With the season inching closer as the days pass, the Eagles are getting ready to hit the field for the first time in this new way of life. While things may not be as well structured as before, the game will still go on. Let’s look a few Eagles players who could break the structure and surprise you this upcoming season!
LB Duke Riley
The Eagles traded for Riley last year after the win against Atlanta. Interestingly enough, it seems like a trade that could pay dividends this season. With the recent departure of Nigel Bradham and the surprising retirement of Jatavis Brown, Riley could find himself on the field a lot more alongside TJ Edwards.
The Eagles used Riley in situational football last season as he was getting familiar with the system. Now, it seems as if Duke has found his way up the leadership ranks and has even found some favor with the team’s defensive coordinator. Jim Schwartz raved about Riley’s progress in a recent press conference.
“Duke has great speed. He’s not the biggest linebacker in the world but he does have good movement skills and good speed. He’s not in a situation where he’s trying to learn the defense during training camp. He was learning sort of in the middle of last season.”
Riley was an efficient special teams player for the team last year. Now, he may have danced his into old Jimbo’s heart and onto the field for more snaps.
S Jalen Mills
Mills is another player who has climbed up the leadership ranks recently. With the departure of Malcolm Jenkins, the biggest question was who would lead the secondary? The answer may have been in the wrong position all along. While many continue to downplay the possibility of Mills becoming a good safety, the fact of the matter is that this may just be his most natural position.
Mills has found the transition to safety to be far easier than most expected it to be, “You just got to be a ballplayer at the end of the day,” Mills said. “For one, you have to know, of course, the defense, but I think it’s no different as far as playing corner and safety other than just a little bit more tackling.”
He is also receiving great praise from veteran safety, Rodney McLeod: “It seems like even within the couple of days we’ve been together as a unit that he’s really taken a step further,” McLeod said. “I’m very confident that we will be good once Week 1 hits and he’ll be ready to rock and make a lot of plays at this new position.”
The aggressive nature that Mills had at corner could play into being his biggest weapon as a safety. We know he will be in the field to shadow the opposing team’s tight ends but as for what else to expect from Mills, only time will tell.
WR Quez Watkins
The Eagles invested a sixth-round pick in one of the fastest wide receivers in the draft. While many feel like Quez is a volume type of receiver, he may be changing minds fairly quickly during training camp.
The young wide receiver had a tough start to camp but ever since has excelled in almost everything that’s been asked of him. Watkins has shown just how much of a weapon his speed can be as he burned Rasul Douglas in 1-on-1’s.
I get it, those drills are meant for the wide receivers to excel but at the same time, there’s no reason why a “project” receiver should’ve been able to beat Rasul the way he did. Maybe that says more about Douglas then it does about Watkins, but one thing is for sure, the Eagles can’t afford to ignore the potential of Watkins.
Quez should be able to find his way onto the field from week 1 and on due to the injury of Alshon Jeffery and the uncertainty of DeSean Jackson’s ability to stay healthy. He could be a viable asset down the stretch due to his speed as history has shown the Eagles’ most valuable playmakers come alive when it’s close to playoff time.
WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside
Another player that could take advantage of the Alshon Jeffery injury is his counterpart, JJ Arcega-Whiteside. The Eagles drafted him to be the easy replacement for Jeffery but of course, Roseman dug himself a hole as he is financially stuck with Jeffery. While JJ didn’t have the most tremendous rookie season, there is a strong possibility that year two could be great.
None of the current receivers on the team have the ability to win 50/50 catches as JJAW does. JJ could be a huge red zone piece for a team who love having their big guys in for those scoring opportunities. JJ has mentioned that he’s grown more comfortable in the offense this season as he stated:
“Second time around.. I hate to say that I know all the plays because there’s going to be a day or two where I have a mental error, but I’m pretty confident in the plays. I don’t go into practice with a script in my hand trying to memorize the plays that I have, I’m just like, I’m in the huddle, you call the play, I know what I gotta do. Now I can play faster, I can play more confidently, and show everybody what I can do instead of trying to do the right thing.”
JJAW did make some key catches down the stretch but now you could look forward to him being a consistent presence for the Eagles this season. He’s focused on the chemistry between him and Wentz, and he’s healthier now then he was last year. So many factors are playing into JJ’s favor heading into the 2020 season.
Photo by Michael Workman/Icon Sportswire