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Eagles Report Card: 2021 rookies provide hope for the future

The kids are alright.

NFC Wild Card Playoffs - Philadelphia Eagles v Tampa Bay Buccaneers Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

With the 2021 season in the books for the Philadelphia Eagles, there is quite a bit to look back on. Among the many bright spots from the season, the Eagles rookies made a massive contribution to the team’s surprise run at the playoffs. Here is a closer look at how the first year players did this year.

DeVonta Smith: A

DeVonta Smith was drafted to address the massive hole in the Eagles offense. The former Heisman winner brought a polished, pro-ready game to bring a steady presence to an offense that was young and raw at receiver.

DeVonta Smith responded to this big task by setting the franchise receiving yardage record for a rookie. His team-leading 916 receiving yards are all the more impressive when you consider how run heavy the Eagles were this year.

DeVonta Smith’s route running savvy and incredible ball skills came in handy on a regular basis. The main thing holding Smith back in year one really had nothing to do with him. Not only was the team run heavy (league-high 49.87% rushing percentage), Smith was absent from the passing game plan in head scratching moments. There were six games where DeVonta Smith saw five or fewer targets, which is bizarre considering how much better of a receiver he is than any of his contemporaries.

Across the NFL, teams know to get to the ball to their best receiver, even if it means drawing up targets for them. Even other rookies like Ja’Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts, and Jaylen Waddle were deliberately made the focal points of their respective offenses because the teams knew they were the best player to get the ball to. Sometimes football is simple like that and whenever Smith was involved more, the offense looked much better.

Going into year two, the hope is that the Eagles are able to straighten out the passing game because DeVonta Smith is on the brink of being a star when things start running better around him.

Poll

Grade DeVonta Smith’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 85%
    A
    (3153 votes)
  • 14%
    B
    (526 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (16 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (1 vote)
  • 0%
    F
    (8 votes)
3704 votes total Vote Now

Landon Dickerson: B+

Landon Dickerson’s rookie season got off to a rough start, but it was hard to blame him. He was coming off of injury and playing in a new position. If that wasn’t enough to stunt his play, the offensive line shuffled around him constantly through the first few weeks of the season while the offense continued to figure out its own identity.

Things clicked into place for the Eagles offense midway through the season when they positioned themselves as a run heavy team. This realization led to Dickerson’s quick progression from struggling rookie to dominant difference maker on the Eagles offensive line. Dickerson’s strength and physicality at the guard position was an asset to the Eagles as they took to pounding the rock for four quarters. He combined with Jordan Mailata to form one of the league’s most formidable left sides of any offensive line.

At the end of his season, it is very clear he was the right choice for the Eagles in the second round. While he was drafted to be Jason Kelce’s heir apparent, the team should consider keeping Dickerson at guard where he has already proved to be a force.

Poll

Grade Landon Dickerson’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 67%
    A
    (2305 votes)
  • 30%
    B
    (1053 votes)
  • 1%
    C
    (49 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (2 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (8 votes)
3417 votes total Vote Now

Milton Williams: C+

No one expected Milton Williams to come in and immediately be a difference maker. With Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave in the mix, Williams was never going to be more than a rotational player.

In Jonathan Gannon’s defense, Williams did get to see the field more often than a mid-round would be expected to. Williams rotated in as a nose tackle, two-gapping defensive end and eventually got some snaps as a penetrating defensive tackle playing both the one and three-technique. The team clearly valued Williams’ unique athletic profile and wanted to get him experience all over the formation.

It took a while before Williams seemed to make himself noticed, with games early on where you would never hear his name. That was partially because of snap count, partially because he was role-playing as more of a space eater, and partially because he was still getting adjusted to the NFL. Later in the season, Williams seemed to come on a bit and would make a splash play at least once a week. With the team looking for more options while Fletcher Cox play had diminished, Milton Williams had opportunities to be more of a “disruptor” and he was able to deliver late in the season.

Williams’ talent is evident. His size and athletic ability allows him to play all over the defensive line, and he has already grown into an adept run defender. With an expectation for the defense to get shaken up this offseason, Williams will likely step into a much bigger role next year.

Poll

Grade Milton Williams’ rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 6%
    A
    (215 votes)
  • 76%
    B
    (2421 votes)
  • 15%
    C
    (480 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (30 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (8 votes)
3154 votes total Vote Now

Zech McPhearson: C

The Eagles had an established trio of cornerbacks heading into this season, so it is no surprise that Zech McPhearson spent most of the year as a special teamer and backup.

Midway through the season, injuries hampered the Eagles secondary which forced McPhearson into quick-notice duty against the Chargers, Saints and Jets. McPhearson looked comfortable despite playing in a pinch and mostly held his own. Which is all you can really ask given he is a fourth round pick thrown into a game unexpectedly.

