Predicting the Eagles’ ‘odd men’ out: 5 key position battles to watch at OTAs

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz (10) runs for a first down in front of Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Ben VanSumeren (57) during the second half of an NFL preseason football game Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The hot dogs and burgers are off the grill, inevitably making new memories in your stomach, and the leftover potato salad is locked away in the fridge. Memorial Day is over and the Philadelphia Eagles are back to work.

The team will resume its OTA schedule on Tuesday, May 28 at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia where the grass is always greener this time of year. While it’s unwise to focus too much on the spring depth chart, guys are fighting for jobs and any impression — good or bad, including unexcused absences and injuries — could influence what happens when training camp opens in July.

Let’s take a look at some of the Eagles’ key position battles ahead of the 2024 football season:


PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 12: Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Zech McPhearson (27) looks on during the preseason game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on August 12, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Andy Lewis/Icon Sportswire)

The Eagles acknowledged how flawed their secondary — the unit surrendered 49 touchdowns through the air, fifth-worst in football in 2023 — was by using their first two picks on reinforcements: Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean. Both players saw extended burn during the practice session open to media last week. One of them will get the starting job opposite Darius Slay, probably Mitchell with DeJean pushing Avonte Maddox for snaps at nickel cornerback. Remember, the team is expected to release James Bradberry with a post-June 1 designation.

That leaves nine cornerbacks to duke it out for the remaining spots. The Eagles kept seven cornerbacks last year; I would expect them to keep the same number there this season. The organization remains very high on Eli Ricks and Kelee Ringo. Pencil them in, barring a disastrous preseason. The Eagles also love Isaiah Rodgers and what he brings to the table as a kick returner.

Keeping (7): Quinyon Mitchell, Cooper DeJean, Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, Eli Ricks, Kelee Ringo, Isaiah Rodgers. Odd men out: Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe.


In this file photo, Philadelphia Eagles’ Nakobe Dean looks on during rookie minicamp. AP Photo/Christopher Szagola

Welcome to the Zack Baun Show. New defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has gushed about the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder throughout the offseason, then he put him on the field (alongside Devin White) as the starting off-the-ball linebacker last week. He’s coming off a career year in New Orleans — 30 total tackles, with two sacks and one interception — plus he has the speed to match up against athletic tight ends and twitchy slot receivers. Meanwhile, White is a good stop-gap until Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is ready for meaningful snaps. And it’ll be up to Nakobe Dean to prove he can stay healthy.

One new guy to watch is Brandon Smith who caught eyes last week at OTAs with his playmaking. Ben VanSumeren is another player garnering moderate hype following a solid rookie year in 2023. Everything is up in the air. Linebacker is a position of great uncertainty, as it always is in Philly, so this should be the most heated and unpredictable battle at camp.

Keeping (4): Devin White, Zack Baun, Nakobe Dean, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. Odd man out: Ben VanSumeren … they will likely try to stash him on the practice squad.

Offensive Line

New York Jets’ Mekhi Becton, left, talks with Connor McGovern during a practice at the NFL football team’s training facility in Florham Park, N.J., Thursday, July 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The starting right guard job appears to be Tyler Steen’s for the taking, although if he struggles at any point the dominoes could fall. The Eagles signed veteran Matt Hennessy and drafted Trevor Keegan as insurance policies. And Cam Jurgens — the heir apparent to Jason Kelce at center — played right guard in 2023 and could conceivably (unlikely) slide back there in a pinch. Perhaps the sneakiest move of the offseason was bringing in Mekhi Becton. The former first-rounder — picked 11th overall by the Jets in 2020 — is a tackle by trade, specifically on the blind side, and immediately slots as the primary backup behind Jordan Mailata.

However, head coach Nick Sirianni didn’t rule out trying Becton out at guard when asked about his role. The Eagles have decent depth along the offensive line despite losing Sua Opeta and Jack Driscoll in free agency. They also used a sixth-round pick on Dylan McMahon who has almost the same measurables as Jason Kelce. He’s a guy itching to be mentored and molded. Fred Johnson is another proven veteran with a hybrid pedigree, including eight career starts under his belt.

Keeping (9): Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Cam Jurgens, Tyler Steen, Lane Johnson, Mekhi Becton, Trevor Keegan, Matt Hennessy, Dylan McMahon. Odd men out: Darian Kinnard, Fred Johnson.

Wide Receivers

PHILADELPHIA, PA – AUGUST 02: Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Britain Covey (41) participates in a drill during training camp on August 2, 2022 at the Novacare Complex in Philadelphia, PA (Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire)

It’s almost comical that we’re still talking about finding a reliable third receiver for one of the NFL’s top offenses. With Quez Watkins gone — is he really going to be the No. 2 in Pittsburgh? — the obvious choice to man the slot is newcomer Parris Campbell. He was lined up there last week at OTAs and showed a natural chemistry with Jalen Hurts, according to reporters on the scene. It’s his job to lose. That doesn’t mean there won’t be a battle. The Eagles drafted two young receivers — Ainias Smith, Johnny Wilson — plus a big reason why they nabbed Saquon Barkley was to take him out of the backfield and spread him out. Targets will be ravenous.

Britain Covey should garner a roster spot as the lead punt returner, but I would be shocked if Ainias Smith doesn’t vulture that role by Week 6. John Ross? I can’t imagine he has anything left in the tank after sitting out two years. Then again, speed rules.

Keeping (5): A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Parris Campbell, Ainias Smith, Britain Covey.
Odd man out: Johnny Wilson … I have a sneaking suspicion they move him to tight end especially if newcomer C.J. Uzomah isn’t fully recovered.



Since the country is obsessed with quarterback play, we have to quickly run through the depth chart there. Jalen Hurts is the undisputed starter so let’s stop trying to start a controversy even if Kenny Pickett looked “sharper” than Hurts the other day. The more interesting battle to watch is at the backup spot where Tanner McKee seems to have fallen out of favor.

It was widely assumed he’d be handed the clipboard, then the Eagles traded for Pickett and forced McKee to change his jersey number. Not sure what is happening. Either way, McKee is now fighting against Pickett for the No. 2 spot as well as battling Will Grier for No. 3. The quarterback factory keeps stamping timecards.

Keeping (3): Jalen Hurts, Kenny Pickett, Tanner McKee. Odd man out: Will Grier.

AP Photo/Chris Szagola