Eagles Wake-Up Call: Offensive Roster Analysis
After a wild weekend and some roster movement to start this week, let’s take a look at how the Eagles’ roster is shaping up on offense as the first game of the regular season approaches.
Quarterback: Carson Wentz, Chase Daniel
With just one trade, Wentz jumped from an injured third-string quarterback who wouldn’t be active for much of the season to the starter for Week 1. The Birds sent a clear message they like what they’ve seen from Wentz by moving on from Sam Bradford, even if the rookie did miss the last three preseason games. As for the impact the switch has on the Eagles’ record this season? I expect them to lose at least one more game as the rookie experiences the typical rough patches.
Although Wentz will make plays throughout the season that reflect his high talent level, I think he’ll throw a ton of interceptions. He’s very aggressive, he has little experience and it will take him some time to adjust to the speed of the game. Wentz has played just one part of an NFL preseason game, a year and a half of college football at the FCS level and one full season as a varsity quarterback in high school. He has all of the intangibles you could hope for to curtail his learning curve — intelligence, work ethic and being comfortable in uncomfortable situations — but he still needs time to adjust.
As for Daniel, although he didn’t play well in the preseason, he’s still a good backup to have — albeit an overpaid one. Doug Pederson also expressed his desire recently to sign a third quarterback to the practice squad, but it’s unknown when the Eagles will do so.
Running Back: Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood
Barner improved the season outlook for this position group with his impressive play in the preseason, but their success will still largely hinge on how long Mathews can remain healthy for. Mathews is a talented back who fits Pederson’s offense well, but even he has acknowledged his physical running style contributes to his injury problems. Pederson is going to have to walk the fine line of maximizing what Mathews can give the Eagles while not running him too much in each game to keep him healthy.
Smallwood generated a lot of hype during the spring and early summer, but injuries hampered his progress. He carried the ball just twice during the preseason, and it’s unclear how much Pederson is willing to use him early on in the season. However, the rookie has cleared concussion protocol and Pederson has been open about wanting to utilize him has a receiver out of the backfield. Sproles, meanwhile, could be deployed at receiver and in the slot in an effort to try to exploit match-ups with linebackers. We kept waiting for Chip Kelly to better utilize Sproles, and I expect Pederson to finally do so.
Wide Receiver: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Bryce Treggs
This position group is the biggest question mark on the team. Matthews will be a good receiver and a focal point in Pederson’s offense, but they may get little production from the rest of the unit, even when Green-Beckham learns the whole system and isn’t limited in what he can do. Matthews should be 100 percent as he returns this week after missing the entire preseason, but will he experience any rust early on this season? I expect him to be fine.
As for Agholor, it’s very unclear how much he’ll give the Eagles. It’s possible he simply had a rough preseason and will make big strides this year — he is still just 23-years-old — but he didn’t give many reasons to be optimistic about his sophomore season. Green-Beckham should have a pretty big role in the red zone early on, and then his usage will expand once Pederson is comfortable with Green-Beckham’s understanding of the offense. Huff may get more touches via speed sweeps than receptions in some games, as Pederson seems committed to getting the ball in his skill position players’ hands in creative ways. As for Treggs, the recent addition to this unit, he gives the Eagles good speed, but it remains to be seen how good his route running is, if he can consistently get open at this level and how well he can catch the ball.
Tight End: Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, Trey Burton.
With Wentz playing earlier than expected, I anticipate Pederson will use more two- and three-tight end sets. He’ll likely want to run the ball more, especially to start the season, but it should also give the rookie some good match-ups to take advantage of. All three of these tight ends will be contributors this season, particularly Ertz, who is expected to be a focal point of the offense along with Matthews. Burton also stood out almost every day during training camp, so it’s hard to imagine him not having a bigger role this season, even if he is buried on the depth chart behind two quality tight ends. Regardless, this is clearly the Eagles’ position of strength on offense.
Offensive Line: Jason Peters, Allen Barbre, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Stefen Wisniewski, Matt Tobin, Josh Andrews, Dillon Gordon, Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Not only is there uncertainty at the top of the position group with concerns about Jason Peters’ ability to stay healthy and Lane Johnson’s impending suspension, but the bottom of the depth chart may look very different soon as well. According to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports, the Eagles are attempting to trade both Wisniewski and Andrews. Neither of those reports should be surprising, as there are likely teams who value Wisniewski more than the Eagles currently do on their depth chart. Isaac Seumalo, the rookie who missed OTAs and minicamp, appears to have beaten out Wisniewski for the primary backup guard position. As for Andrews, he was one of the last guys to make the 53-man roster, so if Howie Roseman can get any type of value for the young offensive lineman, it makes sense to deal him.
Despite the uncertainty, the first-team offensive line should be pretty good for the Eagles as long as Peters and Johnson remain on the field. Even if Johnson does eventually miss 10 games this season, Barbre seemed to transition smoothly to right tackle during training camp and the preseason. Obviously, the regular season will be a different animal, but the hole Johnson missing time would create is likely at left guard when Barbre moves over, not right tackle. Seumalo took big steps forward last month before his injury, but he still has some big growing pains to go through.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Rowe was reportedly traded to the Patriots, but nothing is official yet.
“Carson’s ready for this, and it’s about him now.” Players react to life with Carson Wentz as the starter.
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
The Eagles are shopping some offensive linemen around:
Eagles also indicated willingness to other teams to potentially move C/G Stefan Wisniewski as well. Clearly looking to move OL
— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) September 7, 2016
The Eagles are relying on a good amount of undrafted players, pens Jimmy Kempski of PhillyVoice.
When the Eagles trimmed their roster down to 53 players, it initially included four undrafted free agents – WR Paul Turner, OT Dillon Gordon, DT Destiny Vaeao, and CB C.J. Smith. Turner and Smith were released to make room for three waiver claims, one of which was another 2016 undrafted player, WR Bryce Treggs.
The Eagles then filled out their entire 10-man practice squad with 2016 undrafted rookie free agents, which is actually quite rare. A conclusion that could be made there is that [Howie] Roseman likely wanted his own set of 10 players to try to develop.
“We feel like we’ve got to find ways to improve this football team in an unconventional manner,” said Roseman. “When you look at the percentage of rosters taken up by undrafted free agents, outside of first-round picks, I think it’s the highest percentage of players on rosters. For us, we felt like we needed to throw darts at that pool of guys that we liked.”
Chase Daniel accepts his backup role to Wentz, writes Zach Berman of the Inquirer.
Daniel said he thinks [Doug] Pederson has been honest with him through the process, and that he neither knows nor cares if the decision to start Wentz from Week 1 was entirely Pederson’s or came from the front office.
“Chase was brought in here for a reason,” Pederson said. “Chase is the guy that I wanted to be in this role [and] to be in this position. Chase has done everything I’ve asked him to do. He’s an unselfish ball player. He leads by example on and off the football field.
“He’s been a great mentor to Carson and even when Sam was here, as far as teaching this offense. Knowing that Chase is the No. 2 gives you a lot of confidence, much like it was in Kansas City, being our No. 2 behind Alex. It’s great to have another set of eyes on the field for Carson. I feel real comfortable with where we are with these two guys.”
Pederson said during the offseason that he sees himself in Daniel. Pederson followed Andy Reid from Green Bay in 1999 and was given the chance to be a starter for the first time in his career. Reid inserted Donovan McNabb into the lineup after nine games. Pederson was disappointed at the time, but he did not reference that experience with Daniel this weekend.
Doug Pederson will address the media at 10:30, while Hue Jackson will have a conference call with Eagles reporters at 3:30.
Chris Jastrzembski contributed to this post.