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2021 Team Report: Philadelphia Eagles

Last updated: Wed, Jun 16

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 look to 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.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Jalen Hurts
Backup(s): Joe Flacco, Nick Mullens

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: A year ago, general manager Howie Roseman declared Philadelphia would be known as a "quarterback factory." Today, the team is left with Jalen Hurts, Joe Flacco, and Nick Mullens. Flacco, a local product from Delaware, signed on as Hurts' backup. Although he has a Super Bowl ring, he's been a below-average quarterback for much of his career. But his experience and leadership could set him up for spot starting duties, just as he did for the Jets last year in place of Sam Darnold. Mullens is recovering from offseason elbow surgery but had his moments as a backup in San Francisco

Running Backs

Starter: Miles Sanders
Backup(s): Kenneth Gainwell [R], Kerryon Johnson, Boston Scott, Jason Huntley, Jordan Howard, Adrian Killins Jr., Elijah Holyfield
Fullback(s):

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. While durability is a question mark, he enters training camp healthy and ready to emerge as one of the NFC's top tailbacks.

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. Jordan Howard returns after a failed stint in Miami but may have trouble finding a role with the acquisitions of Kerryon Johnson off waivers from Detroit and rookie Kenneth Gainwell. Johnson was thought of as an every down franchise back a few seasons ago, but injuries derailed the Lions' confidence. Gainwell is more of a receiving threat than a natural between-the-tackles runner, but could earn a role as the third-down back over Scott with a strong preseason.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Jalen Reagor, DeVonta Smith [R], Greg Ward
Backups: Travis Fulgham, Quez Watkins, John Hightower, Khalil Tate, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Jhamon Ausbon [R], Trevon Grimes [R]

Starting WRs: After ranking 31st in yards in 2019, improving the receiving corps was the No. 1 priority of 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. The former TCU speedster was selected with the 22nd pick last year, 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 -- now healthy -- will thrive under Nick Sirianni's watch. DeVonta Smith will have the opportunity to start immediately, and given the Eagles move to trade up in the draft for him, they're counting on instant productivity. 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. Greg Ward should be on the field in three-receiver sets. The former practice squad member has become an inspirational leader given his work ethic and positive perspective.

Backup WRs: Travis Fulgham came off the practice squad and looked like a breakout star for a few weeks last year. But his play regressed and the front office clearly wasn't comfortable relying on him in a regular role to start the season. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside is on the outside looking in, particularly if second-year pros Quez Watkins and John Hightower flourish in the new system. Neither Watkins nor Hightower showed much as rookies, but there are no guaranteed roles beyond Reagor's starting spot. Undrafted rookies Trevon Grimes and Jhamon Ausbon likely are practice squad bound.

Tight Ends

Starters: Dallas Goedert
Backups: Zach Ertz, Jason Croom, Caleb Wilson, Hakeem Butler, Tyree Jackson, Jack Stoll [R], Richard Rodgers

Has Zach Ertz played his last game as an Eagle? Many believe he'll be traded or released before training camp, which would cement Dallas Goedert as the full-time starter. While Goedert has his supporters, he's failed to live up to Ertz' productivity in three seasons. 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. That's not to say he doesn't have Pro Bowl upside, particularly if he's on the field for 80% of the snaps.

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: Boston Scott, Jason Huntley

Scott is merely adequate as a kick returner, but the Eagles don't have an obvious upgrade in the role unless Huntley, who was an explosive kick returner with five scores in college, makes the team.

Punt Returners: Greg Ward, Jalen Reagor, DeVonta Smith

Ward is about as unexciting as punt returners come, but the previous regime preferred him to Reagor, who popped one for a score from 74 last year. The new regime may prefer Reagor to Ward. Smith is an outstanding punt returner, but the team won't want to risk his health back there except in key situations, much in the way DeSean Jackson was used in the past.

Offensive Line

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

This group was hit hard by injury last season, with only left guard Isaac Seumalo avoiding the reserve list. Center Jason Kelce remains a Pro Bowl starter. Right guard Brandon Brooks and right tackle Lane Johnson can still be effective starters. Left tackle Andre Dillard should take this spot back from Jordan Mailata, who would be the swing tackle, focusing on replacing Johnson long term. If this line is healthy, it earns a top-five grade.

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 huge 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 Joe Ostman, DT Milton Williams [R], DT Hassan Ridgeway, DE Josh Sweat, DT Raequan Williams, DE Matt Leo, DE JaQuan Bailey [R], DT Ty McGill, DT Marlon Tuipulotu [R], DE Tarron Jackson [R]

Starting DL: Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox remain the cornerstones of the defensive front, but both are on the wrong side of 30 and are best served playing 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 shows 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 Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz's run has given way to a group of questionable situational contributors; which explains why the front office added three rookie lineman 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. Sixth rounders Marlon Tuipulotu and Tarron Jackson are developmental pieces who have traits worth developing over a season or two.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Alex Singleton, MLB T.J. Edwards, OLB Genard Avery
Backups: LB Davion Taylor, ILB Shaun Bradley, LB Eric Wilson, LB Joe Bachie, LB Rashad Smith, LB Patrick Johnson [R], LB Joe Bacchie, LB JaCoby Stevens

Starting LBs: After years of de-emphasizing the linebacking corps, the team enters 2021 with arguably its best unit in recent memory. Middle linebacker T.J. Edwards played well in 12 games. Although he didn't rack up big stats in the box score, he made sound decisions and kept the rest of the defense well-positioned as the signal-caller. Alex Singleton was equally impressive in his first year as a starter, amassing 120 tackles, a pair of sacks, and an interception. They'll be joined either by Genard Avery or Eric Wilson. Avery, acquired from the Browns, has just 58 career tackles in three seasons. Wilson comes over from the Vikings and is coming off a monstrous season; he logged 122 tackles, three sacks, and three interceptions.

Backup LBs: Shaun Bradley played sparingly as a rookie but looked great in limited snaps. He and Davion Taylor are highly-pedigreed young backers with starting potential. They probably won't get their chance this year barring injuries, but offer exciting, high-upside depth that's been sorely missed in the linebacking corps in prior seasons. Rookie Patrick Johnson was all-conference three seasons at Tulane, and had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss as a senior. It won't be surprising if he's in the starting lineup in 2022.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Avonte Maddox, FS Rodney McLeod, SS Anthony Harris, CB Darius Slay, CB Kevon Seymour
Backups: S Marcus Epps, CB Zech McPherson [R], CB Craig James, S K'Von Wallace, S Andrew Adams, CB Lavert Hill, CB Michael Jacquet, S Elijah Riley, CB Grayland Arnold, CB Shakial Taylor, CB Jameson Houston

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. Robey-Coleman is gone, with Kevon Seymour penciled in as the nickel back. It's more likely a rookie wins that spot once camp gets underway. 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 league last year but projects as a starter pending the NFL draft. Jalen Mills -- who thrived after converting to safety -- left in free agency and will be replaced by former Viking Anthony Harris. Harris is coming off his worst season but was one of the league's best safeties in 2018 and 2019. DC Gannon is betting on a rebound. Rodney McLeod is recovering from a torn ACL and isn't a lock to be ready for the season. Either Marcus Epps or K'Von Wallace will fill in while McLeod convalesces.

Backup DBs: Epps and Wallace are capable backups, and Wallace could emerge as a full-time starter in the next year or two. Rookie Zech McPherson won't be asked to start right away, but he could develop into a starter in the next season or two.