Eagles: 5 players to watch in Week 18

With the recent COVID scare in Philly, it doesn’t appear many of the Eagles starters will suit up for the team’s Week 18 matchup with Dallas. Plus, the Eagles don’t have much to play for in this regular season finale.

They’ve already locked up a playoff spot and they can’t change their seeding much at all with a win. All signs are pointing towards a preseason-like atmosphere Saturday night.

If you’re an Eagles junky like me, there are still some interesting storylines heading into this contest. First and foremost, we’ll get to see some of the young, inexperienced players get an opportunity to start. For the most part, Philly has managed to keep the majority of their starters healthy this season, so we haven’t seen many backups throughout the year.

Here are five guys every Eagles fan should be paying attention to on Saturday night.

Gardner Minshew

We had the opportunity to see Minshew start against the New York Jets in Week 13 and he didn’t disappoint. Minshew racked up 242 passing yards, a passer rating of 133.7, along with two touchdowns while completing 80% of his passes.

While there is an argument to be had about which quarterback is better, Minshew or Jalen Hurts, all signs are pointing towards Hurts getting a second season as the team’s starter. If that’s the case, Minshew could be a hot commodity this offseason. Following his performance against New York, we heard rumors about Minshew being a target for a handful of teams this offseason.

Giving him another chance to bolster his trade stock even further is a no-brainer. And it’ll be interesting to see how he operates with backups around him. He should be used to playing with subpar talent from his days in Jacksonville, so we shouldn’t be surprised if he still puts up solid numbers.

Having a backup quarterback of Minshew’s caliber is invaluable, but if Howie Roseman can cash in on his trade value, he probably will. This is his audition for every other team around the league — chances are, Minshew won’t shy away from the opportunity.

Zech McPhearson

At one point during the offseason, it felt like fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson was in line to start at corner opposite of Darius Slay. But just days before training camp began, Howie signed Steven Nelson to solidify his cornerback group.

Nelson’s been a fine addition, but it’s unlikely that he’ll be back next season. The front office already re-signed Avonte Maddox and Nelson is approaching 30 years old. He’ll be looking for a big pay day this offseason, and it’s doubtful that the Eagles will oblige.

If/when Nelson leaves, McPhearson will more than likely get the first crack at the No. 2 cornerback spot. And at this point, we really don’t know what the kid brings to the table, outside of his scouting report from Texas Tech. He’s only seen 123 defensive snaps this season.

McPhearson did get some crucial playing time against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 9. Slay went down with an injury and McPhearson managed to hold his own against an explosive offense. He posted a PFF coverage grade of 75.6 for his efforts, allowing just one reception on two targets, along with recording five total tackles.

It’s safe to say there’s at least some potential there, we just haven’t seen enough to ink McPhearson in as a starter next year. This game against Dallas will give us our biggest indication on whether McPhearson is the guy or not.

Tay Gowan

It’s not clear whether or not Tay Gowan will get the start at corner opposite of McPhearson just yet, I just really hope he does. Gowan was one the more physically impressive corners in this past year’s NFL Draft, but he hasn’t seen any playing time this year.

Once the team traded for him back in October, he’s spent most of his time on the inactive list. He has all the physical tools to be a solid NFL corner, we just haven’t seen him on a football field in so long. If Gowan can at least provide enough to solidify a roster spot next year, he’ll be a nice depth piece to continue developing behind the core group of starters in the secondary.

The Eagles have stockpiled a bunch of young corners on their roster, with the hope that at least once of them pops. Gowan could be that guy. Hopefully, he gets the opportunity to prove himself this week against Dallas.

Shaun Bradley

Shaun Bradley has been a mainstay on special teams for the Eagles this season and he’s been one of the best aces on the team. This week, he should get the start at linebacker with Alex Singleton and T.J. Edwards likely to get some rest.

He’s played sparingly on the defensive side of the ball this season, totaling just 28 defensive snaps in 2021. Through his play on special teams, we know Bradley is a stout tackler and that he’s athletic enough to keep pace in coverage. His 80.0 tackling grade is evidence of that.

Bradley probably won’t ever get the opportunity to start in Philly, unless there’s an abundance of injuries at linebacker. But it’s always good to have young, athletic depth at the position. We know Bradley has the athletic traits from his time on special teams, but we don’t really know what kind of football IQ he has or how he’ll function as the starting middle backer.

It would be nice to get a glimpse of what he’s capable of in that regard, so hopefully he gets a lot of playing time on Saturday.

K’Von Wallace

Many fans, including myself, saw K’Von Wallace as the potential third safety in Jonathan Gannon’s defense this season. He filled that role just fine early in the season, but once he got injured in Week 3, his playing time decreased significantly.

Marcus Epps has really solidified his role in Gannon’s defense and it’s left very little room for Wallace in the Eagles secondary. He should get the start this weekend if he’s healthy, and this matchup could function as an audition for next season.

The Eagles will need to address safety this offseason, there’s no doubt about it. Both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are set to hit free agency, leaving Wallace, Epps, and Andre Chachere as the only safeties on the roster. If Wallace can prove his worth with an outstanding performance in Week 18, it could affect how the front office attacks this hole over the offseason.

They’ll more than likely add at least one safety. If Wallace can at least do enough to cement his status as one of the team’s three starting safeties moving forward, it would make Roseman’s job a whole lot easier this offseason.

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