Chip Kelly would not approve of this exercise.
Asked yesterday about the Eagles’ depth chart, he said: “Seriously, the depth chart, I don’t care. I think [Eagles PR Director] Derek [Boyko] did it. I mean, it’s absolutely nothing. I know we’re going to get questions on it, and I’ll be honest with you, I do not care how that’s listed, added.”
And I fully understand what Kelly means. The fringe spots on the roster are largely determined by preseason performance, so he sees no point in penciling guys in before those games are played.
Of course, Kelly didn’t sign up to write for a site that covers the Eagles 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The purpose of this 53-man roster projection is to size up how things look going into tomorrow night. Keeping that in mind, here’s what I’ve got.
Quarterbacks (3): Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley.
Sanchez is in the driver’s seat to win the backup job, and Barkley has looked better than he did in the spring. At this point, it’d be a surprise if they weren’t the three quarterbacks on the roster come Week 1.
Running backs (4): LeSean McCoy, Darren Sproles, Chris Polk, Matthew Tucker.
The top three here are locks, although Polk has been missing practice and needs to show he can stay healthy. Tucker was one of my last guys on the roster. It’s no lock that the Eagles keep four running backs, but he appears to have a leg up on undrafted free agents Henry Josey and David Fluellen.
Given McCoy’s value and Sproles’ experience, I’d expect the backups to get a lot of chances to prove themselves in the preseason.
Wide receivers (6): Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, Brad Smith, Arrelious Benn.
The top four here are locks, and because of his versatility, I expect Smith to make the team.
If the Eagles keep a sixth wide receiver, it will likely come down to Benn or Jeff Maehl. Benn is back from an ACL injury and has had some nice moments during camp. Maehl is a Kelly favorite and earned a spot last season.
A sleeper like Ifeanyi Momah could emerge with a strong preseason performance.
As Kelly often points out, the final roster spot here will come down to special teams.
Tight ends (3): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz, James Casey.
There’s a chance the Eagles could keep a fourth tight end, but I haven’t seen one stand out.
Emil Igwenagu made the squad out of camp last year, and undrafted free agent Trey Burton is intriguing, but as of now, I say they stick with three.
Offensive linemen (9): Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, Allen Barbre, Matt Tobin, David Molk, Dennis Kelly, Andrew Gardner.
Of all the positions, this is the one I’m least confident in with my projections. I left Lane Johnson off because he’ll go on the reserve/suspended list after the preseason and won’t count against the 53-man.
The starters are set, and Tobin seems to be a good bet to earn a backup spot. Beyond that, spots are up for grabs. I gave Molk the nod over Julian Vandervelde for the backup center job because Vandervelde has been nursing a back injury.
Defensive linemen (6): Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, Cedric Thornton, Taylor Hart, Vinny Curry, Beau Allen.
The top five here are locks, and Allen seems to have really impressed the coaching staff so far. Looking forward to seeing him in the preseason.
The Eagles could certainly keep a seventh lineman. Damion Square may be an option, but I don’t see a need to keep three nose tackles. Joe Kruger has not done much to distinguish himself at camp, but maybe he’ll flash during the games. Again, defensive line is especially difficult to get a handle on in practice.
Outside linebackers (5): Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Marcus Smith II, Bryan Braman, Travis Long.
I was really on the fence about Brandon Graham. On one hand, there’s been pretty much no indication that the coaching staff views him as a valuable piece. On the other hand, for a defense in need of improving its pass-rush, letting Graham go doesn’t seem like the smartest move.
Part of the key here will be what Braman and Long show in the preseason. The majority of the snaps at OLB in the regular season will be taken by Barwin, Cole and Smith. If Braman and/or Long show they can play a handful of snaps every game or demonstrate enough competency where they could be relied on in case of injury, I think Graham is gone. He’s on the final year of his deal and should head to a 4-3 team where he can rush the passer.
Inside linebackers (4): DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Emmanuel Acho.
The top three are locks, and Goode figures to see playing time on a rotational basis behind the starters.
Assuming the Eagles keep a fourth inside linebacker, I’ll give the nod to Acho. Jason Phillips or Casey Matthews could stake claim to that spot. Jake Knott will start the season on the same suspended list as Lane Johnson.
Cornerbacks (5): Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Brandon Boykin, Nolan Carroll II, Jaylen Watkins.
I don’t see this one changing (barring injury). The only potential exception would be if the Eagles want to keep a sixth cornerback and hold on to someone like Roc Carmichael or Curtis Marsh.
Safeties (5): Malcolm Jenkins, Nate Allen, Earl Wolff, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds.
McManus and I were talking earlier this week and agreed that Wolff has the widest range of outcomes of anyone on the team. He could make the leap to being a starter with a significant role, or he could end up with no role at all.
The knee situation is worth monitoring in the coming weeks. Kelly’s “durability is the best ability” mantra applies to Wolff as much as anyone else on the roster.
Jenkins, Allen and Maragos are all locks. Reynolds has been playing catch-up after missing most of the spring. He could end up on IR before the season like Kruger last year. But he’ll have a chance to show what he’s picked up during the preseason.
Specialists (3): Jon Dorenbos, Alex Henery, Donnie Jones.
Not much explanation necessary here. These will be the three specialists on the roster.