The Eagles, as many football insiders would agree, had one of the best drafts in the league this season, and, in fact, they had one of their best of the Andy Reid era.
Of the nine total selections, seven players made it to the 53-man roster, and five of the nine — Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Brandon Boykin, and Bryce Brown — could see time on the field Sunday.
The remaining two players, quarterback Nick Foles and tackle Dennis Kelly, could play if one of the veteran starters gets injured, especially Foles.
So, the question of who will step up in the regular season will be important to watch.
Nick Foles: He finished the preseason 40-for-63 for 553 yards with six touchdowns against two interceptions. Using the rocket arm he immediately introduced in the first preseason contest, where he threw a pair of touchdown-scoring bombs to Mardy Gilyard and Damaris Johnson, Foles finished with an 8.78 average yards per pass.
His poise and knowledge of the game while in the pocket helped him acquire a 63.5 percent completion percentage throughout the preseason, and a serious offseason dilemma concerning who would back up Mike Vick in the regular season has been answered.
For now, replacing Vick seems like a more comfortable situation.
Damaris Johnson: He finished the preseason with 12 receptions for 195 yards (16.3 average) and one touchdown, a 70-yard touchdown reception from Nick Foles. He nearly had a second touchdown, but he did not appropriately toe drag on the sideline of the end zone, and his foot stepped out of bounds. He made an amazing move against the cornerback on that play, though.
He caught passes thrown by all four quarterbacks the Eagles started with at the beginning of the season, and, by also flourishing on punt returns, he was able to secure a spot on the roster. In keeping Johnson, an undrafted rookie from Tulsa, the Eagles cut sixth-round draft choice Marvin McNutt, who was later added to the practice squad.
Johnson's hard work displays the notion that no one, not even a draft pick, is ultimately saved from the roster cut. Johnson has a similar frame and skill set to DeSean Jackson, so it will be interesting to see what he can do in the regular season. Johnson certainly shined in the preseason.
Mychal Kendricks: Kendricks is the only rookie on the squad who has obtained a starting position at the start of the regular season, and, after watching him on the field, the appointment is justly given.
His speed is what ultimately gives him a distinct advantage, for it allows him to cover a large portion of the field effectively. The ultimate test for him, however, is seeing how he will perform against NFL running backs throughout the regular season.
Last season, opposing running backs found it easy to gash the Eagles on the ground by taking advantage of the sizable coverage gaps created by Jim Washburn’s wide-nine defensive line scheme, so Kendricks' speed will be a key component in stopping the run.
Whether or not Trent Richardson will play in the first game of the season is still up in the air, but the Eagles will be handily tested by Ray Rice, Beanie Wells, and Ryan Williams in their second and third games of the season.
Bryce Brown: Brown, the Eagles’ seventh-round pick, led the team in rushing yards during the preseason with 28 carries for 122 yards, allowing him to make the roster while two sixth-round picks, wide receiver Marvin McNutt and guard Brandon Washington, could not make the cut.
He does not have a lot of experience, having played in only 13 games spread out between Kansas State and Tennessee, but his speed for a six-foot, 223-pound running back — he ran a 4.37 in the 40 — and the fact that he was one of the most highly recruited players out of high school, made the Eagles’ brass willing to take a risk on the rookie.
As the Eagles rarely used their No. 2 running back last season — backup Dion Lewis had 23 attempts for 102 yards — the number of attempts he will receive is a question mark. The Eagles are adamant about limiting McCoy’s touches this season, but Dion Lewis is ahead of Brown on the depth chart, and Lewis, in his second head-turning preseason performance, has been impressive this summer.
With Brown’s frame, though, he could be asked to take on the role of an extra blocker more frequently, a job that Dion Lewis, who is 5-9, 195 pounds, was asked to do only seven times last season.
Brown, whom the Eagles acquired with the draft pick from the Asante Samuel trade, had a 33-yard run that initially opened the eyes of the Eagles’ coaches, and he continued to shine in the preseason afterwards.
It will be interesting to see how he fits into a running back rotation consisting of four players during the regular season, but he appears to have the skills to thrive.
Chris Polk: As the date for the roster cut continued to creep closer as August inched towards September, it seemed unlikely that the Eagles were going to keep four running backs on their roster.
