Are the Eagles Good Enough? A Look at the Initial 53

With Week 1 here, it's time to look at the strengths and weaknesses of the Eagles' roster.
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PHILADELPHIA - The initial Eagles’ cutdown machinations for Week 1 in Atlanta are almost done with the 53rd open spot presumably serving as a placeholder for T.Y. McGill, the preseason star at defensive tackle who is currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.

There’s a chance there will always be some late movement on the back-end of the 16-man practice squad early in the week but the foundation and the skeleton of the roster is in place.

With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at the 2021 Eagles by position.

To give you an example of the uncertainty surrounding Philadelphia, you can look at the executive poll taken by Mike Sando of The Athletic in which the Eagles were tabbed as No. 11 in the 16-team NFC.

The gesticulation was wild, however, with one exec being bullish on Philadelphia’s chances, believing the Eagles will be the fifth-best team in the NFC and two assuming Philly will be one of the worst teams in the conference at No. 14.

As far as the division itself the expectation is that the Eagles will be behind Dallas and the Washington Football Team but ahead of the New York Giants.

Instead of just telling you what the Eagles have at each position, it’s time to cut through that to evaluate where they are good enough with three simple evaluation categories: Yes, no, or maybe:

QUARTERBACK: Jalen Hurts is an intriguing playmaker who is largely unproven and is coming off a preseason with only 10 live reps. The glass-is-half-full sentiment says Hurts should actually be better when the red jersey is removed because of his ability to extend plays and give Nick Sirianni some unscheduled offense when things are bogging down.

Like most young quarterbacks, Hurts’ ultimate story will come down to decision-making and accuracy, and those remain the unknowns.

The backup situation could be the most accomplished in the league with 36-year-old former Super Bowl winner Joe Flacco, and a third-year option with 20 starts in Gardner Minshew, a Nick Mullens-on-steroids-type player.

VERDICT: MAYBE

RUNNING BACK: We all know how explosive Miles Sanders can be as a runner and the hope is that the former Penn State star turns the page this season when it comes to other parts of his job like pass receiving, pass protection, and running between the tackles.

The use of Kenny Gainwell late in the preseason as the team’s third-down back and hurry-up option was a litmus test to see if the fifth-round pick is up to speed to help early in the season, and also an indication they still don't trust Sanders in those kinds of high-leverage situations.

Boston Scott will serve as the fail-safe for Gainwell’s development and veteran Jordan Howard could be elevated from the practice squad if the Eagles feel they need a better interior or short-yardage presence.

VERDICT: NO (which will likely turn into a yes by the 2022 season if Gainwell develops.)

WIDE RECEIVER: The Eagles have more talent at the position than they’ve had since the DeSean Jackson-Jeremy Maclin era but they are also putting all their eggs in the baskets of very young and unproven players in rookie DeVonta Smith, and second-year complements Jalen Reagor and Quez Watkins.

If you’ve covered the NFL for more than a few weeks, one thing you learn very quickly is that when there are a lot of questions all of them are not answered in a positive fashion.

The Eagles do have a WR-centric coaching staff and that should bode well for the development of the young playmakers but there will be hiccups along the way.

The depth with Greg Ward and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside remains pedestrian.

VERDICT: NO

TIGHT END: The Eagles are running it back with Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert and the former is healthy again and in a better mental space, meaning the Eagles arguably have the best TE room in the NFL.

The depth early will be UDFA Jack Stoll but remember if there are injuries at either WR or TE, Sirianni can simply toggle between 11 and 12 personnel as needed.

Veteran Richard Rodgers could always be brought back after Week 1 as well while developmental prospect Tyree Jackson starts on injured reserve.

VERDICT: YES

OFFENSIVE LINE: Yes, it’s fair to point out the Eagles are leaning on over-30 players with significant injury history on the offensive line but you can’t legislate or assume injuries so all we can go on is the group penciled in.

If you can line up Jordan Mailata, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson from left to right, that’s easily a top-5 offensive line in the NFL.

The depth is also impressive with a somewhat proven commodity inside, Nate Herbig, joined by a high-level prospect, Landon Dickerson, who should be ready to go sometime early in the season. Outside you have a former first-round pick in Andre Dillard and perhaps the most underrated player of the summer in Brett Toth.

The versatile Jack Driscoll is also on short-term IR if needed at some point.

Contextually, that’s as good as it gets in the NFL.

VERDICT: YES

DEFENSIVE LINE: The only Eagles unit deeper than the offensive line might be the defensive line which should be of little surprise when you consider the financial assets the Eagles invest on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

The starters - Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and either Derek Barnett or Josh Sweat - could be in the conversation as the NFL’s best group.

The depth at DE is also impressive with veteran pass-rusher Ryan Kerrigan and rookie Milton Williams, a player Philadelphia believes has some Graham-like qualities to move inside and outside seamlessly.

On the interior, it’s not quite as talented but Hassan Ridgeway and McGill are more than capable players.

Rookies Tarron Jackson and Marlon Tuipulotu are probably not ready right now but the team values the LOS so much they are being carried as well.

VERDICT: YES

LINEBACKERS: The Eagles believe they have more depth than they’ve had in years but you also have to be honest with yourself and understand there are no Darius Leonard-, Eric Kendricks- or Anthony Barr-like players at Jonathan Gannon’s disposal.

The team’s best LB remains Alex Singleton, who has amazing natural instincts for the position and a high-football IQ.

Eric Wilson is the team’s three-down LB on a one-year prove-it deal and he’s better than what was here but Minnesota’s defense took a nosedive when he had to replace Barr last season. There were many other reasons contributing to that fact but Wilson is not a good run-support player so that will put more emphasis on Cox and Hargrave keeping Wilson clean.

The SAM LB position is a complete unknown with only unproven players - Genard Avery and rookie seventh-round pick Patrick Johnson - as options unless Gannon wants to use Kerrigan as a stand-up rushing option.

The depth includes a solid run-stuffer in T.J. Edwards and an off-ball player who is much like Wilson, athletic but not all that physical, in Shaun Bradley.

VERDICT: NO

CORNERBACKS: The starting outside CBs are the best the Eagles have had in a very long time with Darius Slay remaining a potential top-10 player at the position and Steve Nelson offering competency on the other side.

Avonte Maddox also looks primed for a big season on a contract year now that he can settle into what should be his natural position of slot CB.

The issue is depth because CB is a position you are generally going to need more than three bodies to play.

Rookie Zech McPhearson looked great early in camp against backups but struggled with reps against starters. Waiver-wire pickup Andre Chachere has a history with Gannon, some S/CB versatility, and the length to play outside.

Backup slot CB Josiah Scott starts on IR with a hamstring injury and could be in the mix at some point. The PS contingencies are Craig James and Mike Jacquet.

VERDICT: MAYBE (But only if the starters stay healthy)

SAFETIES: Anthony Harris is a solid center fielder and he and his projected running mate, Rodney McLeod, have some redundancies there.

McLeod has always earmarked Week 1 vs. the Falcons as the goal in his rehab from a torn ACL last December and was wearing a bulky brace during practice last week.

If McLeod isn’t ready for Atlanta the options are K’Von Wallace and Marcus Epps. Wallace is the better schematic fit as the so-called box safety but the second-year player has struggled with groin issues over the summer and wasn’t exactly standing out when healthy.

Epps is probably the safer route to go as a high IQ player with solid instincts but there are some speed deficiencies there.

Elijah Riley is a candidate to be elevated from the PS early to help at both S and special teams.

VERDICT: NO

SPECIALISTS: It was an uneventful summer for the Eagles specialists because they had no competition and things moved along without many major hiccups. Sure, you’d always like to have Justin Tucker as your kicker and Jack Fox as your punter but Jake Elliott and Aaryn Siposs are more than adequate.

Siposs, as the unproven part of that duo, had a great summer even proving he add kickoff specialist to his job duties as a punter if need be.

Rick Lovato remains one of the NFL’s best long-snappers, a sentiment validated by the fact you never notice the guy.

VERDICT: YES

COACHING STAFF: Sirianni has certainly not looked overmatched in his first summer as the Eagles’ head coach, something that may have surprised critics who wrote him off after a meaningless introductory Zoom press conference.

My concerns with Sirianni were twofold: the lack of a veteran sounding board for a rookie head coach, and the overall inexperience of his staff.

On the former, Sirianni has found outside-the-box ways to bring in some sounding boards like having his former boss Mike McCoy observe and report during camp, and tabbing Jim Bob Cooter as a consultant to help with two-minute situations. That open-mindedness shouldn’t go unnoticed.

As far as the staff, Gannon is as advertised and certainly looks the part of a potential future head coach.

When talking to people around the league about the assistants the most well-regarded are OL coach Jeff Stoutland and TE coach Jason Michael, two that have significant experience so that should also not go unnoticed.

RB and assistant head coach Jemal Singleton also got some thumbs up as well. The outlier is LB coach Nick Rallis, the youngest full-time position coach in the league, who is already getting noticed as a potential future coordinator.

VERDICT: MAYBE

-John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John, alongside legendary sports-talk host Jody McDonald every morning from 8-10 on ‘Birds 365,” streaming live on both PhillyVoice.com and YouTube. John is also the host of his own show "Extending the Play" on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen

Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles or www.eaglemaven.com and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.