We’ve now entered the portion of the off season where we’re waiting on the combine, free agency, and the draft. While we’re stuck in limbo let’s look at a few players who could assume larger roles in 2018 due to finally being healthy, other players moving on, or just maturing in general as players.
1) Cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas: With Patrick Robinson likely leaving the Eagles during free agency, there will be more playing time available at the position. Douglas surprised everyone when he was forced into action after Ronald Darby’s injury, he showcased great ball skills and was excellent in coverage. Jones was considered the top corner in last year’s draft before tearing his Achilles at his Pro-Day, he has the ideal combination of size and speed that you want at the position. He’s also a cerebral player and a film junkie, he looked good against Dez Bryant during week 17 after his season long rehab. Look for Jones to start on the outside next year and for Douglas to crack the rotation as well.
2) Defensive end Derek Barnett: Some would argue that Barnett has already broken out after a rookie season that saw him make a lot of big plays while being a crucial part of the Eagles defensive line rotation. But with Graham facing a potential contract dispute (which I think will be resolved) and Vinny Curry being a possible cap casualty or trade piece there’s a chance Barnett enters the starting lineup. He’s extremely polished as a pass rusher and could lead the team in sacks next year.
3) Wide Receivers Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson: Torrey Smith’s run with the Eagles is more than likely over as the second year of his contract is basically a team option. The Eagles are hard on cap room and while Smith improved as the season went on, he wasn’t the field stretching player that Philadelphia had hoped he would be. Many assume Hollins will be given Smith’s role since he contributed some during the 2017 season and looked good when he played. While at UNC he was a TD machine and averaged slightly over 20 YPC. But Gibson was also a deep threat when he was at WVU, arguably the top one in the nation during his junior year. He had a nightmare of a training camp as he was unable to catch anything, but the Eagles stuck with him and took a developmental approach similar to what they did with Nelson Agholor. Time will tell if it pays off with him as well.
4) Running back Corey Clement: I know what you’re thinking, Clement had over 100 all purpose yards and a TD in the Super Bowl so he’s already arrived. Maybe he has, but I think this season we see him take the next step and become one of the top 10 backs in the league. After making the roster as an UDRFA, Clement forced his way into the backfield rotation and never looked back. He’s a hard runner with excellent vision, and has also proved to be a pass catching threat which was a large question mark for him coming out of college. Look for him to have a strangle hold on the old “Darren Sproles” role and push Ajayi for the most snaps at the position.
5) Tight End Billy Brown: Brown is an interesting player to keep an eye on because all of the uncertainty at the position. Brent Celek could either retire, or even be cut based on his contract numbers (hopefully he’ll retire). Trey Burton is all but gone as he’ll likely get a contract in free agency that the Eagles simply can’t match. Brown spent the entire season on the Eagles’ practice squad and was close to making the active roster. He has good size (6’4 255 lbs) and speed for the position (4.7 40) and runs crisp routes due to playing receiver in college. Zach Ertz will be the unquestioned starter but it will be fun to see Brown’s development as a home grown Eagles player.
1) Defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao: Vaeao may see his role increase as he could be the number one backup to Cox and Jernigan if Baeu Allen leaves during free agency. He’s a big bodied guy who can take on blockers effectively.
2) Quarterback Nate Sudfeld: If Carson Wentz isn’t ready to go to start the season, and the Eagles trade Nick Foles (Howie Roseman admitted this was a possibility) then Sudfeld would be the starter for week 1 and until Wentz is ready to return. Sudfeld played well against Dallas in week 17 and Coach Pederson has had nothing but praise for him, this week he said Sudfeld has the potential to be an NFL starter.
The Eagles will more than likely address one or more of these positions during either free agency or the draft, but right now this is solely based on players the Eagles currently have. Watching Pederson and the rest of the coaching staff groom home grown talent is really enjoyable, hopefully all the players listed go on to contribute and the Eagles can make another run at the Lombardi trophy. Fly Eagles Fly!