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How Howie Roseman unearthed 10 players nobody else wanted


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How Howie Roseman unearthed 10 players nobody else wanted

The Eagles' roster features plenty of players who went virtually unnoticed when they arrived in Philadelphia

By Reuben Frank, Eagles Insider  Published August 19, 2023


Nobody else wanted them. Nobody else saw their potential. Nobody else gave them a chance.

The Eagles’ roster has plenty of premium draft picks, big-money free agents and high-profile trade acquisitions.

It also has plenty of guys who went virtually unnoticed when they got here.

Late-round picks. Undrafted rookies. Waiver claim pickups. Practice squad signees. Even Australian rugby players.

One thing Howie Roseman and his scouting staff have gotten very good at is identifying talented players off the beaten path.

Here’s a look at 10 of them who are in training camp this summer and will either make the 53-man roster or most likely stick around on the practice squad.

S Reed Blankenship, signed as an undrafted free agent, April 30, 2022: Blankenship will become the Eagles’ first undrafted starting safety who began his career with the Eagles since Quintin Mikell in 2010. He looked very good in 4 ½ games in place of injured Chauncey Gardner-Johnson last year but has taken his game to another level in training camp, with five interceptions at practice – including three off Deshaun Watson in two joint practices with the Browns. The Eagles haven’t had many home-grown safeties in recent years – really only Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman since Dawk. But Blankenship appears poised to change that as opening day approaches.

PK Jake Elliott, signed off the Bengals’ practice squad, Sept. 12, 2017: He’s one of the best kickers in NFL history, and the Eagles stole him off the Bengals’ practice squad. The Bengals drafted Elliott in the fifth round in 2017, but after he went just 4-for-7 in the preseason, they released him and kept Randy Bullock instead. They placed Elliott on their practice squad, but when Eagles kicker Caleb Sturgis went on IR after suffering a hip injury in the season opener in Washington, the Eagles needed a kicker, and they signed Elliott. He went on to make 26 of 31 field goals as a rookie, then all seven of his postseason kicks, including 42- and 46-yarders in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl. In his six years with the Eagles, Elliott has made 84 percent of his field goals, and he’s 15-for-15 in the postseason – the fourth-most attempts ever by a kicker who’s never missed in the playoffs.

LB Christian Elliss, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, Sept. 9, 2021: Elliss took a roundabout route to a possible starting off-ball linebacker spot this year. He was undrafted out of Idaho in 2021 and signed with the Vikings. But he was released at the end of training camp and signed to the Eagles’ practice squad, then released and re-signed again. Late in 2021, the 49ers signed Elliss to their practice squad but cut him a week later, and he joined the Eagles for the third time in two months. The Eagles released him a fourth time at the end of last year’s training camp and added him to the practice squad again, although he finished the season on the 53 and got into six games, doing some nice things on special teams. This summer, Elliss – still only 24 – has been the Eagles’ best linebacker and is pushing for a starting spot opposite Nakobe Dean.

RB Kenny Gainwell, drafted in the fifth round (150th overall), May 1, 2021: Gainwell’s rapid rise from late-round longshot to key contributor is one of the big reasons the Eagles had no problem letting Miles Sanders leave via free agency. Gainwell only has 223 touches in two years, but he’s turned them into 1,244 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns. Gainwell – the 15th running back taken in 2021 – is one of only nine running backs in history with at least 1,200 scrimmage yards and 12 touchdowns on fewer than 225 touches in their first two years. Of the eight others, only two were drafted in the fifth round or later – Ray Ramsey (10th round in 1947) and Dan Towler (25th round in 1950). So Gainwell is the only RB drafted in the last 70 years drafted in the fifth round or later with 1,200 scrimmage yards and 12 TDs in his first two seasons on 225 or fewer touches.

