This article is part of our Team Previews series.
Injury concerns affect the offense's top two stars, but the Eagles remain in good hands with postseason hero Nick Foles still on hand. Furthermore, upgrades were made to the receiving corps and defensive line to keep the team firmly within reach of another Super Bowl berth.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
WENTZ AND JEFFERY QUESTION MARKS TO START SEASON
Carson Wentz is the unquestioned starting quarterback on this team when healthy, and while he's shooting to be on the field for Week 1, it's not a sure thing. Once his left knee is game-ready, it's not safe to assume the 25-year-old will regain the form that saw him complete 60 percent of his pass attempts for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns in just 13 games. In Wentz's absence, Nick Foles held down the fort and earned Super Bowl MVP honors, and if he remains as effective as he was in the playoffs – 971 yards passing, six touchdowns and just one interception across three games – the Eagles may decide to take their time and ease Wentz back into action. There exists the possibility a short-term quarterback controversy begins to brew if, upon his return, Wentz is somehow less effective than Foles for reasons physical or otherwise. Working in Wentz's favor, though, was jumping right into team drills at the first practice of training camp. Along with Wentz's recovery, the Eagles are guiding Alshon Jeffery through his own rehab from a fully-torn rotator cuff, which required surgery in February. The wide receiver has a far higher likelihood of missing the entire preseason and potentially time beyond Week 1. Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Nelson Agholor all accumulated at least 760 receiving yards and eight touchdowns last season, so if Jeffery isn't healthy right away, it would also be reason to worry.
AJAYI LEADS STABLE OF ATHLETIC BACKS
After averaging nearly six yards per carry following his Week 9 trade from the Dolphins, Jay Ajayi will spearhead an Eagles backfield committee consisting of former undrafted-free-agent-turned-Super-Bowl-savant Corey Clement and folk hero Darren Sproles. Now that LeGarrette Blount is gone, Philadelphia lacks a dependable thumper and short-yardage back, which may create an opportunity for the newly signed, but fumble-prone, Matt Jones or former Notre Dame standout Josh Adams, both of whom stand 6-2 while weighing 239 and 213 pounds, respectively. Coach Doug Pederson has claimed he's in the corner of 2016 fifth-round pick Wendell Smallwood, despite Smallwood falling in the pecking order and serving as a healthy scratch for most of the second half of last year. Rounding out the competitors is 2017 fourth-rounder and all-time NCAA rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey, who remains ready to contend for one of the final roster spots at running back. It should be noted that the pint-sized player had a miserable training camp as a rookie and ended up spending the entire season on injured reserve. No matter who lands a post on the 53-man roster, only Ajayi and Clement are certain to have clearly defined roles to start the campaign, while the rest will have to prove themselves along the way.
PASS RUSH AS STRONG AS EVER
Despite cutting the 2017 team leader in pressures, Vinny Curry, due to salary-cap constraints, the pass rush still stands to be among the league's best. After a stellar rookie year in which he had five sacks and a Super-Bowl-sealing fumble recovery, Derek Barnett projects to build upon his defensive snap share (41.1 percent). Starting end Brandon Graham, coming off a career-best 9.5 sacks but also rehabbing from ankle surgery, is returning, along with Chris Long, who was second on the team with 38 pressures. GM Howie Roseman acquired Michael Bennett to replace Curry, although legal issues threaten to throw a wrench into his new club's plans. Assuming Bennett doesn't miss any time, he'll join the rotation at end and slot in at tackle on passing downs, giving the pass rush extra punch. All-Pro tackle Fletcher Cox has stated he's gunning to be Defensive Player of the Year, implying an even greater contribution than the six sacks per season he's averaged over the past two years. Finally, the wild card in the mix is 2018 fourth-round selection Josh Sweat, who could be the best athlete of the whole bunch and only fell in the draft due to concerns about his knee. Despite all the talent in the trenches, the Eagles ranked just 17th with 36 sacks last season, so the unit may have been tweaked to boost its potential.
PIVOTAL PLAYER: Carson Wentz
Wentz was in the midst of a breakout season when he tore his ACL and LCL in Week 14. Despite a typical recovery process of 9-to-12 months, both team and player are optimistic that he'll be available at the start of the season. Even if he is ready by the opener, questions abound as to how soon he'll regain his MVP-caliber form.
RISING: Jay Ajayi
With LeGarrette Blount gone and a full offseason with the Eagles under his belt, Ajayi is the closest thing to a bell cow in this backfield. Ajayi averaged 5.8 yards per carry after he was traded to Philadelphia last October.
FALLING: Darren Sproles
Now 35 and returning from a torn ACL, Sproles may find it difficult to receive his typical target volume due to the emergence of Corey Clement. Assuming he's healthy, though, Sproles has the potential to make a difference.
SLEEPER: Mack Hollins
Currently the fourth WR on the depth chart, Hollins should see more attention after a season in the system and given Alshon Jeffery's injury. The 24-year-old's 10.3 yards per target in 2017 shows he has big-play ability, too.
KEY JOB BATTLE – NO. 4 WIDEOUT
Mack Hollins, the Eagles' 2017 fourth-round selection, had a massively successful training camp as a rookie and only continued to impress as the season wore on. He's slated to occupy the fourth-receiver role once again this year with perhaps a slight bump in targets. It could be a huge bump, however, if Alshon Jeffery isn't fully recovered from his shoulder surgery, some other injury hits, or perhaps Nelson Agholor reverting to his former inconsistent self. Another year of experience for Hollins and the addition of his college position coach to the Eagles' staff should help accelerate the 24-year-old's growth as well. Now, the team has also brought in Markus Wheaton and Kamar Aiken on prove-it deals this offseason, and fellow 2017 draftee Shelton Gibson remains in the fold. Yet Hollins has the build and playmaking ability of a prototypical No. 1 receiver and therefore is the most likely to replace Jeffery for the reigning Super Bowl champs, should the situation arise. The job is Hollins' to lose, and the profit could be big.
Michael Bennett – DE (from Seahawks)
The sack artist joins an already loaded pass-rush unit.
Torrey Smith – WR (to Panthers)
His 36 receptions in 2017 were a three-year high.
Trey Burton – TE (to Bears)
Finally gets his chance as the starter in the Windy City.
Vinny Curry – DE (to Buccaneers)
Contract situation and depth at defensive end made him an easy cut.
THE INJURY FRONT
Darren Sproles, RB – Sproles is returning for one final season after missing most of 2017 with a torn ACL and broken arm suffered simultaneously in Week 3. While he has stated he has regained the agility and explosiveness necessary to play at his prior level, a 35-year-old recovering from a major knee injury probably needs to be seen to be believed. Additionally, the landscape of the Philadelphia backfield has changed significantly, as Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement seem to have a firm grip on most of the touches, with Clement having even proven his pass-catching chops in the Super Bowl. The Kansas State product will have to prove he's his former self in order to recover his old scat-back niche fully.
Jordan Hicks, LB – Hicks tore his Achilles in Week 7 of last season, and, like his quarterback, the Texas product has always insisted he was ahead of schedule in his recovery. Week 1 is only about 10.5 months after the injury, and the linebacker participated in individual drills at OTAs, so it isn't much of a stretch to imagine him playing in the opener against the Falcons. What is a stretch, though, is the thought of Hicks playing all 16 games. Players in their first year off an Achilles tear typically miss some time, and Hicks in particular has missed half of two seasons so far in his three-year-career. Additionally, it usually takes a full year to regain prior performance, so prospective IDP owners might be better off waiting to invest until 2019.
Brandon Graham, DE – Graham suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 16 of last season but powered through the injury and made a game-sealing strip-sack in the Super Bowl. The eight-year vet had surgery to accelerate the healing process May 1, and while he missed OTAs, he has said he hopes to be ready for Week 1. However, unlike some of his teammates, the 30-year-old isn't insisting he's ahead of schedule and has refused to put a timeline on his recovery. Also in the equation as training camp opens is his contract status. The upcoming season will be the final year of his four-year contract, so the Michigan product has every motivation to make sure he is healthy and able to produce at his typical level.