10 players to watch when the Eagles battle the Patriots

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New York Giants linebacker Tomon Fox (49) applies pressure on Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Philadelphia Eagles are preparing to open the 2023 campaign on Tom Brady Night in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The vibes are going to be nostalgic and insanely loud, with outside whispers that New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick could be on the hot seat. Crazy, right? Eye of the beholder stuff.

Meanwhile, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni boasts a loaded roster fresh off the exhilarating experience of a Super Bowl run. Sure, a few important pieces have been swapped out. Rookies are being asked to step into championship-sized cleats. No one seems worried. Again, eye of the beholder stuff.

“Again, as we look at the roster, we’re looking at it through the lens of having 69 guys and knowing that there’s some fluid processes on some players and some things,” general manager Howie Roseman said on cutdown day. “So, we’ll do whatever we can to put the best possible guys on the field for New England and through the rest of the season.”

Eagles vs. Patriots: 10 Impact Players to Watch

Justin Evans: The 28-year-old safety was an afterthought heading into training camp, then started seeing first-team reps toward the end of it. He hasn’t been named the starter opposite Reed Blankenship – Terrell Edmunds and Sydney Brown remain in the mix there – but don’t be surprised to see Evans get the first crack at it.

D’Andre Swift: There is a feeling that Kenny Gainwell could take the first snap out of the backfield when the starting offense takes the field. That wouldn’t be surprising. However, Swift is going to be the guy. He is the most dynamic running back on the roster thanks to his ability to operate as a game-changing receiver. Plus, the dude can shatter would-be tacklers in a single bound.

Nakobe Dean: Okay, not exactly going out on a limb here. Dean is the new middle linebacker and the guy tasked with calling the plays. He didn’t make too many splash plays at camp – to be fair, he was dealing with an ankle injury – but every single teammate raved about his leadership and command of the defense. Dean is the linchpin to everything.

Derek Barnett: His agent, Drew Rosenhaus, was exploring trade options prior to cutdown day because they don’t foresee enough meaningful snaps for the former first-rounder in Philly. The Eagles probably listened but ultimately balked. Howie Roseman claimed Barnett is one of those guys that “make us sleep a little bit better at night.” It’ll be interesting to see how much burn they give him in Week 1. Barnett could be in for a big year — or he could be sent packing at the trade deadline.

Arryn Siposs: The Eagles chose not to keep Siposs (or any other punter) on the 53-man roster. It was seen as a head-scratching move at first, then creative logic started setting in. Siposs hasn’t been good, borderline bad. Now they can call him up from the practice squad three times and use those games as virtual tryouts. If Siposs continues to stink, well, they can pick someone else up off the waiver wire.

Nolan Smith: The rookie first-rounder is listed as the backup SAM linebacker on the Eagles’ unofficial depth chart. Behind Haason Reddick. Remember, Smith hurt his shoulder on August 17 which wasn’t seen as a major injury at the time, then he missed five straight practices. The Georgia standout was expected to be a big weapon off the edge in a rotational role this season assuming he’s healthy. Nick Sirianni said: “If he is ready to go, we’ll play him. If he is not, then we won’t.”

Quez Watkins: He wowed early in camp before a hamstring limited him down the stretch. The injury isn’t supposed to be serious. Watkins is listed as the starting slot receiver. Either way, Watkins has to start off strong in Week 1 with Olamide Zaccheaus waiting in the wings. Don’t be surprised to see the Eagles take a shot down field to Watkins on the first series, maybe they re-run the play he dropped in the Super Bowl. He could be counted on to return punts, too.

Jalen Hurts: Look, there is nothing really more to say about the Eagles’ QB1 at this point. He proved all of his doubters wrong last season. And looked even stronger (and more accurate) throughout camp. Hurts has all the makings of an MVP candidate this season. He’ll take his first step in that direction with Tom Brady watching from a suite.

Cam Jurgens: The new starting right guard did everything asked of him while earning praise from veterans like Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. Even the interior defenders raved about his raw power. Still, Jurgens will be making his first NFL start. And he’ll be doing it against a Bill Belichick-coached defense.

Jalen Carter: The Eagles’ rookie has garnered plenty of hype for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors. The way he club-armed his way into the backfield, nearly registering a sack, on his first preseason snap was apocalyptic. Carter looks and talks the part. However, he’s stuck in a loaded defensive tackle rotation alongside Fletcher Cox, Jordan Davis, Milton Williams. They are all going to play. (Look for substitutions based on down and distance.) But no one has more upside than the freaky standout from Georgia who could be the next Aaron Donald.

AP Photo/Chris Szagola