The Eagles are yet to officially unveil their haul of undrafted free agents, but with their rookie minicamp taking place this weekend that includes plenty of names trying out for the team, it’s a good time to kook at why this is all so important.
Many will look at this time of year and focus on the big names. Whether it’s Andre Dillard, the team’s first-round pick, or the electric Miles Sanders, there is plenty of promise surrounding this year’s draft class. But 26.8% of the players currently on the Eagles roster (not including this year’s crop) went undrafted. Five of those fifteen players immediately signed with the Eagles after the draft, while others found their way to the team through more unconventional paths.
In each of the last two years, two undrafted running backs have stuck onto the Eagles roster. Josh Adams led the team in rushing yards in his rookie year with 511, while Corey Clement proved to be a crucial cog in the team’s Super Bowl winning season just one year beforehand. Both Adams and Clement will ultimately have to battle hard to retain their roster spots after an offseason of addition, but their impact on the field in each of the last two season’s cannot be overlooked.
The Eagles have a reputation for developing undrafted talents in positional groups that are already stacked on talent. Not only does this enable the players, who may have slipped through the cracks for a variety of reasons, to grow without immediate pressure, but it creates a pathway through Fipp’s special teams unit where they can impact the team from day one.
Perhaps the finest example of all is Trey Burton. After signing with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent, he latched onto the final 53-man roster behind Brent Celek, Zach Ertz and James Casey. As a fourth tight end in his rookie year, Burton spent the season playing on special teams, leading the team in special teams tackles. After catching a big pass against the Lions one year later and surviving the Chip Kelly roster purge, Burton would be utilized far more heavily under Doug Pederson in 2016, going on to receive for 327 yards and his first career touchdown prior to the 2017 breakout that saw him catch 5 touchdowns and of course throw the Philly Special.
Cameron Johnston is another name to note. The undrafted punter, in my opinion at least, was one of the team’s most valuable assets last year. He set franchise records in gross and net punting average in a season where three-and-outs plagued the offense.
Other players, such as Bruce Hector and Tre Sullivan, have provided valuable contributions to the Eagles in times of need. Sullivan played in a whopping 21% of defensive snaps last year after the injury to Rodney McLeod left the position starved of depth. Not only that, but he played in 47% of special teams snaps too.
Last season especially was one of the undrafted underdogs. Cre’Von LeBlanc, previously of the Chicago bears, was a late-season acquisition who arguably saved the secondary.
Yes, this Eagles roster is one of the most complete in the NFL. Yes, the needs are minimal once more after yet another sterling job by Howie Roseman, wading through the offseason waters. But don’t think for one second that the undrafted free agents (who we will dive into much more depth on once the official announcement is made) who will be competing this offseason will not be in the picture for roster spots…because they absolutely will be.