Travis Fulgham has been the revelation of the 2020 Eagles season. The potential Jordan Mailata, the former rugby player who never played football until he was 21, is the most intriguing offensive line story since the Eagles used a first-round pick on an aspiring firefighter.
Midway through a make-or-break season, three years removed from a Super Bowl, running a team that defines mediocrity, general manager Howie Roseman gets no credit for either of these players – neither the Fulgham Phenomenon nor the Mialata Miracle. None.
Fulgham is a second-year receiver who played 63 snaps for the Lions last season and caught zero passes before the Lions, and then the Packers, cut him. He has 29 catches for 435 yards and four touchdowns since he was signed off the Eagles' practice squad Oct. 3. Sounds like a savvy stash-and-cash move, right? Don’t be fooled.
Roseman cut Fulgham out of training camp. Meanwhile, Roseman not only kept JJ Arcega-Whiteside on the roster but he also saved a roster spot for his pet veteran, Alshon Jeffery, instead of keeping Jeffery on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Jeffery would have come off the PUP list for Game 7. He has not played yet. Arcega-Whiteside, Roseman’s second-round pick last season, has two catches for 45 yards on five total targets, plus a 2-point conversion catch – less production than any single game in which Fulgham has played. Imagine where the 3-4-1 Eagles might be if Fulgham had gotten JJAW’s 62 snaps in the first three games.
But Fulgham was on the practice squad for the Eagles' first three games. They lost to Washington and the Rams, then tied the Bengals, and JJAW contributed zero catches, and Jeffery didn’t dress. Fulgham finally played in Game Four, when they upset the 49ers on the road. He caught two passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Mailata hasn’t been as prolific, but one day he might be. A 6-foot-8, 350-pound freak of athleticism and wit, has played passably well at both tackle spots as a backup. If Roseman had known Mailata was this good, Roseman wouldn’t have used a fourth-round pick on Jack Driscoll (that’s OK, we love mid-round line picks), and Mailata wouldn’t have had to wait for essentially every other lineman in team history to get his chance. As it is, Mailata was going to be benched behind 38-year-old Jason Peters in Sunday’s win over Dallas if Lane Johnson had been healthy. Peters has missed half of the Eagles' eight games with injury, and he almost had to leave the Dallas game twice.
So, who gets the credit for the Fulgham Phenomenon? First-year receivers coach Aaron Moorehead for getting him ready, head coach Doug Pederson for calling plays for Fulgham, and Carson Wentz, for trusting Fulgham to make plays.
Who gets credit for Mailata? Offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland, who discovered Mailata, who demanded he be drafted, and who has coached him every minute of his brief NFL career.
Credit coach Doug Pederson, or personnel chief Andy Weidl, or Dom the Security Guy – anybody but Roseman. His misevaluation of these two players and his mismanagement of the roster as it relates to them indicates that he often doesn’t understand the talent he has on hand, as was the case in 2019, with running back Boston Scott and receiver Greg Ward, who languished on the practice squad as the team foundered.
Roseman gets blame for these and other roster issues, too.
But eventually, perhaps begrudgingly, Howie also gets credit for a couple of major moves.
Nate Gerry & Co.: It’s a hell of a stance to take in a town that still loves Seth Joyner, but the Birds simply do not prioritize the linebacker spot. Before this year they hadn’t drafted a linebacker higher than the fifth round since 2015, when they took Jordan Hicks, and this year’s rookies – third-rounder Davion Taylor and sixth-rounder Shawn Bradley – can’t get on the field. Of the 22 linebackers who have played at least 450 snaps, Nate Gerry ranks 22nd, according to profootballfocus.com, and he’s 47th among the 60 linebackers with at least 250 snaps. Teams target him ... and he’s a converted safety they drafted in the fifth round in 2017.
Jalen Mills: The Eagles sold Mills as a suitable replacement for safety Malcolm Jenkins even though Mills would be converting from cornerback, where he played with little distinction his first four seasons. The Green Goblin plays as hard as ever, but his lack of speed and his dull instincts get exposed even more when he’s playing safety.
Nate Herbig: Herby ranks 30th among guards who have taken at least 250 snaps (he’s taken 569 and played every snap of the season), according to profootballfocus.com. Thirtieth might not sound all that impressive, but there are two guards on 32 NFL teams, so that puts him right in the middle of a pretty big pack. This is a fantastic result for a second-year, undrafted free agent. This is where general managers prove their worth.
Roseman has been ripped recently for not stockpiling viable depth on his offensive lines. Herbig provides an excellent example of identifying a promising player who can develop into a proficient NFL lineman. Carson Wentz follows Herby’s 335-pound bulk on his quarterback sneaks.
Boston Scott: The Eagles found Scott on the Saints' practice squad, nurtured him for a year, then saw him blossom in 2019 as part of their own practice-squad posse that pushed them to the playoffs down the stretch. Roseman kept Scott in the role of Sanders' backup. In the three games Sanders has missed due to injury, Scott has gained 151 rushing yards on 36 carries, a 4.1-yard average, and he’s caught seven passes for 74 yards, including the last-minute, game-winning score to beat the Giants two weeks ago.
Darius Slay: Roseman raised eyebrows in March when he traded a third- and fifth-round picks in the 2020 draft for Slay, a 29-year-old cornerback, then signed Slay to a three-year, $50 million extension. Slay travels the opposition’s best receiver, tackles like a fiend, and, so far, has been worth both the picks and the cash.
DeSean Jackson isn’t fair game; his unwise acquisition and payment happened last season and was inescapable in 2020. Neither is Peters, an emergency addition after Roseman and his brain trust determined that Matt Pryor wasn’t a good bet to replace Brandon Brooks at right guard (Peters has actually played left tackle when healthy due to Andre Dillard’s injury and Pryor has played passably well). When fourth-round rookie Jack Driscoll filled in for Lane Johnson at right tackle he showed the potential to make Roseman look very smart, but Driscoll’s ankle injury keeps his grade incomplete.
As for Jalen Hurts – the rookie backup quarterback on whom Roseman controversially used a second-round pick to run gadget plays – he’s been a weapon already, and seems like a sound NFL prospect. QBs come at a premium, so Hurts' presence doesn’t factor into Roseman’s final midseason grade: