On Wednesday we looked at my final predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles roster on the offensive side of the ball. While the roster will be ever-evolving as the season progresses and players return from injury, I highlighted 28 players (including specialists) that I believe will make the team. That leaves 26 for the defense. Despite being one of the stronger units in football, the injury bug could cause a major hiccup in the Eagles‘ plan for fielding another dominant defense in 2018.
Defensive Ends (6): Brandon Graham, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, Steven Means, Josh Sweat
Defensive Tackles (4): Fletcher Cox, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls, Timmy Jernigan (PUP)
The reasoning behind the few number of defensive tackles projected is tri-fold. First, the Eagles pose a host of excellent edge rushers whose main purpose is to hunt the quarterback. On top of that, Fletcher Cox is one of the most dominant tackles in football and can be a one man run-stopper. Lastly, Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett boast the versatility to play effectively on both the edge and interior, diminishing the need for a slew of pure interior linemen.
One of Jim Schwartz’ most intimidating defensive packages that has been released is called “NASCAR.” It features Derek Barnett at right end, Graham and Bennett on the interior, and Chris Long at left end. Quarterbacks beware. Oh, and Timmy Jernigan, who is currently on the PUP list, will return eventually, which means Elijah Qualls could eventually be relegated back to the practice squad.
Linebackers (6): Jordan Hicks (MIKE), Nigel Bradham (SAM), Kamu Grugier-Hill (WILL), Nate Gerry (WILL), Joe Walker (MIKE), LaRoy Reynolds (SAM)
Nigel Bradham has proved that he is more than worthy of his new 5-year, $40-million contract. Bradham is the most underrated and most crucial component to the Eagles defensive unit, not only because of his run stuffing ability, but also because of his improved pass coverage. Jordan Hicks returns from injury and has looked like his old self. As the NFL becomes evermore pass heavy, Hicks’ skill-set is the ideal complement to Bradham’s play.
On the weak side, the void left by Mychal Kendricks has been felt. The Eagles signed Corey Nelson over the offseason only to cut him after the third preseason game. As of now, Kamu Grugier-Hill should occupy the WILL linebacker spot. KGH has decent sideline-to-sideline speed and provides added assurance in passing situations. The other competitor for the WILL linebacker is Nathan Gerry, who is entering his third NFL season out of Nebraska. I expect KGH to start the season at this position, but for Gerry to be mixed in for certain situations.
Cornerbacks (5): Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Sidney Jones IV, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas
Starting outside cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills have been the talk of the offseason, and their hard work has shown thus far. Sidney Jones seems to have locked down the ever-important nickel corner position after recovering from an Achilles injury and winning a heated race between himself, rookie Avonte Maddox and De’Vante Bausby.
The real decision to be made is who will occupy the fifth cornerback spot on the roster — Bausby or Rasul Douglas. My money is on Douglas to make the team because of his ability to play the outside at 6-2, 209 pounds. Schwartz has repeatedly mentioned that the defensive backs work at every different position, so we could potentially see Douglas work to become a safety-hybrid.
Safeties (4): Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, Tre Sullivan, Chris Maragos (PUP)
Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod may be the best complementary safeties in the league right now. Jenkins’ ability to play the run at the line of scrimmage and cover tight ends in the pass game allows McLeod to utilize his speed and superior play recognition as the overhang safety, in turn maximizing the unit’s turnover potential. After the third safety position looked a bit ambiguous for a time, the Eagles brought back 33-year old Corey Graham. Like last season, Graham will provide an experienced voice for the younger secondary unit while being a leader both on and off the field.
If you’ve seen Tre Sullivan play, you know that he is the human embodiment of a heat-seeking missile. Sullivan’s highlights are filled with monstrous hits and he plays with the utmost intensity. The reckless abandonment he shows on the field can be energizing at times, but missed tackles are a problem. The other competitor to make the roster is undrafted free agent Jeremy Reaves. The rookie leaves it all on the field and has been a key contributor on special teams. Reaves is not afraid to crowd the line of scrimmage to stop the run, but he needs a lot of work on his coverage and play recognition skills. (You can check out my previous spotlight piece on Jeremy Reaves if you would like to learn more about the UDFA.) My feeling is that either Sullivan or Reaves will be put on the practice squad. And once Chris Maragos returns from injury, the other young safety may be relegated as well.
So, there it is. I have 28 offensive and 25 defensive players predicted to make the final Eagles roster. Check out my offensive predictions by clicking this link for a full breakdown. Below are the players I expect to be named to the practice squad. Stay tuned for an update next week after the final cuts are made for my reaction to the 53-man roster.
Practice Squad (10): CB De’Vante Bausby, OT Toby Weathersby, WR Greg Ward Jr, DE Joe Ostman, C Jon Toth, WR Rashard Davis, WILL Jaboree Williams, DT Aziz Shittu, S Jeremy Reaves/Tre Sullivan
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