There are bound to be a few journeymen and well-traveled souls to make the Philadelphia Eagles’ final 53-man roster. That’s fine, actually, it’s needed. Guys with veteran leadership and savvy experience are essential to rounding out a Super Bowl contender.
However, the untapped potential of the rookie class is what puts butts in seats. These early-round talents are the future of the franchise and the players who will set the tone for years and years to come. With that in mind, let’s take a look at a few high-round draft picks to keep an eye on for the Eagles.
1. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Wide Receiver
The Stanford product already looks like the next Alshon Jeffery — and not just because of his imposing frame and velcro hands. Despite being targeted just four times in last week’s 27-10 loss to Tennessee, Arcega-Whiteside showed what he can become in the Eagles’ high-octane offense. He caught two balls for 23 yards and consistently found a way to get open in the middle of the field with defenders all around him.
On a play-action pass late in the first quarter, the rookie receiver kept working down the field on a curl route and finally broke free as Nate Sudfeld hit him in stride while rolling out of pressure. Arcega-Whiteside should look to develop some of that same chemistry with Cody Kessler tonight against Jacksonville.
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2. Miles Sanders, Running Back
How much will Sanders play tonight? No one really knows the answer to that. But the Eagles are going to have to hand the ball off to someone and it feels odd that they wouldn’t want to get the rookie from Penn State more reps in the preseason. Sanders carried three times for three yards in the preseason opener, including running backward for a loss of one on a crucial second-down play. It wasn’t the debut he had hoped for, but he was also splitting time with starter Jordan Howard. “[I’m] not really jittery or anxious anymore,” Sanders told reporters after the game, via PennLive.
The second-round pick may not see the field much tonight — that may depend on Corey Clement’s status — as the Eagles have to start making tough decisions in their backfield. Sanders, Howard, Clement are all safe bets to make the 53, along with Darren Sproles. The real fight for the last running back spot is between Wendall Smallwood and Josh Adams. Look for them to get extended looks tonight against Jacksonville.
3. Andre Dillard, Left Tackle
Future Hall of Famer Jason Peters isn’t playing any preseason games, so this is the Andre Dillard Show for the rest of the summer. The first-round pick out of Washington State had quite the debut last week against the Titans. There wasn’t one bad word uttered about him, in both run- and pass-blocking situations. In fact, Dillard earned the second-highest grade from Pro Football Focus for rookie offensive tackles after not allowing a single sack, hit or hurry.
Look for Dillard to shine again as Peters sits out in the second preseason game. The feisty left tackle is the franchise’s future “Bodyguard” and may even need to step in sooner should the Eagles seriously consider cutting bait with Halapoulivaati Vaitai or if veteran Lane Johnson misses any significant time. Dillard needs to prove he’s the real deal.
4. Clayton Thorson, Quarterback
The rookie signal-caller out of Northwestern didn’t look like he belonged in the league last week against Tennessee. Chalk it up to rookie nerves and being thrust into the spotlight ahead of schedule after the untimely wrist injury suffered by backup Nate Sudfeld. Thorson was forced into action in the fourth quarter and caused downright panic across the Philadelphia region with his complete lack of awareness or touch. Maybe the lights were just too bright.
Thorson completely missed a wide-open Donnel Pumphrey on his first pass attempt of the game in what should have been an easy completion on a one-yard out pattern. The Eagles went three-and-out on his first drive. Then, Thorson launched an ill-advised interception on his third career NFL throw. The film from his debut should probably be left on the cutting-room floor. He finished 2-of-9 for seven yards with one pick.
5. Shareef Miller, Defensive End
It was kind of a quiet debut for the 254-pounder out of Penn State. Miller participated in 46 snaps, or about 52% of the defensive plays. But it didn’t feel like he made much of an impact. Miller, a fourth-round pick, was severely outplayed by Daeshon Hall in last Thursday night’s game and has been losing ground to Josh Sweat in training camp.
Miller did emphatically state his case by registering a sack and one tackle for a loss against the Titans. He had been vying for a spot in the Eagles’ defensive-end rotation as the fourth edge rusher. He’ll need a monster game tonight to move back up the depth chart, but it’s not unthinkable. No one has yet separated themselves in that competition.