries and did not perform well last year, but he’s only 26 and was chosen by the new regime. The guess here is that he has the inside track on the No. 3 RB job.
Ifeanyi Momah, WR – You’ll notice a total of six wide receivers in this section. That should tell you how wide-open the position is. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are guaranteed spots. After that, they’re up for grabs. Fans are intrigued by Momah’s 6-foot-7 frame, but he didn’t stand out much during the spring.
Russell Shepard, WR – When the third-team offense was on the field in the spring, it seemed like Matt Barkley was constantly finding Shepard. He’s got athleticism and versatility. Probably a longshot to make the roster, but I’ll claim him as my deep sleeper.
Riley Cooper, WR – Tough guy to place. Cooper did not do much when given the opportunity to play increased snaps last year (29.4 yards per game in the final seven). On the other hand, he’s tall, athletic and can play special teams. There’s room for him on someone’s 53-man roster.
Arrelious Benn, WR – The Eagles acquired him from the Bucs this offseason and obviously like his physical tools (All-22 breakdown here). But Benn has had a disappointing career so far. If healthy, he’s almost certainly the best blocking receiver on the team. Benn’s special-teams ability should help his chances.
Damaris Johnson, WR – Showed improvement as a punt returner and led the team in average yards after the catch as a rookie. Johnson is small (5-8), but versatile. He’s got a good chance of making the final 53.
Jason Avant, WR – I’m squarely on the fence with Avant. On one hand, he’s a quality veteran who can get open, make catches in traffic and has the best hands on the team. On the other hand, he’s 30, lacks great athleticism and would likely see fewer snaps, given the emphasis on tight ends. One of the tougher guys on this list to figure out.
Derek Carrier, TE – He’s a longshot, but seemed to get in the mix a little bit during the spring when Zach Ertz was absent and Casey was injured.
Clay Harbor, TE – I’m not sure the Eagles are going to keep four tight ends. And even if they do, I’m not sure Harbor will be the guy. Not a great blocker and doesn’t break enough tackles to be a serious threat as a receiver.
Dallas Reynolds, C – Last year taught us backup centers are difficult to find. Reynolds ended up starting 14 games, and the Eagles didn’t do much to add a better option this offseason. In the spring, Reynolds played with the first team when Jason Kelce was out.
Matt Tennant, C – You’ll see nine offensive linemen in this group. A firm indication that backup spots are up for grabs. A fifth-round pick by the Saints in 2010, Tennant has a chance to beat out Reynolds and be the team’s backup center.
Allen Barbre, OG – If spring practices are any indication, Barbre is very much in the mix for a backup spot. He’s been in the league since 2007 and has appeared in 32 games.
Nate Menkin, OG – Was considered a developmental prospect when the Eagles claimed him off waivers from the Texans last September. Menkin suffered what sounded like a gruesome throat injury during practice in December. Like the others in this group, he’s fighting for a backup job.
Matt Kopa, G/T – Has tackle size (6-6, 310), but played some guard in the spring. Another name to add to the list of potential backups.
Danny Watkins, OG – We’ll find out by early September whether the coaching/scheme changes have really benefited him. Best-case scenario for Watkins in 2013? First backup guard off the bench. Worst case? He’s off the roster completely.
Ed Wang, OT – Added earlier this offseason, his chances of making the cut decreased when the Eagles signed Michael Bamiro.
Michael Bamiro, OT – Speaking of developmental prospects, the Eagles got one last week when they signed Bamiro. Friend of the blog, Sam Lynch looked at the contract details and concluded that the Birds pretty much guaranteed Bamiro practice squad spots the next two seasons. Over the next several weeks, he’ll get a chance to show he deserves a place on the 53-man roster.
Matt Tobin, OT – If I find a way to not confuse Matt Tobin with Matt Kopa and Matt Tennant, I’ll consider this training camp a success. Unlike the other two Matts, Tobin was signed after Kelly came on board as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa.
Damion Square, DL – Six defensive linemen in this group, and there’s a chance only two make the cut. One scout had flattering things to say about Square, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama.
David King, DL – Players added post-Kelly probably have a leg up, considering the new coach chose them based on tape and skill set. King was a seventh-rounder and will look to show he’s worthy of being in the D-Line rotation.
Joe Kruger, DL – He’s the youngest player on the team (21), and the Eagles took him with the future (not 2013) in mind. That could mean either one of the final roster spots or potentially the practice squad.
