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2021 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Last updated: Sun, Sep 5

Offensive Philosophy

The Eagles underwent a complete rebuild, much sooner than fans expected, just three years removed from a Super Bowl championship. After going 13-3 and winning the title, the Eagles backslid to 9-7 for two seasons before the wheels came off last year at 4-11-1. Doug Pederson was fired, and Nick Sirianni was hired as his replacement. Sirianni spent three seasons alongside Frank Reich in Indianapolis and will bring the same system to Philadelphia. Reich's scheme uses multiple looks and emphasizes ball control. Sirianni promises a similar approach, but it remains unclear how good he and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen will be at reshaping an offense with plenty of question marks up and down the depth chart.


Starter: Jalen Hurts
Backup(s): Joe Flacco, Gardner Minshew

Starting QB: What a difference a year makes. When general manager Howie Roseman selected Jalen Hurts in the second round of the 2020 draft, no one saw it as a threat to Carson Wentz. But Wentz played horribly last year and lost his coach's confidence. Hurts stepped into the starting role for the final month but also struggled. The rookie was inconsistent, leading the team to a 1-3 record while completing just 52% of his passes. What he lacks in accuracy, he makes up for in mobility. Hurts ran for 354 yards and three touchdowns last season in four games of work. Despite his struggles, the organization appears set to give Hurts a full-season tryout in 2021. Few teams have a wider range of outcomes this year. If Hurts feels comfortable in Sirianni's system, he could lock up the starting job for years to come. More likely, he's a stopgap until the team drafts a new franchise player in 2022.

Backup QB: Joe Flacco, a local product from Delaware, signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal to serve as Jalen Hurts' backup. He had a solid preseason, but his hold on the No. 2 role is in question following a late August trade for Gardner Minshew. Minshew is just 23 years old and has 20 NFL starts on his resume, and was "competing" for the Jaguars starting role until late in camp.

Running Backs

Starter: Miles Sanders
Backup(s): Kenneth Gainwell [R], Boston Scott

Starting RB: Miles Sanders should be the centerpiece of the new coaching staff's rebuild. Over his first two seasons, he's proven capable of shouldering the load both as a punishing inside runner and an explosive open-field threat. The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder has excellent vision and balance and averaged an impressive 5.3 yards per rush last year despite routinely facing stacked lines because of the team's non-threatening receiving corps. The new coaching staff made it clear Sanders is the No. 1 tailback and treated him with kid gloves all preseason because he had nothing to prove.

Backup RBs: Boston Scott has carved out a valuable role as the team's No. 2, averaging 5.6 yards per touch last season on route to 586 yards and two scores. What Scott lacks in size, he makes up for with good vision and an extra gear to get outside of opposing linebackers. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell is more of a receiving threat than a natural between-the-tackles runner and could quickly displace Scott as Sanders' backup.


Wide Receivers

Starters: Jalen Reagor, DeVonta Smith [R], Quez Watkins
Backups: Greg Ward, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Starting WRs: After ranking 31st in yards in 2019, improving the receiving corps was the No. 1 priority last offseason. It didn't work. As a unit, the receivers had 2,082 yards and 14 touchdowns -- third-worst in the league. Alshon Jeffery is gone, as is DeSean Jackson. Jalen Reagor returns as a starter, but the second-year pro has much to prove after a failed rookie campaign. Last year, the former TCU speedster was selected with the 22nd pick, ahead of Tee Higgins, Justin Jefferson, Brandon Aiyuk, and Laviska Shenault. Their success added salt to the wound of his struggles. But one season does not make a career, and the hope is Reagor will thrive under Nick Sirianni's watch. DeVonta Smith will not only start immediately, he's clearly the team's top option. Much has been made of Smith's diminutive stature -- he's only 165 pounds -- but the Alabama star won the Heisman Trophy, and his film shows zero flaws. The Eagles hope they have the next Marvin Harrison on their roster. Quez Watkins, a sixth-round pick last year, was the surprise of the preseason. Once viewed as a one-dimensional vertical threat, Watkins showed up to camp a completely different player. One strong week led to another and eventually earned him a starting role.

Backup WRs: Greg Ward returns as a reliable possession receiver who plays well in tight spaces and isn't afraid of contact. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside outlasted Travis Fulgham in the battle for the final spot.

Tight Ends

Starters: Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz
Backups: Jack Stoll, Tyree Jackson [Injured]

Everyone thought Zach Ertz had played his final snap in Philadelphia, but barring a last-minute trade, he's not only going to remain an Eagle, but he could lead the position in targets. The veteran was upset when the front office wouldn't give him a contract extension last year, but he put his differences aside and had a masterful training camp. He's healthy, and was Jalen Hurts' favorite target in high-leverage situations. Dallas Goedert has all the physical tools to be a dominant playmaker, but he lacks the consistency to displace Ertz. In three years, Goedert has 137 receptions for 1,465 yards and 12 touchdowns. Solid? Sure. But evocative of Ertz? Not even close. At his best, Goedert can leverage his 6-foot-5, 256-pound frame to outmuscle defensive backs down the seam. But his route running leaves much to be desired, and he suffers from lapses in concentration.

Place Kicker

Jake Elliott: Only Mason Crosby had fewer field goal attempts among kickers who played 16 games than Elliott, but Crosby also had 63 extra point attempts to Elliott's 26. The Eagles have never given Elliott more than 31 field goal attempts in a season. The Eagles may not lead the league in fourth down attempts with Pederson gone, but that will only incrementally improve Elliott's prospects and still keep him well outside of the draftable kicker zone on our boards.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Quez Watkins, Kenneth Gainwell [R]

Quez Watkins had a summer for the ages. He entered training camp on the roster bubble and exited as a starter on offense and the lead kickoff returner. Rookie Kenneth Gainwell is well-suited for kickoff returns, too, and could be used regularly in the role if Watkins thrives on offense.

