What a game for the North Dakota State product. We're talking, of course, about cornerback C.J. Smith. The 5-foot-11, 189 pound rookie made quite an impression for the Eagles in Thursday's preseason opener, finishing with three pass breakups and the game-clinching interception in the end zone. He's easily the best player from North Dakota on the roster not named Carson Wentz.
Combined with a quality training camp, Smith's stock would be on the rise if it weren't for the logjam at the top of the depth chart at corner. Leodis McKelvin, Nolan Carroll and Rob Brooks appear to have their spots locked down, with Eric Rowe and Jalen Mills jockeying for position behind them. Even if the Eagles carried six, there would be strong competition from Denzel Rice and Aaron Grymes as well.
Nonetheless, a solid performance by Smith, even if it doesn't do much for his stock. Likewise with Wentz, who despite showing he's clearly superior to Chase Daniel, probably didn't elevate himself on the depth chart. As for the rest of our risers and fallers in Week 1, if their 2016 debuts didn't directly influence their standing on the team, it certainly impacted our perception of them as players.
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Ryan Mathews, Kenjon Barner
It was only two carries, but that's all it took to see Mathews is healthy -- for now at least -- after opening training camp on the non-football injury list. That's also all it took to remind everybody how productive the two-time 1,000-yard rusher can be. Mathews ran hard and with explosion, gaining 15 yards and punching one into the end zone.
Barner had a decent game as well. The third-year back was credited with seven carries for 35 yards, although 10 of those came on a backward pass. Regardless, a 4.2 average on called runs is solid, and he added a 47-yard kick return for good measure. The Eagles' ground attack should be fine as long as Mathews and Barner are available.
Nigel Bradham, Najee Goode
Let's not go overboard for Bradham, who was blocked on a pair of successful screens in limited reps. However, the strongside linebacker was much more effective in run defense, blowing up a couple of carries in the backfield. Again, Bradham wasn't on the field much, but did enough to show why he was targeted by the Eagles in free agency.
Goode had his moments as well, cementing his role as the primary backup to the starting linebackers with a strong night on both defense and special teams. He logged a quarterback hurry and stuffed a rushing attempt in the backfield in addition to a forced fumble on the opening kickoff and a heady play to down a punt that was losing yards.
Jaylen Watkins, Chris Maragos, Ed Reynolds
Impressive night for all of the backup safeties, particularly Watkins, who was credited with one pass breakup and definitely had another. The former fourth-round draft pick has been moving up the depth chart in recent days, and showed why with his excellent ability in coverage. Watkins did miss at least two tackles however, which was his downfall last summer.
Maragos came up with a pair of turnovers, recovering the fumble on the opening kickoff and intercepting a pass, not that his spot was in any jeopardy. It's Reynolds who has to worry, and he played with physicality and urgency, racking up a team-high five solo tackles. And while the second-year defensive back looked bad on the Bucs' 26-yard touchdown pass to Russell Shepard, the end result was on teammate Leodis McKelvin. Overall, a positive game for Reynolds.
Talk about making the most of an opportunity. With Marcus Smith out of the lineup and the 2014 first-round pick on the roster bubble anyway, Means showed up in a big way, recording one strip-sack and hurrying the quarterback on the Maragos interception. He also stuffed a run in the backfield. With questionable defensive end depth beyond the big three, Means was already making a strong case to make this team before his strong performance on Thursday night.
In what is perhaps the worst kept secret on this Eagles roster, Pantale's roster spot might be all but cemented. If that wasn't made clear by the fact that the fourth-string tight end was the first-team fullback with the starters on offense, his prowess as a lead blocker certainly didn't hurt. Pantale also steamrolled an opponent on Josh Huff's 39-yard kick return, so a role on special teams seems to be in order as well.
To be clear, Daniel's protection did him no favors, nor did his receivers. Blown blocks and dropped and/or fumbled passes were killers. That being said, so too were the quarterback's unwillingness to pull the trigger and his inability to locate open receivers. Daniel completed four of 10 passes and was sacked four times for a net loss of one yard, and it was every bit as ugly as it sounds.
Stefan Wisniewski, Isaac Seumalo
To be fair to Wisniewski, he was going up against Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for much of the night. Playing with reserves on either side no doubt didn't help either. Regardless, it was a battle for Wisniewski at right guard at times. McCoy routinely pushed him into the backfield, plus he appeared to miss an assignment or two. We probably shouldn't look too much into this, but he didn't seem like a threat to Allen Barbre's job anyway.
Nor did it appear Seumalo is ready to compete for a starting job at left guard at this point. The third-round pick was overpowered and looked particularly confused at times, on one notable pressure, turning his back to the line of scrimmage completely. He's a rookie and missed time during OTAs, so some growing pains are to be expected. It's no wonder Daniel was on his back so much though.
We'll try to go easy on Gardner, who's attempting to come back from the Lisfranc injury that sideliend him for 13 weeks last season. At 6-6, 308 pounds and 30 years of age, that can't be easy. Unfortunately, the journeyman struggled mightily at right tackle, at one point allowing Bucs defensive end Howard Jones to run right around him for a sack as if he wasn't even there. It was just one play in many where Gardner looked in over his head, and even on an offensive line badly in need of proven depth, he may have an uphill battle ahead of him.
Continuing with our offensive offense theme, the wideouts did little to distinguish themselves. In fact, they were all pretty bad, at least as far as the guys we expect to make the 53-man roster.
Nelson Agholor dropped a pass, threw an ineffective block and was otherwise absent. Josh Huff did a Josh Huff thing, and Rueben Randle did a Rueben Randle thing, not knowing it was against the rules to bat the loose ball out of bounds (and later dropping a pass as well). Chris Givens did not get open at all from what I could tell.
These are supposedly receivers two through five on the Eagles depth chart, depending on who you listen to. Not a promising sign no matter who's under center.
Jalen Mills, Eric Rowe
For what it's worth, Rowe seemed to recover after giving up a couple of big receptions, one of which was erased by a phantom pass interference call. Still, for a second-round draft pick that many assumed would be a starting cornerback entering this season, it was not the shutdown experience off the bench Rowe needed to put himself back in the conversation.
Then again, Mills didn't exactly help himself either. In fact, he probably did more damage to his cause, taking one bad PI penalty and somehow avoiding another seemingly obvious call. The rookie defensive back surrendered a few catches as well. If these two are head-to-head on the depth chart or even for a roster spot, Rowe came out of this better than he went in, although at least in part by default.