With all four games of the Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason in the books, the time to shrink the roster to 53 players has come. Taking 75 deserving, NFL-caliber players and trimming 22 of them is tough, but thanks to excellent preseason performances from many-a-youngster, Andy Reid’s job will be especially tough as he looks to separate the professional studs from the practice squad duds by 9 PM Friday.
Here are my predictions for the lucky 53 who’ll be part of the active roster going forward:
Quarterbacks (3): Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Trent Edwards
The first two are no-brainers especially with Foles’ impressive camp and preseason. For the last spot, however, I’m going on a hunch. While many believe Mike Kafka earns his spot by default seeing as he knows the offense, Trent Edwards’ fantastic preseason performance makes him worthy of a spot as the team’s third-string QB. Kafka, on the other hand, has been underwhelming at best.
Running Backs/Fullbacks (4): LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, Chris Polk, Bryce Brown
Do the Eagles even need a fullback? Stanley Havili wasn’t necessarily poor this preseason, but Chris Polk’s hard style of running and Bryce Brown’s explosiveness make them low-risk, high-reward options worth having on the roster. They’ll come in handy when the injuries start to pile up and LeSean McCoy needs help carrying the rushing load for Marty Mornhinweg’s offense.
Tight Ends (2): Brent Celek, Clay Harbor
This one position where there isn’t much left to chance, even though Brett Brackett impressed the coaching staff with three touchdowns in the preseason. Celek is set to return as the starter for yet another year and Harbor proved he can be a capable backup with good performances in weeks 1 through 3.
Wide Receivers (6): DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Mardy Gilyard
Here is one position that’ll keep Reid and Mornhinweg up all night. With only three roster spots set in stone—Jackson, Maclin and Avant—the pair will have to decide which three players complement their stars nicely.
Johnson is a dual threat as a punt returner and deep threat, a fact that will guarantee him a roster spot. Cooper is a tall possession receiver who’ll benefit from McNutt’s poor play and experience in the offense. Picking Gilyard is just a hunch; he just makes more sense than a guy like Chad Hall, whose hit his ceiling and won’t benefit the offense much against the better secondaries in the league.
Offensive Tackle (4): King Dunlap, Todd Herremans, Demetress Bell, Dennis Kelly
Dunlap was recently named the starter by Reid, so his spot is safe as is right tackle Todd Herremans’. Bell is set to make $3-plus million, so he’s not going anywhere. Kelly, the team’s fifth-round pick in last April’s draft, showed Howard Mudd enough for the offensive line coach to deem him a good project at tackle to back up Todd Herremans this season.
Guard/Center (5): Danny Watkins, Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, Steve Vallos, Julian Vandervelde
The three starters—Watkins (RG), Mathis (LG) and Kelce (C)—are all assured spots. Vallos seems like the best candidate to back up Kelce and Vandervelde showed some nice improvement from last year to make him a more viable option than Brandon Washington.
Defensive Tackle (5): Antonio Dixon, Fletcher Cox, Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri, Cedric Thornton
This position, one of the deepest in the league, won’t skip a beat even with the debilitating injury to Mike Patterson. Jenkins and Dixon are returning starters, Fletcher Cox is a highly-touted first-round pick and Landri is a veteran who proved his worth even after being cut last year. Thornton is the wild card of this group, the newcomer who made a couple highlight-reel backfield plays to earn his spot on this very talented unit.
Defensive End (6): Jason Babin, Trent Cole, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham, Darryl Tapp, Philip Hunt
Babin and Cole were the league’s most dominant DE pair, and nothing will change in 2012. Curry, the team’s second of two second-round picks, showed that he can flourish in the NFL as a pass-rusher and Graham seems ready to let go of “bust” status with a breakout season this season. Tapp and Hunt did enough early in camp to ensure that they’d be perfect candidates to round out the team’s six-man defensive end rotation.
Linebackers (6): Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Akeem Jordan, Brian Rolle, Casey Matthews, Jamar Chaney
With the announcement that Akeem Jordan would replace Brian Rolle as the starter as weak-side linebacker, four out of the six linebacker spots were immediately set with Jordan, Rolle, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks occupying those. Casey Matthews has done nothing but improve since last season and although Jamar Chaney has gone from a starter to a forgotten-about backup, he’ll still make the roster over guys like Keenan Clayton and Ryan Rau.
Cornerbacks (5): Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Nnamdi Asomugha, Brandon Boykin, Joselio Hanson, Curtis Marsh
This position has been set since Day One with the exception of the fifth spot, which Marsh certainly won with strong preseason performances. He’s looked very good in coverage against the league’s second-tier wideouts and deserves the spot over Brandon Hughes and Trevard Lindley.
Safety (4): Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman, O.J. Atogwe, Jaiquawn Jarrett
Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman are your Week 1 starters, with Atogwe and Jarrett being the smartest backup options with Colt Anderson likely to start the season on the PUP list. When Colt returns, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the underwhelming Jarrett waived or moved to the practice squad.