Philadelphia Eagles football is officially back. Tonight, for the first time since January 2, Eagle fans will watch their team battle it out with another at the Linc. Of course, it’s only a preseason game, but it’s certainly something to look forward to. While some players have done enough to all but guarantee their spot on the 53, most of the 90-man roster will have fight and battle their way through the upcoming weeks in order to avoid the preseason cuts. With that in mind, here are the biggest questions going into the Eagles first preseason game against the Packers:
How Will the Wide Receiver Situation Unfold?
After having the worst receiving corps in the NFL last season, the Eagles enter 2017 with a much stronger unit. The additions of Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith have brought a bit of starpower and stability, while new WR coach Mike Groh has apparently ignited a fire under the underachieving Nelson Agholor. Alshon is a lock to make the final roster, and Smith and Agholor don’t need to do much more to secure their spots. Jordan Matthews will make the team unless a trade occurs, which seems unlikely. Fourth round pick Mack Hollins’ special teams ability makes him the most likely candidate for the fifth WR spot.
So what about the sixth spot?
The leading candidates are Shelton Gibson, Marcus Johnson, and Greg Ward – not a very strong group of guys.
Shelton Gibson was a fifth round pick this offseason and many fans were excited when he was drafted. However, he has disappointed tremendously, and his struggles with drops have triggered horrible memories for Eagles fans.
RELATED: Shelton Gibson Scouting Report
Marcus Johnson was on the practice squad last season and failed to standout in any way until this offseason, where he has impressed coaches. As the top candidate for the sixth wide receiver spot, Marcus Johnson faces the most important few games of his life in the upcoming weeks, as they will have a huge impact on his NFL career.
Greg Ward is an undrafted college QB who is making the switch to WR in order to increase his chances of having a career in the NFL. He has picked up the wide receiver position much more quickly than expected, but he still has a long way to go.
Gibson, Johnson, and Ward will be fighting for the sixth wide receiver slot, but it is possible that they are all on the outside looking in come the regular season opener.
There is still a strong chance that the Eagles don’t keep six receivers. They have five talented receivers already, as well as at least two running backs (Sproles and Pumphrey) and two tight ends (Ertz and Burton) who will play a significant role in the passing game. That’s nine pass-catchers already.
Keeping six wide receivers is not ideal for the Eagles, so Gibson, Johnson, or Ward have some work to do to prove to the coaching staff that they are worth that roster spot.
Every offseason #EaglesTwitter hypes up a mediocre player..
2014: Mychal Kendricks
2015: Sam Bradford
2017: Nelson Agholor
— Darius D. Jackson (@HDDaulton) August 5, 2017
What Will the Slot Receiver Position Look Like?
Since entering the league in 2014, Jordan Matthews has been the Eagles primary slot receiver. However, he has failed to do enough to secure that spot and is now facing some serious competition.
By all accounts, Agholor has stepped up big time under new wide receiver coach Mike Groh this offseason. The coaching staff has spoken very highly of him, and Eagles HOFer Mike Quick went as far as to say that Agholor is the most talented receiver on the roster. That’s high praise considering the roster included star Alshon Jeffrey. Many fans and experts alike are expecting Agholor to finally live up to his first round pick expectations. While that may be a bit overzealous, it is not unreasonable to think that he may overtake Jordan Matthews in the slot. While both are virtual locks to make the final roster, they will still partake in a key preseason battle.
While Doug Pederson’s offense will put many players in the slot throughout the season, few will see significant time there. With that said, there is still one player who could take some snaps away from Matthews and Agholor: Donnel Pumphrey. The 5’8”, fourth-round pick out of San Diego State is a shifty back who reminds many of fellow running back Darren Sproles. But Pumphrey and Sproles will not have the same role in the Eagles offense. While Sproles will spend the majority of his time as a running back, Pumphrey is expected to see significant snaps in the slot. With Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor already competing for slot snaps, it will be interesting to see just how many are taken from them and given to Pumphrey, and just how well Pumphrey performs in his relatively new position.
What About Cornerback?
The cornerbacks last year were so bad that most people assumed the position couldn’t possibly get worse in 2017.
Well, after spending both of their day two draft picks on corners, we may still somehow be worse at the position than we were last year.
Patrick Robinson was brought in to hold down the one of the starting spots until Douglas was ready to take over. That plan seems to have gone down the toilet as Robinson has been consistently torched by just about every receiver on the team this offseason and will have to truly shine in the preseason in order to make the 53. With Sidney Jones not expected to play until late in the season at the earliest, this puts a lot of pressure on third round pick Rasul Douglas.
Douglas has a very strong skillset and was a high-value pick in the third round, but he still has a ways to go before he can be consistently relied on as a starting cornerback. The potential is certainly there, but his lack of deep speed will make life difficult for the rookie as he will have very little room for error. How he performs in the preseason will help the coaching staff determine if he is ready to take on the starting role, or if they should look to someone else until Douglas is ready.
That brings us to C.J. Smith II, who went undrafted in 2016. Smith showed enough to keep the coaches interested throughout last season, and he eventually got some playing time. He was good for an undrafted rookie, but certainly no more than a depth piece moving forward. Yet here we are, an offseason later, and Smith has a chance to compete for a starting spot. After a bright training camp, Smith will compete with Rasul Douglas in what should be an exciting (and unfortunate) battle for the starting spot opposite Jalen Mills.
Fans may not care much about the preseason, but to the eighty-eight players (Beau Allen and Sidney Jones are still on the 90-man roster) who will set the field tonight in midnight green, these games are crucial. So as can be expected under Doug Pederson, tonight’s preseason game will host some ferocious competitions that should have every Eagle fan glued to the TV.