Drilling in: Eagles unit by unit analysis

Jay Ajayi should be the Eagles' primary ball-carrier this season.Photo: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

A detailed breakdown of the lineup

QUARTERBACKS: Starter -- Carson Wentz. Backups -- Nick Foles, Nate Sudfeld, Joe Callahan.

Wentz was one of the top league MVP candidates when he tore his ACL in Week 14. Foles replaced him and led the Eagles to their first NFL championship in 57 years and was named the Super Bowl MVP. Wentz's rehab has gone well, and while he may not play much if at all in the preseason, he expects to be ready for the season opener against Atlanta. Wentz had thrown a league-high 33 touchdown passes before he got hurt. He also led the league in third-down passing and had the third most rushing first downs among the league's quarterbacks. Whether his injury impacts his willingness to run remains to be seen. But he has said repeatedly that he will not change the way he plays. Foles, who is entering the final year of his two-year deal, could've pressed for a trade, but is content to back up Wentz this season. The Eagles like the potential of Sudfeld, who has a strong arm and excellent mobility.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter -- Jay Ajayi. Backups -- Darren Sproles, Corey Clement, Donnel Pumphrey, Matt Jones, Wendell Smallwood, Josh Adams.

Ajayi split carries with LeGarrette Blount last season after being acquired from Miami in a late-October trade. He averaged 10 carries per game in seven regular-season games with the Eagles, but 14 in their three playoff games. With Blount gone, Ajayi will open the season as the team's primary ball-carrier. But head coach Doug Pederson likes to rotate backs. Sproles is back for one final season after missing most of last year with a torn ACL, and Clement had an impressive rookie season. Ajayi is an explosive runner, but is the poorest pass-catcher of the three. And Pederson likes to use his backs as receivers. Pumphrey is a player to watch. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder spent his rookie season on injured reserve after breaking the NCAA Division I career rushing record at San Diego State. He also is a solid route runner who can line up on the outside.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter -- Zach Ertz. Backups -- Richard Rodgers, Dallas Goedert, Billy Brown, Adam Zaruba, Joshua Perkins.

Ertz has emerged as one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. He was the go-to guy for both Wentz and Foles, particularly down near the goal line. Ertz's career-high eight red-zone touchdown catches were the third most in the league. He understands coverage and knows how to use his body to get inside position on a defender. The Eagles lost another excellent pass-catching tight end in free agency -- Trey Burton -- but added one in the draft, selecting Goedert in the second round. They also added Rodgers to replace Brent Celek, who was released. Rodgers is a decent blocking tight end, but not as good as Celek. Brown is a Burton clone, but needs to be able to contribute on special teams if he's going to make the team.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters -- Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace. Backups -- Mack Hollins, Markus Wheaton, Shelton Gibson, Greg Ward, Bryce Treggs, Rashard Davis, Marquess Wilson, Tim Wilson, Anthony Mahoungou.

Eagles general manager Howie Roseman made a number of shrewd free-agent additions last year, none bigger than adding Jeffery. He had nine touchdown catches, seven in the red zone. His size and long arms were a big asset to Wentz and Foles, who could make imperfect throws to him and still come up with a completion. Incredibly, Jeffery played the entire season with a torn rotator cuff. He had offseason surgery and will see little or no action in the preseason, but is expected to be ready for Week 1. Agholor had a breakout season after being moved to the slot. He led the team in third-down receptions and had eight touchdown catches. He had three in his first two seasons. The Eagles hope to use him both inside and outside this season. The Eagles replaced Torrey Smith with another veteran, Wallace. Wallace, a 10-year veteran, is a vertical threat, but also is lethal on slants, which should only make the Eagles' RPO game stronger. The Eagles are looking for Hollins, who had 16 catches as a rookie and is an outstanding special teams player, to be a bigger factor in his second season. They also added Wheaton, who caught 97 passes for the Steelers in 2014-15.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- LT Jason Peters, LG Stefen Wisniewski, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson. Backups -- Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Isaac Seumalo, Chance Warmack, Jordan Mailata, Matt Pryor, Taylor Hart, Darrell Greene, Aaron Evans, Jon Toth, Ian Park, Toby Weathersby.

