Eagles 53-man roster projection: How will defensive depth shake out?

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The Philadelphia Eagles never thought last year’s team would be a one-hit-wonder. They believed they assembled an assembly line of impressive talent that could churn on for years. Whatever players they lost, they were sure they could adequately replace.

And they did that through the draft, through free agency and from within, supplementing a strong returning core from last year’s NFC championship team. The result is an impressive roster that should once again compete for a Super Bowl championship.

But that also means that during training camp, there aren’t many roster spots at stake.

So here’s a look at their projected 53-man roster after the second of their three preseason games. There are only a few players sitting on a bubble, and not many open spots for surprises to sneak in:

Quarterbacks (3): Jalen Hurts, Marcus Mariota, Tanner McKee

The Eagles didn’t draft Tanner McKee in the sixth round out of Stanford just to cut him. There’s no way general manager Howie Roseman would’ve wasted a pick — any pick — if he felt he was already set at this position. The book on third-stringer Ian Book was probably closed then. But McKee has played very well this summer and is now 20 of 38 for 295 yards and a touchdown through parts of two preseason games. 

He’s shown enough to earn the emergency spot between the two veterans. He’s really out-played Mariota, too, though the No. 2 spot is probably out of reach for him — at least for now.

Running backs (4): D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott

The Eagles list those four backs and Trey Sermon as co-first-teamers on their official preseason depth chart. That’s cute, but there’s no doubt about the rotation they’re planning to use. Swift and Penny are 1-2 and Gainwell and Scott will get mixed in plenty. There just isn’t enough room for Sermon, the ex-49er, whom they like and could try to bring back onto the practice squad. He helped his cause with a 33-yard touchdown run Thursday night, making up for an earlier fumble.

Wide receivers (5): A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Olamide Zaccheaus, Greg Ward

With a chance to make another Super Bowl run, and with a $255 million quarterback, they’re not going to mess with what worked last season. They’re going to keep their veterans, including Zaccheaus, the one they signed from Atlanta in the offseason. Ward is the clear favorite for the fifth spot, especially since he can double as the emergency returner. 

Undrafted rookie Joseph Ngata (4 catches, 43 yards in two games) has played well too and could stick as a sixth receiver. Ex-Bronco Tyrie Cleveland led the Eagles with five catches for 68 yards in the opener before he was carted off with a neck injury Thursday night.

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NFC Preview: Eagles a 10-win team minimum

Tight ends (3): Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll, Grant Calcaterra

There are three other tight ends in camp, but none of them have a chance to upend the top three on the roster. The Eagles were pretty comfortable with Stoll and Calcaterra last year when Goedert got hurt. Ideally, they’d do a little more in the passing game, but the Eagles think they both have that ability, if needed.

Offensive line (10): Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson Jason Kelce, Cam Jurgens, Lane Johnson, Jack Driscoll, Tyler Steen, Sua Opeta, Josh Sills, Dennis Kelly

They are deep and talented and have a lot of backups who can step right into the starting lineup if needed. Maybe there will be a competition for one of the bottom two spots. Josh Sills, an undrafted free agent last year, struggled early on Thursday night against the Browns. And Kelly, a fifth-round pick of the Eagles way back in 2012 who was re-signed last month, struggled in the opener. If either of them continue to falter, it could open a spot for Julian Good-Jones who is back in Philly after two years in the Canadian Football League.

Defensive tackles (5): Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, Milton Williams, Marlon Tuipulotu

The Eagles are so ridiculously loaded on the interior defensive line that they may have to cut good players who should be quickly snapped up by other teams. Maybe — maybe — there’s a competition for the fifth spot. Tuipulotu has been impressive this summer, though. The other contenders are veteran Kendall Street, who had 6 ½ sacks the last two seasons with the 49ers and Saints, and seventh-round pick Moro Ojomo who had impressed the Eagles before he was carted off the field with a neck injury on Thursday night. If he’s healthy, they’ll surely try to sneak him onto the practice squad.

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Chiefs, Bengals & Eagles sit atop Nick's NFL Tiers

Edge rushers (6): Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, Nolan Smith, Derek Barnett, Kyron Johnson

This is as strong an edge-rusher rotation as there is in the NFL, and it’s pretty locked in. The only question is whether they dangle Barnett, the former first-rounder (2017) in a trade for a future draft pick. Regardless of what they do with him, they’ll probably find a spot for Johnson, who played well for the Eagles on special teams last season.

Linebackers (4): Nakobe Dean, Christian Elliss, Myles Jack, Zach Cunningham

When the Eagles signed veterans Myles Jack and Zach Cunningham two weeks ago it was because they were concerned about this unit behind Nakobe Dean. That basically set up a competition for one spot between Christian Elliss and veteran Nicholas Morrow. If they were happy with Morrow — a seventh-year vet they signed in March — they wouldn’t have signed Jack and Cunningham, so give Elliss the edge heading into the last game.

Cornerbacks (6): Darius Slay, James Bradberry, Avonte Maddox, Josh Jobe, Kelee Ringo, Eli Ricks

Zech McPhearson would have been one of the Eagles’ top backups here, but he tore his Achilles in Philly’s preseason game against the Browns on Thursday night. That’s terrible news for McPhearson and for the Eagles’ depth at this position. But it does probably open up a roster spot for Eli Ricks, an undrafted free agent out of Alabama. He was probably a long shot to make the roster before the injury. He looked great with his pick-6 in the preseason opener, but then got beat for a touchdown on Thursday night. He’s played well overall, though. 

The Eagles’ depth here is very young. Ricks would likely be joined by Josh Jobe, an undrafted free agent from last year, and Kelee Ringo, a fourth-rounder out of Georgia who has been impressive so far.

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Safeties (4): Reed Blankenship, Terrell Edmunds, K’Von Wallace, Sydney Brown

There’s no drama here after the Eagles signed veterans Edmunds and Wallace in the offseason to help Blankenship, who played very well for them last season. As for Brown, the rookie has been dazzling this summer and the Eagles are so impressed it’s possible he’ll end up with a starting job by the end of camp. If nothing else, expect the “heat-seeking missile”, as corner Avonte Maddox called him, to be a big contributor on defense. Veteran Justin Evans is probably the odd man out.

Specialists (3): Kicker Jake Elliott, punter Arryn Siposs, long-snapper Rick Lovato

No drama here, and really no competition either. They have had a second punter in camp in Ty Zentner. But heading into his third season, Siposs hasn’t given the Eagles any reason to consider moving on from him.

Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.

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