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Philadelphia Eagles Writers
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Nick Sirianni's first year was the tale of two halves. Expectations were low for the first-year head coach coming off a 4-11-1 season where the offense ranked 26th. But fans worried they went from bad to worse as the Birds started the season 3-6 but rallied to go 6-2 over the final two months, culminating in a surprise playoff berth. To Sirianni's credit, he correctly assessed the roster and committed to a run-heavy offense that played to Jalen Hurts' strengths. During the 3-6 start, the Eagles were 27th in pass attempts and 7th in rush attempts, scoring 25 points per game. In the 6-2 turnaround, the coaches put their egos aside and went with what worked - Philadelphia ranked 31st in pass attempts and 1st (by a wide margin) in rushing attempts, scoring more than 27 points per game. So will the blueprint in 2022 be more of the same? Will the Eagles lead the league in rushing attempts? While that's a possible outcome, the blockbuster draft-day trade to acquire A.J. Brown says otherwise. GM Howie Roseman not only acquired the young star receiver but signed him to a 4-year, $100-million contract - setting a new benchmark for receiver pay. The team has positioned itself well to make an aggressive move for a new quarterback next year if Jalen Hurts doesn't thrive in 2022. Armed with a talented receiving corps and solid offensive line, it's Hurts' time to shine or fail.
- Gardner Minshew, Ian Book
Is Jalen Hurts a good quarterback? Does he deserve a long-term contract as the centerpiece of Nick Sirianni's offense? We don't know yet, but it's evident the front office will give Hurts every opportunity to answer the question in 2022. Hurts enters 2022 as the unquestioned starter, and the front office did nothing in free agency or the draft to upset the apple cart. On the other hand, Howie Roseman has set the team up to make an aggressive move for a heralded rookie signal-caller in next year's draft if Hurts doesn't earn his keep. Statistically speaking, Hurts hasn't put up impressive numbers. Last season he ranked 29th in completion rate (61.3%), 15th in yards per attempt (7.3), 20th in TD-INT ratio, and 25th (3.7%) in touchdown rate. But what Hurts lacked in passing polish, he made up for on the ground; he led all quarterbacks in rushing yards (782) and rushing touchdowns (10). Philadelphia showed it can win a lot of games playing that way, but can it win playoff games against elite opponents without a credible passing attack? Adding A.J. Brown to the top of the pecking order ensures we're about to find out.
Gardner Minshew is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league and still has designs on being a starter again. He was effectively comfortable in his first season in Philadelphia, getting two starts and completely 41-of-60 passes for 439 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception. He boasts a 63.2% completion rate, 7.0 yards per attempt average, and a 4.8% touchdown rate in three seasons. His career 7% sack rate is a concern, as he often holds onto the ball too long trying to make plays.
The Eagles led the NFL with 2,715 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns. Although Jalen Hurts accounted for a chunk of the tally, the running backs were also highly effective as a unit. The unit ranked fifth (1,875) in rushing yards, third (4.8) in yards per rush, and tied for fifth (15) in touchdowns. The success was a collaborative effort as Miles Sanders led all backs with just 38% of offensive snaps. Sanders had 137 carries (two less than Jalen Hurts), 784 yards (30 less than Hurts), but scored zero touchdowns. It's hard to touch the ball 163 times in a season and not find the end zone. Sanders will assuredly score touchdowns this year, but the question with him has always been durability. And now two coaching staffs have learned he's ill-suited to a workhorse role. Durability aside, the 5-foot-11, 215-pounder has excellent vision and balance and should be the most productive member of a multi-back committee.
Kenneth Gainwell flashed at times during his rookie season but couldn't break out of a complementary role. He only played 27% of offensive snaps, and was on the field less than 40% of the time in all but two games. The good news is Gainwell touched the ball 101 times and scored six touchdowns. With the rookie jitters behind him, don't be surprised if Gainwell becomes more of a 1b to Sanders' 1a this season. Veteran Boston Scott returns as both a locker room mentor and a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency contributor. Trey Sermon was added to the mix after his unceremonious dismissal from the 49ers. His running style should be a better fit for the Eagles blocking scheme.
