Every year, somebody emerges from the shadows and becomes a “key” player for the Philadelphia Eagles. A couple of seasons ago, it was quarterback Nick Foles. Last year, players like cornerback Avonte Maddox and Cre’Von LeBlanc stepped up and stabilized a position in need.
Who will it be in 2019? Here is a handful of candidates.
Jordan Mailata, right tackle
The out-of-nowhere (actually, Australia) draft pick from a year ago who never, ever played the game of football now has a full year of education under his belt. He’s a freak of an athlete at 6-8, 360 pounds and while Mailata is still raw and he’s still a project, he has a much better feel for the game. He can handle all of the athletic parts of the game; it’s the mental game that remains a challenge. But Mailata is getting it. He has clearly made positive strides – that much has been evident watching him in the spring practices – and we’ll know just how close he is to contributing when the pads go on in the summer. Mailata is certainly a player to watch with this team.
Zach Brown, linebacker
Signed as an unrestricted free agent after the NFL Draft, Brown is an accomplished player, a tackling machine and someone who fits into a position that was a question mark prior to his arrival. With a big, strong defensive line in front of him, Brown is going to have a chance to stay clean from blockers and find the football a lot this season. He could be a big, big addition to the defense.
Corey Clement, running back
Have your forgotten about Clement, a star from the Super Bowl LII victory in his rookie season? Clement suffered a serious knee injury last year and then the Eagles went out and traded for Jordan Howard from Chicago and drafted Miles Sanders from Penn State and nobody talks about Clement. But he’s the team’s best pass protector and pass receiver from a backfield position and Clement is going to have a chance to round out a group that has been upgraded in a big way from 2018.
Charles Johnson, wide receiver
The Eagles are Johnson’s sixth NFL team since he was a Green Bay seventh-round draft pick in 2013. What a wild, crazy journey it’s been for Johnson, who in 2014 was starting for Minnesota by the end of the season and produced 31 receptions, 475 yards and a pair of touchdowns. For whatever reason, Johnson hasn’t been able to stick with a team. He’ll have that chance with the Eagles at a position that has been significantly upgraded with the additions of DeSean Jackson and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside to go along with Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor.
Daeshon Hall, defensive end
Chris Long and Michael Bennett, two of the team’s three leading quarterback-sack producers last season, are gone. The Eagles have Derek Barnett and Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, but they’re going to need more than three ends in a marathon season. Hall was a third-round draft pick by Carolina a few years ago and he’s long, quick off the ball and he has a natural ability to rush the quarterback. The Eagles are going to need pass-rushing help on both sides and on the inside. Hall has a chance to be sneaky-good in a scheme that plays to his skill set. ••