CB Josh Jobe, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, April 30, 2022: Often, these late-round picks or undrafted players take a little longer to become legit NFL players, so you need a team that not only recognizes their talent but also has the patience to develop them. Jobe, who played at Alabama, made the 53 last year as an undrafted rookie but only played 12 snaps on defense. But right from the get-go this summer he looked like a different guy, and it was quickly evident that he was the best outside cornerback in camp not named Darius Slay or James Bradberry. There were 66 defensive backs drafted last year. Jobe wasn’t one of them. Neither were Reed Blankenship or Mario Goodrich, so the Eagles may have found themselves three defensive backs after last year’s draft.

OT Jordan Mailata, drafted in the seventh round (233rd overall), April 28, 2018: You’ve heard the story 100 times and it never gets old. An Australian rugby player who never played football on any level becomes a starting left tackle two years after he first shows up at practice and by his second season. Mailata, now in his sixth season but still only 26, is why scouts show up at international camps, regional combines, small-school pro days, etc. There is talent out there in unusual places, it’s just up to the scouts and GMs to find it. And in Mailata’s case, it didn’t hurt to have Jeff Stoutland in the Eagles’ corner.

QB Tanner McKee, drafted in the sixth round (188th overall), April 29, 2023: It’s a little too early to anoint McKee the second coming of A.J. Feeley, a fifth-round pick in 2001 who went on to have a 12-year NFL career and went 4-1 down the stretch in his first five career starts in 2002 to rally the Eagles into the playoffs. But McKee has looked remarkably poised, accurate, comfortable and confident over the last couple weeks and turned in a big-time performance against the Browns Thursday night in the second preseason game. McKee was the 14th of 15 quarterbacks drafted this year and the latest the Eagles have drafted a QB since they made Koy Detmer the 207th pick in 2007. It’s incredibly rare to find a viable quarterback this late. Detmer – who was 3-5 as an Eagles starter – is the only QB they’ve ever drafted in the sixth round or later to start a regular-season game. But once in a while there’s a Bart Starr (17th round), Johnny Unitas ninth round), Roger Staubach (10th round) or Tom Brady (sixth round). Or who knows … a Tanner McKee.

RB Boston Scott, signed off the Saints’ practice squad, Dec. 11, 2018: What at the time seemed like a meaningless late-season acquisition has become a huge move for the Eagles. Scott, originally the Saints’ sixth-round pick in 2018, has 1,876 scrimmage yards and 20 touchdowns since becoming a part of the running back rotation in 2019. Only one running back drafted with the 200th pick or later (Chris Carson) has more touchdowns than Scott since 2019. No Eagle drafted 200th or later has more career touchdowns or scrimmage yards than Scott. Although he’s not quite a roster lock, he’ll very likely wind up on the 53 for a sixth season.

WR Greg Ward, signed as an undrafted rookie free agent, May 11, 2017: On the same day the Eagles signed undrafted rookies Corey Clement and Cameron Johnston, they signed Ward, who was in the process of converting from college quarterback at Houston to slot receiver. Ward bounced on and off the practice squad and active roster for seven years now, but he was the Eagles’ leading receiver during the playoff run down the stretch in 2019 and led all Eagles WRs with 53 catches in 2020. Although he hasn’t played in a regular-season game since the end of 2021, he’s had an outstanding summer and is the Eagles’ leading receiver in the two preseason games with eight catches for 82 yards. His 88 career receptions are fourth-most ever by an undrafted Eagles wide receiver. Ward is a favorite of the coaches because he’s always ready, always prepared, knows the offense inside out and is a natural leader. Ward has spent parts of the 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 seasons on the practice squad and could very well wind up there again.

WR Quez Watkins, drafted in the sixth round (200th overall), April 25, 2020: Last year may not have gone the way the Watkins or the Eagles wanted, but Watkins remains a real find in the sixth round. He was the third wide receiver the Eagles drafted in 2020 following Jalen Reagor in the first round and John Hightower in the fifth. Watkins’ 1,001 receiving yards over the last two years are third-most among all NFL WRs drafted in the sixth round or later and most by an Eagles WR drafted that late since Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael in the 1970s and early 1980s.


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