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December 13, 2021

Eagles 2021 rookie draft pick progress report

Eagles NFL
DeVonta_Smith_6_Eagles_49ers_Frese.jpg Kate Frese/for PhillyVoice

PHILADELPHIA - SEPTEMBER 19: DeVonta Smith #6 of the Philadelphia Eagles looks on during the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lincoln Financial Field on September 19, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Kate Frese for PhillyVoice)

The Philadelphia Eagles made nine picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Let's take a look at each of them individually, and track their progress through the first 13 games of the season.

Round 1, pick No. 10: WR DeVonta Smith

2021 snap count in the regular offense: 728 snaps

Stats: 82 targets, 50 catches, 701 yards (14.0 YPC), 4 TDs

As a rookie, Smith leads the Eagles in targets, catches, yards, and receiving first downs. He's also tied with Dallas Goedert for the team lead in TDs. Here's where Smith's receiving numbers rank among rookies all-time in Philadelphia, with four games to play:

Receptions Receiving yards Touchdowns 
Keith Jackson (1988) - 81 DeSean Jackson (2008) - 912 Calvin Williams (1990) - 9 
Jordan Matthews (2014) - 67 Jordan Matthews (2014) - 872 Fred Barnett (1990) - 8 
DeSean Jackson (2008) - 62 Keith Jackson (1988) - 869 Jordan Matthews (2014) - 8 
Jeremy Maclin (2009) - 56 Charle Young (1973) - 854 Keith Jackson (1988) - 6 
Charle Young (1973) - 55 Jeremy Maclin (2009) - 773 Charle Young (1973) - 6 
DeVonta Smith (2021) - 50 Fred Barnett (1990) - 721 DeVonta Smith (2021) - 4 
Miles Sanders (2019) - 50 DeVonta Smith (2021) - 701 Zach Ertz (2013) - 4 
Lou Bouggess (1970) - 50 Calvin Williams (1990) - 602 Dallas Goedert (2018) - 4 
Reggie Brown (2005) - 43 Reggie Brown (2005) - 571 Jeremy Maclin (2009) - 4 
Victor Bailey (1993) - 41 Victor Bailey (1993) - 545 Reggie Brown (2005) - 4 
Junior Tautalatasi (1986) - 41 Miles Sanders (2019) - 509 Chad Lewis (1997) - 4 
LeSean McCoy (2009) - 40 Zach Ertz (2013) - 469 Ron Goodwin (1963) - 4 

Through 13 games, Smith is on pace for 65 catches, 917 yards, and 5 TDs. That would give him the Eagles' rookie record for receiving yards, albeit with one extra game.

In 2021, Smith is fourth in receiving, behind a trio of players who were all selected before him in the 2021 draft. Then there's a fairly significant dropoff in production from Smith to the fifth guy on the list:

  1. Ja'Marr Chase, Bengals (pick 5): 60-1,035-10
  2. Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins (pick 6): 86-849-4
  3. Kyle Pitts, Falcons (pick 4): 54-770-1
  4. DeVonta Smith, Eagles (pick 10): 50-701-4
  5. Elijah Moore, Jets (pick 34): 43-538-5

On the field, Smith has demonstrated that he is a professional route runner who can beat man or zone coverage, and is capable of making difficult catches. He is already the Eagles' best receiver, and by a very wide margin. He has also put up good numbers in an offense that (a) does not have an accurate quarterback, and (b) has transitioned to a run-heavy identity over the last half dozen games. There is also an argument to be made that Smith isn't being targeted nearly as much as he should be, even though he has often drawn the attention of the opposing defense's best cornerback.

The concern many had with Smith after he was drafted was that his wiry frame might not hold up in the NFL. So far so good on that front.

It's actually something of a testament to Smith's likeability that fans have barely quibbled at all about rookie star edge rusher Micah Parsons being selected two spots after him. And for good reason — Without Smith, the Eagles' passing offense would basically be Dallas Goedert, and then... 😱.

Round 2, pick No. 37: iOL Landon Dickerson

2021 snap count in the regular offense: 735 snaps

Dickerson was a very good player at Alabama when he was able to play. However, he had a long list of significant injuries, before he ever even stepped foot onto an NFL field:

  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.

The December 2020 torn ACL caused Dickerson to miss almost the entire Eagles offseason workout program (OTAs, minicamps, training camp, etc.), as he was activated off of the NFI/PUP list on August 30.

In Week 2, he was thrown into the fire at RG when Brandon Brooks was injured. As should be expected, Dickerson struggled initially, but he at least held his own, in that he didn't single-handedly wreck games like other inexperienced young Eagles offensive linemen of yesteryear.

