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May 29, 2023

10 players the Eagles can least afford to lose to injury

From the NFL's best offensive lineman to the MVP runner-up, these are the most indispensable Eagles for the 2023 season.

Eagles NFL
052723JalenHurtsLaneJohnson Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

These four guys are all kind of important to the Eagles in 2023.

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. 

In 2022, once again the Eagles had injury luck on their side, though they did miss No. 1 and No. 2 for a few weeks late in the season, and No. 4 for five games.

Here's our list for 2023, in descending order:

10) CBs Darius Slay and James Bradberry

A year ago, Slay came in at No. 5 on this list, but that was before the team had signed Bradberry. Should either Slay or Bradberry go down this year, the Eagles would likely be starting an unproven player at corner, like Zech McPhearson, Kelee Ringo, or Josh Jobe. Still, playing corner in the Eagles' defense is easy, relative to other teams around the league since the pass rush so consistently creates pressure without blitzing.

And yes, I'm aware that it's a copout to list both of the Eagles' starting cornerbacks here instead of picking one or the other. 🤷‍♂️

2022 rank: 5 (Slay), N/A (Bradberry)

9) TE Dallas Goedert

Here are the top 10 NFL leaders in yards per target over the last two seasons (minimum 50 receptions):

Player Yards per target 
Dallas Goedert, Eagles 10.6 
Kendrick Bourne, Patriots 10.5 
Tyler Lockett, Seahawks 9.9 
Justin Jefferson, Vikings 9.8 
Tee Higgins, Bengals 9.7 
Cooper Kupp, Rams 9.5 
Ja'Marr Chase, Bengals 9.5 
George Pickens, Steelers 9.5 
Deebo Samuel, 49ers 9.5 
A.J. Brown, Eagles 9.5 

It's pretty crazy for a tight end to lead the NFL in that metric over a span of two seasons, but Goedert has been one of the most efficient players in the league. He makes the most of the targets that come his way, he blocks, and he's generally unselfish. He is the perfect No. 3 option in the passing game on a juggernaut offense.

Obviously the Eagles are more potent with Goedert in the lineup, and yet, they proved last season that they can light up the scoreboard even when he isn't, averaging 33 points per game in the five games he missed. 

2022 rank: 4

8) EDGE Josh Sweat

Sweat has quietly developed into something close to a star player for the Eagles, improving his pressure numbers every season he has been in the NFL:

 Josh SweatTackles Sacks QB hits FF 
2019 21 10 
2020 38 12 
2021 45 7.5 13 
2022 48 11 23 

I took a stopwatch to Sweat's 11 sacks in 2022, and he made first contact with the quarterback in fewer than 3 seconds on 8 of them. 

After a long injury history in college, Sweat has been able to stay healthy in the pros. The Eagles have a lot of depth at edge rusher, but they also have something special going on with Sweat, and they don't need something slowing his momentum. 

2022 rank: Not in top 10.

7) LT Jordan Mailata

Throughout the first four years of his extremely unique NFL career, Mailata made drastic improvements in every season, going from a rugby player with no American football experience whatsoever to a well above average starting NFL left tackle. However, 2022 was the first year that his growth as a player perhaps plateaued a bit, and yet, he was still probably one of the top 5-10 left tackles in the league.

It will be interesting to see if Mailata can continue to take his game to new levels in 2023, or if he has already reached his peak. If it's the latter, he is still a player who should be a significant part of the team's plans for the foreseeable future.

Mailata got hurt against the Jaguars Week 4, playing just 6 snaps. He then also missed the following game against the Cardinals Week 5. Jack Driscoll played LT in Mailata's absence in those games. Driscoll struggled initially against Jacksonville before eventually settling in, and he had a shaky game against the Cardinals, though it should be noted that for more than half of that game Sua Opeta was playing next to him at LG.

Heading into 2023, Mailata's immediate backup will likely once again be Driscoll. Unfortunately, Driscoll could also be the first guy off the bench at LG, RG, and RT, so if the Eagles have multiple injuries along their line, they could be asking guys like Brett Toth to be filling in at left tackle.

2022 rank: 8

6) WR DeVonta Smith

Smith has 159 catches for 2112 yards and 12 TDs through his first two seasons. He is already a No. 1 type of receiver who can win in the short, intermediate, and deep areas of the defense. He has also silenced critics who thought that his skinny frame could not withstand the physical brand of play at the NFL level.

Should Smith go down, Quez Watkins would likely replace him on the outside.

2022 rank: 7

5) EDGE Haason Reddick

Including the playoffs, Reddick led the NFL both in sacks (19.5) and forced fumbles (6) in 2022. Kyle Shanahan infamously tried to block Reddick with a tight end in the NFC Championship Game on the first two drives of the game. Here's how that worked out on their first drive:

As you know, that was not only a sack-fumble, but it also knocked Brock Purdy out of the game with an elbow injury. On the Niners' second drive, Shanahan didn't learn his lesson, as he once again tried to block Reddick with a receiver (No. 15, Jauan Jennings) and George Kittle. But Reddick got off the snap so quickly that neither player slowed him down at all, and Reddick crushed Purdy's replacement, Josh Johnson.

Reddick basically wrecked the 49ers' first two drives of the game, as well as their starting quarterback, effective causing the NFL to institute an "emergency quarterback" rule after four subsequent months of 49ers crying.

Reddick has now strung together three consecutive seasons with at least 10 sacks, and he has done it with three different teams. He isn't often mentioned as the best pass rusher in the NFL. Maybe he should be.

He would obviously be much higher on this list if the Eagles didn't also employ Josh Sweat, Brandon Graham, and Nolan Smith.

2022 rank: 10

4) WR A.J. Brown

As noted above, should one of the Eagles' two star wide receivers go down with an injury, Watkins is filling in. If that were to be Brown, the Eagles' top three receivers would look like so (heights/weights included):

• DeVonta Smith: 6'0, 170
• Quez Watkins: 6'0, 193
• Olamide Zaccheaus: 5'8, 193

Smith plays way bigger than his actual size, but holy crap that would be a small group of receivers.

2022 rank: 6

3) C Jason Kelce

Kelce is the glue that holds together the best offensive line in the NFL, and he is still a uniquely skilled player athletically even at 35 years of age.

2022 rank: 3

2) RT Lane Johnson

Johnson is the best offensive lineman (not just right tackle, not just offensive tackle) in the NFL, and the Eagles' most important player, Jalen Hurts aside. Since 2016, the Eagles are 10-22 when Johnson is out of the lineup.

• 2016: 2-8 
• 2017: 1-0
• 2018: 0-1
• 2019: 3-1 (0-1 in the playoffs)
• 2020: 2-7
• 2021: 1-3
• 2022: 1-1

Week after week the Eagles ask him to block elite edge rushers on an island with no help, and he consistently erases them. He may very well be one of the most underappreciated players in NFL history. 

2022 rank: 2

1) QB Jalen Hurts

It would be bad if the Eagles lost the 2022 MVP runner-up after giving him a new contract worth $50 million/year. #Analysis.

2022 rank: 1

Dropped out of the top 10: Landon Dickerson (No. 9 last year). The premise for Dickerson being on this list last year was that after an injury-riddled college career, it would be nice to see him get through two full healthy seasons, which he now has.

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