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May 09, 2023

Projecting first-year roles for each of the Eagles' seven rookie draft picks

Eagles NFL
050823NolanSmith Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles edge rusher Nolan Smith

In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles selected seven players, some of whom are likely to get playing time as rookies. Here we'll look at each of the Birds' additions, and project their roles as rookies.

Round 1: DT Jalen Carter

When we think of positions that take some time for players to flourish, quarterback tops the list, whereas running backs can typically step right in and make a quicker impact. We don't often think of defensive tackle as a position that takes some time for young players to get their sea legs, so to speak, but the reality is that it usually takes some time.

Take Jordan Davis last season, for example. When the Eagles selected Davis 13th overall in the 2022 draft, there was optimism that he could have an immediate impact on the Eagles' defense. Davis did a nice job clogging up running lanes in the middle of the defense through the first seven games, but he had meager stats and an injury slowed his progress. Upon his return to the lineup, Davis got fewer snaps than he had earlier in the season, as veteran Linval Joseph earned a regular role in the rotation. 

In the aftermath of 2022, Davis' rookie season is largely viewed as a disappointment. However, there's an argument to be made that it maybe should have been expected, as it often takes years for interior defensive linemen to blossom into impact players. The following are the four players who made the NFL All-Pro team in 2022, and what their rookie stats were as rookies:

  1. Chris Jones, Chiefs (37th overall pick, 2016): 28 tackles, 2 sacks
  2. Quinnen Williams, Jets (3rd overall pick, 2019): 28 tackles, 2.5 sacks
  3. Jeffery Simmons, Titans (19th overall pick, 2019): 32 tackles, 2 sacks
  4. Dexter Lawrence, Giants (17th overall pick, 2019): 38 tackles, 2.5 sacks

That would be a combined 126 tackles and nine sacks in their rookie seasons. In 2022, those four guys combined for 221 tackles and 42.5 sacks.

Jalen Carter was widely viewed at one point as the No. 1 prospect in the 2023 draft before maturity concerns lowered his stock. His talent is undeniable. However, in the same way that expectations are typically tempered for rookie quarterbacks, they should probably be toned down to some degree for interior defensive linemen like Carter as well. 

I do think that there should be reasonable expectations for Carter to start and at least show flashes in most games of a bright future. If he is merely a guy who rotates into the lineup here and there for like 15-20 snaps for game, Eagles observers will no doubt wonder if Carter's maturity concerns are affecting his play on the field.

Carter will likely begin the season as a starter, playing 4i in the base defense, as well as other spots along the defensive line from Day 1. My bet is that he plays well enough to be a major part of the rotation, but again, spoiler, he's probably not going to rack up double-digit sacks in 2023.

Round 1: Edge Nolan Smith

Smith was commonly comped to Haason Reddick in the leadup to the draft, which led to some wondering, "Well if the Eagles already have the real Haason Reddick, why draft a guy with a very similar skill set?" The following includes some deeper insight into Smith's potential fit within Sean Desai's defense, from a week before the draft:

And here's a visual. To note, Smith isn't taking Josh Sweat's starting job or anything like that. It's just to show how he will likely align when he gets on the field. Also, this was posted before jersey numbers were assigned. Smith is No. 3, but he is shown as No. 4 (his college number) below.

Because Smith is such an incredible athlete, there's reason to believe that he could maybe play some off-ball linebacker as well, but my guess is that the Eagles would only put that on Smith's plate if he proved to be so good that it would be insane for him not to be on the field as something closer to an every-down player.

Round 3: OG Tyler Steen

Steen exclusively played at tackle during his college career at Vanderbilt and Alabama, but the Eagles listed him as a guard when they drafted him. Nick Sirianni was asked during the weekend of the draft if Steen would have the opportunity to compete for the starting RG job that was vacated by Isaac Seumalo, who left in free agency.

"That's really a long way away," he said. "We don't have to make that decision for a while, but the best player will play at that position, and we feel like we have some good options, and the reason why we took him is because we feel good about him. Everybody in the building feels good about him. Yeah, it's too early to say that, but the best player will play, so I guess that kind of answers that question."

The favorite to start at RG for the Eagles in 2023 is 2022 second-round pick Cam Jurgens, but it appears that the Eagles aren't just handing him that job. He'll have to beat out Steen. The Eagles like Jurgens, but he was drafted to be Jason Kelce's long-term replacement at center. I'm sure they want to get him on the field even if slightly out of position at guard after picking him in the second round of the 2022 NFL Draft. He will be the favorite to land the starting RG job heading into training camp.

If Steen were to win the starting RG job, that might actually be a good thing, as the Eagles would then have a long-term answer at that spot, with Jurgens serving as a backup at guard and center until Kelce retires, and Jack Driscoll as a backup swing tackle. If Jurgens wins that job, Steen would probably be the first backup off the bench at both guard spots, assuming he's not a disaster in training camp.

Round 3: S Sydney Brown

Brown will compete with Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship for two open starting safety positions. As an early third-round pick he'll be given every opportunity to win one of those spots. However, whoever is the odd man out could see playing time anyway, as Sean Desai often used three-safety sets when he was the defensive coordinator of the Chicago Bears. As a safety very comfortable playing near the line of scrimmage, Brown would make some sense in a dime linebacker role, especially since the Eagles' most questionable position on the roster is at linebacker.

But beyond his role in the regular defense, at a minimum Brown should contribute on special teams, where he was a productive gunner for Illinois.

Safety is difficult to learn in the NFL relative to some other positions, but Brown is still fairly likely to have an immediate role as a rookie.

Round 4: CB Kelee Ringo

The Eagles traded a 2024 third-round pick to be able to select Ringo, so he is a lock to make the 53-man roster. However, he is unlikely to contribute much in the regular defense playing outside corner behind Darius Slay, James Bradberry, and probably even Zech McPhearson.

"He doesn't have to come in here and be a superhero," Howie Roseman said. "He can learn. We think we have tremendous veterans at that position who can show the way, and he can come in in a role where he's learning, and there's not a lot of pressure on him, and he can develop."

Ringo played on special teams at Georgia despite his status as an across-the-board top 8 national recruit (via Rivals, ESPN, and 247Sports) out of high school. 

"You watch him as a gunner, you watch him on kickoff, that tells you a lot about a guy of that stature, that type of recruit, that type of reputation as a defensive player to not only be on teams, but to be playing with maximum effort and be a good player on special teams," NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said of Ringo during a pre-draft conference call. "I think it tells you a lot about him and his makeup."

Ringo has a chance to be active on gameday, but he will have to carve out role on special teams.

Since we mentioned two of these rookies as gunners, we should probably note that the Eagles' primary gunners in 2022 were McPhearson and Josh Jobe.

Round 6: QB Tanner McKee

McKee will battle it out with Ian Book for the No. 3 quarterback job in training camp. If he wins that competition — and also proves to the Eagles that he's worth keeping three quarterbacks on the active roster over other positional players — then his roster spot should be safe for the full season. Obviously, if he has to play in anything other than a meaningless Week 18 game or something like that then something probably went very wrong with the Eagles' season.

Round 7: DT Moro Ojomo

Carter, Davis, Fletcher Cox, and Milton Williams are all obviously locks for the roster. Otherwise, Ojomo will be competing with guys like Marlon Tuipulotu and Kentavius Street in training camp for a spot on the 53-man roster. Ojomo is a good fit for the Eagles' 4i spot, and I like his chances to stick. My expectation is that he'll make the roster, but will only play sparingly as a rookie, barring injuries to the top four guys.

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