As the season has progressed, Dickerson has continued to improve. After a move to LG to accommodate additional injuries along the line, Dickerson (6'6, 333) and Jordan Mailata (6'8, 365), have been a 700-pound bulldozing combo on the left side of the Eagles' offensive line.

The injury concerns probably won't go away until Dickerson can prove to stay healthy over a lengthier timeline, but he has already proven that he is a legitimate NFL starting lineman, and one who gives the Eagles some flexibility on how their 2022 line will shape up because of his guard/center versatility.

Round 3, pick No. 73: Milton Williams

2021 snap count in the regular defense: 330 snaps

Stats: 21 tackles (2 for loss), 1 sack, 3 QB hits

Williams had a strong training camp, and has flashed at times in the regular season, notably in games against the Lions and Giants, but has otherwise been quiet.

After Williams was drafted — once we got past the dissension in the Eagles' war room after the pick, anyway — the most obvious takeaway from Williams' draft profile was his incredible athletic testing measurables from his pro day workouts.

With Williams coming from a smaller school like Louisiana Tech, where he moved from DE to DT and only played on the interior for one full season, it was reasonable to expect that success was likely to come slowly, and it has. His flashes in training camp probably heightened expectations for the regular season, which in a weird way probably did him a disservice, but the reality remains that when Brandon Graham went down, Williams has been unable to fill in to Graham's role and be a full-time producer. 

Still, he will be a candidate to make a significant jump from Year 1 to Year 2.

Round 4, pick No. 123: Zech McPhearson

2021 snap count in the regular defense: 96 snaps

Stats: 12 tackles

Because the Eagles have had a rare season in which their cornerbacks have stayed healthy, McPhearson has mostly been a special teams contributor as a rookie. It's encouraging that he has been the first player off the bench whenever Darius Slay or Steven Nelson have gotten dinged up. On occasions in which he has had to fill in, while McPhearson doesn't yet have even a pass breakup, he has also not been obviously victimized by opposing offenses.

Round 5, pick No. 150: Kenny Gainwell

2021 snap count in the regular offense: 243 snaps

Stats: 55 rushes, 209 yards, 3.8 YPC, 4 TDs. 28 catches, 238 yards, 8.5 YPR, 1 TD.

Gainwell has had an interesting rookie season, as he has been up and down on the depth chart. At times, he has been the No. 2 RB. Other times, he has been the No. 4 RB, and was even a healthy scratch for the Eagles' Week 11 game against the Saints. 

Gainwell has been used both as a traditional running back and as a receiver. He actually has more receptions, yards, and yards per catch than Jalen Reagor. He is also somehow second on the team with five touchdowns, behind only Jalen Hurts, who has eight.

He did not have a standout camp, which can maybe be explained by his year away from football in 2020, when he was a COVID opt-out for his final college season, after he lost several family members to COVID. Still, he has been able to get on the field for the Eagles as a rookie and contribute. It will be interesting to see how his role develops in Nick Sirianni's offense.

Round 6, pick No. 189: Marlon Tuipulotu

2021 snap count in the regular defense: 29 snaps

Stats: 3 tackles

Tuipulotu had a bad training camp and preseason, but he still made the team. He has appeared in four games, and has been a healthy scratch on gameday more often than not.

Prior to camp, there was a belief that Tuipulotu could perhaps see more action as a rookie than a player like Williams above, because he is more of a run stuffer and theoretically, his skill set wouldn't need as much development, but that is not how it has gone.

Round 6, pick 191: Tarron Jackson

2021 snap count in the regular defense: 166 snaps

Stats: 10 tackles, 1 sack, 1 FF

Jackson looked at times during the preseason games that the Eagles would be in big trouble if he had play meaningful snaps. However, playing in a rotational role, while not super productive (strip sack vs. the Lions), Jackson has not been pushed around by opposing offensive linemen. I'll be curious to take a deeper look at all his snaps during the offseason.

Round 6, pick No. 224: JaCoby Stevens

Stevens got hurt during training camp and did not make the 53-man roster. He is currently on the practice squad.

Round 7, pick No. 234: Patrick Johnson

2021 snap count in the regular defense: 53 snaps

Stats: 11 tackles

Johnson was an edge rusher in college who transitioned to the SAM linebacker role in Jonathan Gannon's defense, so his lack of playing time this season is not a surprise at all. However, it's noteworthy that Johnson played 48 snaps in the regular defense the first three weeks of the season, but has only played five defensive snaps since.

Interestingly, Genard Avery's snaps at SAM have decreased substantially in recent weeks, but his recent limited role has not meant more playing time for Johnson. Like Williams above, Johnson could be another candidate for a Year 2 leap.

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