The names hold a special place in the hearts of Eagles fans: Hank Baskett, Paul Turner, Henry Josey and more.
We’re talking about training camp darlings. Players who come out of nowhere and become fan favorites over the course of a single summer.
These days, without being at Lehigh where every practice was open to fans, it’s not exactly the same. Back in those days, fans would get to watch a player do it in front of their own eyes. These days, it comes from reporter accounts, viral clips and sometimes preseason action. But some players still create quite a buzz in training camp.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Philadelphia sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
Last year’s winner of this award was probably receiver Deon Cain, who didn’t make the 53-man roster and then spent a couple months on the practice squad.
Here are five candidates for this honor in 2023:
WR Devon Allen
As long as Allen, 28, is in Philadelphia, he’s going to have a chance to wow. The Eagles resident Olympic hurdler has true world-class speed and is about to enter his second training camp since signing with the Birds last year.
After a slower start in training camp last year, Allen began to make some plays in Cleveland during joint practices and then he went out and caught a 55-yard touchdown pass in the preseason game. He celebrated this one by doing the hurdles, by the way.
This summer, Allen made some headlines when he told TMZ he’s the fastest receiver in the NFL. Allen ran a 13.04 in the 110M hurdles this offseason but recently he had to pull out of the U.S. Nationals with a calf injury, which means he won’t compete in the World Championships. Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to make a roster push at training camp.
WR Tyrie Cleveland
The 25-year-old receiver is relatively new in Philly but he got a bit of a head start. The Eagles signed Cleveland to their practice squad during the playoffs and then kept him around after the season ended.
While so many of the bottom-of-the-roster receivers on this team don’t have much experience, Cleveland does. Not only did he get a head start in Nick Sirianni’s offense but Cleveland also has some NFL experience. In some ways, he’s in a similar situation to Cain last year.
The Broncos drafted Cleveland (6-2, 209) out of Florida in the seventh round back in 2020. In three years with the Broncos — in 23 games — Cleveland caught 8 passes for 91 yards. Cleveland also returned some kicks for the Broncos. He returned 12 kicks for 252 yards (21.0) in 2020 and 2022. Cleveland also played quite a bit on special teams in other aspects for the Broncos, which could give him his best shot of making the roster.
At Florida, Cleveland never had great productivity but he did test well at the 2020 combine and appears to have some raw athleticism.
WR Joseph Ngata
The Eagles signed a couple of undrafted receivers this spring in Ngata from Clemson and Jadon Haselwood from Arkansas. Of the two, Ngata is probably a tad more intriguing, even though Haselwood was once teammates with Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma.
Ngata (6-3, 217) is one of the biggest receivers on the Eagles roster and he certainly looks the part. The Eagles also gave Ngata the most guaranteed money ($230K) of any UDFA this year. But with his size and catch radius, a few catches like this will get everyone’s attention.
CB Eli Ricks
Normally, the Camp Darling Award goes to an offensive player. It’s really hard for any defensive player to get noticed that much in practice by fans. But Ricks has a few things going for him. The undrafted rookie out of Alabama was thought to be a potential first-round pick not that long ago, so there’s some obvious excitement about him.
When you look back at the earliest 2023 mock draft, many considered Ricks to be a first-round pick, including ESPN’s Todd McShay, among others. Ricks spent the first two seasons in his college career at LSU before transferring to Alabama for the 2022 season. He missed some time because of injury and ended up starting just five games. His best season came as a freshman at LSU in 2020 when he had four interceptions. He had just on in 16 games since. But if he can ever regain that freshman form, the Eagles might have gotten a steal.
And, heck, all it would take in training camp is picking off a couple of passes to get everyone’s attention.
RB Trey Sermon
Over the last year, I’m not sure I’ve been asked by fans about any player more than Sermon. The Eagles claimed Sermon off waivers from the 49ers after final cuts and Sermon spent the entire 2022 season on the Eagles’ 53-man roster. But Sermon played in just 2 games and had 2 carries for 19 yards.
There’s a ton of excitement to see Sermon this summer. And even though he’s fifth in the pecking order behind D’Andre Swift, Kenny Gainwell, Rashaad Penny and Boston Scott, there’s still a good chance for Sermon to stand out, especially when the pads come on. Sermon (6-0, 215) was a third-round pick out of Ohio State (previously Oklahoma) in 2021 but played in just nine games his rookie season before getting cut last summer.
Looking back at his college days, Sermon averaged 7.5 yards per carry in his senior season at Ohio State and he rushed for 331 yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game.