PHILADELPHIA -- Expectations are the highest for the Philadelphia Eagles in decades, expected for an organization coming off a Super Bowl appearance with a franchise quarterback that hasn't turned 25 yet. The Eagles have a talented roster and are one of the top teams in the NFC, revamping a Super Bowl-caliber roster with a strong draft of players that should contribute immediately.
Philadelphia only had six practice sessions, part of Nick Sirianni's approach of lightening the workload (which has worked during the season). Therefore it's hard to gauge which players stood out in the OTA sessions, especially voluntary ones where a fair number of players didn't participate.
With some of the veterans sitting out, young players were given an opportunity to impress the coaching staff. These were the players that stood out in the open practices -- and ones to monitor when the team reports to training camp on July 25.
Christian Elliss (LB)
If there's any player that raised their stock in minicamp, it's Elliss. The special teams standout from the final third of the season, Elliss had two interceptions and a pass breakup in the two open practices. Elliss was on the second team at linebacker early in OTAs, but was up on the first team next to Nakobe Dean in the final open practice.
With an opening on the first team at linebacker, Elliss is in the mix to compete with Nicholas Morrow for the starting job. Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor are also in the competition, but Elliss moved up the depth chart with his performance in OTAs.
Mekhi Garner (CB)
There's always an undrafted free agent that stands out in minicamp and training camp. Garner is the early front runner to compete for a roster spot at cornerback. The LSU product had a nice interception covering Olamide Zacchieus in 7-on-7 drills, even doing a bit of an excessive celebration for his accomplishment.
Making the team at cornerback will be tough. The Eagles have Darius Slay and James Bradberry starting, with Avonte Maddox in the slot and fourth-round draft choice Kelee Ringo. Philadelphia also signed Greedy Williams and have Zech McPhearson, Josh Jobe, and Josiah Scott in the fold.
If Garner is going to make the team, he'll have to beat out McPhearson or Jobe.
Trey Sermon (RB)
Hard to gauge what running backs can accomplish in OTAs, given that the majority of the reps are 7-on-7s. Sermon stood out because Nick Sirianni brought him up unprompted on the final day of minicamp.
Sermon is in the mix for playing time at running back. The Eagles have a deep running back room with Rashaad Penny, D'Andre Swift, Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, and Sermon. It's possible Philadelphia could keep all five, but the Eagles made sure they kept Sermon around all last season -- even though he played just two games.
A teammate of Jalen Hurts at Oklahoma before transferring to Ohio State, Sirianni says his running back room is a good problem to have as a coach. Don't count out Sermon in the running back mix.
DeVonta Smith (WR)
Crazy to think Smith can be even better in 2023 after a season which he recorded 95 catches for 1,196 yards and seven touchdowns. Smith looked impressive in the one open OTA practice he participated in, using a double move to score a deep touchdown in 7-on-7s and running crisp routes with the first team offense.
The connection between Smith and Jalen Hurts has gotten even better, which comes from years with the Eagles and previously at Alabama. Don't be surprised if Smith has a huge 2023 season.
Sydney Brown (S)
Brown is a serious contender for a starting safety job, which currently belong to Reed Blankenship and Terrell Edmunds. The third-round pick wasn't with the first team in OTAs, but was making his presence felt when he was on the field.
Brown wasn't just getting his feet wet, making sure he was getting noticed on the field by outworking his competition and flying from sideline to sideline. That caught the attention of Edmunds, who thinks Brown.
Expect Brown to get a lot of looks in the preseason. He could be starting Week 1 if he beats out Blankenship or Edmunds.
Nolan Smith (EDGE)
Smith didn't stand out in any way in 7-on-7 drills, yet it's clear the Eagles have big plans for him in their defense. The Eagles dropped Smith into coverage while rotating edge rushers in on 7-on-7s, while having him rush the passer on another play.
Smith did play the "JACK" in Kirby Smart's defense at Georgia, dropping back into coverage one a few formations -- so this is nothing the rookie first-round pick can't handle. The Eagles can use Smith in an Haason Reddick-type role, which is who Smith models his game after.
Joseph Ngata (WR)
Ngata has been gaining notice with his tracking of the football and his contested catches on 50-50 balls, entering the picture as a contender for a wide receiver spot. An undrafted free agent out of Clemson, Ngata signed for $230,000 ($200,000 was guaranteed) and has an impressive frame of 6-3, 220.
The Eagles have A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith as roster locks, while Quez Watkins and Olamide Zaccheaus are battling for the No. 3 spot. Britain Covey is the favorite to make it as a punt returner, taking the fifth receiver spot.
Reed Blankenship (S)
Blankenship impressed as an undrafted free agent in training camp last season, parlaying an opportunity into starting on the first team at safety. Players like Blankenship are the reason undrafted free agents are worth paying attention to in the first place.
Blankenship didn't have any highlight plays in the open practices, but he didn't do anything to lose his spot either. He still has a lot of work to do to earn the starting job at safety (especially with Sydney Brown lurking), yet he still is keeping the mentality that earned him a roster spot last year.
There's a spot on this roster for Blankenship, who is going to have significant playing time in 2023. Whether that's on the first-or-second team will be decided this summer.