The slaps in the face keep on coming.
Picture the old Batman series with Adam West when the words would bubble up on the TV screen come after Batman and Robin would hit a villain with a fist, a chair, or a well-placed vase resting on a table:
The Eagles have the fourth-worst roster in the NFL, says Pro Football Focus. Thwack!
Miles Sanders is better than just five of the other starting running backs in the league, says Maurice Jones-Drew, NFL Media analyst and color analyst for the Los Angeles Rams. Smack!
Jalen Hurts can’t even crack the top quarterback rankings put forth by Chris Simms, whose Twitter bio lists him as an NBC Sports analyst. Crack!
Many gambling outlets have set the over/under of Eagles wins at 6.5. Thump!
All of the offseason slaps may prove correct.
Don’t bet on it, though.
Lane Johnson has already rung the underdog bell. The 2017 Super Bowl mantra of hungry dogs running faster will be put to the test this season.
Some of those dogs a few years older, and, while not many of them are left from four years ago, they have been well fed.
So, it will be incumbent on this team’s transitioning young corps to prove the world wrong.
Here are five reasons to be excited about the 2021 season and, well, who knows where it may lead:
DeVonta Smith. The excitement level for what looks to be a No. 1 WR in the making – if he isn’t already built to be a No. 1 – wouldn’t be as high had the Eagles drafted someone like cornerbacks Patrick Surtain or Jaycee Horn, now would it?
Yeah, a cornerback would be nice, but the Eagles haven’t a playmaker on the outside since when, DeSean Jackson in 2013?
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner has all the tools and should get the targets to be in any offensive rookie of the year conversations and could break Jackson’s rookie record for receiving yards of 912 set in 2008.
Jalen Hurts. Simms may not think much of the second-year QB, but his teammates do.
“I was drafted in the sixth round, and nobody thought I’d last a season in the NFL,” said center Jason Kelce during a break his guest bartending stint to raise money for Eagles Autism Foundation on June 30.
“Analysts are analysts for a reason. “They’re certainly experts. I don’t want to bash any of those guys, but I’m with Jalen every day. He has all the intangibles. He’s an incredible leader, great work ethic and I can’t wait to see what that kid does. I don’t know how to evaluate quarterbacks, but I’m excited to be his teammate.”
Hurts endured a rookie season that didn’t go well for anybody on the team, and Doug Pederson paid the price for that when he lost his job.
Hurts showed he can be a dual-threat in this league, with a pair of legs that can motor and an arm that can do enough damage to win games.
Watching him progress each week should be something to see. Even if he regresses, that will be something to see, too.
For my money, the 4,000-yard passing, 1,000-yard rushing season is on for Hurts, which would make him the first in NFL history to achieve that double-double.
Offensive line. It was one of the best in football for a very long time until injuries hammered this unit in 2020 and led to Carson Wentz and Hurts getting sacked a league-high 65 times combined.
Odds are, that won’t happen again.
Even though the right side is in their 30s now, including center Jason Kelce (33), Brandon Brooks (32 in August) and Lane Johnson (31), it still figures to be one of the best again no matter who starts at left tackle.
Now, after the young backups were forced into playing time last year, the line’s depth is even better.
“He’s an irreplaceable guy,” said Kelce about Brooks, who missed the entire season after rupturing an Achilles. “I’m very happy with the guys who went in there and battled. I think they did a great job for being young players, but you’re not going to replace Brandon Brooks.
“He’s too special of a payer physically, too special mentally, which he never gets enough credit for because he plays guard and doesn’t have to do a lot of that stuff, but he makes my job easier so does Isaac Seumalo (who missed seven games after a knee injury in Week 2).
“Both of those guys are very smart players, they’re very physical players. Brandon’s as good as they come in this league.”
Defensive line. Judging by this past draft, this is a unit in transition but still has the potential to plunder its way to 50 sacks after posting 49 last year.
Like Smith, the Eagles should get plenty of help up front from another rookie, this one DT Milton Williams. On the outside, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat will be playing for their next contracts, so it will be interesting to see which one rises or sinks to the challenge.
Something else worth watching for is whether or not there is a double-digit sack season in the offing by anyone up front under a new coaching staff?
The last one to put up at least 10 was Fletcher Cox when he had 10.5 in 2018. Prior to that, it was Connor Barwin with 14.5 in 2014.
RB depth. It was painful to watch the Eagles go away from their running-back-by-committee approach last year and try to make Miles Sanders an every-down back. That’s not the way of the modern NFL.
But there wasn’t much behind Sanders on the depth chart last season, other than Boston Scott.
The Eagles did something about it and it will be back to the old days of rotating backs with yet another rookie worth watching and that is Kenny Gainwell.
Veterans Kerryon Johnson and Jordan Howard could be in a battle for the final spot at the position. Either way, Sanders should be more effective, and able to stay healthier, when not having to play almost every series.
Ed Kracz is the publisher of SI.com’s Eagle Maven and co-host of the Eagles Unfiltered Podcast. Check out the latest Eagles news at www.SI.com/NFL/Eagles and please follow him on Twitter: @kracze.