Thirteen months ago, the projected starters were Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and Travis Fulgham. Two NFL drafts and a trade later, and the starting trio is far more impressive. A.J. Brown, the dynamic alpha receiver who's been the centerpiece of the Titans playoff teams, was acquired in a draft weekend trade and immediately signed to a $100 million extension. The 24-year-old has 185 receptions, 2,995 yards, and 24 receiving touchdowns in three seasons despite playing in a run-heavy system and constantly commanding double teams. Brown is physically dominant, runs good routes, and attacks the ball in tight coverage. His presence allows DeVonta Smith to transition to the No. 2 role after being forced into the No. 1 position as a rookie. The former Heisman Trophy winner acquitted himself well in the lead role (64 receptions, 916 yards, and 5 touchdowns), and now gets to feast on No. 2 defensive backs, thanks to Brown. Quez Watkins rounds out the starting unit after an improbable emergence last season. Watkins worked hard, impressed the new coaching staff, and went from practice squad candidate to starter with a dominant training camp.
Zach Pascal comes over from Indianapolis and is a Nick Sirianni favorite. At 6-foot-2, 214 pounds, he offers a larger outside threat in 3WR and 4WR sets and, to his credit, has a better catch rate (58.1%), touchdown rate, and per-catch average (12.6) than the recently traded Jalen Reagor.
The Zach Ertz era finally ended last season, although it took a few months longer than expected. Most expected Ertz to be traded during the preseason, but he broke camp with the team and was on the field more than 60% of the time through six games. But Howie Roseman finally sent Ertz to Arizona, which finally gave Dallas Goedert the keys to the starting role. In four seasons, Goedert has been good, not great. Despite excellent size (6-foot-5, 256 pounds) and compelling measurables, Goedert rarely breaks big plays. But, he's reliable (71% catch rate) and hard to jam coming off the line. Although he's not a dominant blocker, he's gotten better and can now stay on the field in any game script. It's a wide open competition for the other roster spots. Jack Stoll is one of the best blocking tight ends in the league but has no offensive flair. Rookie Grant Calcaterra was a highly-pedigreed prospect at Oklahoma, but concussions led to his retirement. He returned to the gridiron last season and worked his way into a late-round selection. His concussion history is alarming, but he may be the Eagles' most gifted receiving option at the position.
- LT Jordan Mailata
- LG Landon Dickerson
- C Jason Kelce [Inj]
- RG Isaac Seumalo
- RT Lane Johnson
- T Andre Dillard, G Sua Opeta, C Cam Jurgens [R], G Josh Sills [R], T Jack Driscoll
Center Jason Kelce continues to play at an All-Pro level, although he underwent surgery in early August to repair his elbow and could miss the start of the regular season. The interior of left guard Landon Dickerson, Kelce and right guard Isaac Seumalo grades out among the league's best. Right tackle Lane Johnson has been among the best at his position for a while, and left tackle Jordan Mailata has Pro Bowl potential. Rookie center Cam Jergens (Second round, Nebraska) will learn under Kelce. The Eagles enter the season as the top-rated offensive line.
Elliott is fully entrenched after making all 44 of his extra point attempts and 30-of-33 field goal attempts, missing only from 40+ yards. That was good enough to finish ninth in scoring among kickers, although he had the fewest attempts (3) from 50+ yards of the top nine scoring kickers (he made all three). With the Eagles offense set to improve and Elliott sometimes not going in the top 6-8 kickers in early drafts, Elliott is a strong candidate to be your last-round or next-to-last-round kicker target.
Jalen Reagor was projected as the lead kickoff and punt returner all summer, but a late August trade to Minnesota upends things. Quez Watkins got reps with the kickoff return team in camp, and should be considered the top candidate unless the team promotes Britain Covey from the practice squad.
Jalen Reagor was projected as the lead kickoff and punt returner all summer, but a late August trade to Minnesota upends things. Kenneth Gainwell got reps with the punt return team in camp, and could be the solution unless the team promotes Britain Covey from the practice squad.
Jonathan Gannon's first season was a mixed bag as an NFL defensive coordinator. Critics point to the 18th-place finish in points allowed and an inability to stop playoff-caliber opponents. Supporters note the marked second-half improvement and how highly veteran players speak of Gannon and the system. Some fans wanted Gannon gone after a season, while others feared losing him to the Texans - where he was a finalist for the head-coaching vacancy. Ultimately, the Texans chose Lovie Smith, and Gannon returned. Continuity is generally a plus, particularly when it comes to a complicated scheme like the Cover-2 Gannon runs (similar to what his mentor Mike Zimmer ran in Minnesota). Although Gannon professes scheme flexibility, it's clear the system needs smart, versatile linebackers to operate. GM Howie Roseman believes he's solved that puzzle by acquiring Kyzir White in free agency and drafting Nakobe Dean - Georgia's defensive captain. The defense ranked 31st in sacks (29) last season while only blitzing 16% of the time (31st). Gannon seemed afraid of being overly aggressive last year but has to bring more pressure and trust the defensive backs to do their jobs on an island. The team added James Bradberry after the Giants released him post-draft, and they also took the best defensive tackle prospect in the draft (Jordan Davis). This defense could be a lot better this year with improvements at all three levels. They open with the Lions, Vikings, Commanders, and Jaguars, so they are definitely draftable and could be one of the best D/ST's of the first month of the season.
