While preseason games may not matter in terms of winning and losing, there are still plenty of reasons to tune in for the exhibition matches. The New England Patriots currently have several players battling for limited positions, and quite a few players have come out of nowhere to challenge established veterans for their spots on the roster. Here’s what to watch for when the Patriots take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday.
What to Watch For: New England Patriots vs Philadelphia Eagles
Ralph Webb and the Running Game
The New England Patriots have remained healthy throughout training camp, with the lone exception of the running back position. Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead, and now Jeremy Hill have all missed practice time with various injuries. While all three are expected to be healthy sooner rather than later, someone needs to step up in the short term.
If the preseason opener was any indication, undrafted running back Ralph Webb will be the one to answer the call. Webb had a fantastic debut, but he did all of his damage against the bottom of the Washington Redskins depth chart. Expect Webb to get a chance with the first-team offense, and earn the chance to show that his success wasn’t a one-game fluke.
Who Will Play Wide Receiver?
Right now, the frontrunners appear to be Cordarrelle Patterson and Kenny Britt. Patterson only recorded two receptions in the first preseason game, but both were absolutely fantastic. His first catch came on a pass that Brian Hoyer sailed, and the second was a magnificent juggling catch along the sideline.
Kenny Britt missed the first preseason game with a hamstring injury, but is back practicing and could easily put his claim on the starting job. Britt has the highest upside of any receiver on the roster and is just two seasons removed from being a 1,000-yard receiver.
Don’t look for the newly signed Eric Decker to make an impact. Decker has reportedly struggled in just about every aspect since joining the club. He’s clearly lost a step in his advanced age and has reportedly been dropping nearly every pass thrown his way. It was worth kicking the tires on Decker, but it doesn’t look like there’s any gas left in the tank.
Who Will Play Cornerback?
While the Patriots don’t have enough bodies at wide receiver, they may have too many at cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is the unquestioned starter, but New England boasts a series of borderline number two and number three cornerbacks.
Jason McCourty, Eric Rowe, J.C. Jackson, and Ryan Lewis have all made strong cases to start. While McCourty looked like the odd-man out as recently as last week, it appears his fortunes are on the rise. The 10th-year starter has recently practiced with the starting defense in training camp, implying he’s rising up the depth chart. With Jonathan Jones and Duke Dawson manning the slot, there may not be room on the roster for all four aforementioned names. Each player certainly belongs on an NFL roster, but they might not fit on this one. This should be one of the more furious position battles in the coming weeks.