LAST year the Eagles went 9 – 8 and made the playoffs. The year started off with the team going 2 – 5. Then Head Coach Nick Sirianni started babbling about flowers, and how the team was flowers, and how flowers need to be watered daily, and we just knew that he was about to be fired. Instead, the players embraced their inner daffodils, and went on a 7 – 3 tear. What followed was a playoff exit so quick, that the Eagles should have just played the game in street clothes, with their luggage on the sideline. Should fans be excited about the Eagles immediate future, or was 2021 just fool’s gold?
With the NFL Draft just 13 days away, let’s get a look at the Eagles roster, as it stands today:
QB: Jalen Hurts (8 – 7, 61.3, 16/9) for all of his athleticism as a runner (784/5.6/10), he struggles with reading defenses and his timing. In fact, I called him a one read passer, months before anyone else began to talk about it. He can keep drives alive with his legs, but without being a better passer, he’s not maximizing his weapons, which by definition, is holding them back.
Gardner Minshew (1 – 0, 68.3%, 4/1) isn’t a back-up, he’s a second starter. His arm isn’t a rifle and isn’t laser accurate, but those same critiques have been made about the starter. Minshew is hyper-competitive and brings truckloads of swagger. Though he lacks Hurt’s mobility, Minshew can scoot and find the sticks when he needs to.
Though the two players at this position are different in their approaches, the overall effect (and we saw this in 2021 when Hurts was out), is that there isn’t a massive fall-off in efficiency, when either steps in. While this position isn’t remotely top ten, it gets the ball into the end zone reliably, and it’s super-stable. (+)
RB: Miles Sanders (754/5.5./0) didn’t score at all in 2022, but he was the second leading rusher on the team behind the QB, who had two more carries on the year than Sanders. Part of that was Sanders missing five games. The other part of that was that the QB wasn’t of much use if he wasn’t running.
The 5’6” 203 pound Boston Scott (373/4.3/7) was re-signed for some reason. His presence doesn’t make much sense, given that 5’9” 200 pound Kenneth Gainwell (291/4.3/5) is a younger, cheaper version of Scott, and he runs better routes. Also on the roster is 5’9” 193 pound Jason Huntley (70/3.9/0), whose game is also very Scott-like.
Last year when the Eagles run game terrorized the league, they had a powerback in Jordan Howard (406/4.7/3) to wear down defensive interiors. Howard is no longer on the roster, and the Eagles no longer have a physical runner on the roster. Without a physical runner, they will not see the run game dominate that way it did in 2021. (-)
WR: Devonta Smith (64/916/14.3/5) set the all-time Eagles mark for receiving yards by a rookie. His numbers however, are misleading. In nine games (HALF) he caught 3 or fewer balls. In eight games (HALF) he had 50 or fewer receiving yards. In seven games his catch percentage was 50% or lower. These are not the marks of a number one receiver. If you want to argue that Smith isn’t the problem, then be prepared to point out exactly who is.
Quez Watkins (43/647/15.0/1) saw 3 targets or fewer, in ten of the seventeen games he played. He had 50 or fewer receiving yards, fourteen times. The under-use of Watkins is nearly a crime. Speaking of crime, Jalen Reagor (33/299/9.6/2) continues to steal the Eagles money, and murder fan hopes.
Free agent addition Zach Pascal was added due to his familiarity with the Eagles coach, and system. Pascal isn’t a burner, and doesn’t have the best hands. While he may have been signed to add a veteran voice to the position, he doesn’t add an accomplished veteran voice. This position is a sloppy patchwork, and it needs some order put to it. (-)
TE: Dallas Goedert (56/830/14.8/4) Is the total package at TE. Not only is he a good in-line blocker, but he can also be a downfield threat. Jack Stoll (4/22/5.5/0) is a blocker who saw just 5 targets last year. If he can’t be developed into more of a receiving threat, his presence will make covering the other receivers easier.
Tyree Jackson (3/22/7.3/1) was making progress switching from QB to TE, then tore his ACL in the season finale. The Eagles love him, but he’ll likely be on I.R. into the season. Richard Rogers (2/11/5.5.0) was brought back (once again), to provide reliable depth as a receiver. (-)
OT: LT Jordan “IHOP” Mialata is just 24 years old. Massive, mobile, intelligent, and highly aggressive, Mialata is a people mover in the run game, and a brick wall in pass protection. RT Lane Johnson had another All-Pro season and even caught a 5 yard touchdown. The first of his career.
Andre Dillard was once thought of as a bust, now he’s seen as sort of a luxury. Dillard doesn’t supply Mailata’s physical dominance in the run game, but when asked to fill in, he was more than up to the task. Le’Raven Clark is sort of a reclamation project. He was allowed some bad habits in Indy, but the Eagles think they can be cleaned up and net the team a steal. (+)
G: LG Landon Dickerson spent his rookie season putting on a show. He was a huge part of why the Eagles led the NFL in rushing yards and rushing touchdowns. Jack Driscoll is a super-versatile, work-pail guy. He stepped in for the injured Isaac Seumalo, and had nine starts before his year ended on a high ankle sprain.
Nate Herbig isn’t the most athletic fellow, but he’s also not about to walked back into the QB. Sua Opeta is also serviceable. (+)
C: Jason Kelce is widely regarded as the best in the sport. Does that say enough? Depth? Jack Anderson is the back-up and he also plays G. (+)
In A Nutshell: The Offensive Line is the true engine of this unit. Ridiculously deep and versatile, it makes it possible for the team to platoon RB’s, trade TE’s mid-season, start a back-up QB, and still score without benefit of a well-conceived passing attack. There is no skill position that was upgraded during the offseason. (-)
DE: Josh Sweat tied for the team lead with 7.5 sack last year. In past years he’d been a productive blindside rusher. However, when Brandon Graham was injured, Sweat stepped into playing as the strongside rusher, and he seemed over-matched. The responsibilities switch and physicality seemed too much for him initially, but as the year wore on, he picked it up.
Derek Barnett is actually a solid football player. The problem with that, is that he wasn’t drafted merely to be “solid”. As a result, he’s not judged by what he produces, but instead by what he doesn’t produce. That said, while it makes total sense for the Eagles to draft an upgrade over him, it also made sense to bring him back for 2022.
Graham has never been a 10 sack player. So it’s only natural to wonder what he has left at 34, and coming off the torn Achilles tendon, that cost him 2021. He’s been very good at getting pressure, and even better at setting the edge vs the run game. Tarron Jackson would surprise me if he makes the active roster this year.
This position is the epitome of what plagues the Eagles. At this (and other) positions, they Eagles have tons of “good solid” players, and “good solid” locker room guys. What the Eagles need is a player who gets actual sacks, not just pressures. A player who destroys plays, not just disrupts them. This position needs an impact player. (-)
DT: He doesn’t get to the QB like he used to, but Fletcher Cox was brought back for one more year. Him being frequently double-teamed, at least opens things up for others. One of those others, is Javon Hargrave. Hargrave tied for team lead with 7.5 sacks, and had 18 QB hits (more than doubling his previous career high of 8). He also posted a career best 63 tackles, with 9 (career high) being for a loss.
Milton Williams started two games in 2021. Both were against Dallas. Now let us never speak of that again. I’m kidding. Actually if you look at his stat line in both games, you’ll see that his numbers reflected the growth in his game. For example, in the first game he was tentative and waited for help. In the second game…
Marlon Tuipulotu played like trash, with a side order of ass last year, but then again I said he would. He’s too slow off the line. Slow motion in college, means you will be a still picture in the NFL. The Eagles added Renell Wren to the roster. Wren is a reclamation project with an injury history. Cincinnati junked him, but the Eagles think they can restore him.
We’ll see. (+)
OLB: Free agents Haason Reddick and Kyzir White were given nice contracts to come back to the region. Reddick is from New Jersey, but he played football in Philadelphia, in the Eagles stadium, for the Temple Owls. White is from a suburb of Allentown PA, which (depending on traffic on 76), is about an hour and half from Philly. Both grew up being Eagles fans.
Reddick has 23.5 sacks over the last two seasons, and was signed to bolster the pass rush. While the Eagles have had ‘backers who could pass rush, they’ve never employed a designated one in a 4 – 3 system. So this is historic. White reads like a smaller (just 216 pounds), faster version of cast-off Alex Singleton. Sort of a run and chase player.
Davion Taylor was drafted as a third round project two years ago, and aside from durability issues (both seasons ended on I.R.), his play is coming along nicely. This position gives the Eagles a scary Nickel, and a rock-solid base rotation. Patrick Johnson is listed at this position, but really, at 248 he needs to add 7 to 12 pounds, and put his hand on the ground. (+)
MLB: T.J. Edwards is so underrated that it’s nearly a criminal offense. His 130 stops were just seven behind the Eagles all-time mark of 137, (set last year by Alex Singleton). Edwards had six games with double digit tackles, and is now the Eagles signal-caller. He had to fight for his role and he won it, no question.
Old rumor on Edwards, was that he’s more Tackle to Tackle, than sideline to sideline. Initially the Eagles seemed to be listening to that, and took him out during passing situations. Despite starting 6 of 8 games, he played about 34% of the defensive snaps, and the Eagles were 3 – 5 for their troubles. Once the Eagles (suddenly!) started leaving him on the field for 95% of the snaps, they went 6 – 2. Then they sat him (and the other starters) for the 21 – 56 loss to Dallas.
Shaun Bradley has become a core Special Teamer, but he doesn’t add much value as depth, due to the fact that he’s only played 131 defensive snaps in 2 years. Incidentally, he and Haason Reddick were college teammates. Davion Taylor also has some experience and value here. (+)
S: Culture change! With longtime mainstay, Rodney McLeod finding a new home in Indy, the Eagles are left with a number of question marks and short-term answers at this position. Expect to see the Eagles spend one of their first five Draft picks here. That said, let’s talk about who’s currently under contract.
Anthony Harris is returning after a less than stellar 2021. While he posted 72 tackles, he had just 1 interception and 3 passes defensed. Marcus Epps is the next most experienced player here, but he’s only started eight games in three seasons. Behind Epps, is K’Von Wallace with six career starts in two seasons. Jared Mayden has no starts in his one year career.
While Epps has shown flashes in limited opportunity, Wallace has seemed slow to pick-up on NFL football. Epps could be very good with more seasoning, but he likely won’t see that opportunity. (-)
CB: The Eagles have seventy of these guys on the roster, but let’s focus on just the top four. Darius Slay posted five takeaways, and three scores, while allowing just 33 receiving yards per game. The guy simply went berserk in 2021.
Zech MacPhearson played 179 defensive snaps as a rookie in 2021. He was targeted all of 17 times, only allowing 9 completions, for 96 yards. That’s 96 yards on 179 snaps. Opposing QB’s saw him out there and opted not to take their chances. He may be why the Eagles elected to let Steven Nelson stroll off into the wilderness.
Avonte Maddox had five starts in the Nickel, and contributed 1 pick and 2 forced fumbles across his 2021 campaign. Andre Chachere is a bigger, more physical Nickel. He allows catches, but he looks to deliver the big hit. Which is why his missed tackle percentage was so high (21.1). A position switch would suit his level of aggression.
The Eagles are still trying to add top-shelf FA talent here. That said, this team could go into Week One with these guys, and it would be a solid group already. (+)
In A Nutshell: Linebacker and pass rush were seen as trouble spots for this defense, and so both deficiencies were addressed. While talent at Safety is a question mark, the players have played in the system , so they’ll know where they need to be, and will know how to communicate. (+)
K: Jake Elliott went 30/33 (90.9%) kicking field goals. All of which were career highs. He was a perfect 3/3 from 50 yards and out. He also hit all 44 extra points. Clutch. (+)
P: Arryn Siposs was having a great 2021, then things got shaky for him down the stretch. In four of the last five games, he averaged under 40 yards per punt. On the season he averaged 43.9, which isn’t bad, but it should have been better. (+)
In A Nutshell: The Eagles can depend on their legs to help bring victories.
Offensively this team doesn’t scare anyone passing the ball, and they won’t be as dominant running it this year. Given that the Eagles did nothing talent-wise to improve the Offense so far, it’s going to be hard to supply any sense of urgency to players on that side of the ball.
Defensively, there were a couple of low key changes, with one being a clear upgrade. Also the return of Brandon Graham’s on-field leadership, should pay very high dividends. This side of the ball stands a real chance of being much improved in 2022.
Last year the Eagles got to face a number of weak teams at the end of the year. They made it to 9 – 8, and snuck into the playoffs. Good news everyone! The Eagles get to play the rest of NFC East again this year. Most of which has weakened. So 9 – 8 is not only possible for the Eagles, but likely. Honestly, they are a couple of lucky bounces away from 11 – 6.