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January 16, 2023

Reviewing the Eagles' rookies' first seasons in the NFL

Eagles NFL
011623JordanDavis Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

Eagles DT Jordan Davis

With the Philadelphia Eagles' regular season in the books, let's take a look at each of their rookies and how their played in their first NFL seasons.

DT Jordan Davis (Round 1)

Through the first seven games of the season, Davis had meager stats (14 tackles, 1 batted pass), but he was effective in clogging up running lanes in the middle of the defense. He was averaging 22 snaps per game, almost solely as a nose tackle, when he was carted off with an ankle injury against the Steelers Week 8, landing him on injured reserve. In that Steelers game, the Eagles seemed to expand Davis' role, allowing him to play additional positions, thus getting him on the field with more personnel groups. 

In Davis' absence, the Eagles signed Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh to bolster their interior defensive line depth. Joseph made an immediate impact on the Eagles' run defense and became the No. 1 early down, run-stuffing nose tackle. Since returning from injured reserve, Davis has only played 11.7 snaps per game, and he has four tackles.

Davis is going to be a good player. His blend of size, power, and athleticism is extremely rare, and we saw throughout training camp that he can do things that players his size should not be able to do. We saw flashes of his ability in the preseason and in some games, but he has not played as well as Joseph. I can certainly understand why some would have liked to have seen more from Davis this season. 

It is worth noting that interior defensive linemen often take years to blossom into impact players. The following are the four players who made the NFL All-Pro team this season, and what their rookie stats were:

  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 guys combined for 221 tackles and 42.5 sacks.

Davis is a smart kid who loves to play, and while he lost playing time to Joseph, he can also learn from Joseph's 13 years of NFL experience. I don't have much of a doubt that he'll figure it out, but at that position it typically takes some time to grow as a player, and it certainly didn't help that he suffered an injury at a time that he was beginning to build some momentum.

C Cam Jurgens (Round 2)

Looking back at draft weekend, my main gripe (among others) with the use of resources on Jurgens in the second round was that he was a center-only prospect on a roster with a Hall of Fame center in Jason Kelce still playing at a Hall of Fame level, with two other previous early round "Jason Kelce replacements" already backing him up. My draft grades from May can be found here, if you want to revisit that whole debate.

My criticism of that selection changed some in training camp, when Kelce had a cleanout surgery on his elbow, and Jurgens played with the first-team offense for about a month. It was clear that Jurgens can play, as he basically looked like a Kelce clone in the preseason games, giving the organization reasonable hope that the offensive line can transition semi-seamlessly from Kelce to Jurgens whenever Kelce decides he doesn't want to play anymore. 

If Kelce decides to play another year, Jurgens could potentially be cross-trained at guard in the short-term, especially with Isaac Seumalo primed to hit the open market in a couple months. The plan was to cross-train Jurgens in 2022 training camp, but Kelce's injury changed that, as the team wanted to give Jurgens as many reps as possible at center in the event Kelce was unable to return by Week 1. We'll see if Jurgens can take on a bigger, non-center role in 2023 if (a) Kelce keeps playing and (b) Seumalo leaves in free agency.

But 2022 was all about sitting and waiting for Jurgens, as he only played 35 offensive snaps, mostly in jumbo and goal line sets as a sixth lineman.

LB Nakobe Dean (Round 3)

When the Eagles' selected Dean in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, it was widely hailed as a steal. Many (self included) thought that Dean had a chance to start as a rookie in the Eagles' defense. It didn't happen that way, as he had a quiet training camp, while T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White made plays regularly in practice.

Dean is challenged by his lack of ideal size, and he isn't an elite athlete by NFL standards. He'll have to rely on his instincts and intelligence at the NFL level. At some point, if his professional career follows in the same path as his college career, he'll be one of the smartest players on the field, but he didn't have that advantage this summer while trying to learn two positions (MIKE and WILL) simultaneously in a new defensive scheme.

Edwards and White earned starting roles, and have mostly stayed healthy this season, keeping Dean sidelined. Dean did get some action in a December game against the Titans, and he had a promising performance. Both Edwards and White are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents in two months, so the Eagles could be counting on Dean for a bigger role in 2023.

LB Kyron Johnson (Round 6)

Johnson was a core special teamer as a rookie, playing in 16 games. He played 18 snaps in the regular defense, and 265 snaps on special teams. He had eight tackles this season.

TE Grant Calcaterra (Round 6)

Calcaterra had five receptions for 81 yards as a rookie as the No. 3 tight end. He played 227 snaps in the regular offense, a big chunk of which came during Dallas Goedert's five-game stint on injured reserve. Calcaterra missed a few weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury. When he practiced, he proved to be a capable receiver, but he has ways to go as a blocker.

S Reed Blankenship (UDFA)

Blankenship was probably the Eagles' most impactful rookie this season, collecting 34 tackles, two pass breakups, and one INT. He made the team out of training camp as an undrafted rookie free agent, and began the season as the No. 4 safety. At some point during the season, he leapfrogged K'Von Wallace for the No. 3 safety role, and was called on to start after Chauncey Gardner-Johnson went down with a lacerated kidney against the Packers. In that Packers game, Blankenship intercepted Aaron Rodgers and made several nice plays in run defense.

With Gardner-Johnson out, Blankenship would start against the Titans, Giants, Cowboys, and Saints, playing well overall in those four games. Upon Gardner-Johnson's return to the lineup, Blankenship still kept a role. Gardner-Johnson started at safety in the base defense but moved to the slot in nickel with Blankenship coming off the bench to play safety. Blankenship will likely continue in that role into the playoffs for as long as slot corner Avonte Maddox remains out.

PR Britain Covey (UDFA)

Covey's start to the season wasn't great, as he had 18 punt returns for 117 yards (6.5 yards per return), and two muffed punts that he was able to recover on his own. He was also ineffective as a kick returner, losing that job to Boston Scott.

However, in the last eight games, Covey has been much better, with 15 returns for 191 yards (12.7 yards per return), and no muffs.

Covey has played 19 snaps in the regular offense, mostly in mop-up duty.

CB Josh Jobe (UDFA)

The Eagles like Jobe as a gunner on the punt team, and he has played 220 snaps on special teams this season. I was surprised to see that he only has one tackle on the season. Jobe had a good showing in the preseason, most notably against the Browns, a game that likely stamped his ticket onto the roster.

OL Josh Sills (UDFA)

Sills was the surprise player to make the Eagles' roster out of training camp as an undrafted rookie free agent. The Eagles like his guard-tackle versatility. He only appeared in one game this season (four special teams snaps against the Cardinals). It's worth noting that when the Eagles needed a roster spot recently, they decided to cut Sua Opeta instead of Sills, a good sign for what the Eagles think of Sills' chances of positive development going forward.

K Cameron Dicker (UDFA)

And then there's Dicker, who the Eagles signed off the street after a Jake Elliott injury, and who helped the Eagles win a game Week 5 against the Cardinals, going 2/2 on field goals and 2/2 on PATs. He later became the Chargers' kicker, going 19/20 on field goals and 22/22 on PATs for them during the regular season.

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