Punt Returners: Jalen Reagor, DeVonta Smith, Greg Ward

Reagor gets first crack as punt returns this year, but he'll have to excel quickly as the team has other viable options. DeVonta Smith was electric as a collegiate returner, but the thought is he's too valuable offensively to risk as a returner save for the occasional high leverage situation. Greg Ward has experience in the role but lacks the game-breaking speed which typifies the best at the position.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Jordan Mailata, LG Isaac Seumalo, C Jason Kelce, RG Brandon Brooks, RT Lane Johnson
Key Backups: OT Andre Dillard, OG Landon Dickerson [R], OL Nate Herbig, OT Brett Toth

This group was hit hard by injury last season, with only left guard Isaac Seumalo avoiding the reserve list. The big news is former Australian rules footballer Jordan Mailata winning the left tackle role with a dominant camp, pushing Andre Dillard into a swing tackle role. Center Jason Kelce remains a Pro Bowl starter. Right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson can still be effective starters. If this unit can shake off last year's injury woes, it has elite potential.

Team Defense

The first domino to fall in the offseason was long-time coordinator Jim Schwartz "retiring." The defense played poorly last year, finishing 20th in points allowed and 19th in yards allowed. An aging nucleus coupled with an ungodly rash of injuries left the secondary susceptible to big plays. New defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon has enormous shoes to fill, but his inexperience leaves more questions than answers. Gannon has never coordinated a defense before but did steward under Matt Eberflus and Mike Zimmer, so he's well-credentialed. Based on what the Colts did, expect the Eagles' approach to change dramatically in the secondary. Rather than being in man coverage most of the time, expect zone predominantly. Up front, expect a lot more blitzing and disguised looks, with the front seven being asked to drop into coverage or rush the passer interchangeably.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Derek Barnett, DT Fletcher Cox, DT Javon Hargrave, DE Brandon Graham
Backups: DE Ryan Kerrigan, DT Milton Williams [R], DT Hassan Ridgeway, DE Josh Sweat

Starting DL: Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox remain the cornerstones of the defensive front, but both are on the wrong side of 30 and best served to play slightly reduced snap counts. Cox is still a preeminent interior disruptor, but he's coming off his first "good not great" season of his storied career. Was it a down season or an indication of declining abilities? Graham seems to have found the fountain of youth. Graham was a top-10 edge defender last year at the ripe age of 33 and showed no signs of slowing down. Derek Barnett lines up opposite Graham but has been a disappointment. He's got 19.5 sacks in four seasons and played less than half the snaps last year. The team needs Barnett to get more pressure off the edge than five sacks per season; it's just not good enough. Javon Hargrave is the X-factor. After a top-10 season in Pittsburgh, he signed with Philadelphia but missed the first month with an injury. The good news is he finished the year on a high note and looked like the disruptive two-way interior force the team thought they were getting.

Backup DL: The vaunted defensive line depth that characterized Jim Schwartz' run has given way to a group of questionable situational contributors, which explains why the front office added three rookie linemen in the draft and signed another as a priority rookie free agent. Milton Williams is a physical specimen seen as a 'tweener' by many scouts, but at 6-foot-3, 284 lbs. Williams fits in well with the versatility new coordinator Gannon covets. He should earn a role in the line rotation quickly. Josh Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan are capable of double-digit sacks with full-time roles, and should wreak havoc in their current situational spots.


Starters: OLB Alex Singleton, MLB Eric Wilson, OLB Genard Avery
Backups: LB Davion Taylor, LB T.J. Edwards, LB Patrick Johnson [R], LB Shaun Bradley

Starting LBs: The team enters 2021 with its best linebacker unit in a decade. For a few years, Eric Wilson was a part-time contributor in Minnesota before posting a monstrous 2020 season; 122 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions. He's playing on a one-year deal but is already the team's best linebacker and could get a multi-year extension if he stays healthy. Genard Avery, acquired from the Browns, has just 58 career tackles in three seasons but held off a host of younger alternatives this summer. Alex Singleton was impressive in his first year as a starter, amassing 120 tackles, a pair of sacks, and an interception.

Backup LBs: Middle linebacker T.J. Edwards played well in 12 games. Although he didn't amass big stats in the box score, he made sound decisions and kept the rest of the defense well-positioned as the signal-caller. Davion Taylor is a highly pedigreed youngster with starting potential, but he needs to get healthy after missing most of the preseason.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Avonte Maddox, SS K'Von Wallace, FS Anthony Harris, CB Darius Slay, CB Steven Nelson
Backups: CB Zech McPherson [R], S Rodney McLeod, S Marcus Epps, CB Andre Chachere

Starting DBs: As the league becomes more pass-happy, it seems nearly every team is in constant pursuit of better defensive backs. The Eagles are no different, as last year's "can't miss" signing of Nickell Robey-Coleman missed, and Avonte Maddox endured a baptism by fire. Darius Slay was inconsistent in his first year as an Eagle but remains an above-average No. 1 cover corner. Avonte Maddox graded out as the worst cornerback in the NFL last year but somehow held off the competition to remain the Week 1 starter as the nickel back. Anthony Harris comes over from Minnesota after his worst season. Still, he was one of the league's best safeties in 2018 and 2019 and had an excellent preseason. Howie Roseman smartly signed veteran Steven Nelson to a one-year, $4 million deal days before camp, and he stepped in and locked up the starting spot opposite Slay.

Backup DBs: Rodney McLeod was once among the league's most feared defensive backs, but injuries have derailed his impact. Rookie Zech McPherson looked like a future star early in the preseason but came back to earth over the last few weeks.