With Training Camp drawing ever nearer, the idea of positional fight and battles on the roster bubble are beginning to become even more frequent. But when thinking about how intense these wars promise to be, it’s hard not to think of the practice squad.
The Eagles were ravaged by injuries last year and you’d be forgiven for forgetting that several of last year’s biggest standouts actually started the campaign on the scout team. But what does the future hold for those players?
Greg Ward Jr.
Perhaps the most beloved practice squad promotee in recent memory, Greg Ward Jr. exploded onto the scene when the Eagles needed help the most. After failing to make the final-53 for a third year in a row, Ward rode the practice squad until the team were forced to turn to him after injury bugs ripped their way through the position…and the Birds’ will be thankful they did.
With 254 receiving yards and his first NFL touchdown across 7 appearances (3 starts), Ward became a reliable target over the middle for Carson Wentz and an instant fan-favorite. What happens next? That’s unfortunately a little unclear.
The Eagles added a plethora of wide receiver talent this offseason. 3 rookies and Marquise Goodwin add a sense of congestion to the room, especially at the slot position, where Ward makes his paydirt. It’s likely that if the Eagles want to field both Reagor and DeSean Jackson, that one will slide inside, immediately diminishing Ward’s role.
Goodwin’s presence doesn’t help matters and both Hightower and Watkins will likely be forced into slot duties early on. Ward’s outlook for 2020 is a familiar one – grinding as an underdog for a spot on the final 53. To outshine draft selections and maintain his spot will not be easy and his role may have already shrunk. It’s time for Ward to shock the world again.
The most pleasant surprise from last year’s practice squad was Boston Scott – a player I instantly fell in love with when watching Saints preseason tape after the Eagles poached him from NOLA. Scott, like Ward, was called into action due to injury problems – but was done so much sooner than the wide receiver.
Despite starting out as a change-of-pace back and someone who would simply run out the clock late into games. He ended up with 245 rushing yards, 204 receiving yards, and 5 touchdowns! The Losuiana Tech product became the ultimate Darren Sproles replacement as time went on and a great compliment to Miles Sanders.
In 2020, expect Scott to maintain a crucial role in the Eagles backfield as that change of pace back and Mr. Do-it-all. Sanders will have a much heavier workload now and without a veteran in the fray, Scott’s featuring as both a runner and receiver should also see a bump. If he’s active for 16 games as opposed to 11, we may even see a season close to 800 scrimmage yards or so!
Robert Davis/Deontay Burnett
Both wide receivers experienced a similar story in 2019 – being called up late into the season for emergency depth. Davis didn’t do all that much, catching just one pass for 6 yards, but Burnett’s impressive 41-yard snag will be remembered for a while.
Unfortunately, both receivers now have a very tall Mountain to climb thanks to just how much depth the Eagles have at wide receiver. Practice squad spots will be a realistic target for both pass-catchers.
The showdown between Singleton and Edwards in the team’s preseason finale will alway stand out to me as a really impressive spectacle. Both players gave their all, but Edwards was eventually awarded the roster spot. However, that didn’t stop Singleton making an impact.
The CFL star would get promoted to the 53-man-roster fairly early, and go on to feature in 44% of special teams snaps. Not only that, he also amassed 8 tackles on Fipp’s prestigious unit – ranking fourth on the team.
With minimal depth at the position, the ceiling to fight for a bigger role is definitely there, but at the very least, we can expect Singleton to once again be a special teams ace who may be able to sneak onto defense.
He arrived onto the scene very late into proceedings, but a strong outing in the preseason finale earned Alex Ellis a spot on the practice squad. The former Chiefs TE actually ended up seeing 6 offensive snaps and 13.75% of those on special teams. He does have a relatively high upside in comparison to the rest of the guys fighting for the TE3 role and should be able to take the fight to Joshua Perkins this offseason in a head-to-head battle for the position.
I absolutely love this man’s game. The UAB product was able to see 14% of defensive snaps last year after the DT position was ravaged by injuries, and the 6’5, 350 lbs, monster made them count – registering 9 tackles, 3 TFL, and 2 passes batted down.
Depth is obviously much more intimidating this time around, so Rush will be competing for a practice squad role once more, with the four-man rotation oddly locked into place barring a few twists and turns.
Who could forget Craig James? The cornerback was thrown into action against the Green Bay Packers in a game-deciding moment after Avonte Maddox went down with injury. James was able to knock away a crucial pass that fell into the hands of Nigel Bradham, securing the Eagles’ win.
The Eagles have greatly improved their secondary since then, and James, like many on this list, will simply be looking to cling onto a practice squad role and let fate decide the rest.
Mandatory Photo Credit: Jerry Habraken, Delaware News Journal, Delaware News Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC