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May 22, 2024

10 players the Eagles can least afford to lose to injury

The Eagles have had mostly good injury luck during the Nick Sirianni era, but that can change in an instant. From their quarterback to their returning big-name safety, these are the team's most indispensable players.

Eagles NFL
090223JalenCarter Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles DT Jalen Carter (98)

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.

In 2023, the Eagles couldn't blame their epic late-season collapse on injuries, as the top 8 players on the list all started at least 16 games. 

Here's our list for 2024, in descending order:

10) S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson

The Eagles missed Gardner-Johnson in 2023, as they were depleted at times both at safety and at slot corner. In 2022, Gardner-Johnson played both positions for the Eagles at a high level, and he did so with swagger and confidence, which the Eagles' defense was missing in 2023.

2023 rank: He wasn't on the team.

9) TE Dallas Goedert

From 2021 to 2022, Goedert led the NFL with 10.6 yards per target, an impressive feat in and of itself, but especially for a tight end. He made the most of the targets that came his way, he blocked well, and generally speaking he is an unselfish player. He is an ideal No. 3 option in the Eagles' passing game, which most assumed would continue to be a juggernaut in 2023. It didn't go that way, obviously.

Goedert was unstoppable in training camp, which in hindsight might have been misleading given the Eagles' bad linebackers and safeties. He finished the season with 59 catches for 592 yards and 3 TDs. His 592 receiving yards ranked 14th in the NFL among tight ends. Goedert missed three games with a broken forearm, but it's hard to view his season positively given the expectations.

Still, there's a major dropoff in talent from Goedert to whoever will be the Eagles' No. 2 tight end in 2024.

2023 rank: 9

8) RB Saquon Barkley

The Eagles made Barkley the fourth-highest paid running back in the NFL this offseason, signing him to a contract worth a little over $12.5 million in average annual value. Spoiler: They're going to use him. If Barkley is able to stay healthy in 2024, there's a decent chance he could touch the ball somewhere in the range of 300 times in the Eagles' offense. If he can't stay healthy, the Eagles will be forced to turn to Kenny Gainwell and rookie Will Shipley.

2023 rank: He wasn't on the team.

7) CB Darius Slay

The Eagles spent premium draft resources on cornerbacks Quinyon Mitchell (22nd overall) and Cooper DeJean (40th overall) in the 2024 draft. However, Slay remains the clear CB1 and the only proven returning corner on the roster who played reasonably well in 2023.

The 2024 season might very well be Slay's last in Philadelphia, but he's still a very important player and he is crucial to the team's success in 2024.

2023 rank: 10

6) WR DeVonta Smith

Smith is budding star player who is averaging 80 catches for 1059 yards per season through his first three years in the NFL, despite sharing targets the last two seasons with another star receiver in A.J. Brown. He was rewarded with a contract extension this offseason worth $75 million.

But beyond the fact that Smith is just a really good player, the Eagles are very thin at wide receiver. During the offseason, they signed DeVante Parker, who had the worst separation stats in the NFL in each of the last four seasons, and Parris Campbell, who has averaged a mere 9.3 yards per catch over his career, as well as an almost impossibly low 5.2 yards per catch in 2023. Parker retired on Tuesday.

They did also select a pair of receivers in the 2024 draft in Ainias Smith (fifth round) and Johnny Wilson (sixth round), but with some rare exceptions (the Rams' Puca Nacua, for example) Day 3 receivers don't often make an impact as rookies.

The Eagles also have Britain Covey, who has mainly been a return specialist who has just 4 career catches. Covey probably deserves more chances in the regular offense, but he's also probably a slot receiver only, which means that if Smith or A.J. Brown were to go down he wouldn't be a suitable replacement on the outside.

2023 rank: 6

5) LT Jordan Mailata

On an offensive line with two future Hall of Famers, I thought Mailata was quietly stellar in 2023, both in the run game and in pass protection. He has become one of the league's best left tackles, and the Eagles don't have quality depth at offensive tackle like they do on the interior.

2023 rank: 7

4) DT Jalen Carter

Carter looked like an All-Pro at times as a rookie, but he cooled off during the stretch run of the season, like pretty much everyone else on the defensive side of the ball.

Fletcher Cox led Eagles defensive tackles in snaps played every season from 2013 to 2023, averaging 835 snaps per season during that span. With Cox now retired, Carter is going to be asked to pick up that slack. If he goes down who's going to play instead?

2023 rank: Unranked

3) RT Lane Johnson

Johnson remains the best right tackle in the NFL, even after coming off a 2023 season that probably was not up to his impossibly high standards (though he was still great). Since 2016, the Eagles are 11-22 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
• 2023: 1-0

Technically, the Eagles went 1-0 in games Johnson didn't start in 2023, but they also lost a game to the Jets largely because he got hurt nine plays in, and his backup (Jack Driscoll) got wrecked all day.

Again, as noted above in the Mailata section, the Eagles do not have ideal depth at tackle. 

2023 rank: 2

2) WR A.J. Brown

We already noted above the Eagles' thin wide receiver group after Smith and Brown.

But also, Brown was the best player on the team in 2023. During the first half of the season, he had six consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards, an NFL record.

  1. At Buccaneers: 9 catches, 131 yards
  2. Commanders: 9 catches, 175 yards, 2 TDs
  3. At Rams: 6 catches, 127 yards
  4. At Jets: 7 catches, 131 yards
  5. Dolphins: 10 catches, 137 yards, 1 TD
  6. At Commanders: 8 catches, 130 yards, 2 TDs

Brown eventually cooled off when the Eagles' offense as a whole sputtered down the stretch, but for a while when the Eagles' season was going well, he basically was the offense.

He finished with 106 catches for 1,456 yards and 7 TDs, but was unable to participate in the Eagles' embarrassing blowout loss to the Buccaneers in the playoffs with a knee injury suffered against the Giants Week 18.

2023 rank: 4

1) QB Jalen Hurts

After a magical 2022 season, Hurts took a bit of a step back in 2023. The Eagles' 2023 season was a tough reminder that the NFL is super hard, and it can kick your ass. Hurts and the Eagles got their asses kicked in 2023. The 2024 Eagles will be under intense scrutiny, and a lot of that will fall on Hurts. He has bounced back from adversity in the past, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to a disappointing season.

But certainly, the Eagles have little to no chance of competing for a Super Bowl if Hurts isn't available.

2023 rank: 1

Dropped out of the top 10: Jason Kelce (retirement), Haason Reddick (traded), Josh Sweat (8th last year).

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