Antonio Dixon, NT – The additions of Isaac Sopoaga and Bennie Logan hurt his chances. Dixon potentially could add depth and a big body to the interior, but he’ll have a hard time making the cut.
Vinny Curry, DL – He was on the short list of “guys I had no idea where to slot.” The Eagles took Curry in the second round of the 2012 draft to play 4-3 DE. He had trouble getting on the field as a rookie, and while some of his counterparts are making the switch to OLB, Curry’s added weight to play the 5-technique DE spot. During the spring, he ran mostly with the second team. The Eagles are thin at defensive line, and teams don’t like to just give up on former second-round picks, but there’s been little indication that Curry’s a fit in the new scheme.
Clifton Geathers, DL – One of the more intriguing players to watch this summer. No player better embodies the “Big people beat up little people” mantra than the 6-8, 340-pound Geathers. The coaches tried him at a variety of spots in the spring. Geathers is in the mix for a depth position and could potentially compete with Cedric Thornton for a starting job.
Emmanuel Acho, ILB – Seems like a longshot, but not ready to count anyone out for backup spots at inside linebacker. There isn’t a lot to go on so far with Acho. The Eagles acquired him in the Dion Lewis trade with the Browns.
Casey Matthews, ILB – Through his first two seasons, Matthews has not shown he’s capable of playing at a high level on defense. But backup linebackers have to be special-teams contributors, and Matthews had 14 special-teams tackles last year, second on the Eagles to only Akeem Jordan. He’s obviously familiar with Kelly from his days at Oregon, but Matthews will have to earn a spot.
Jamar Chaney, ILB – He has experience (23 starts) but has not been productive. Chaney practiced with the second team mostly in the spring, but like the other players in this group, he’s fighting for a backup job.
Jake Knott, ILB – I’m hoping to catch up with him this week. Knott reached legendary status among Iowa State fans. The undrafted free agent will compete for a backup spot.
Phillip Hunt, OLB – I’m guessing the Eagles want a fourth outside linebacker on the roster behind Connor Barwin, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham. But it’s tough to find one. Hunt had a great preseason last year, but did not produce in limited action once the real games started. He seems like an unlikely fit in the new scheme.
Chris McCoy, OLB – Signed from the CFL, McCoy (6-4) was another post-Kelly addition. Again, not a lot of depth for the Eagles right now at outside linebacker, so tough to rule anyone out.
Jordan Poyer, CB – Thought about putting him one tier higher, but decided this was a better spot. Poyer lasted all the way to the seventh round and has experience playing inside, outside and even safety. He has a good chance of making the team, possibly as the backup nickel.
Brandon Hughes, CB – He seems to be in the same spot every summer – in danger of being cut. But Hughes somehow always manages to hang around. Part of that has to do with his special-teams production (was the first man down in coverage a team-high 37 times last season, per team stats). He’ll have to fight for a spot once again.
Kenny Phillips, S – It’s all about the knee. Phillips got no guaranteed money and already missed part of spring practice for health reasons. He’s on the short list of key players to watch in the coming weeks.
Kurt Coleman, S – His effort has never been questioned, but Coleman just hasn’t been productive enough as a starter when given the opportunity. He’s got plenty of experience (29 starts), but the Eagles added three safeties this offseason, and Coleman is no lock to make the final roster.
Tier 3: Likely Backups
Matt Barkley, QB – I’m not ready to completely count him out for the starting job, but in all likelihood, Barkley will begin the season as a third-stringer. Of course, at this time last year, I was convinced Foles would be a third-stringer, and he became the starter late in the season. A lot of uncertainty at the quarterback position, but you knew that already.
Dennis Kelly, OT – He had ups and downs as a rookie, but the coaches seem to value his potential. Before Lane Johnson was ready to run with the starters, Kelly lined up at right tackle during the spring. He’s in good position to land a backup job.
Jason Phillips, ILB – He was one of the Eagles’ first free-agent signings and spent most of the spring with the second team. Phillips is a standout special-teams player and should make the roster.
Curtis Marsh, CB – He gets put into this tier basically by default. When the Eagles took Marsh in the third round of the 2011 draft, he was considered a project pick with tools. But he’s yet to start a game going into Year 3. The way things are currently set up, Marsh will likely be the first backup, although he will get a chance to compete for more playing time in camp. Barring additional roster moves, he should make the team.
