Eagles fans haven’t really seen the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles yet.
Oh sure, there have been three preseason games, but we saw very little of the players who will be getting the majority of snaps once the regular season kicks off in a couple weeks. And while it’s nice to hear second and third-hand reports from beat writers who were allowed in the practice sessions between the Eagles and the Patriots/Jets over the last couple weeks, we still don’t really know what to expect from this group.
There is a chance the 2021 Birds could be pretty good or, at the very least, competitive. There’s also a strong chance they could be pretty bad. Fans would almost certainly be satisfied with a .500-ish season, which would be a massive improvement over last year’s 4-11-1 disaster. Lots of things would have to go right for that to happen, but not so many that it’s fanciful or unrealistic.
But with two weeks to wait until the season officially kicks off against the Falcons in Atlanta on Sunday, Sept. 12, it’s the time of year for bold predictions.
These are not for the faint of heart.
Gardner Minshew Will Make 4+ Starts at QB
Let’s get our QB takes out of the way early. Life in the NFL at the quarterback position usually entails injury and, given how often we expect Hurts to run with the football and given he’s not the biggest signal caller in America (6-foot-1, 222 pounds), it’s likely he’s going to get injured at some point this season. It’s just science.
That means the Eagles’ back-up quarterback will get a bunch of reps this year and, given the choice between Joe Flacco and Gardner Minshew under center, I have to believe Nick Sirianni would give those starts to Minshew, who is younger and better than Flacco at this stage of their careers.
Jalen Hurts Will Have a QB Rating Under 85
And look, I really want to believe that Hurts is the franchise QB and that we’ll be able to use three first round picks next year at positions other than quarterback to truly bulk up this roster. But I’ve seen a lot of bold predictions out there proclaiming a 3,500+ yard season and 30+ combined touchdowns and, in my heart of hearts, I see a more up-and-down season and the likelihood that, while he will show flashes of promise, it won’t be enough to convince Howie Roseman to keep him as the franchise QB.
It was pretty obvious from the team’s pursuit of DeShaun Watson this summer that the front office doesn’t believe Hurts is the guy. As much as anything else, that is why I’m pumping the brakes on a Hurts breakout season and think it’s more likely than not he struggles a bit in 2021.
Milton Williams Will Have More Sacks Than Derek Barnett
To say I’m the low man on Derek Barnett would be an understatement. The oft-injured former first round pick certainly has talent but has never been able to put it all together and have the type of dominant season one would have hoped. Williams, however, has been impressive this summer and the third-round pick from last April is going to get the opportunity to play quite a bit, both on the edge and at defensive tackle.
This prediction may be more aimed at Barnett’s lack of production, but it also takes into account the fact I think Williams is going to have a solid rookie season and could put 4-5 sacks up on the board. I’ll predict Barnett doesn’t quite get there.
Zach Ertz Will Out-Catch Dallas Goedert
This week, Zach Ertz spoke.
Zach Ertz is speaking for the first time since last season. Says it's the most fun he's had coming to work in a long time. Had offseason ankle surgery. Says this is where he wants to be. Differences between the team "mended."— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) September 1, 2021
He talked about off-season ankle surgery and how it hindered him throughout last season’s nightmarish campaign. Now, fully healthy and still wearing Eagles’ green, Ertz is going to outproduce Goedert in ‘21, as Hurts looks for the reliable veteran safety net on the regular this upcoming season.
Goedert will generate a fair number of targets as well and I expect their numbers to be somewhat close. But even without Ertz last year, Goedert was only able to suit up for 11 games and has yet to prove he can be a high volume, every-week threat. Last year he caught 46 passes for 524 yards, and in ‘19, he set career highs with 58 catches and 607 yards in 15 games. A healthy Ertz will beat those totals.
Kenny Gainwell Will Be the Eagles’ Top Receiving RB
Gainwell got off to a slow start in camp this summer but really came on over the last few weeks, which is good news for both Hurts and Sirianni’s passing attack. Last year, Miles Sanders fell off the cliff as a pass-catcher, dropping from 50 to 28 receptions and 509 to 197 receiving yards. Yes, he played in four fewer games, but his catch% also “dropped” significantly, from 79.4% in his rookie year to 53.8%.
Yes, Boston Scott will still be around and he’s OK, but he still only caught 25 balls for 212 yards last year. I think Gainwell will surpass both players and emerge as the team’s best receiving threat out of the backfield in 2021.
Quez Watkins Will Not Clear 500+ Yards Receiving
I wanna believe, kids, I really do. I want to believe the Eagles have stumbled upon a diamond in the rough, a player that will make up for all the high draft picks wasted on wide receivers in recent years (I’m not talking about you, Devonta Smith), but if history is any guide, we have to take the summertime emergence of No. 2 receiver Quez Watkins with a healthy dose of skepticism.
He’s looked great. He really has. But it’s a tall order for a second-year, sixth-round pick to make an impact at the wide receiver position, although it wouldn’t be unprecedented if he did. He could become another Rod Smith, Keenan McCardell, Donald Driver, Marques Colston type, all wide receivers drafted recently in the 6th round or later, but the consensus seems to be that it’s going to happen, and the odds are actually far better that it doesn’t, especially with an uncertain QB situation to deal with as well.
DeVonta Smith Will Be Offensive Rookie of the Year
Maybe this isn’t a bold prediction, but I think a lot of people are sleeping on the impact Kyle Pitts is going to have on the league this year and Smith might not be the sure-fire favorite some are predicting. But I do believe he’s going to emerge as a DeSean Jackson-like star in his first year in Philadelphia and, at the end of the day, will take home the rookie hardware.
Miles Sanders Rushes for Over 1,000 Yards
While I’m not enamored with Sanders’ receiving ability, it’s pretty clear he’s emerged as a true threat running the football, both between the tackles and outside in space. In those 12 games last year he averaged 5.3 yards per rush and piled up 867 and 6 TDs, an improvement from his 4.6 yard per attempt and 818 yards in 2019. I know Jeffrey Lurie doesn’t like his team to run the ball very much, but if Sanders stays healthy for a full 17-game season, he’s a lock to go over 1,000 yards on the ground.
Jake Elliott has a 95%+ FG Accuracy
Kickers are by their nature a little erratic. Some kickers have great years, followed by rotten years, followed by great years. Not all of them are Adam Vinatieri. Elliott has been a very good kicker for the Eagles over the years, although last year’s campaign was dismal. Nevertheless, he seems to have turned the page.
Jake Elliott remains perfect in the preseason. He's 4-for-4. The #Eagles lead 24-10.— Josh Tolentino (@JCTSports) August 28, 2021
Elliott’s actually going to be a pretty important part of the Birds’ offense this season and they need him to get the ball through the uprights with very few mistakes. I think he’ll do it.
Anthony Harris Lead NFL in Interceptions
Darius Slay is the team’s No. 1 corner and, as such, opposing QBs will likely find rough sledding there more often than not. That means they’ll likely be looking Anthony Harris’ direction, and the ball-hawking newcomer will feast on QB mistakes this year. I’m thinking 8 interceptions for Harris, good enough to lead the NFL. Why not?