The return of NFL football kicks into full gear this week and begins with a battle between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers. Preseason games are a time for teams to find out exactly who will be playing for them, whether it be specialists, rotational guys, or full time starters. Below, PFF’s team of analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch during today’s game.
Coverage by: Mike Alessandrini
Position Battle: Mack Hollins/Shelton Gibson, WR
Unlike last season, the team fields a deep and competitive receiving corps heading into 2017. While free agent additions Alshon Jeffery, and Torrey Smith will probably see limited snaps, there are a number of players fighting for roster spots behind them.
Philadelphia drafted two wideouts this past April: fourth-rounder Mack Hollins and fifth rounder Shelton Gibson. Hollins, a former UNC Tar Heel, is a big-bodied pass catcher that the team is quite high on. Gibson has struggled mightily with drops thus far in training camp, so the he will be looking to build confidence tonight. The former West Virginia Mountaineer led the FBS with 728 receiving yards on deep passes without dropping a target.
Position Battle: Jalen Mills/Patrick Robinson/Ron Brooks, CB
Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson and Ron Brooks are the team’s top three corners entering this game, but the trio have failed to stand out this summer. Mills earned the lowest overall grade at his position as a rookie, also allowing the highest yards per coverage snap (2.07) among cornerbacks. Robinson endured a rough 2016 in Indianapolis, battling poor play and various injuries. Brooks was limited to just six games during his first year in Philadelphia.
Rookie Rasul Douglas will also receive significant playing time in hopes of impressing in his first taste of NFL game action. Opposing quarterbacks had a passer rating of just 43.5 when targeting the third-round selection in 2016. Youngsters C.J. Smith, Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White are sure to garner plenty of looks as well.
Derek Barnett, ED
All eyes will be on the Eagles’ top pick in his first career NFL game. Barnett was our second-highest FBS graded edge defender last season and his 91.3 pass-rushing grade ranked first. His 78 total pressures in 2016 ranked him second among all NCAA edge defenders.
Corey Clement, RB
With veterans at the position expected to rest, the door is open for Clement make a good first impression on his coaches. The undrafted free agent was a power runner at Wisconsin, accumulating 870 yards after contact (13th most in FBS) while forcing 47 missed tackles on rushes. Clement is hoping his strong training camp to date leads to an impact debut.
Nathan Gerry, LB
After thriving as a box safety at Nebraska, Gerry is making the switch to linebacker to emphasize his strengths. The fifth-round selection ranked fourth in run stop percentage among safety prospects with a draftable grade from PFF. His 90.7 coverage grade was second-best in the country among FBS safeties.
Coverage by: Sam McGaw
Position Battle: Jeff Janis/ Geronimo Allison/DeAngelo Yancey, WR
Veterans Jeff Janis and Geronimo Allison and rookies DeAngelo Yancey and Malachi Dupre are battling for the jobs. Janis and Allison started one game apiece last season. Allison averaged 1.5 yards per route run in 2016, while Janis averaged 0.61. Yancey, a fifth-round pick out of Purdue, was one of the top deep threats in the Big 10 last season. He caught 10 passes that were targeted 20-plus yards downfield for 449 yards and six touchdowns. He averaged 1.74 yards per route run. Dupre, a seventh-round selection, was LSU’s leading receiver over the past two seasons. He averaged 2.56 yards per route run last season, which ranked 27th in this year’s class.
Trevor Davis and Max McCaffrey are also in the mix for playing time. Davis played 117 offensive snaps last season. McCaffrey recorded 15 snaps throughout his preseason in Oakland a year ago. He was signed to the Packers’ practice squad in late December.
Jamaal Williams, RB
Williams is a powerful runner that does a good job of keeping his balance through contact. He avoided being tackled on first contact on 32.7 percent of his runs in 2016. He picked up 779 yards after contact last season, which ranked 22nd in the FBS. His elusive rating of 77.0 ranked 14th among FBS running backs that earned a minimum of 177 carries. In total, the Packers have five rookies behind Montgomery, including fifth-round pick Aaron Jones (UTEP) and seventh-round pick Devante Mays (Utah State).
Kevin King, CB
King, the No. 33 pick overall out of Washington, will need a strong preseason to stake his claim for a starting job as the rookie has struggled in coverage throughout camp. King allowed an average of 0.87 receiving yards per coverage snap last season. Quarterbacks targeting him last season averaged an NFL passer rating of 55.6.
Josh Jones, S
Jones, who was selected late in the second round out of NC State this year, made a huge impression at the NFL Combine, and last season, he registered 35 total stops, including 23 against the run. His 6.8 run-stop percentage ranked 11th among FBS safeties. While Jones was strong against the run, he still had his tackling issues. He missed 13 tackles last season, which ranked him 61st among FBS safeties in tackling efficiency.