Some fallout from the Eagles’ 2018 draft as the roster takes shape and we have more of a sense of what this team is going to be all about in the season ahead ...
The selection of defensive end Josh Sweat in the fourth round on Saturday was clearly an example of going with the best player on the board, and also of looking down the line a couple of years. Chris Long is 33, Michael Bennett is going to be 33 in November, and Brandon Graham turned 30 in April. Heck, fifth end Steven Means is going to be 28 in September. Who do the Eagles envision lining up at defensive end with Derek Barnett a few seasons from now? Sweat suffered a gruesome knee injury in high school, tearing his ACL and dislocating his kneecap on the same knee. It took him a long time to get all the way back, and he may not truly be all the way back until he gets into the Eagles’ strength and conditioning program and builds back the strength in his knee.
The key with Sweat is how he plays in the scheme. The Eagles think that getting off the ball and up the field will play into Sweat’s very promising skill set. The question on the immediate horizon is how do the Eagles fit all of these ends on the 53-man roster. It’s going to be tough to keep more than five of them. For the Eagles, it’s a very good spot to be in. At two positions that are tough to populate in the NFL – defensive end and cornerback – the Eagles have a lot of talent, a lot of depth, and some flexibility.
Speaking of development, the Eagles have some work to do along the offensive line as the team prepares for 2018 and beyond. It seems pretty darn cut and dried as far as the five starters for the line this season – Jason Peters at left tackle, Stefen Wisniewski at left guard, Jason Kelce at center, Brandon Brooks at right guard, and Lane Johnson at right tackle. Halalpoulivaati Vaitai is the swing tackle backing up both Peters and Johnson. Isaac Seumalo and Chance Warmack are the veteran reserves, but it would seem that they’ve got to earn spots with two offensive linemen (Matt Pryor and Jordan Mailata) taken in the draft. Seumalo offers versatility at both guard spots and center. The Eagles really want to see a big offseason and on-field summer from Seumalo, who could transition more to center if needed.
The biggest positional question marks on the team? Probably linebacker, where the Eagles remained status quo with the current roster on draft weekend, and the punter/holder spot. Jordan Hicks is a gigantic key for this season, and he’s been diligent in his rehab from the torn Achilles tendon and is confident with his progress. Paul Worrilow and Joe Walker are the anticipated backups to Hicks. Nigel Bradham is on the strong side and Mychal Kendricks is the incumbent on the weak side, with free agent signee Corey Nelson expected to push for playing time. Nathan Gerry and Kamu Grugier-Hill are going to be key on special teams as they look to find their roles in the linebacker room.
Markus Wheaton is a no-risk, bigger-upside kind of signing to add some depth to a wide receiver position that the Eagles did not address in the draft. He caught a combined 167 passes in the 2014 and 2015 seasons with Pittsburgh, but since then Wheaton has struggled with a shoulder injury and a lack of productivity. He can return kicks and he can play inside and outside, so that gives Wheaton a chance in this, what could be his last real shot to get his career back on track. A third-round draft pick from Oregon State in 2013, Wheaton knows he only has so many chances remaining in the NFL.
How do you feel about the punter/holder position? The Eagles obviously feel like Cameron Johnston deserves every shot to impress and it looks like he’s going to get that chance. Johnston, a standout at Ohio State who averaged 46.7 yards per punt as a senior there, punted 15 times and averaged 44.9 yards per kick in last summer’s preseason, with three kicks inside the 20-yard line and one touchback. As important as his punting will be, Johnston will also have a chance to replace the outstanding job Donnie Jones did as a holder on field goals over the years. This a tremendously important part of the job responsibility.
Yes, top draft pick Dallas Goedert is far more advanced as a tight end coming out of college than Trey Burton, a jack-of-all-trades who became a very good piece in the team’s tight end room over time. Give some credit here to tight ends coach Justin Peelle for Burton’s development, and Peelle will be critical as the Eagles try to get Goedert ready to play early in his career in this offense. If it all works according to the blueprint, the Eagles are going to be more difficult to match up against at tight end because Goedert’s a difficult player to defend with his size and the way he runs.
Another position to think about? Safety, behind Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod. Chris Maragos and Tre Sullivan are here to challenge, but you can be sure the Eagles will add more competition. And there are going to be veterans available late in the summer. Remember that Corey Graham signed with the Eagles on August 3 last summer and had a key role in the defense before it was all said and done. He played in more than 60 percent of the defensive snaps in Super Bowl LII.
Keeping an eye on the defensive tackle situation amid reports of Tim Jernigan’s back surgery. Nothing substantiated from the Eagles, but it’s a cause for concern if Jernigan is injured or will be off the field for an extended period of time. The Eagles will slide a defensive end into the tackle spot much of the time, but Jernigan has great explosiveness and is a good complement to Fletcher Cox at tackle.