July 21, 2021
We're now officially one week away from the Eagles' first practice of the first training camp under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. And for the first time in at least a few years, there's only tepid excitement among the fanbase, as most are cautious not to get too excited, knowing that what lies ahead is likely a learning year, one in which the Eagles will need to find out not just if the coach is the right man for the job — he'll probably have more than a season to prove himself anyway — but more importantly whether or not quarterback Jalen Hurts is the guy to lead this team on the field for the foreseeable future.
With the potential to have three first-round picks next spring, not to mention a chance to trade for Deshaun Watson, Hurts likely won't have as long of a leash as Sirianni. And the deck is already somewhat stacked against him.
While strong offensive line play is a key for young quarterbacks — and the Eagles offensive line should at least be decent this season, health permitting — it also helps to have a strong arsenal of offensive weapons, something the Eagles are most certainly lacking at this point.
Just ask, well, pretty much anyone who writes about or watches football, and they'll tell you that the Eagles, despite spending two first-round picks on wide receivers and a second-round pick on a running back over the last three drafts, don't have a lot to offer in that department. They have some potential, sure, but not much in terms of veteran stalwarts you can trust week in and week out to deliver. And the one guy you used to be able to bank on for that, Zach Ertz, was a shell of himself in 2020 and likely won't be on this team when they open the season anyway.
The Eagles are a team clearly trending in the wrong direction. But maybe this is rock bottom. Maybe it's all up from here. Maybe. Maybe not.
It's unfortunate that a week before camp opens that we're bringing you so much doom and gloom in today's What They're Saying, but remember not to shoot the messenger.
Let's dive in...
Over at ESPN, they released their annual Future Power Rankings, where they look at the teams best positioned to succeed over the next three years. The Eagles, unsurprisingly, did not fair too well.
The worst part about this? They were ranked 6th just a year ago. I didn't do all the math, but it's hard to imagine another team falling anywhere near that many spots in such a short amount of time, especially since these rankings are supposed to be more big picture and less reactionary.
That's, uh, not great...
30. Philadelphia Eagles
Overall score: 66.4
Why they're here: The roster in Philly right now is a unique blend of veterans who can help you win (Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox, Jason Kelce, Darius Slay, etc.) and a young core that could be the foundation for the future. With potentially three first-round picks next year, the Eagles can be aggressive if desired next offseason when a more palatable cap situation is upon them. New head coach Nick Sirianni has a chance to groom Jalen Hurts this year, but the roster has clear spots to upgrade on both sides of the ball. -- Yates
Biggest worry: Lack of philosophical alignment and relationship management between the coaching staff and front office is what sunk this team in recent years, and correcting it will go a long way toward getting this organization back on the path to competing for a Super Bowl. But do the Eagles have the right pieces in place? -- Riddick
What could change for the better: Philly finally has young, promising skill players on offense. The Eagles aged quickly on the perimeter, but a nucleus of Dallas Goedert, DeVonta Smith and Jalen Reagor will be a threat. Goedert is a top-10 tight end right now, and Smith has low-bust threshold. The man knows how to get open. -- Fowler
Stat to know: The Eagles' medium-term plan revolves around Hurts, but there is reason to be wary. Though Carson Wentz played poorly in 2020, Hurts actually posted a slightly worse QBR than him. It's no reason to panic -- we're talking about fewer than 150 pass attempts as a rookie -- but it's no guarantee Hurts ends up better than Wentz. -- Walder [espn.com]
Sticking with ESPN for a moment — and getting back into something we discussed in the intro — the Eagles' skill players leave a lot to be desired. And Bill Barnwell is one of those writers we mentioned who can clearly see that's the case.
When ranking all 32 NFL teams based on their skill position players, the Eagles were way down the list at 29th, 19 spots lower than where they were just a year earlier and 25 spots below their position from 2019.
How the mighty have fallen...
29. Philadelphia Eagles
2020 rank: 10 | 2019 rank: 4
The biggest drop-off on this year's list belongs to the Eagles, who will be relying on back-to-back first-rounders at wide receiver to kick-start their offense. I'm wildly excited to watch DeVonta Smith after the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner looked like the best player on the field for most of the College Football Playoff, but if Smith isn't an immediate superstar, this could threaten Detroit's receiving corps. It's way too early to give up on 2020 first-rounder Jalen Reagor, but the TCU product was anonymous as a rookie. Behind him is disappointing second-rounder J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward, who the Eagles seemingly plan on moving on from every year, only for Ward to be their No. 1 wideout by mid-November. That can't happen again.