Colt Anderson, S – I had some trouble deciding where to slot him. If Kelly is serious about fixing the Eagles’ special teams, keeping Anderson is a no-brainer. And last year, in four starts, he showed he’s fine in a temporary fill-in role on defense.
Earl Wolff, S – He might not be ready to contribute right away, although it’s too early to rule out that possibility. A fifth-round pick with athleticism, Wolff will (at the very least) earn a backup spot.
Tier 2: The Contributors
Bryce Brown, RB – I gave serious consideration to moving him up a tier. The expectation is that Kelly will rely on a heavy dose of the run game, which should mean plenty of action for Brown. As I mentioned last week, there’s a precedent for rookie running backs fixing their fumbling woes in Year 2. Brown has shown the upside. Next is the consistency.
Jeremy Maclin, WR – Maclin has been productive, but not spectacular through his first four seasons. He does a lot of things well, but no one thing great. Now in a contract year, he’ll look to prove that his ceiling is higher than he’s shown up to this point.
James Casey, TE – Slotting the tight ends was difficult. During certain weeks, Casey could see more snaps than Brent Celek and Ertz, but the guess here is that he’ll be used a little bit less than the other two. Look for him to line up all over the place (All-22 breakdown here) and be one of the tone-setters on offense.
Brent Celek, TE – Many have asked whether they could deal him. I don’t see it, primarily because the compensation is unlikely to match his value to the team. Celek has inconsistent hands, but is capable of making plays after the catch. He brings a toughness to the offense and has improved as a blocker.
Zach Ertz, TE – We’ll get our first real look at him this week. Ertz is probably the toughest matchup (tape breakdown here) out of the three from a receiving standpoint. He’ll see plenty of action as a rookie – sometimes in place of Celek/Casey and other times in addition to them.
Evan Mathis, OG – He’s been incredibly consistent the last two years, starting 31 of 32 games and playing at a high level on a weekly basis. Not much else left to say about Mathis at this point. A reliable, valuable asset at left guard.
Todd Herremans, OG – By moving him from right tackle to right guard, the Eagles are expecting to upgrade at two positions. Herremans played well at tackle in 2011, but that was not the case last year before he got injured.
Isaac Sopoaga, NT – The younger defensive linemen are already referring to him as the leader of this group. Sopoaga won’t play a ton of snaps and will come off the field in sub packages, but he’ll anchor the middle in the 3-4 base.
Bennie Logan, DL – The third-round pick will be asked to contribute right away. He should get a look at multiple spots on the defensive line and be a rotational option from the get-go.
Cedric Thornton, DL – He had some really nice moments last year, specifically against the run. The Eagles are banking on Thornton being a scheme-versatile player who will now line up at the 5-technique opposite Fletcher Cox. At the very worst, he seems like a rotational option.
Brandon Boykin, CB – As we mentioned recently, he finished strong, allowing just five completions on 12 targets in the Eagles’ final seven games last year. Boykin has the athleticism and skill set to be one of the better nickel corners in the league.
Bradley Fletcher, CB – He’s got the inside track on a starting job, but has to be viewed as a question mark. Fletcher got benched by the Rams’ coaches in the middle of 2012, and two of his first three seasons in the league ended due to knee injuries. He’ll have to hold off Marsh for the starting job.
Cary Williams, CB – The Eagles rebuilt their secondary in the offseason, and Williams was the most expensive addition. He did not put up good coverage numbers in Baltimore, but adds a physical element that was sorely missing the last two years. There’s no guarantee that the secondary will show significant improvement just because the players are different, but Williams’ performance will go a long way in determining the success of this unit.
Nate Allen, S – Everybody (teammates, coaches, etc.) seems to like Allen, but the production just hasn’t been there through his first three seasons. The Eagles hope that the story this year will be about how the new scheme has helped him prove he can be an asset on a good team. Allen’s in position to land a starting job, but he might be out of chances soon.
Patrick Chung, S – Of the three offseason additions at safety (Kenny Phillips, Wolff), Chung seems most likely to step in and contribute right away. He’s healthy, young (25) and has put together stretches of high-quality play with the Patriots. Bill Belichick benched Chung last year though. Kelly, Davis and company are counting on a rebound.