The outlook for the Eagles cornerback group is unclear at this point with Steven Nelson set to be a free agent. McPhearson was not given a shot to show he is a future starter, but he definitely showed enough to deserve a shot to compete in camp going into year two.

Poll

Grade Zech McPhearson’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (18 votes)
  • 15%
    B
    (430 votes)
  • 67%
    C
    (1819 votes)
  • 14%
    D
    (400 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (35 votes)
2702 votes total Vote Now

Kenneth Gainwell: B

Kenneth Gainwell’s rookie season could be described, simply, as confusing. Early in the year he looked like a fixture on the offense due to his ability as a runner and pass catcher. With the team going to power running and the reemergence of Jordan Howard, Gainwell’s snap count kinda fell off the map. Understandably, the team wanted more consistent runners who could also pass block, but his complete absence at some points was odd considering he could contribute as a pass catcher. Considering Jalen Reagor’ struggles, it felt like Gainwell was better suited to take over his role as a receiver who would get touches on screens, drags and reverses.

Gainwell still finished the season with 101 touches and six total touchdowns, a nice output for a fifth round pick. He is clearly talented with the ball in his hands and he will likely figure into a bigger role in year two with this offense.

Poll

Grade Kenneth Gainwell’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 14%
    A
    (426 votes)
  • 65%
    B
    (1868 votes)
  • 18%
    C
    (536 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (24 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (7 votes)
2861 votes total Vote Now

Marlon Tuipulotu: N/A

Marlon Tuipulotu was drafted for depth reasons with the upside of being a run stopping defensive tackle. He barely dressed for games this year and saw very few snaps. None of which is surprising.

With the defense likely going through a big personnel shift this offseason, expect Tuipulotu to have a chance to compete for a bigger role in year two.

Patrick Johnson: C

Patrick Johnson had a strong preseason, which led me to believe he could be a defensive contributor in year one. Early in the season, Johnson saw some snaps as a rotational outside linebacker, but his playing time diminished as the year went on. Genard Avery emerged as a solid role player, basically making Johnson redundant in the lineup. At least for this year.

In the meantime, Johnson was a solid special teamer and was dependable in the few times he was called on to play defense.

Poll

Grade Patrick Johnson’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 1%
    A
    (25 votes)
  • 12%
    B
    (234 votes)
  • 66%
    C
    (1215 votes)
  • 17%
    D
    (317 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (28 votes)
1819 votes total Vote Now

JaCoby Stevens: N/A

Jacoby Stevens was a project pick as the college safety converted to linebacker. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad but might have a chance to be a role player on the defense moving forward.

Tarron Jackson: B-

If you can get anything from a sixth-round pick in their first season, that is a huge win. Tarron Jackson felt like a steal when the Eagles drafted him and the early returns support that. Sure he was a rotational defensive end, but he looked really solid whenever he was on the field. His high motor, strength and physicality made way for some splash plays for the rookie, all the while he provided solid run defense.

Jackson might not have star-upside, but he looks like a dependable rotational player that will make saying goodbye to Derek Barnett much easier this offseason.

Poll

Grade Tarron Jackson’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    A
    (144 votes)
  • 54%
    B
    (1084 votes)
  • 33%
    C
    (669 votes)
  • 3%
    D
    (62 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (13 votes)
1972 votes total Vote Now

Jack Stoll: B+

When Zach Ertz got traded, there was a huge question about who would take over as the second tight end in the Eagles offense. Jack Stoll stepped up as an UDFA and became a fixture on the Eagles offense. Not as a receiver. Not at all, but Stoll was fundamental in the Eagles rushing offense. Stoll is an extremely adept run blocker, giving the team a ton of flexibility to use him as a move and in-line blocker.

While Stoll did not really contribute in the passing game (four catches for 22 yards), he was an effective role player as an UDFA rookie. Which is great.

Poll

Grade Jack Stoll’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 22%
    A
    (463 votes)
  • 53%
    B
    (1112 votes)
  • 21%
    C
    (457 votes)
  • 1%
    D
    (38 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (11 votes)
2081 votes total Vote Now

Outlook

The Eagles can already hang their hats on DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson being slam dunk draft picks. Beyond that, there should be a lot of optimism about Milton Williams, Kenneth Gainwell and Tarron Jackson. With a team as young as the Eagles, there were plenty of opportunities for rookies to contribute this year and almost all the ones that did contribute, did so to the benefit of the team.

Howie Roseman has rightfully taken a lot of heat for his drafting over the last few years and he needed to nail the 2021 class. Early signs would indicate he can breathe easy, because this might be the best draft class of his long tenure in Philadelphia.

Poll

Grade the Eagles’ 2021 NFL Draft class

This poll is closed

  • 44%
    A
    (1400 votes)
  • 52%
    B
    (1661 votes)
  • 2%
    C
    (94 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (11 votes)
3173 votes total Vote Now