Have the Philadelphia Eagles been too quick to yank developing rookies for practice squad players?
At 3-6-1, the Philadelphia Eagles are a very, very bad football team. The offensive line is a complete disaster, the defense is in shambles, the wide receiver play remains below average, the coaching staff might get fired in the offseason, and Carson Wentz is obviously playing at a league-worst level. Blame is being thrown on anyone and everyone, all the way up to ownership with Jeffrey Lurie.
However, one “group” that has yet to see any sort of criticism thrown their way is that of the practice squad darlings which have made up a good chunk of this team’s roster over the least 1-2 seasons. Guys like Greg Ward, Cre’Von LeBlanc, TJ Edwards, Marcus Epps, and even Travis Fulgham (just to name a few). Viewed as “hidden gems” and “diamonds in the rough”, pretty much anything they do is met with an abundance of praise, while other players on the roster are continuously trashed with criticism.
Now before we dive too deep into this rabbit hole of a take, something needs to be made very clear: I am not inherently blaming these players for the team’s poor record. They’re primarily guys who weren’t supposed to crack the active roster, and expectations need to be tempered accordingly. The Eagles are bad due to poor coaching, bad contracts, bad roster construction, and poor QB play.
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With that said, it shouldn’t mean these practice squad “gems” should be void of all on-field criticism. On top of that, it really shouldn’t result in drafted rookies losing physical playing time.
Starting first on defense, Cre’Von “Strap” LeBlanc has quickly engrained himself as a fan-favorite amongst Eagles supporters. He joined the team late in 2018, and ended up securing the starting nickel job for the postseason. While his heroics at the time were admirable, there’s little to no evidence that support him currently being a viable option at corner.
Not only is he strictly limited to the slot (a position that Avonte Maddox desperately needs to be moved back into), but he’s really struggled in coverage this year. Opposing QBs have a passer rating of 108.7 when targeting him, and his missed tackle rate is up at 18.5% (that’s really bad).
At linebacker, Nate Gerry was an early scapegoat when it came to stopping the run, and guys like Alex Singleton and TJ Edwards were quickly hailed as saviors to the position once Gerry went down with injury. However, Edwards currently has a missed tackle rate of 10.0% and Singleton is at 9.1%, both worse than Gerry’s.
On the offensive side of the ball, former second-round pick JJ Arcega-Whiteside was quickly tossed aside last year for the likes of Greg Ward and Deontay Burnett, and was once again withheld of an opportunity to see targets this season for the likes of Travis Fulgham. While Fulgham was electric for about four weeks, he’s caught just two passes on 12 targets the last two games.
Greg Ward played a crucial role down the stretch for the Philadelphia Eagles last year, but he’s currently averaging just 29.1 yards per game despite seeing over 5.5 targets (per game). Obviously JJAW isn’t the second-round talent that we all hoped for coming out of the draft, but it’s hard to imagine he’d be doing any worse than Ward given the appropriate amount of targets.
JJAW has seen just 27 career targets in the NFL; that’s a ridiculously small sample size. It’s genuinely impossible to identify his talent level at the moment.
With guys like Rasul Douglas, Nelson Agholor, and Sidney Jones shuttled out of Philly to make room for some of these fan-favorite practice squad names, it’s hard to not feel like the Eagles have mishandled the situation. The team continuously sees former draft picks thrive upon leaving Philadelphia, while Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz are still trying to jam square pegs into round holes with guys who went undrafted, or got cut multiple times.
The Eagles have a whole list of rookies currently on their roster who aren’t being afford significant playing time due to former practice squad names being ahead of them in the depth chart. Linebackers Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley rarely see snaps over Singleton and Edwards, Hightower and Watkins are both essentially out of the WR rotation due to Ward and Fulgham, and standout Clemson DB K’Von Wallace routinely saw himself behind Marcus Epps in the safety room earlier this season.
People are going to take this as me unfairly “knocking” some of these players, but I’d like to think the Eagles’ 3-6-1 record speaks for itself. If this team ever wants to seriously turn things around in the future, they’re going to have to start actually committing to the grind of developing their draft picks, as opposed to yeeting them off the roster anytime a twice-cut camp body has a couple good games.