Tier 1: The Difference-Makers
Michael Vick, QB – At 33-years-old, asking Vick to improve his decision-making, cut down on turnovers and stay healthy seems like a lot. But Kelly saw enough on tape last year to hedge his bets and bring the veteran back. We learned in the spring that Vick will be handed nothing. If he’s on the field in Week 1 against the Redskins, it will be because he’s outplayed his peers in the next seven weeks.
Nick Foles, QB – The circumstances last year were far from ideal. Foles played behind a makeshift offensive line and was without DeSean Jackson for five of six starts. The results, for the most part, were not pretty, but Foles showed toughness throughout. By all accounts, the Eagles never seriously considered trading him this offseason, and he’ll be given the opportunity to earn the starting job this summer.
LeSean McCoy, RB – With a healthy offensive line in front of him and a run-friendly scheme, there’s plenty of reason to believe McCoy can get close to the level of production he had in 2011. As probably the most talented player on offense, he’ll be a key factor in determining how this season plays out.
DeSean Jackson, WR – Let’s face it: He’s a bit of a wild card at this point. Jackson had a sitdown with Kelly in the spring to clear up his role and expectations. He was relatively productive through 11 games last year before suffering a season-ending injury on an end around. The range of possibilities here is wide. Best-case scenario, Kelly finds a way to take advantage of Jackson’s unique talents, and he has a career year. Worst-case, he doesn’t buy in, things go downhill, and his future with the franchise is up in the air.
Jason Kelce, C – It might not be as significant as the left tackle upgrade, but going from Reynolds to a healthy Kelce should really help the offense. He’ll set the protections and use his athleticism in the run game. It seemed like Kelce had a chance to make a name for himself during his second season before he got injured in Week 2. He’ll now get to try again in Year 3.
Jason Peters, OT – Want a reason for optimism? Consider that the Eagles are going from a King Dunlap/Demetress Bell combination at left tackle to one of the best offensive lineman in the game (when healthy, of course). Peters had the drag racing incident this offseason, but he drew rave reviews on the field during the spring. The Eagles are hoping he’ll help the offensive line rebound from last year’s disaster.
Lane Johnson, OT – The first-round pick is another X-factor. The Eagles’ coaches will be tested early as they try to mold the athletic specimen into an immediate, productive starter. Johnson is a football lifer, but has only played offensive tackle for two seasons. With the other four linemen, you know what you’re getting when they’re healthy. With Johnson right now, you have no idea.
DeMeco Ryans, ILB – If you’ve been reading this offseason, you know I’m not buying the “doesn’t fit in a 3-4″ theme when it comes to Ryans (All-22 breakdown here). He was outstanding in 2012 playing behind the Wide-9. Ryans had 115 solo tackles and 16 tackles for loss (per team stats). No player under Andy Reid put up better numbers in the last 13 years. He’s not great in coverage, but Ryans does a good job of tackling the receiever after completions in front of him. We’ll find out what the coaches think of his cover skills based on what they do in sub packages.
Mychal Kendricks, ILB – The second-year player has a great shot of breaking out in 2013. The new scheme should allow him to use his athleticism and not have to deal with offensive linemen in his face all game long. Kendricks can cover, play the run, and he even rushed the passer in college. Look for big things out of him.
Connor Barwin, OLB – His pass-rushing numbers went down last season, but Barwin is the only outside linebacker on the roster with 3-4 experience in the NFL. As I pointed out earlier this offseason (All-22 breakdown here), my guess is the Eagles are looking to use him in a variety of roles.
Trent Cole, OLB – He looked more comfortable than I expected at outside linebacker during the spring. I don’t know if Cole will ever get back to being a double-digit sack guy, but at 30-years-old, it’s premature to say he’s washed-up. The Eagles’ success up front will be determined to a large degree by Cole and Graham.
Brandon Graham, OLB – He also fits into the “X-factor” category. Graham was one of the most productive pass rushers in the league on a per-snap basis last season. But will that translate as he makes the switch to outside linebacker? If Davis’ aim is to get the 11 most talented players on the field, Graham has to have a prominent role.
Fletcher Cox, DL – Ok fine, Tommy Lawlor gets to drive the bandwagon. But can I at least ride shotgun? If Cox is not at least in the Pro Bowl conversation at the end of the season, 2013 should be considered a disappointment for him. Look for Davis to try to come up with ways to help take advantage of Cox’s strength and athleticism. He’s the most talented player the Eagles have on defense.