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June 03, 2021

10 players the Eagles can least afford to lose to injury

Eagles NFL
060321JalenHurts Matt Slocum/Pool photo

It'd be nice to see what Jalen Hurts is as a player before the Eagles decide what to do with all their 2022 draft picks.

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.

Previously, we formed our lists on the premise that the Eagles were contenders. This year, we'll factor in that they are not, and as such, some younger players will find themselves higher on the list in some cases than better, established players.

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.

Here's our list for 2021, in descending order:

10) CB Darius Slay

Slay followed opposing teams' best wide receivers all season in 2020. In some games, he was good. In others, notably against the Packers and Seahawks, not so much. He also didn't exactly live up to his "Big Play Slay" nickname, and he had just one INT (in garbage time in a Week 16 loss to Dallas), and just 6 pass breakups on the season.

At this stage of his career, Slay is probably just a good-not-great starter, but he's the only one they have at corner.

2020 rank: 5.

9) iOL Landon Dickerson

As you're all well aware, Dickerson suffered a slew of significant injuries throughout his college career. To recap:

  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.

Despite that highly concerning history, the Eagles felt that he was good enough to select with the 37th overall pick in the 2021 draft, on the premise that he can be an All-Pro caliber interior offensive lineman. Another major injury would be, you know, bad.

2020 rank: N/A..

8) C Jason Kelce

In a normal contending season, Kelce would be higher, as he has been a rare durable constant along the Eagles' offensive line, and still one of the best centers in the NFL.

If the Eagles were to be a surprise team in 2021, it would likely be the result of a healthy offensive line getting back to where it once was, and of course, Kelce is the leader of that group.

2020 rank: 3.

7) RB Miles Sanders 

Sanders was one of the few players on the Eagles' offense who actually made plays in 2020, though his play in the passing game fell off dramatically, both as a receiver and in pass protection. The bet is that he'll be better in both of those areas in 2021.

There's a decent argument to be made that the Eagles' best chance for offensive success in 2021 is to take a Ravens-like, run-heavy approach. If Nick Sirianni and the Eagles' offensive coaching staff feel the same, (a) they'll need Sanders to be a big part of that, and (b) Jeffrey Lurie will have to chill out on his desire for a pass-happy offense.

2020 rank: 6.

6) TE Dallas Goedert

In the games he started and finished in 2020, Goedert played around 90 percent of the team's offensive snaps, which was more than he had played in any other season. With Zach Ertz missing five games — and being ineffective when he did play — Goedert had an opportunity to capitalize with a breakout season, however, he also missed five games, and finished with a somewhat disappointing stat line of 46-524-3.

Early in Ertz's career, a common preseason theme was, "Is this finally Zach Ertz's breakout season?" before he finally took his game to the next level. We're perhaps seeing that now with Goedert, who is a good, promising young player, but who needs to stay healthy and prove that he's one of the top tight ends in the league that he says he is.

2020 rank: Not ranked.

5) LT Jordan Mailata

Left tackles are important. They get drafted highly, and good ones make a buttload of money. When you miss on them, it especially sucks because you've not only dumped premium resources into a player, but they also kill you on gameday if they play poorly. See: Andre Dillard, 2019.

Is Mailata one of the 10 best players on the team? He sure isn't, but he had an encouraging 2020 season, he plays a premium position, he's in a contract year, and he's a special case because he played in his first non-exhibition game, ever, fewer than nine months ago.

It's still to be determined what Mailata will be as a player in the NFL, but the Eagles really need him to stay healthy this year so they can properly evaluate whether or not they need to address the position next offseason.

(This assumes that Mailata is able to hold off Dillard for the LT job in training camp.)

2020: Not ranked.

4) DT Fletcher Cox

Cox isn't the star player he once was, but he's still the best player on the Eagles' defense. If I were Howie Roseman, I would be very open to dealing Cox at the trade deadline, which is typically when teams are willing to pay a premium for players who can help in a title run.

Maybe Zach Ertz would have been dealt last year at the deadline if he hadn't gotten hurt, and the Eagles wouldn't be in the position they are in with him now, in which they're seemingly and/or futilely hoping that some team out there offers them something more than a box of kicking tees.

If the Eagles have an opportunity to get a good draft pick while also getting out of Cox's contract, they should do so, but he'll need to stay healthy for any hope of that.

2020 rank: 4.

3) RT Lane Johnson 

If Johnson's ankle is finally fully healed, maybe he can reestablish himself as the best RT in the NFL once again. If that ankle continues to be problematic, they'll be stuck with a very expensive, hobbled player through at least the 2022 season. That's kind of a wide gap between best and worst case scenarios.

2020 rank: 2.

2) WR DeVonta Smith

The Eagles' last four first round picks — Carson Wentz, Derek Barnett, Andre Dillard, and Jalen Reagor — have all had injury issues. It'd be nice for one to remain healthy, and in the case of Smith, the ability to play a full season would go a long way toward putting to bed the perception that he's going to get killed in the NFL playing at around 170 pounds.

2020 rank: N/A.

1) QB Jalen Hurts

The Eagles need to get a clearer picture of what they have in Hurts so they can be guided accordingly on how they spend their two (maybe three) 2022 first-round picks.

But also, from a pure aesthetic perspective, if Hurts goes down, you better have another Sunday afternoon hobby lined up because the Eagles under Joe Flacco are going to be unwatchable.

2020: Not ranked.

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