Five Eagles underdogs who could make some early noise during OTA’s

The next phase of OTA’s kicks off tomorrow for the Philadelphia Eagles and with that comes plenty of speculation and excitement. Positional wars will see their first battles and underdogs will have their first opportunity to shine. Here are five names to watch out for over the course of the next two weeks.

 

Matt Jones
The Eagles have an arsenal of running backs at their disposal but they won’t all make it down to the final 53. With Ajayi and Clement seemingly the cornerstones of the committee effort, it leaves minimal spots left for the taking. Darren Sproles should be a favorite to secure one, but can the Eagles replace LeGarrette Blount with a new acquisition?

Wendell Smallwood has plenty of experience in this scheme and completely changed his running style one year ago, while Pumphrey has a year of mental reps under Duce Staley. Without mentioning the hype surrounding Notre Dame’s Josh Adams, the fumble-prone Matt Jones seems like an underdog to force his way into the spotlight with such a tightly packed group.

Jones, who stands at 6’2, 239 lbs, was released by the Colts after a 2017 season that saw him amass just five carries for fourteen yards, having spent a huge chunk of time on their practice squad. The drafting of two running backs by the Colts seemingly forced the once heralded prospect out of the equation.

Overall, he has played in 25 games (starting 7) and has tallied 248 carries for 964 yards and six scores. Jones also caught 27 passes for 377 yards during his time with the Colts and Redskins. However, there is one reason why the Eagles brought him onboard…

If Jones can show this kind of will and determination without the pads on, it will certainly raise the bar for everyone else when Training Camp begins.

 

Billy Brown:
His first year with the Eagles was very much a ‘Shepherd’s warning’. The undrafted tight end possessed soft hands and crisp route-running, impressing coaches and going onto catch 8 passes for 51 yards during the preseason, many regarded it a surprise when he didn’t make the roster. One would assume that with Burton in Chicago and Celek a free agent, that this would open up a big opportunity for Brown. Unfortunately for him, the Eagles invested heavily at the TE spot, drafting Dallas Goedert in the second round and signing former Packer, Richard Rodgers.

Once again, Brown is the underdog. But after following his 89 receptions, 1,492 yards and 10 TD’s, in 2015, with 99 catches, 1,580 yards and a ridiculous 22 TD’s, in the 2016 season, Brown turned heads at the NFL level, enough for the Eagles to hold onto him. With a year working with Justin Peele under his belt and the mentoring of Zach Ertz surely playing a huge part in his ability to track the ball, we could be primed for an even bigger offseason from the eclectic receiving tight end.

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Jeremy Reaves
The Eagles bought Reaves in on a pre-draft visit and it’s not difficult to see why. One of the most physical defensive backs in this year’s class, Reaves is another gem out of the Sun Belt conference. In fact, he was named the conference’s defensive player of the year in 2017, amassing 104 tackles, 3 picks and forcing 4 fumbles.

At 5’11, 190 lbs, Reaves uses his frame as a remote-controlled missile. Moving from corner to safety, Reaves is intriguing for the Eagles because he could fit either the nickel or depth safety spot perfectly. There are willing run defenders and then there are human rockets who fly into tackles and enjoy doing it. Reaves is the latter.

 

The Eagles need to flush out the finest third safety from their pool of versatile defensive backs and Tre Sullivan is a name who will almost certainly be in the conversation. It will be down to the Senior Bowl standout to set the standard and rise to the challenge this weekend, throwing the Cat among the Pigeons and sending a clear message to the rest of the DB’s that he isn’t just here to make up the numbers. That underdog mentality served him well throughout his time at South Alabama and it carries over perfectly here.

 

Winston Craig
After trying out for the Eagles one year ago, Craig was offered a contract by the team. This 6’4, 290 lbs, pass rusher simply exploded in his final collegiate season with Richmond. With 8 sacks and 11 tackles for a loss in 2016 alone, leading the team in those categories as well as QB hurries, Craig even added a pick and 3 passes defensed to his tally. A team captain for the Spiders, Craig ended his four-year career at Richmond with a total of 166 tackles, 20 tackles for a loss, 13.5 sacks and 2 picks.

In preseason for the Eagles, Craig amassed four tackles before being among the final cuts the team made. He was later signed to a contract, bringing him back for a second shot at breaking into the roster.

It’s interesting that Craig completely contrasts the style of Elijah Qualls, the Eagles sixth round pick from 2016. Craig is a tenacious pass rusher, who carries his weight well and is extremely agile, using his long wingspan to his advantage. While the bigger bodied Qualls thrives in plugging holes and run Defense, although he may have a niche under Jim Schwartz.

Craig may be the biggest underdog of all defensive tackles, but with Timmy Jernigan out injured, there is a huge platform with his name graffitied on the floor. Haloti Ngata and company will be the veterans setting the tone, but depth at DT is filled with undrafted free agents and late round picks. A combination of Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls and Aziz Shittu make up the defensive tackle room without mentioning the $100M man, giving Craig a level playing field. He’s been in a similar spot before and it was shocking to some that he didn’t make the roster. He will be out with a vengeance when OTA’s open up on Tuesday.

 

Ian Park:
So Ian Park may be the ‘original Halo Kid’ but he’s much more than that. At 6’4, 315 lbs, this offensive guard spent one season at Slippery Rock after graduating from Northwestern. He may have only played in six games but was still named first-team all-PSAC last year and started 18 games for his former school. An athletic zone-blocking prospect (perfect for the Eagles), Park lacks the strength desired by coaches at the next level but will be hoping his quick feet and specialty in pulling blocks will translate to a much higher level of competition.

The offensive guard position is one of little depth and with Seumalo and Warmack both failing to seize the constantly handed out opportunities, this small-school sleeper could be the perfect candidate to completely reshuffle the order.

 

Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Liam is a 23-year old sports journalist from the UK and founder of the Philly Sports Network. In just 36months he turned a hobby into one of the fastest growing Philadelphia sports sites in the world, amassing 5,000,000 views and writing over 2,000 articles.
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