It’s no secret that the 2019 Philadelphia Eagles were one of the oldest teams in the NFL.
And not just in terms of average roster age (second oldest) but in terms of Football Outsiders’ snap-weighed metric (second oldest) as well.
It made sense, then, when Howie Roseman said back in January that the Eagles needed “to infuse youth in this team.” To his credit, he accomplished that to some extent by making 10 picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. That’s certainly a step in the right direction after only leaving with 10 selections in 2018 and 2019 combined.
But the Eagles need their newly acquired youth to, you know, actually pan out. That hasn’t always been the case in recent years, as indicated by how Football Outsiders has Philadelphia ranked 29th out of 32 teams in under-25 talent.
The Eagles’ second-round draft selection of quarterback Jalen Hurts epitomizes their commitment to depth over star power, but their recent inability to draft a blue-chip player will catch up with them if they cannot turn that trend around. Their lone first-round pick from 2017 and 2018, Derek Barnett, has peaked with just 26 hurries and 6.5 sacks in his best of three career seasons. And after one year, the team’s 2019 draft looks particularly poor. First-rounder Andre Dillard blew 7.8% of his rookie blocks, the highest rate among left tackles with 300 or more snaps played. His need to further develop might have prompted the team to re-sign 38-year-old Jason Peters if they hadn’t already done so to replace injured veteran Brandon Brooks at right guard. Second-round wide receiver JJ Arcega-Whiteside found the field for just 486 offensive snaps in a healthy season and was inefficient with a -12.3% DVOA when he was targeted. Fourth-round defensive end Shareef Miller did not play a single defensive snap. And fifth-round quarterback Clayton Thorson is no longer with the team. Among their five picks, only running back Miles Sanders showcased his potential, and his workhorse consideration for 2020 relies more heavily on his excellent receiving (20.0% DVOA) than his demonstrated rushing efficiency (-6.6% DVOA).
The Eagles would likely have repeated as the last-place team in the under-25 rankings if not for their success in the later rounds. Cornerbacks Avonte Maddox and Sidney Jones excelled in relief of presumed starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills, posting impressive 56% and 67% respective coverage success rates. One of them is likely to start across from newly acquired veteran All-Pro Darius Slay. With 16 hurries and four sacks, defensive end Josh Sweat outpaced the more heralded Barnett in half as many snaps. And the team must like either unproven sophomore linebacker T.J. Edwards or rookies Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley, because one of them almost certainly will start with just Duke Riley and
Jatavis Brownas veteran options at off-ball linebacker.
Football Outsiders is wrong to say the Eagles don’t have at least one blue-chip player under 25. Their metrics don’t like Sanders’ rushing ability for some reason but he should qualify for that description.
But, yeah, outside of Sanders, the Eagles’ 2019 draft class isn’t looking so amazing. Dillard has much to prove as the starting left tackle. Even if he excels, he’s not even going to be eligible for next year’s version of this list as he turns 25 in a couple months. It’s hard to imagine that JJAW won’t improve upon last year’s showing but that’s a very low bar to clear. Miller could conceivably never play a defensive snap for the Eagles. Thorson wasn’t even good enough to earn practice squad consideration in Philly.
The Eagles will hope that their 2020 class proves to be much more fruitful for them. First-round pick Jalen Reagor, as Football Outsiders notes, has blue-chip potential. And he’s only 21 years old. The Eagles will hope that Hurts (22) never has to play but some blend of their other rookies like Davion Taylor (22), K’Von Wallace (23), and Quez Watkins (21) have a chance to become long-term fixtures.
Having young talent isn’t everything. The New York Giants, for example, rank second on this list but they’ve been bad for a long time and they’re probably not going to be all that much better this season. The Eagles have enough veteran talent to at least be considered as a playoff team. But those older dudes won’t be around forever and the Eagles need to keep their pipeline stocked. They’re not in a great spot right now but the 2020 class offers some level of hope moving forward.