Philadelphia Eagles 2021 Season Preview

Expectations aren't great, due to a new coaching staff, a young, unproven quarterback, and some youthful weapons, though the defense could surprise
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The expectations surrounding the Eagles aren’t great. There are just too many unknowns.

A rookie head coach in Nick Sirianni replaces a Super Bowl-winning coach in Doug Pederson and a second-year quarterback in Jalen Hurts takes over for Carson Wentz.

Hurts actually took over for Wentz in 2020, starting the last four games after the struggling former No. 2 overall pick was benched, then, in the offseason, Wentz was traded to the Indianapolis Colts.

A youthful bunch of weapons surrounds Hurts, with the exception of tight end Zach Ertz, who is surprisingly still on the roster after a desire to be traded or released in the offseason due to an acrimonious contract situation with general manager Howie Roseman.

First-round WRs DeVonta Smith, from the 2021 class, and Jalen Reagor (2020) will need to develop quickly.

The Eagles missed the playoffs last year, snapping a string of three straight seasons in which they qualified for the postseason.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie vowed to “transition” the roster to a more youthful one during the offseason, yet the Eagles have just 18 new players on the roster compared to 2020 and the team’s overall average age dropped just a fraction, from 26 to 25.9.

Offense

Sirianni is known for his work with wide receivers and quarterbacks, having had three different QBs in three seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Colts – Andrew Luck, Jacoby Brissett, and Philip Rivers.

Now comes Hurts. The second-year quarterback will start after taking all the first-team reps in training camp. Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew, acquired from Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick days before final roster cuts, serve as backups.

The new coach didn’t reveal much of his offense in the preseason, except for some simple wide receiver screens.

This figures to be a heavy run-pass option scheme (RPO) with the running backs being heavily involved in the passing game.

Miles Sanders had 50 catches as a rookie in 2019, but his hands weren’t very consistent last year. Rookie Kenny Gainwell has the best hands out of the backfield, so expect a big role for him along with backfield mate Boston Scott.

With Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz, the Eagles have one of the best tight end groupings in the league, and Sirianni will play more 12 personnel (two TEs on the field at once) than he probably thought he would when he arrived.

The strength of the offense is along the offensive line. Injuries sabotaged this unit in 2020, but it’s a line that has played a lot of games together, with the exception of 2018 seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata, who won the left tackle starting job over 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard. Even Mailata, though, made 10 starts last year.

Still, Jason Kelce (center), Isaac Seumalo and Brandon Brooks (guards), and right tackle Lane Johnson are veterans. The depth is solid enough that Rosman was able to ship 2018 sixth-round pick Matt Pryor to the Colts on cutdown day in exchange for the Colts’ sixth-round pick in the 2022 draft.

Defense

Like Sirianni, a first-year head coach, Jonathan Gannon is a rookie defensive coordinator.

Expect multiple looks from the new DC, with some 3-4 fronts mixed in with their base 4-3 look.

The Eagles signed Ryan Kerrigan as a free agent in the offseason after Kerrigan had spent his entire career playing against the Eagles as a member of the Washington Football team. Kerrigan had thumb surgery after an injury early in camp, so he didn’t do much in camp and didn’t play in the preseason. He is listed as a defensive end on the depth chart, but he may line up as an outside linebacker on occasion.

The strength of the defense is along that defensive line, where Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham are still playing at high levels as they move into their 30s. Last year, this unit had 49 sacks, and they could top that this year.

There are two very good pass rushers to go with Graham on the outside in 2018 fourth-round pick Josh Sweat and former 2017 first-round selection Derek Barnett. Both players are in contract years.

It’s a line that is also steeling itself for the future after Roseman chose to keep three rookies on the front – third-rounder Milton Williams, who was used inside and out during camp, and sixth-rounders Marlon Tuipulotu (DT) and (DE) Tarron Jackson.

The Eagles kept seven linebackers on their roster, including rookie seventh-round pick Patrick Johnson, but it will be led by Alex Singleton (120 tackles in 2020) and free-agent pickup Eric Wilson.

The cornerback group is thin after starting veterans Darius Slay and Steve Nelson, so rookie fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson will be counted to prove significant snaps while the safeties are a blend of experience in Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris and youth in K’Von Wallace and Marcus Epps.

Prediction

8-9. This is a team that could get off to a slow start, given a new staff and some relatively new players expected to play significant snaps. If the Eagles stay healthy and are able to continue improving to the point where they are playing better in November and December than September and October, they could make a run to 10 wins and the NFC East, since their final five games are against division opponents.

Expected depth chart

Quarterback

QB1 Jalen Hurts

QB2 Joe Flacco

QB3 Gardner Minshew

Running back

RB1 Miles Sanders

RB2 Kenny Gainwell

RB3 Boston Scott

Wide receivers

DeVonta Smith, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside

Jalen Reagor

Quez Watkins (slot), Greg Ward

Tight end

TE1 Dallas Goedert

TE2 Zach Ertz

TE3 Jack Stoll

OL

C: Jason Kelce, Landon Dickerson

RG: Brandon Brooks, Jack Driscoll

LG: Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig

LT: Jordan Mailata, Andre Dillard

RT: Lane Johnson, Brett Toth

Defensive end

Brandon Graham (starter), Ryan Kerrigan

Derek Barnett (starter), Josh Sweat, Tarron Jackson

Defensive tackle

Fletcher Cox (starter), Milton Williams

Javon Hargrave (starter), Marlon Tuipulotu

Linebacker

MLB: Alex Singleton, Davion Taylor, Shaun Bradley

WILL: Eric Wilson (starter), T.J. Edward

SAM: Genard Avery (starter), Patrick Johnson

Cornerbacks

Darius Slay, Zech McPhearson

Steve Nelson

Avonte Maddox (slot starter), Josiah Scott

Safeties

Rodney McLeod, K’Von Wallace

Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps

Specialists

K: Jake Elliott

P: Arryn Siposs

LS: Rick Lovato