However, when the final cut came and went, Chris Polk, who looked like a likely roster cut, remained. Polk finished the preseason with 27 carries for 112 yards and a touchdown, and, since his numbers were similar to Brown’s statistics, the Eagles had a tough decision regarding whom they should keep.
So, they kept both rookie running backs. Chris Polk ran for 1,448 yards and 12 touchdowns last season at Washington, but a degenerative shoulder condition hurt his draft stock, and, as a result, no team drafted him.
He is stuck as the fourth running back behind LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, and Bryce Brown, but he is a strong inside runner, effective at pass blocking, and has the hands required to be an effective receiver out of the backfield.
Fletcher Cox: Fletcher Cox, the Eagles’ first-round draft pick, did little to stand out during the preseason; however, defensive tackle is not exactly the most action-packed, spotlight-gaining position.
He is still listed behind Derek Landri and Cullen Jenkins on the depth chart, but, since the Eagles use a heavy rotation of defensive lineman on game day, the starting position on the defensive line is only a guarantee to see a majority of the snaps.
He was limited in practice after suffering a slight knee injury on September 6th, but he is expected to be on the field Sunday, when he will have an opportunity to prove his worth.
Vinny Curry: Curry finished the preseason tied for fourth on the team with two sacks. Only three players on the Eagles’ roster were ahead of him: Brandon Graham (3.5), Philip Hunt (3.5), and Frank Trotter (3).
Lost in that statistic alone, though, was how he hounded opposing quarterbacks throughout the preseason, so the expectations for the Neptune, N.J. native who grew up as an Eagles fan are high.
The Eagles kept six defensive ends on the roster, so whether or not they will suit up all six on game day is a question mark, and Eagles' insiders have mentioned the likelihood of dressing only five defensive ends.
If they decide not to dress all their players, Curry seems most likely to be the player not suiting up, especially after the stellar performance of Brandon Graham this preseason.
When Curry does get the opportunity to play, though, he should be a solid contributor. A hometown fan playing for his favorite NFL team sounds like a winning combination.
Brandon Boykin: Since the slot cornerback is not technically considered a starting position, it would be incorrect to include him with Kendricks as a rookie starting for the Eagles. However, Boykin, a rookie fourth-round pick out of Georgia, was able to take the starting nickel cornerback job from Joselio Hanson this preseason.
The team deleted Hanson during the final roster cut down as they did last year, but, this time, Hanson will not be coming back because he signed with the Oakland Raiders.
Boykin will also be returning kicks, a role that guaranteed his spot on the roster. The 5-9, 182-pound cornerback, had 2,660 yards on 110 kick returns at Georgia, averaging 24.2 yards per kickoff, and he ran four returns for a touchdown.
On the offensive side of the ball, he had 103 yards rushing and five receptions for 71 yards and two touchdowns. He was also a standout player primarily playing slot cornerback spot in college, and he had 143 tackles and nine interceptions (3 each year in 2009, 2010, and 2011) in four years.
How he transfers his ability to the NFL, though, will be interesting to watch.
Throughout the season, his performance will judge the accuracy of the decision of allowing Hanson to walk while keeping four running backs on the roster.
Dennis Kelly: Kelly, a mammoth of a 6-8, 321-pound tackle found his way onto the roster, but he may have to wait a moment before earning a starting spot.
Although Kelly, a fifth-round pick, seems an interesting prospect for the left tackle spot if King Dunlap or Demetress Bell cannot perform up to par, he still has to display an aptitude for correctly using Howard Mudd’s unique technique for playing offensive line.
He played in the spot during the end of the Eagles’ final preseason game against the Jets, and his large frame, which easily stood out in the huddle and against opposing defenders, gave him a distinct advantage, and he used his size well.
He could be a surprising addition if Dunlap or Bell struggle.
The Drafted Rookie Roster Cuts: Sixth-round picks Marvin McNutt, a wide receiver cut during the final roster purge but later signed to the practice squad, and Brandon Washington, who neither made the team nor re-signed to the practice squad, are the only two players out of the Eagles’ nine draft selections who did not make the 53-man roster.
McNutt has a frame similar to Riley Cooper, who will miss the season opener and possibly more due to a broken collarbone, so he could be used in the future if Cooper does not perform well after coming back from injury. McNutt's future with the Eagles is still an open book.
That the Eagles plan to use the majority of their draft choices to varying degrees displays the success of the 2012 Draft. The real test, though, will come on September 9th, when the regular season begins. Which rookie will shine?