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May 20, 2022

10 players the Eagles can least afford to lose to injury

Eagles NFL
Jalen_Hurts_Lane_Johnson_celebrate_Eagles_Giants_1226211_Kate_Frese78.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts celebrates with right tackle Lane Johnson.

Each year, we try to determine which 10 players the Philadelphia Eagles can least afford to lose to injury. Obviously, the Eagles' best players are included, but we also try to consider their importance to the scheme, depth behind them, long-term vs short-term effects, and other factors.

This exercise is probably more fun to go back and look at in hindsight. For example: 

• In 2017, they won the Super Bowl despite missing No. 1, No. 3, and No. 7 on that list. 

• In 2018, the Eagles were among the final eight teams remaining despite losing No. 1, No. 9, No. 10, and occasionally No. 8 on the list. 

• In 2019, by the time the clock hit all zeroes in the playoff game against the Seahawks, they were without No. 1, No. 9, and No. 10. 

• In 2020, No. 1 got benched, No. 8's season ended in June, and Nos. 2, 7, 9, and 10 all missed significant chunks of the season.

In 2021, the Eagles had incredible injury luck, as there were no players in the top 10 who missed more than five games. 

Here's our list for 2022, in descending order:

10) SAM Haason Reddick

The Eagles signed Reddick to help boost their woeful sack numbers of a season ago. But beyond the added productivity that he'll bring to the pass rush, it's also perhaps worth noting that Jonathan Gannon's defensive scheme could change some to accentuate Reddick's abilities, whereas that would have been a pointless endeavor when the team's top SAM was Genard Avery.

If Gannon were to have big plans for the SAM position this season and Reddick were to go down, all the Eagles have behind him are second-year pro Patrick Johnson and rookie sixth-round pick Kyron Johnson.

2021 rank: N/A

9) iOL Landon Dickerson

Dickerson entered the NFL as one of the biggest injury risks in the 2021 draft class. As a reminder, here's a snapshot of Dickerson's injury history:

  1. November 2016: Torn ACL, right knee.
  2. October 2017: Right ankle surgery ended his season.
  3. 2018: Nagging/recurring left ankle injury caused him to miss most of the season.
  4. December 2020: Torn ACL, left knee.

In his rookie season, Dickerson avoided adding to that list. It'd be nice to see him stack consecutive durable seasons.

2021 rank: 9

8) LT Jordan Mailata

If the Eagles were to trade Andre Dillard, Mailata's placement on this list would be higher. But even if Dillard remains on the Eagles' roster in 2022, it would be a big blow to lose Mailata. His growth as a player each year has been fascinating to watch, and it'll be fun to see how high his ceiling can ultimately be. Nobody wants to see an injury potentially stunt his momentum. 

2021 rank: 5

7) WR DeVonta Smith

Like Dickerson above, Smith entered the NFL with some injury concerns, but they were more of the "He's small, so he'll get hurt" variety than anything tangible. And again, like Dickerson, so far so good on the durability front.

Smith has a chance to take his game to the next level in his second season, and the addition of A.J. Brown means that opposing defenses will not be able to key on him.

2021 rank: 2

6) WR A.J. Brown

Brown was nicked up in 2021, missing four games. The Titans were 11-2 in games Brown started (averaging 26.8 points per game), and 1-3 in games he missed (averaging 17.5 points per game).

Because Brown has such a physical style of play, he is theoretically more susceptible to injury. The Eagles paid a heavy price — both financially, and in terms of trade compensation — to land Brown, and he could be the missing piece in Philly's offense.

2021: N/A

5) CB Darius Slay

Slay might have been No. 2 on this list prior to the James Bradberry signing, but he's still a critical piece in the Eagles' defense anyway. Without Slay's huge plays against the Panthers, Broncos, and Saints, would the Eagles have made the playoffs last season?

2021 rank: 10

4) TE Dallas Goedert

If Goedert were to go down, the Eagles would lose a top 5 type of tight end with no obvious flaws in his game, and he'd probably be replaced by some combination of Grant Calcaterra, Jack Stoll, and Richard Rodgers.

2021 rank: 6

3) C Jason Kelce

Kelce has started in 122 straight games, which is second-best in the NFL among all active players. The Eagles did draft his eventual replacement in Cam Jurgens, and it should be noted that centers selected in the first two rounds of the draft typically play immediately, and are usually fine.

But let's not pretend that losing Kelce wouldn't be a huge blow to the team for all the skill, leadership, and other intangibles he brings to the field.

2021 rank: 8

2) RT Lane Johnson

I don't think the season that Johnson had in 2021 has been appropriately appreciated, even with him earning second-team All-Pro honors. In addition to overcoming anxiety issues, he played on an ankle that has given him fits since the 2018 season.

If Johnson were to go down, Mailata would probably have to slide to RT, and Dillard would fill in at LT, weakening both spots. (The Eagles would probably just plug in Jack Driscoll at RT in an in-game injury scenario, assuming he's not already filling in for someone else.) 

2021 rank: 3

1) QB Jalen Hurts

And finally, there's Hurts. Would the Eagles' season go in the toilet if Hurts went down? Meh, probably not. Gardner Minshew is capable of winning games, assuming the Eagles don't trade him to some other team in desperate need of a starter. There'd be a dropoff from Hurts to Minshew, but probably not a major one.

So why does Hurts top this list? Well, 2022 is a tryout year for Hurts, much like 2021 was. Last season Hurts didn't play so well that he kept the Eagles from trying to pursue quarterbacks like Russell Wilson and Deshaun Watson, but he did enough to keep them from adding some other middle of the road guy. He was fortunate the 2022 quarterback class in the draft wasn't very good.

In 2022, Hurts once again will have a chance to leave no doubt that he should be the long-term answer. If he can do that, great! If not, then the Eagles will be trying to parlay their two first-round picks into a quarterback they think can be the long-term answer.

But let's find out.

2021 rank: 1

Dropped out of the top 10: Fletcher Cox (No. 4 last year), Miles Sanders (No. 7 last year).

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