Eagles NFL preview: Guys who must thrive

Brandon Boykin, CB

The versatile rookie is going to be counted on in a variety of ways. The third-rounder was one of the breakout stars in camp, stealing the nickel corner spot from longtime vet Joselio Hanson and showing breakaway speed on kick returns/special teams. With Boykin, the Eagles (already loaded with speed on both sides of the ball ) have another star in the making.

Phillip Hunt, DE

Hunt has been so impressive that when Jason Babin went down, he stepped right in with the No. 1 defense and only shouted his case louder as the team’s new sack master. The former CFL star (16 sacks in 2010) will be an integral part of Jim Washburn’s deep, deep pass-rushing rotation. Hunt is extremely explosive off the edge and could be looking at double-digit sack totals this season.

Bryce Brown, RB

Dion Lewis might still be listed as the backup to LeSean McCoy, but Brown is the one to keep an eye on this season. He’s flashed lightning quicks and sensational cutback ability, making a lot out of seemingly nothing many times this preseason, and he can catch the ball out of the backfield. In a league that loves two-back sets, Andy Reid would be wise to get Brown on the field as much as possible, not just to spell McCoy.

King Dunlap, OT

The giant-sized tackle came out of nowhere to steal the starting spot from Demetress Bell in the preseason and now it’s up to him to protect Mike Vick’s left side and seal off blocks for running back Shady McCoy. The Eagles have shown a lot of trust in a guy who the team seemed to be moving on from several times last season. Now, it’s up to Dunlap to reward that trust. His role increases significantly if Vick goes down, since Nick Foles is a righty.

Demeco Ryans, LB

The new middle linebacker is the guy everyone — front office, locker room, coaches — has appointed as the leader of the defense. Ryans struggled at times this preseason (remember the way the Steelers gobbled him up?) but he seemed to improve as he became more familiar with the scheme. If Ryans can be half the player he was in Houston, the Eagles will have their first real stud in the middle since Jeremiah Trotter.

Nnamdi Asomugha, CB

It’s kind of odd to fathom putting a guy who signed a $60 million contract in this pool, but he just hasn’t lived up to the paycheck in his one-plus year with the Eagles. Asomugha’s main highlight (lowlight) was colliding with a teammate and turning Victor Cruz into a superstar. He is supposed to be a lockdown, press corner but he seems to struggle with tracking the ball once it’s in flight. That can’t happen when you make that much bank. He needs to improve.

Fletcher Cox, DT

The Birds moved up three spots in the draft to take the mega-talented Cox, no rookie speed-rusher — especially not one in the Andy Reid era — has generated this much anticipation. Jim Washburn gushes whenever the kid’s name comes up. On draft day, he was practically drooling about Cox playing in his famed Wide-9. “When God made him, he made him to be in this system right here,” Washburn said. And Wash plans to use him (at both end and tackle) as much as any starter.

Riley Cooper, WR

Mike Vick has long shown a great chemistry with the third-year wideout, something they developed when they were sharing second-team reps. While Cooper continues to rehab from a broken collarbone, the Eagles may rely on him when he gets back as the big, goal-line target they never had. The fact that they cut rookie Marvin McNutt shows they still trust Cooper.

Damaris Johnson, WR

The speedy, undrafted rookie out of Tulsa arguably raised the most eyebrows at Eagles camp. He is deceivingly fast, uses his blockers well and knows how to get good separation. His primary role will be as DeSean Jackson’s replacement on punt returns, but don’t be surprised to see him in there for a few gadget plays.

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