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September 06, 2021

10 Eagles predictions heading into the 2021 NFL season

With the start of the Philadelphia Eagles' regular season just six days away, let's make predictions about how things will go in 2021. It can't be any worse than the 2020 season, right?

1) There will be continued ambiguity as to whether Jalen Hurts is "the guy."

There are many who feel that Jalen Hurts has one season to prove beyond doubt that he is "the guy" at quarterback for the Eagles, and that if he doesn't, the team will either trade for a star vet or select a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft. And if you think about it, that proving ground deadline is kind of unfair. Other quarterbacks around the league, like Josh Allen, for example, have been given ample time to grow into complete players. 

But it is what it is. The Eagles drafted Hurts in the second to be a competent backup to the injury-prone Carson Wentz, and then, yada yada yada, Wentz is gone and Hurts is what is left.

The Eagles were very clearly interested in Deshaun Watson, and may very well still be, but no trade materialized. The team refused to name Hurts the team's starter all throughout the entirety of training camp, even though he took literally every first-team practice rep.

Hurts' performance in camp was mostly up and down. It got off to a shaky start, but his accuracy improved as the summer wore on, and his command of the offense continued to grow, so much so that some have begun to ponder, "Hey, maybe this team might actually not be bad this year?"

Hurts is going to make some plays in 2021 that only a small number of quarterbacks in the league can make. He's also going to leave his share of easily makeable plays on the field. There will be occasional impressive moments, countered by inconsistency. That's not uncommon for any young quarterback, but it feels like Hurts' margin for error is slimmer than a quarterback taken, say, in the first 10 picks of a draft.

At the end of this season, Hurts will not have shown that he is definitively "the guy," but there will be reasonable arguments to be made that he deserves another year to show that he is. There will also be reasonable counter arguments that because the Eagles have a bunch of high picks in the 2022 draft, that they should jump at the opportunity to land an even better quarterback prospect, or to trade for a more established vet.

Are you looking forward to those debates? No? Well that's probably where we're headed.

2) Miles Sanders will have a bounce-back season. 

This time last year, Miles Sanders was one of the "cool kids" in the NFL. He was coming off a season in 2019 in which he should have at least been in the conversation for Rookie of the Year honors, when he gained 1,327 yards from scrimmage. People were drafting him top 10 in their fantasy football leagues, and expectations were high. 

In 2020, he struggled catching the football, and his total rushing numbers disappointed, largely because the Eagles trailed in so many games.

But the talent is still there, and there are a lot of things pointing toward much better production from Sanders in 2021:

  1. The offensive line can't possibly suffer as many injuries as it did in 2020. 
  2. Sanders made his fair share of explosive plays in 2020, and he still averaged 5.3 yards per carry. He just didn't get the ball as much as he otherwise might, because (a) the Eagles stunk and had to throw a lot, and (b) he missed four games.
  3. Because Jalen Hurts is a running quarterback, he'll theoretically attract some of the defense's attention away Sanders in the run game.

Sanders just has to stay healthy himself. If he plays 17 games, he'll breeze right by 1200 rushing yards on the season.

3) DeVonta Smith will lead the team in receptions and receiving yards

Smith missed a big chunk of camp with a knee injury, and he had all of 2 catches for 19 yards in the preseason. Doesn't matter. He is by far the Eagles' most skilled receiver, and he's going to lead the team in receptions and yards.

There are rightful concerns about his ability to stay on the field in the NFL, given his extremely slight frame, but he's a tough kid who just knows how to play. It's probably also perhaps a good thing for him that he doesn't enter this season with a ground swell of hype that might have come if he had lit up training camp and the preseason games.

But the coaching staff knows what they have in Smith. That's why he was the lone receiver not to play in the third preseason game.

4) Jordan Mailata will be very good

Mailata will enter a season as a starter for the first time in his career, and he's ready. After playing in 15 games in 2020  — and starting 10 — Mailata got his sea legs last year, and he began to realize, "Oh hey, I can throw these guys around."

Mailata was excellent throughout training camp this summer. He's the lone first-time starter on an already established veteran offensive line that can be really good if they can stay healthy.  

5) The Eagles will have a top 12 defense

Think the Eagles' defense was bad last year? Well, according to Football Outsiders, they were 15th in total DVOA defensively in 2020. The offense was the far bigger culprit in regard to the Eagles' dreadful 2020 season. Carson Wentz and the gang were straight awful, while the defense was average.

As such, it really shouldn't take much improvement for the Eagles to be a top 12 kind of defense in 2021, and with a loaded defensive line, an improved back seven, and some fresh new ideas from a seemingly sharp Jonathan Gannon, the defense should be better.

6) Josh Sweat will have double-digit sacks

If you watch Sweat's six sacks from the 2020 season, you'll find that (a) he beat some very good left tackles, and (b) he didn't get any cheap sacks. These are all legitimately impressive pass rushes:

Sweat is in line to get more snaps in 2021 than he did in 2020, and after a strong camp this summer, he is poised to continue his breakout from a year ago. 

7) The linebackers won't make you want to throw your TV out the window

We mentioned above that the Eagles' back seven will be better in 2021. That's mainly because Nate Gerry's reign of terror is mercifully over.


Enter Eric Wilson and Alex Singleton, who finished 14th and 15th in the NFL in tackles last season, respectively. 

At the end of this season, those guys likely won't be headed to Honolulu or wherever the Pro Bowl is these days, but they're a competent three-down duo of linebackers, which will be a major improvement.

8) They will be (mostly) ill-equipped to handle injuries

The Eagles have solid depth along their offensive and defensive lines. Everywhere else? 😬

9) They'll finish 7-10

Most sportsbooks have the Eagles' win total over-under set at 6.5. For most of the offseason, I've had the Eagles at 6-11, but for the first time in a while they are heading into the season nearly fully healthy. They're strong in the trenches, and Jalen Hurts showed notable improvement throughout camp.

So count me in for a one-win bump to 7-10. Ultimately, the roster has it's share of significant question marks, and as noted already, shaky depth. 

In 2020, when the Eagles went 4-11-1, let's be real — they were lucky to even win four. Their four wins came against Nick Mullens, Daniel Jones, Ben DiNucci, and Taysom Hill. The 2021 Eagles will be better than they were in 2020, and some of those seven wins may even come against a legitimately good starting quarterback.

10) The Dolphins won't make the playoffs, and neither will the Colts

And finally, the Eagles and their hardcore fans will be keeping a close eye on what the Dolphins and Colts are up to in 2021, since they own high draft picks from each team. 

The Colts are an absolute mess right now, while it feels like the Dolphins are due for a slide back to Earth after a season in which they took some teams by surprise. The Dolphins have publicly thrown support behind Tua Tagovailoa, but their actions — benching him last season, and clearly having interest in Deshaun Watson this offseason — don't exactly back their public sentiments.

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