If continuity is king, the defensive line is in good shape as it returns all the key pieces from last season. But there's more uncertainty underneath the surface. Long-time leader Brandon Graham is 34 years old and coming off a torn Achilles, but he's been productive throughout the preseason. Fellow veteran Fletcher Cox was cut in the offseason as a procedural move but re-signed on a team-friendly deal. While he's no longer one of the two or three most disruptive interior defenders in the NFC, he's still a capable two-way defender. Josh Sweat played a career-high 62% of snaps last year and had 7.5 sacks. He may not play as much with Haason Reddick's addition, but Sweat is an asset on passing downs.Javon Hargrave is the one returning starter coming off a stellar season. The athletic interior defender put together a 63-tackle, 7.5-sack, 18-quarterback-hit season and looked comfortable lining up in any front.
The veteran starters may have question marks, but the Eagles have enviable depth and are well-positioned to infuse new blood into the rotation. Mammoth rookie Jordan Davis is far more athletic than his 340-pound frame should allow, and the coaches hope he'll be able to make high-leverage plays while only being on the field 300-400 snaps. Re-signing Derek Barnett was a surprise. The 6-foot-3, 259-pound veteran looks the part, but is coming off a two-sack season and has never had more than 6.5 sacks. Milton Williams and Tarron Jackson showed promise as rotational pieces last year; they could become starters in 2023 if the chips fall in their favor.
Two years ago, the linebacking unit was among the NFL's worst. This year it may be among the best. T.J. Edwards is the only returning starter from a year ago and thrived in Gannon's system. He played more than 60% of snaps and logged 130 tackles. Edwards doesn't fill up the box score with sacks or turnovers but is fundamentally sound and graded out as a top-10 linebacker, according to PFF. A pair of free agents - Kyzir White and Haason Reddick, will start in place of the departed Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton. White signed a team-friendly one-year, $3 million contract after four seasons in Los Angeles. White was a backup for much of his Chargers' tenure but became an impact starter last year, racking up 144 tackles, two interceptions, and a sack. Haason Reddick didn't come cheaply; he signed a 3-year, $45 million deal, including $30 million guaranteed. He commanded that money because of his pass-rush ability; he has 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Many were surprised Nakobe Dean was available in the third round of the draft, but rumors cropped up that he opted against having needed shoulder surgery. Only time will tell if his shoulder is sound, but Dean vehemently denied the speculation, and GM Roseman said the medical staff 'quadruple checked' Dean's health. If he's okay, Dean could easily earn a starting role eventually, but Edwards isn't going to cede the middle easilyi. Dean was the captain of arguably the best college defense in our lifetimes, and he wasn't merely the field general, he filled up the stat sheet. Dean won the Butkus Award, as a consensus All-American, had 72 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, two forced fumbles, two interceptions, and eight passes defensed. He's a smart, instinctive defender with a non-stop motor. Fellow rookie Kyron Johnson was a bright spot on an otherwise dismal Kansas defense but enters the league without a position. His future may be as a hybrid nickel contributor.
- CB Zech McPhearson, CB Josiah Scott, S K'Von Wallace, S Reed Blankenship [R], CB Josh Jobe [R]
Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox, return as starters. Slay was horrible in 2020 after the Eagles acquired him but enjoyed a renaissance under Coach Gannon. The 31-year-old delivered his best season and was as close to a lockdown corner as Philadelphia has seen since the days of Asante Samuel. Avonte Maddox is also coming off a career year after stepping into the nickel back role with aplomb. Veteran James Bradberry signed a one-year deal and likely steps into the other starting spot as Steven Nelson's replacement. Bradberry has a fantastic 2020 but regressed in 2021 and has been a league-average corner who struggles in single man for most of his career. Marcus Epps entered camp in a wide open competition for the starting role but zoomed past everyone else with a stellar summer. Veteran Anthony Harris started last year and was atop the depth chart all summer, but he was released on 53-man cutdown day and the front office traded for C.J. Gardner-Johnson from the Saints. Gardner-Johnson has graded out as one of the best nickel backs in the NFL over the last few years, and should be a significant upgrade to an already talented secondary.
Zech McPhearson was penciled in as a starter before the James Bradberry signing. But McPhearson had a bad camp and now has to focus on special teams. K'Von Wallace has only played 20% of snaps through two seasons and could be the secondary's Achilles heel if injuries force him back into the lineup.