Eagles analysis

Eagles mailbag: Predicting most snaps for Eagles rookies

Answering questions about rookie roles, training camp battles and more in the latest mailbag

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The Eagles report to training camp three weeks from today!

So as you’re reading this on the beach or at a cookout, just know that football is right around the corner.

Let’s get to some questions:

Sometimes this can be a little hard to figure out as we saw last season. Because in 2022 the top offensive rookie in snaps was sixth-round tight end Grant Calcaterra with 227 and the top defensive rookie in snaps was undrafted safety Reed Blankenship with 291. First-round pick Jordan Davis had 224.

As we look ahead at the 2023 season, the offensive pick is probably third-round offensive lineman Tyler Steen. Even though it seems more likely that Cam Jurgens wins that right guard spot, Steen will obviously be on the team and will be one of the top backups. Steen has some position flexibility and there’s a chance he could fill in at a few different spots if there’s an injury. 

The only other offensive draft pick the Eagles made this year was sixth-round QB Tanner McKee. Not only does McKee have to make the team first, but then there would have to be some sort of a disaster for him to see game action. There really aren’t any other good options on offense. The Eagles have a couple intriguing undrafted receivers but it’s hard to imagine them getting a chance to play.

On defense, there are a few candidates. We have to start with the two first-round picks in Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith from Georgia. But third-round safety Sydney Brown makes a compelling case, especially if you expect him to earn a starting gig at some point. The Eagles also have Kelee Ringo, but he’s a clear backup, Moro Ojomo has to make the team first, And Smith is likely going to start the season as the fourth edge rusher. So this comes down to Carter or Brown for me.

As tempted as I am to say Brown, I’ll still go with the most obvious answer and say Carter. He was the No. 9 overall pick for a reason and I’m confident he’s going to play an awful lot as a rookie. Does Brown have the potential to play more as a starting safety if he wins that job at some point? Of course. We know the Eagles rotate a ton on their defensive line, which means if Brown ends up as a starter, he’d play a lot more. But until I see him win that starting gig, I’ll still give the nod to Carter. If Carter simply replaces Javon Hargrave and takes all those snaps, it’s worth noting that Hargrave played over 700 defensive snaps last year. That would be a lot for a rookie in this rotation but Carter might just be up for it.

It definitely has that potential.

Last year, the Eagles were pretty clear that Miles Sanders was their top running back and he led the team in rushing in 12 of 17 regular season games. Four of the other five belonged to Jalen Hurts. But what we saw in the playoffs was that Nick Sirianni wasn’t even completely married to Sanders. Because Kenny Gainwell played well in the playoffs and earned a bigger role. Sirianni stuck with the hot hand during the Super Bowl run.

So after seeing Sirianni play Gainwell more in the playoffs despite having a Pro Bowl running back in a career season, it’s fair to assume he won’t be married to any of these current running backs in 2023. All four of the top guys — Gainwell, D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott — will be fighting for roles in training camp and will be fighting for snaps in the regular season.

If I had to predict the top back in this rotation, I’d go with Swift. Gainwell showed some promise in the playoffs but we haven’t seen enough of him. Penny is a great player when he’s healthy but his injury history is an obvious concern. And Scott seems best suited as a rotational backup unless the Eagles are facing the Giants.

Even though I think Swift is going to end up leading the team in scrimmage yards among this running back group, there will likely be times when Sirianni rides the hot hand. If Penny is going off it’s going to be hard to stop feeding him; same with Gainwell. So I don’t think the lead back will change every week but I also don’t expect to see a season where one guy is clearly the top back every week like last year. It could make some fantasy football owners very frustrated.

When I look at this Eagles roster, there aren’t many glaring holes. But linebacker does strike me as a spot where Howie Roseman could still add talent through a signing or a trade. I think about linebacker this offseason the same way I thought about safety last year when Roseman traded for C.J. Gardner-Johnson just before the start of the season.

As far as the competition at the position, it’s pretty well established that Nakobe Dean will be a starter and will have the green dot. That’s an important role.

The top guy in the WILL linebacker position is former Bear Nicholas Morrow, who at least has starting experience in the NFL. But the Eagles didn’t really commit to Morrow either; his contract included no guaranteed money.

The hot name during OTAs was Christian Elliss, who was a special teamer with the Eagles last season. He made a couple nice plays this spring and it’ll be worth keeping an eye on him during training camp. After that, the Eagles still have Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley. They brought in UDFA Ben VanSumeren. And it looked like Kyron Johnson was playing off-ball linebacker during the spring.

I haven’t completely given up on Taylor, a former third-round pick, but he was raw when the Eagles got him and he hasn’t had the chance to play very much. It was a real shame when Taylor got hurt in 2021 because he lost out on the chance to get those reps. Now he’s buried a bit at a position where Roseman might not be finished.

There are several and before camp begins, I’m going to write about each of them. A couple of them are at running back and linebacker, as we mentioned above.

But one of the most underrated position battles is at cornerback. Sure, we know that Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox are the starters. But after that, the Eagles have Kelee Ringo, Greedy Williams, Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe, Josiah Scott, Mario Goodrich, Eli Ricks and Mekhi Garner. There’s a lot of young talent at the position but not many roster spots available.

There’s no doubt that the Eagles’ schedule is tougher this season and that stretch of games in November-December is a gauntlet. But the whole strength of schedule thing might be a tad overblown.

Sure, by the standard metric (opponents combined win percentage in 2022), the Eagles have the toughest schedule in the NFL. Their opponents had a combined .566 win percentage in 2022. But that’s probably not the best way to really gauge strength of schedule, just looking at last year’s results. If you instead use projected win totals from oddsmakers, the Eagles have the 20th toughest schedule, according to Sharp Football.

Another interesting note from Warren Sharp is about the 49ers, who have the worst rest edge in 2023. They have 20 fewer days of rest than their opponents. That could be important for the Eagles if they’re battling the Niners for the top seed.

I don’t like having to choose. But it’s Fourth of July and I refuse to get rid of hot dogs. Nothing better than an over-grilled hot dog with some spicy brown mustard. I’ll miss the burgers but I’ll keep the dogs.

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