Eagles’ running backs and receivers in latest mailbag

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Eagles mailbag: Figuring out RB and WR positions originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We’re less than three weeks from the Eagles’ season opener in Atlanta, which means training camp is almost over.

The Eagles have a couple joint practices this week with the Jets and then face them in the preseason finale on Friday night.

I answered a bunch of your questions this weekend but there were still some more to go.

Let’s get to them:

It’s not crazy to envision a scenario where the Eagles keep just five receivers on their initial 53-man roster, especially because they might want to go heavier at some other positions like tight end, running back and offensive line.

Of those three names, Greg Ward is the safest, then Travis Fulgham and then J.J. Arcega-Whiteside. Fulgham has a roster spot, but he hasn’t had a very good camp and it’s fair to question his standing. This summer he has been surpassed by Quez Watkins for a starting role. The three starters appear to be DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor and Watkins. JJAW has had an OK summer but is he worth keeping around in his new role as a big-bodied slot receiver? Not sure. We should also toss John Hightower’s name in the mix too. If I put together a roster right now, he wouldn’t be on it. He’s firmly on the bubble. This is a position to watch at final cuts because it’s not very clear-cut which of these guys will stick around.

One name to keep in mind is Andre Patton, who has had a quietly good summer. He has familiarity with Nick Sirianni and has even gotten some first-team reps here and there. Maybe he doesn’t make the roster, but he’s a player the Eagles might want to keep on the practice squad as a potential call-up guy.

I wouldn’t read too much into what we saw in the preseason game. Based on practice reps, I’d put the order as Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, Jordan Howard, Kenny Gainwell, Jason Huntley. After Sanders, Scott has gotten the most first-team reps and Howard has gotten the most reps with the second-team offense. I’ve been impressed by Howard in training camp. The 26-year-old didn’t receive any other offers this offseason and even he wondered if his career might be over. But it looks like he’ll have a spot on this team.

It’s also important to note that the order of the depth chart at running back doesn’t necessarily equate to usage. Because a guy like Gainwell is going to have a role, especially as a pass catcher. And we’ve even seen some 21 personnel (two running back) looks from the Eagles this summer. In those packages, having Gainwell out there with Sanders or Scott makes sense. And as much as Howard isn’t known as a pass catcher, he’s really improved in that area. It’s important to have well-rounded backs so the Eagles don’t tip their plays.

Sanders is going to be the top back but the others are going to have roles that might not yet be fully defined.

Yeah, both are looking like bad draft picks right now. Not sure how to look at it any differently. I thought maybe Andre Dillard would be better this year, but he was struggling before he got hurt. On merit, you’re right, he probably doesn’t deserve a roster spot. But the Eagles aren’t going to cut him either. Maybe they’d trade him. That’s a possibility but I’m not sure they’d get a very good return. In a way, it would almost be more embarrassing to trade a former first-rounder for a Day 3 pick a few years later. If Dillard is on the team, he’s going to be a backup left tackle who doesn’t offer much else.

As for Arcega-Whiteside, he has been playing inside as a slot guy this summer and has had an OK training camp. He hasn’t made made nearly as many plays as he did last summer. So it’s really hard to envision a scenario where he turns it around. If he makes the roster, he’ll likely be the sixth and final receiver.

Yeah, it’s possible. Receiver could be an area the Eagles take a look at after other teams’ cuts. Like we talked about earlier, they could keep five and then add a receiver from another team, maybe a guy who can contribute more on special teams than the bottom-of-the-roster receivers who are here now.

The presence of a new coaching staff probably makes it more likely that the Eagles claim players. Back in 2016, in Doug Pederson’s first year as head coach, the Eagles claimed three players after final cuts: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Bryce Treggs and Terrence Brooks. Of the three, Grugier-Hill ended up being a key special teams player the next few seasons.

In general, though, we don’t see as many waiver claims around the league as you might expect. Because to claim a player, you have to cut a guy who has been with you throughout training camp to make space. But receiver could make sense and so could defensive tackle. They could use a tad more depth there.

We started Dave’s Positivity Corner on the Eagle Eye podcast last year because of how much of a disaster the season was. After talking about weekly collapses, we just needed to end each postgame pod with some sort of silver lining. For the sake of Eagles fans, you should hope it’s not needed this year … but we’ll be prepared to have them.

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