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August 26, 2021

Handing out 10 awards from the Eagles' 2021 training camp

Philadelphia Eagles 2021 training camp is over. The team will play its final preseason game against the New York Jets on Friday, and then cut the roster down to 53 players on Tuesday. And so, let's hand out 10 awards from this year's camp.

1) The 'Stock Up, Offense' Award 📈: Quez Watkins

No player in Eagles training camp helped himself this year more than Watkins, who was realistically the fifth or sixth wide receiver in the pecking order entering camp, but is now probably second, behind only tenth overall pick DeVonta Smith. 

Watkins improved his route running over the winter and spring, and it paid off during the summer, as he was consistently able to get open for easy catches, and then also make a number of impressive contested catches when necessary. And of course, as you all saw in the game against the Steelers, Watkins is fast:

He'll likely start Week 1 in Atlanta against the Falcons.

2) The 'Stock Up, Defense' Award 📈: Josh Sweat

Sweat had something of a breakout season in 2020, when he had six sacks and three forced fumbles. Those six sacks weren't cheapies, by the way, and he beat a number of very good left tackles:

In 2021 training camp, while he may have cooled off a smidge near the end of camp, Sweat was consistently disruptive, outplaying co-RDE Derek Barnett, and putting himself in a position to gain more playing time in a contract year.

Sweat always had elite athleticism:

But now he's also refining his game.

MORE: Eagles training camp notes, Day 17: Undefeated in joint practices

3) The 'Stock Down' Award 📉: Andre Dillard

No player did more damage to their standing with the team this summer than Dillard, who entered camp in a competition with Jordan Mailata for the starting LT job. It became clear almost immediately that Mailata was the much better football player, and the competition was essentially over after just a few days. (We'll note quickly here that the Eagles have not yet publicly awarded Mailata the job, but he very obviously will start Week 1 in Atlanta.)

But worse than simply losing the starting job competition, because his play was so alarmingly bad, Dillard may not even be a backup worth keeping on the roster, given the following:

  1. In his third year in the league, he simply still can't anchor against opposing rushers, a fatal flaw for any lineman.
  2. He can only play LT. Because he can't anchor, he's not moving inside, and we already know he can't play RT.
  3. He's already almost 26 years old (so it's not as if he's just a very young player trying to find his way).

A fresh start in a new city would probably be best for all involved.

4) The 'You Gonna Trade Me, Or Nah?' Award 🤷‍♂️: Zach Ertz

A year ago, Ertz's mind was on contract negotiations that weren't going the way that he would have preferred, and there's probably an argument to be made that it helped lead to his poor play during the 2020 season. This year in camp, sporting a new look (blond hair), Ertz has been dialed in, and he has played well all summer. 

Keeping Ertz on the roster this season doesn't make any sense to me, which we laid out in detail a few weeks ago. It feels clear that he doesn't want to play in Philadelphia anymore, and the team can make better use of the $8.25 million they would save by trading him, perhaps on a player in 2022 free agency that can be a long-term piece.

Then again, Howie Roseman has demonstrated in recent years that he overvalues his own players. So, we'll see, I guess.

5) The '53-Man Puzzle' Award 🧩: Beat writers

Projecting the 53-man roster this year is by far the hardest year that I can remember, because there are so many different ways it can go. Normally, at this time of year, I'm just trying to figure out if the team will keep a fifth safety or a sixth cornerback, or whether the UDFA WR who made some plays is worthy of a roster spot.

This year those same types of questions persist, however, there are a slew of other possibilities to consider, such as:

  1. As noted above, will guys like Zach Ertz, Andre Dillard, or (fill in any number of other players) get traded before cutdowns?
  2. Will Rodney McLeod and/or Landon Dickerson come off the PUP list before 53-man cutdowns, or will they remain on it for the first six weeks of the regular season?
  3. Will Tyree Jackson be put on season-ending IR before cutdowns, or will the Eagles keep him as one of their initial 53, and then place him on short-term IR the next day?
  4. Will the Eagles cut vested veterans like Richard Rodgers, Jordan Howard, T.Y. McGill, and Andrew Adams prior to cutdowns, and then sign some of them back to the team after they're able to short-term IR guys like Jackson and Davion Taylor?
  5. Will players like Dillard and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside remain on the roster for really no other reason than that the GM selected them with recent premium picks?
  6. Will they make their cuts based on players they're targeting on the waiver wire? (There's a decent chance the Eagles could be among the last teams to make their cuts this year, for that reason, whereas they're usually among the first.)
  7. Will the team be realistic about their slim chances for Super Bowl contention this season, and favor a long-term view over the short-term, which would affect a few of their final decisions?

There could be some really bad scores this year on the beat writer 53-man projection competition.

MORE: How many games will the Eagles win this year? Like that even matters...

6) The 'Reason For Hope' Award 🤞: The trenches

We can all agree that the strength of the Eagles' roster is in the trenches, right? Offensively, as long as they get some injury luck that has eluded them over the last few year, the offensive line has the potential to be a top 5 kind of unit. Defensively, the line is stacked with talent and quality depth. 

In training camp, both units looked good, but it was hard to see at times which unit had the edge, because they were up against each other. In joint practices, it was clear that the Eagles were outplaying their counterparts in the trenches.

7) The 'Competition' Award 📄 ✂: Nick Sirianni

Perhaps the biggest theme in the infancy of Sirianni's tenure with the Eagles has been competition, and he has gotten it. While there were certainly days during training camp when practices weren't sharp because guys weren't playing well, there was never a question of effort. The Eagles generally had spirited practices, most notably in joint practice sessions when they had more competitive juice than the Patriots and Jets.

Perhaps shorter practice sessions had something to do with that, but Sirianni has to feel good about the overall effort and "buy-in" that he has seemingly gotten from his players early on.

8) The 'Health' Award 🏥: The Eagles' light injury report

In 2020, the Eagles were without the following players Week 1 against Washington:

  1. RT Lane Johnson
  2. RG Brandon Brooks
  3. RB Miles Sanders
  4. DE Derek Barnett
  5. DT Javon Hargrave
  6. LT Andre Dillard
  7. WR Alshon Jeffery
  8. S Will Parks
  9. WR Quez Watkins

And, if you'll recall, they lost that game, and many more as the season progressed. One of the main objectives of this camp was to remain healthy, and as of the morning of August 26, every starter (with perhaps the exception of McLeod) should be good to go.

MORE: Mailbag: Should the Eagles add a wide receiver? | NFL agents vote Howie Roseman as the least trustworthy GM in the league

9) The 'Every Move You Make' Award 👀: Jalen Hurts

No player was watched more closely this camp than Hurts, of course, since he's, you know, the quarterback replacing Carson Wentz. Everything Hurts did was evaluated, from his throws, to his on-field leadership, to the words he spoke during interviews. 

After some early practices in which the offense looked ugly, Hurts settled down and improved quite a bit as camp progressed, as he threw more accurately and his command of the offense grew.

Some players can handle that kind of intense scrutiny. Some can't. Hurts did.

10) The 'Don't Forget About Me' Award 😨: Deshaun Watson

The Eagles still haven't named Jalen Hurts the starter of this team yet, despite the fact that he has taken literally every first-team rep during practices this summer. He's very clearly the starting quarterback of this team, but they refuse to acknowledge it. Why is that? 🤔

Well, maybe we just spent the last month obsessing over Hurts' every throw, quote, and mannerism, only to see him included in a deal to bring Deshaun Watson to Philly? Until they definitively name Hurts the starter, speculation will not (and should not) die on the Watson rumors.

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