So let me start off by saying I am not at training camp . If you want to read detailed training camp reports, go check out bleedinggreennation.com, they do an amazing job. What I do here on my site is I read, watch and soak up as much info as I can get a hold of from the camp practices and I use that as a guide during the actual preseason games.
If I keep hearing about a player lighting it up or getting torched in camp, I want to see if that translates in an actual game. Watching a wide receiver torch a defensive back in a one-on-one drill in practice is one thing, but doing it on actual plays in a real game against a unfamiliar team is a whole other dimension.
I picked 15 Eagles player to keep an eye on during the first preseason game. 7 of the 15 are either wide receivers or defensive backs, the two biggest weak spots on this team last season. Most of the players on this list are getting rave reviews in practice, but one veteran is having an awful summer and may go from projected starter to victim of the first round of cuts.
It’s a really fascinating group of 15 and none of these guys are locks to start or have major roles early in the season. They all have a ton to play for over the next month.
15 Eagles Player to Watch- Preseason Week 1
Wendell Smallwood/RB- Smallwood had a pretty meh first year in the NFL. Now he was a 5th round draft pick so he wasn’t expected to set the world on first, but given the front five blocking for him and the opportunity he had with the Ryan Mathews injury, 367 total yards didn’t inject a lot of enthusiasm in Eagles fans.
Smallwood did go over 70 total yards(rushing+receiving) 3 times last season and he did it against 3 teams that won a playoff game last year(Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Seattle). I love his burst as a runner and his ability as a receiver in a variety of ways, but until he learns how to make defenders miss in the open field I think his role will be limited here. He has shown some ability to make defenders miss or just run them over in practice. If he shows that in preseason it may be time to start thinking about his future as a #1 back in this offense.
Marcus Johnson/WR- I don’t think I’ve found one article about the Eagles camp without hearing about how Johnson is lighting defensive backs up in practice. I honestly don’t know much about this kid and I doubt most of you do either. I mean he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry yet and his season high for receiving yards in college was 350 yards at Texas. Based on reports from camp he might break that number in 3 or 4 preseason games.
I’m not only curious to see if he can separate in an actual game, but what his impact will be on special teams. He will be playing behind Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor, so finding a role on special teams may decide his fate on this team.
Greg Ward/WR- A college quarterback turned slot receiver who has picked up the nuances of his new position much quicker than expected. He’s still a longshot to make the 53 man roster, but if he really impresses in the slot during preseason, at the very least he will make Jordan Matthews expendable should the right trade offer come around.
Nelson Agholor/WR- It’s been a strange start to Agholor’s career in the NFL. He went from first round draft pick, mediocre rookie season, hot start in 2016 and then he just fell off a cliff. Now entering his third season he is wowing in practice and former Eagle player and current radio broadcaster Mike Quick is calling him “the most talented wide receiver on the roster”.
Agholor is a very gifted separation receiver, similar to what Jeremy Maclin was here. He won’t win in tight coverage or jump balls very often, but he can flat out separate from his man and he is very dangerous after the catch. All his issues come from mental mistakes, mainly his drop issues.
I don’t know what to expect from Agholor and that’s exactly why he made this list. He could be a complete bust this year and struggle to get 200 yards this season, or he could finally break out and lead the team in receiving yards(especially if Jeffery doesn’t play all 16 games). Because of that, I will be watching closely during preseason.
Billy Brown/TE- The UDFA from Shepard University(Div II) has gone from complete unknown to a serious threat to make this roster. His hands are a thing of beauty and something this offense desperately needs. Every receiver the Eagles have drafted since 2013 has had drop concerns coming out of college.
He’s more of a hybrid receiver than he is a tight end and doesn’t offer a ton in terms of blocking, so how he impresses in terms of route running and separation in preseason will decide his fate on this roster.
Taylor Hart/OT- Yes, he is an offensive tackle now. The former 5-tech defensive end made the switch in the offseason to offensive tackle, which is probably a better fit given his agile feet and reach. I haven’t heard a ton about Hart in practice this summer, but what I have heard has been pretty positive. I’m really curious to see how he looks in actual games.
Dillon Gordon/OT/FB- Gordon has taken over the random fullback spot that Beau Allen once had, but it’s his play as the backup left tackle that have people really excited about his future. What he shows this preseason will go a long way in determining who the Eagles view the future of their offensive tackle position and greatly affect their future draft plans.
Chance Warmack/OG- I loved this kid coming out of Alabama, but he did very little to inspire hope while at Tennessee. I’m really interested to see how he performs with a change of scenery and a reunion with his former college O-line coach. Right now he’s competing for the top guard spot and isn’t a lock to make the roster, but he is the early favorite to be Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo’s backup in September.
Derek Barnett/DE- Barnett is an obvious choice here because he is the recent first round draft pick, but he’ll also be a key rotational piece in the Eagles pass rush that really has to be great this season to bail out a shaky situation at cornerback. It’s also important for him to impress early considering what Eagles fans saw from the last edge rusher this team spent a first round pick on.
Elijah Qualls/DT- Defensive tackle is going to be really good this season for the first unit, but the depth behind Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan is a huge question mark right now. Beau Allen probably won’t be healthy to start the regular season and there isn’t another proven backup on this roster.
Qualls is a really interesting player. He’s pretty quick for his position, but he was rarely on display in college because he played in a 2-gap 3-4 defense at Washington. He was a late round draft pick so there is no reason to believe he’s a lock to make this roster, but his main competition right now is Winston Craig, so he is in a great situation here. He could see a fair amount of snaps early in the regular season if he can impress in the preseason.
Joe Walker/LB- Walker was starting to impress last summer before suffering an ACL tear. This summer he is healthy and is destroying people with the special teams unit. He has the potential to be a very valuable backup linebacker and a key contributor on the kick coverage teams.
Rasul Douglas/CB- If you follow me on twitter then you know I am the president and founder of the Rasul Douglas fan club. He’s a long, physical corner with outstanding ball skills(8 INTs his last season in college), but his lack of deep speed is a huge concern. He’s also a rookie learning better techniques and a brand new defense. The learning curve will be tough and he lacks the natural speed to make up for any false step.
Eagles coaches really want him to lock up the starting spot opposite of Jalen Mills(who has been impressive this summer), but a couple of unknowns are pushing him down the depth chart.
C.J. Smith/CB- Carson Wentz’s college teammate might be the favorite right now to start opposite of Mills at corner. Most reports coming out of camp claim that he’s having a really good summer, but I haven’t heard defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz say one nice thing about any corner besides Mills so far.
The battle between Smith and Douglas at corner is the best position battle to watch during preseason.
Patrick Robinson/CB- Robinson was signed to hold the fort down at an outside corner spot until Douglas was ready. In practice he looks like one of the worst corners on the roster and a longshot to make the roster. But games matter more and most 1-on-1 drills between corners and receivers in practice favor the receivers. If he looks good in preseason, fans and media will back off. If not, he may not be on the roster by the fourth preseason game.
Terrence Brooks/S- Brooks is another Eagles defensive back that has surprised with how well he has looked in practice. He’s battling for the top backup safety spot with Corey Graham and Chris Maragos. Maragos is a lock because of his elite special teams ability, but if the Eagles only keep four safeties, then Brooks will be in a really tight battle for that final safety spot. Preseason will be huge for his future in Philly.