While there are big names elsewhere for the Eagles, we haven't seen steady production out of either running back Miles Sanders or tight end Dallas Goedert. Sanders was efficient as a runner last season, but he struggled with fumbles and had no impact as a receiver. A slight uptick in Goedert's numbers was offset by the fact that he missed the better part of five games with injuries before a Week 17 white flag inactive. Zach Ertz is nominally included here, but he's unlikely to be on Philadelphia's Week 1 roster. There are plenty of possibilities here if the young draftees take a step forward, but seeing will be believing in Philly. [espn.com]
Over at Pro Football Focus, they took a position-by-position look at the skill units around the NFL, and we figured it would be important to include them here so you can see that it's not one or the other that's causing the Eagles to be ranked so lowly — both their running backs and wide receivers are near the bottom of the league. We also figured it would illustrate that this isn't one person picking on the Birds.
That being said, I think the Eagles running back unit is a bit better than 27th in the NFL. I think Sanders is a good back who had a down year in the passing game but is certainly dynamic. And then they actually have some depth behind him with Boston Scott, Kerryon Johnson, Jordan Howard and rookie Kenny Gainwell. Are any of those superstars? No, but I think this is going to be a sum-of-its-parts type of thing.
27. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Miles Sanders is a player whose PFF grading profile doesn’t necessarily match the public perception. As a rookie, he earned just a 59.1 rushing grade while running behind one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in football, but he did show promise in the passing game. That flipped this past season for Philadelphia when Sanders improved his rushing grade to 75.3. However, he struggled with drops, as his eight spills were tied for the most at the position.
He’ll look to clean those drops up and continue to progress as a runner in a backfield that doesn’t offer much real competition. Boston Scott, Kerryon Johnson and Jordan Howard will compete for work behind Sanders. [pff.com]
Where PFF got it absolutely right is with the Eagles pass catchers, which they ranked 30th overall. Given how bad they were each of the last two years — dead last, according to PFF — it makes sense that the addition of DeVonta Smith wasn't going to be enough to rapidly move them up the boards. If Smith lives up to the hype, and if Reagor takes a step forward, and if Travis Fulgham can be more consistent — and, yes, that's a lot of big ifs — then next year they could move up quite a bit in this ranking.
30. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
Eagles wide receivers have ranked last in receiving grade in each of the last two years, so there’s plenty of room to improve for this unit. They’ve now spent back-to-back first-round selections on receivers, putting the pressure on Jalen Reagor and DeVonta Smith. Reagor graded at 64.0 overall as a rookie in 2020, picking up 396 yards on 31 catches. It was a slow start, but he has the explosiveness to develop as an outside vertical threat. Smith is a better all-around receiver, and that was on display in one of the best seasons in college football history. He can separate to all levels of the field and is dangerous with the ball in his hands, so look for Smith to develop as the high-volume threat in this offense.
One of the bright sides of last season’s struggles was the emergence of Travis Fulgham, who had bounced around with several teams before posting an impressive 71.2 overall grade and leading the Eagles with 539 receiving yards. Beyond that top three, Greg Ward may have a role in the possession game, as he’s averaged 8.3 yards per reception in his career. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside has disappointed as a former second-rounder with just 26 career targets. And 2020 fifth-rounder John Hightower adds another speed component. [...]
While Eagles pass-catchers are coming off a couple of rough seasons, Smith provides hope and there are pieces in place to turn things around. [pff.com]
Speaking of those three wideouts I just mentioned in the above blurb, Zach Berman of The Athletic offered up 25 thoughts heading into Eagles training camp, and there was one for each of those three receivers, and he seems to agree that this could be their trio of the future if each takes the necessary steps forward in 2021.
9. DeVonta Smith is the clear No. 1 wide receiver, but how good can he become as a rookie? There have only been 12 rookie receivers since 2000 who reached 1,000 receiving yards. That might be easier to achieve in a 17-game season, but it will nonetheless be an achievement for a franchise that hasn’t had a 1,000-yard wide receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014.
10. Jalen Reagor’s improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 will be a storyline to watch, but it will be especially interesting to see how he functions in the slot. The Eagles wanted Reagor to be an outside receiver last season, although his skill set and body type could be used around the formation. Reagor adds a different dynamic inside for the Eagles.
11. Travis Fulgham’s October showed that he can be a productive NFL player. His November and December show why he’s not a lock to be a productive player this season. Fulgham was trying to earn a roster spot last summer; he’s in position to earn meaningful playing time this season. If Fulgham plays the way he did in October, the upside of this offense changes. A top three of Smith, Reagor and Fulgham would be intriguing. [theathletic.com]
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