IN our Eagle’s latest mailbag there was one question worthy of a full deep dive.
Which UDFA joins the team and why? – kjb304
Predicting UDFAs to make a roster is almost foolhardy. There are always 1st round busts, so good luck projecting guys who didn’t even get drafted. E.g here is a prediction from last year where the Eagles’ pick was Mario Goodrich, who spent the entire year on the practice squad. Here’s another one who predicted it would be Kennedy Brooks, who didn’t even make the practice squad the entire season. I’m not trying to pick on any of these or anyone else, just pointing out that it’s really hard to project UDFAs. Even at the end of training camp and the preseason, there can be a UDFA that media members who are at camp every day think will make the team, and then it turns out they don’t even make the practice squad.
That said, in recent seasons Corey Clement, TJ Edwards and Josh Jobe were seen as players with a real chance to make the 53-man roster, and they did.
So why not give it a try.
To review, he Eagles UDFAs:
- CB Eli Ricks, Alabama
- CB Mekhi Garner, LSU
- WR Joseph Fish, Clemson
- WR Jadon Haselwood, Arkansas
- TE Brady Russell, Colorado
- OT Chim Okorafor, Benedictine College
- OT Trevor Reid, Louisville
- LB Ben VanSumeren, Michigan State
- P/K Ty Zentner, Kansas State
As we can see, the Eagles have 9 UDFAs covering six positions, so let’s approach this from a “which position group is the most likely for a UDFA to make the team”. That’s what agents do. I’m going to be tough on who isn’t a lock to make the team because the softer the depth chart, the better the chance a UDFA will make it.
Last year the Eagles initial 53 man roster had 6 CBs and 4 S, in 2021 it was 5 CBs and 4 S. I’m lumping the defensive backs together for this exercise because backup DBs who at least theoretically can playing CB and S, stand a better chance of making the list than those who can only play one role.
CB locks: James Bradberry, Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Kelee Ringo
CB Contender: Mario Goodrich, Josh Jobe, Zech McPhearson, Josiah Scott, Greedy Williams
S locks: Reed Blankenship, Sydney Brown
S challenger: Terrell Edmunds, Justin Evans, Tristan McCollum, K’Von Wallace
ISSUE: Mekhi Garner, Eli Ricks
Aside from the four returning starters and the two draft picks, I don’t think anyone else in the secondary is completely safe.
Of the competition that was on the Eagles last year, Josiah Scott played the most snaps in 2022 and was ineffective. K’Von Wallace entered 2022 with a chance to earn a bigger role, overtaken on the depth chart by Blankenship. Zech McPhearson barely saw the field because Bradberry and Slay were healthy all year, can’t rule him out for that; but he also took reps in OTAs in the field, which could be nothing more than “let’s try to find a way to get this guy on the field” or it could indicate that his he has to earn his spot roster. Josh Jobe made the 53-man roster as an UDFA, but played just 12 snaps on defense, all in the first Giants blowout. While some of them will make the team, it shouldn’t surprise anyone if any of them don’t make the cut.
None of the players brought in from other teams should be completely safe either. Terrell Edmunds had his 5th year option declined by Steelers, they brought him back on a one-year, $2.5M deal last year, he’s making half that on a one-year contract with the Eagles. Greedy Williams started a fight last year for Brown. Justin Evans missed all of 2019, 2020 and 2021 and saw inconsistent playing time with the Saints last year. Tristin McCollum spent the entire year on Texans training team.
The most high-profile of the UDFA class, Ricks is a former 5-star recruit who was second-team All SEC and third-team All American as a true freshman at LSU in 2020. He transferred to Alabama in 2022 and then declared early he was expected to be between a 2nd and 6th round pick depending on who you ask.
Garner has some intrigue. He transferred from a junior college to Louisiana as a safety, converted to a corner of need due to injury and impressed enough to transfer to LSU last year. Like Ricks, he was projected to be a late round pick. He has a good athletic profile and positional versatility. He has hidden gem potential.
Both have, at least on paper, CB/S versatility. Garner has played it before, and Ricks has size, ball skills and is a willing tackler.
However, over the past two seasons, the Eagles have tried to find someone who can hold on to the defensive backs from the practice squad’s caliber. They signed Andre Chachere, Blake Countess, Mac McCain, Nate Meadors, Obi Melifonwu, Jimmy Moreland and Jaquiski Tartt as veteran free agents; traded for Ugo Amadi (and then almost immediately traded him away), Tay Gowan, Josiah Scott and Kary Vincent; and signed Josh Blackwell, Reed Blankenship, Mario Goodrich and Josh Jobe as UDFAs. There’s a decent chance they bring in another DB between now and roster cuts.
UDFA chance: Medium
Lock: AJ Brown, Devonta Smith, UK Covey
Competitors: Devon Allen, Tyrie Cleveland, Charleston Rambo, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, Olamide Zaccheaus
UDFAs: Jadon Haselwood, Joseph Ngata
Covey is only a lock because the only other Eagles with punt return experience are Boston Scott, Olamide Zacchaeus, Greg Ward and Devonta Smith.
Two UDFA WRs on a team that barely played threw for their 4th WR last year could indicate there is a real chance there is an open roster spot. It’s not hard to see why.
Quez Watkins’ salary balloons from $895k to $2.8M due to an escalator, the Eagles gain more cap space by cutting or trading him than they do any other player, and he’s coming off a disappointing season. His place in the team should not be considered secure.
