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Eagles' Roster Build Still Not Complete

Posted May 1, 2017

This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. The Eagles are not finished building the 2017 roster, even as the dust settles on the NFL Draft weekend and Phase Two of the offseason gets underway for the veteran players ...

This isn’t over. Not by a long shot. The Eagles are not finished building the 2017 roster, even as the dust settles on the NFL Draft weekend and Phase Two of the offseason gets underway for the veteran players.

Did the draft solve every question mark on the roster? Maybe not. The Eagles are always looking to upgrade. They did so at a handful of "need" positions through the draft, so let’s explore those groups first.

DEFENSIVE END

First-round draft pick Derek Barnett obviously comes in with very high expectations. He’s got a chance to earn the starting job opposite Brandon Graham on the edge, but of course there is a player like veteran Chris Long there, and Vinny Curry is being counted on to bounce back from a tough 2016. Marcus Smith has another year of experience and Steven Means and Alex McCalister are going to compete.

The point is, the Eagles think they’ve solved an area that had some definite question marks. They’ve got options. Long is a consummate professional who is going to be a terrific influence on and off the field. He’s also, the Eagles believe, got some game remaining in his veteran body. Why Curry wasn’t a force last year in this attacking defense was mystifying, but he should make significant strides in 2017.

Smith is a solid contributor on special teams who has shown some flashes as a pass rusher. Means is a high-energy player who has had some shining moments here. McCalister is healthy after spending last season on Injured Reserve, and he’s much stronger and more stout after a year in the weight room.

Barnett, though, is here to play. He’s got to work on some technique parts of his game, and he’s got some room to mature at age 20, but the skill set is there to make an immediate contribution in some way, shape or form.

CORNERBACK

Taking a long-range and optimistic tone here, the Eagles remade the cornerback position in a single weekend. The Eagles and their medical department are confident that second-round pick Sidney Jones will make a complete recovery from his Achilles tendon injury. If that’s the case, then Jones has a very, very bright NFL future. His comeback, though, will require some time. Maybe even an entire season. Is having a standout cornerback for the next 10 years worth the wait? Absolutely, it is.

Meanwhile, third-round draft pick Rasul Douglas has an outstanding chance to earn playing time and perhaps even a starting role as a rookie. Jalen Mills should be first in line to start on one side and Douglas is among those – including comeback former first-round pick Patrick Robinson – with a chance to start on the other side.

Admittedly, the cornerback positions for 2017 still have some questions. Is Mills, who played 65 percent of the snaps, up to the task of being a full-time starter? Can Douglas, just three years removed from Nassau Community College, start as a rookie? Does Robinson salvage his career here? Is Ron Brooks, a solid nickel cornerback, going to be ready to play in Training Camp after ending 2016 on Injured Reserve with a quad injury? Are there young players, like C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes, and Mitchell White, a CFL star, able to step up? Is Dwayne Gratz, a five-year veteran, able to help?

WIDE RECEIVER

Talk about an overhaul. By drafting Mack Hollins (fourth round) and Shelton Gibson (fifth round), the Eagles added a tremendous amount of talent and competition to an already-changed wide receiver group. So let’s throw out some names who could make up the wide receiver room, in which there are usually five players on the 53-man roster: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, and Dorial Green-Beckham along with Hollins and Gibson. That’s seven players for, just guessing, five roster positions.

Let the competition begin.

There are also a handful of younger players who are going to try to break up the gang, including last year’s summer sensation Paul Turner and a former preseason game standout, Rasheed Bailey.

We’ll have to see how quickly Hollins and Gibson assimilate to the NFL life. It’s tough to be a plug-and-play wide receiver at this level. But the Eagles are extremely high on both players and they’re going to have time to get reps and learn the offense.

The real question is: How do Agholor and DGB respond? Drafting two wide receivers is a direct challenge to both veterans.

LINEBACKER

Nathan Gerry is going to have a tough transition from college safety to NFL linebacker, but we’ll see how the Eagles coach him up and how he plays with an added 15-20 pounds on his frame. He was a ballhawk in college and he’s going to have to be physical and play sideline to sideline at the NFL level.

With Gerry and Joe Walker, healthy after missing all of last season with a knee injury after an impressive summer, the Eagles have added two rookies to the picture at linebacker. Mychal Kendricks remains and it looks as if he could stay an Eagle and get back to doing what he does: Playing downhill, blow-it-up football.

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Clearly, though, the Eagles need Gerry and Walker to play smart, physical, and sound football to feel like there’s some depth here. A second-year man like Kamu Grugier-Hill and a veteran like Najee Goode are very important in the mix here, too.

POSITIONS WITH QUESTIONS TO ANSWER

RUNNING BACK

Donnel Pumphrey wasn’t drafted in the fourth round to carry the ball 20 times a game. In fact, the Eagles really don’t have anyone on the roster who fits that bill. So it’s going to be a running back-by-committee approach, and the Eagles will also keep their eyes open for help. The good news is that there is a solid handful of veteran running backs still out there – DeAngelo Williams, LeGarrette Blount, Jamaal Charles, to name three – and there will also be backs cut between now and September.

Pumphrey is a move-around kind of player and his versatility can help this offense. But he’s not getting the football on third-and-1 snaps and he’s likely a rotational player in the offense.

TIGHT END

The Eagles are in good shape for 2017 at tight end with Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and Trey Burton, but do they have a developmental player in the pipeline? Burton is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent next year. How many seasons does Celek have in his Eagle-for-life body?

Otherwise, the Eagles are set up pretty nicely. They’re deep and young at quarterback. The offensive line is loaded (which will help the running back situation). Defensive tackle looks solid, especially after adding Elijah Qualls in the sixth round. Both starting safeties, Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are here.

The roster is always evolving and the Eagles are continuing to explore options. Draft weekend, though, appeared to fill up many of the holes and as the Eagles look ahead, they do so with great confidence in the plan.

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