The Eagles head into the '18 season with perhaps the best offensive line in the league. Nine-time Pro Bowler Peters, who missed nine games last season with a torn ACL, is returning for his 15th season. He's 36, but still was playing at an extremely high level before the injury. Peters and Johnson, who was a first-team All Pro last season, and Brooks form a dominating tandem on the right side. Kelce is undersized, but might be the most athletic center in the league. Wisniewski, who opened last season on the bench, is an underrated blocker who gives the Eagles a second center on the line. Vaitai played well as Peters' replacement last season and will back up both tackle positions. Seumalo, who was the season-opening starter at left guard in 2017, can play center or guard, but needs to pick up his play. Pryor is a 6-foot-7, 340-pound sun-blocker from TCU who can play inside or outside. Mailata is a physical freak with zero football experience. He's a rugby player out of Australia who is expected to spend the season on the practice squad.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters -- DE Brandon Graham, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Tim Jernigan, DE Derek Barnett. Backups -- Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Steven Means, Josh Sweat, Haloti Ngata, Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls, Danny Ezechukwu, Bruce Hector, Winston Craig, Joe Ostman, Azis Shittu.

Jernigan, who had his ups and downs in his first season with the Eagles, needed back surgery during the offseason and might not be able to play until November. But the Eagles added the 34-year-old Ngata and the 32-year-old Bennett, who have a combined eight Pro Bowl invitations between them. Ngata doesn't have the one-gap pass-rushing ability that Jernigan does. But that's where Bennett, who can play both inside and outside, comes in. Graham had the best season of his career in 2018, recording a career-high 9.5 sacks and ranking among the league leaders in hurries. His late fourth-quarter strip-sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl helped the Eagles win their first Lombardi Trophy. Graham, like Bennett, also can line up inside in nickel situations. The 33-year-old Long, who can line up anywhere along the front, had an excellent season last year. Sweat is a fourth-round pick that the Eagles think can make an immediate pass-rush impact.

LINEBACKERS: Starters -- OLB Nigel Bradham, MLB Jordan Hicks, OLB Corey Nelson. Backups -- Nate Gerry, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Joe Walker, LaRoy Reynolds, Kyle Wilson.

This is the Eagles' biggest area of concern on defense. Bradham is coming off his best season and should've received a Pro Bowl invitation. He is a physical player who plays the run and pass equally well. Hicks is a talented player, but has had trouble staying healthy. He missed eight games as a rookie and then ruptured his Achilles last season and missed nine games. It remains to be seen whether he can stay healthy for an entire season. The Eagles released their other starting linebacker, Michael Kendricks. Free-agent addition Paul Worrilow, who would've given them insurance inside in the event Hicks went down again, tore his ACL in spring OTAs and is out for the season. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz used two-linebacker sets about 85 percent of the time last season. If Hicks stay healthy, they will be OK. If he doesn't, then they need someone else, possibly newcomer Nelson, or 2017 fifth-rounder Gerry or special teams ace Grugier-Hill, to step up.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters -- CB Ronald Darby, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Rodney McLeod, CB Jalen Mills, CB Sidney Jones. Backups -- Rasul Douglas, Avonte Maddox, De'Vante Bausby, D.J. Killings, Randall Goforth, Tre Sullivan, Chris Maragos, Jeremy Reaves, Chandon Sullivan, Stephen Roberts.

Jones was considered a top-15 prospect in the 2017 draft before tearing his Achilles during his pro day workout. The Eagles plucked him in the second round, knowing he wouldn't play much, if at all, as a rookie. He has shutdown-corner ability and will compete with Darby and Mills on the outside. The big question is who will replace departed Patrick Robinson at slot corner. Robinson had a terrific year after being moved inside in the preseason. It has been assumed that Jones and Darby will end up as the starters on the outside and Mills will move to the slot. But he made it clear in the spring that he intends to win one of the outside jobs. Maddox, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound rookie fourth-round pick, will get a hard look inside, as will Bausby, who had an excellent spring and got a lot of snaps with the first-team defense. Jenkins and McLeod are one of the league's top safety tandems. Jenkins has corner versatility and can drop down into the slot. But there's not a lot of experience behind Jenkins and McLeod. Many think the Eagles eventually will coax 33-year-old Corey Graham to come back for one more year. Graham did a solid job last year for the Eagles as the third safety. He, like Jenkins, has corner versatility.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Jake Elliott, P Cameron Johnson, KR Darren Sproles, PR Darren Sproles, LS Rick Lovato.

Elliott was signed off of the Cincinnati Bengals' practice squad after Caleb Sturgis injured his hip in Week 1. Elliott converted 26 of 31 field-goal attempts, including 17 of 19 from 40-plus yards. He booted a franchise-record 61-yarder to beat the Giants in Week 3. The Eagles like Johnson, who is the leading candidate to replace retired Donnie Jones. Jones was one of the league's better directional punters. Getting Sproles back will be a big shot in the arm for the Eagles' return game. With the rule changes to the kickoff, special teams coach Dave Fipp is considering using Sproles on kickoffs as well as punts. He has returned just three kickoffs in his three seasons with the Eagles. Fipp used a lot of young players on his coverage units last season. The year of experience should help them. So should the return of special teams ace Chris Maragos, who missed much of last season with a knee injury.

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