Olamide Zaccheaus started 21 games over the past 2 seasons for the Falcons, but players with better resumes than his get cut in camp all the time across the league. And again, I’m tough on who isn’t a lock, because if a UDFA is going to make the roster at some positions, such as WR, it’s going to be at the expense of someone thought to be a sure thing.
Devon Allen is news. The Greg Ward experiment was worth a shot, but he’s not an NFL WR. Charleston Rambo-big name-was in XFL and was extremely productive. Tyrie Cleveland was drafted by the Broncos in 2020 and has 8 career receptions. Additionally, TE Dan Arnold entered the league as a WR, it is possible he makes the team as a dual backup TE and WR.
6’2″ Haselwood and 6’3″ Ngata’s best chance to stick on the roster is that they are both big targets, something the Eagles lack (another reason 6’6″ Arnold has a chance) Tyrie Cleveland is the only other WR on the roster over 6’1″. They are also both former 5-star recruits, Haselwood was the top WR in the 2019 class, Ngata #6, so there is possible untapped potential.
UDFA chance: Low
Lock: Lane Johnson, Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll
Competitors: Fred Johnson, Roderick Johnson, Brett Toth
ISSUE: Chim Okorafor, Trevor Reid
OT is a place to see in the camp. Jack Driscoll returns to cover the right side. But the Eagles haven’t actually filled Andre Dillard’s backup LT/LG roster spot.
Fred Johnson has been in the NFL for four years and has a single career game in seven games, and that was in 2019. Roderick Johnson hasn’t played since 2020. Brett Toth didn’t see the field in 2022. Neither are inspiring options.
Okorafor played in the NAIA, which is another way of saying he is a developmental player. There is no better place to get your degree than Stoutland University, but one Super Bowl challenger to put a project player on the 53-man roster at OT feels like a stretch, but then Jordan Mailata had never played when the Eagles drafted him after winning the Super Bowl and he made the 53-man roster.
Trevor Reid has a 7′ wingspan and a strong athletic profile:
But he needs to add bulk and strength. Doesn’t sound like a UDFA OT who will make the 53 man either.
Backup LT/LG may be on another team at the moment.
UDFA chance: Medium
Lock: Dallas Goedert, Jack Stoll
Competitors: Dan Arnold, Grant Calcaterra, Tyree Jackson, Dalton Keene
ISSUE: Brady Russell
Five guys for one place. I don’t like Brady Russell’s odds here. Arnold is on his fifth team in seven seasons and was signed in May, but as mentioned earlier, his positional versatility gives him a potential advantage. Jackson is in his fifth year in pro football, after being the Bills’ 4th QB in the 2019 preseason and a backup QB in the XFL in 2020. The Eagles converted him to TE in 2021, but he has spent most of his time as an Eagle injured . Keene played half a dozen games for the Patriots in 2020 and hasn’t seen the field since. Not feeling good about any of their chances of sticking around. But due to the amount of fringe TEs they’ve brought in, it looks like Grant Calcaterra will have his work cut out for him to make the roster.
Russell may have been signed as a favor to his uncle Matt Russell, who works in the Eagles’ scouting department. But he is another potential late bloomer. A former walk-on at Colorado who worked his way up to not just a scholarship, but also a team captain.
UDFA chance: Low
Lock: I’m Dean
Competitors: Shaun Bradley, Christian Elliss, Kyron Johnson, Patrick Johnson, Nicholas Morrow, Davion Taylor
ISSUE: Ben VanSumeren
I’m not calling Morrow a lock, remember Corey Nelson? I’m tempted to consider Elliss a special teams only lock, but I don’t have any confidence in how the team has handled special teams roster decisions.
VanSumeren fits a similar profile to the rest of the UDFAs, with the Eagles hoping there is some untapped potential there. He started at Michigan as a running back (and played WR in high school) but switched to linebacker in 2020, then transferred to Michigan State for 2021. He couldn’t stay healthy in 2022, but he blew up his pro day. Daniel Jeremias felt he could be pulled alone at his pro day.
He is a good athlete and a soccer player which gives you a camp invitation. We’ll see if it gets him more than that.
UDFA chance: Medium
It’s been a few years since the Eagles went to camp with a kicking or punting contest. They should have brought another player to camp last year, so better late than never. Ty Zenter is exciting because he did everything at Kansas State and he’s still learning the position. He was 26th in the nation in yards per punt, was 31 for 31 on extra points, 11 of 11 on field goals and handled kickoffs. In high school he played basketball and football, not playing football until his senior year. He started at a junior college and then transferred to Kansas State. Not to hype him up, but if you’re going to sign a UDFA player, someone who was a multi-sport athlete and still learning the position is a decent bid to take.
UDFA chance: Low
So it’s time to look like an idiot and pick some.
One thing that stands out about this batch of UDFAs is that they all fit an untapped physical potential or late bloomer profile, which hasn’t always been the case for UDFA classes.
Last year, three UDFAs made the first 53-man roster (Reed Blankenship, Josh Jobe and Josh Sills), in 2021 only one (Jack Stoll). I’m splitting the difference and predicting two UDFAs to make the 53-man roster. I know this will be wrong.
I’m going with Ben VanSumeren and Mekhi Garner.
For VanSumeren, there are two factors in his favor. First, the competition is really thin at linebacker. Does anyone have confidence in who the 3rd best LB on this team is? And second, there is a vacancy at both LB and on special teams, with Nakobe Dean graduating from backup to starter.
For Garner, his positional versatility is an advantage. Working his way up from junior college to a strong G5 team in Louisiana and then to LSU is the kind of rising talent teams should bet on.
Again, I expect to be wrong about this. Hilariously wrong.