4 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make Philadelphia Eagles' Final 53-Man Roster
Realistically, the Philadelphia Eagles have a limited number of spots on the 53-man roster that are truly open. And even then, in quite a few cases, there are players who could be considered the favorite to win those remaining jobs.
Then there are the other guys. Very little is truly guaranteed in the NFL, and if a player isn’t careful, a dark horse can sneak up from the rear and jump ahead of him on the depth chart. That’s what training camp is all about.
If you look at the definition of “dark horse” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, you’ll find three key words—little-known, unexpected and unlikely. The next four players are several or all of the above, although you never know, one or two of them may just make the team.
WR Ifeanyi Momah
This time last year, there was actually quite a bit of buzz surrounding Ifeanyi Momah, the 6’7” wide receiver who reportedly clocked a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash. Unfortunately, it didn’t take very long for the Eagles to find out he couldn’t play.
Once the club got him into training camp, Momah didn’t appear to play very big or fast at all. On the contrary, he looked stiff and had trouble gaining separation from defensive backs. Momah was released when camp ended without even so much as an invite to the practice squad.
That being said, you can’t teach size and speed, so realizing this, the Eagles re-signed Momah in January, hopeful he’s improved this time around.
It certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibility. Momah was a raw prospect to begin with, hauling in just 39 receptions over four seasons at Boston College. A torn ACL put the kibosh on a promising senior campaign in September, and he wound up going undrafted and spending an entire year out of football before signing with Philadelphia.
This time around, at least Momah has the advantage of being familiar with the playbook and understanding what the coaching staff expects. Could it give him the confidence to better use his natural physical abilities?
He’ll still have an uphill battle to make the roster. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff are locks to make the team, while Brad Smith and Arrelious Benn seemingly have an inside track to the final wide receiver spot(s). If Momah makes a statement this summer, though, the Eagles will find room.
OG Michael Bamiro
The Eagles lack established depth behind their starters along the offensive line, so legitimate dark horses are a little tough to come by. Still, it feels a lot like some observers have already written off Michael Bamiro—either that or they’ve completely forgotten about him.
Bamiro signed with Philadelphia last July after he inadvertently avoided the NFL draft. There was so much competition for the 6’8”, 340-pound offensive tackle in free agency, the Eagles had to guarantee $250,000 of his three-year contract, according to Geoff Mosher for CSNPhilly.com.
Despite the initial bidding war for his services, Bamiro failed to make the Eagles’ roster out of training camp. However, the club was able to stash him on the practice squad.
Now, the massive 23-year-old is getting another shot—only this time, he’s trying out at guard. Mosher writes that Bamiro began getting reps on the interior last year, and during OTAs this spring, he ran primarily with the second-team offense at right guard.
It probably shouldn’t have come as much of a surprise that Bamiro wasn’t ready for prime time right away, coming from a small football program like Stony Brook. If he can make strides in his second season, there’s no reason why he couldn’t crack the 53-man roster.
After all, the Eagles are so perilously thin at guard behind Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans, the team signed three more undrafted free agents following this year’s draft to compete at those very spots. Just don’t forget, any one of those kids will have to beat out Bamiro in order to win a job.
RB Henry Josey
Henry Josey could’ve signed just about anywhere to compete for a job after going undrafted. So where did he ultimately choose? The team with one of the deepest backfields in the NFL, of course.
If there was one position the Eagles didn’t need to address through the draft, it was running back. LeSean McCoy is coming off of a rushing title. Darren Sproles is one of the most dynamic secondary backs in the league. Chris Polk hasn’t built much of a resume yet, but there’s no reason to think the club is anything less than happy with his work, and he contributes on special teams.
Clearly, Josey has his work cut out for him if he’s going to make the roster. And, yet, it would be foolish to count him out.
Perhaps the only reason Josey’s name wasn’t called during this year’s draft is teams were skeptical of his surgically repaired knee. Somehow, though, he overcame what Missouri’s team physician described as "a one-in-a-million type of injury" to rush for over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2013.
The good news for Josey is cracking the Birds’ roster shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as overcoming that injury was. While he’s not likely to knock any of the aforementioned backs out of a job, it turns out there may be room for a fourth back in this stable.
Sproles is exclusively a change-of-pace back, which means Polk is the only truly viable full-time backup to McCoy on the roster. If Josey impresses this summer—and chances are he will—there’s a reasonable chance he could wind up with a roster spot.
OLB Travis Long
Unless head coach Chip Kelly intends to carry six outside linebackers, Travis Long wouldn’t appear to have much of a shot at making the 53-man roster.
Trent Cole and Connor Barwin are well-established starters. The team used its first-round pick on Marcus Smith. Signed during free agency, Bryan Braman is a supposed special teams ace. And Brandon Graham remains a productive pass-rusher, despite having his playing time limited.
None of which stopped Kelly from talking up Long like somebody who has a legitimate shot to make the final cut. The Birds’ chief was asked to assess Long’s growth entering his second year with the team, as transcribed by PhiladelphiaEagles.com.
He's really improved. I think obviously when we got him, he was coming off of an injury. Spent a year on the practice squad and didn't miss any time, but you could tell he was still recovering from the injury, but has really made some great strides and is a guy that's really pushing hard to make this football team.
I think he'll be able to contribute from a special teams standpoint, obviously adding some depth at the outside linebacker spot. So he's definitely a guy you have to keep an eye on right now.
The injury was a torn ACL that Long suffered during his senior season at Washington State, where he recorded 20 career sacks. Long wasn’t even cleared to return to a football field until well after the draft, at which point the Eagles swooped in and signed him last July.
The fact that Long is being praised for his special teams play is a good sign, as far as there being an outside shot the club would keep six outside linebackers if they felt he would contribute. But in all honesty, his best chance at making it is if somebody else gets the axe.
None of the other five are likely to get released. Then again, Graham could potentially be traded. The 2010 first-round pick is not viewed as a fit in Philly’s 3-4 defense, at least outside the organization, and once camp is winding down, a needy team may come calling.
If the Eagles can get anything of value for Graham, it’s time to move on—if not way past due—and clear the way for a younger talent such as Long.