There’s no doubt the 2022 version of the Philadelphia Eagles is substantially more talented than last year’s playoff team.
Upgrades at cornerback, wide receiver, linebacker and defensive line have given the Eagles additional high-end talent as well as greater depth. Add those improvements to one of the best offensive lines in the game, a top-five tight end and a stable of decent running backs and you have a Birds team that most believe has the best overall roster in the NFC East.
Of course, the quarterback could still be an issue.
This Eagles team has enough talent on it to be a Super Bowl contender and some of their units are among the best in the NFL. Here is how I have the team’s positional groups stacked against each other heading into training camp in a couple weeks.
The O-line has both Pro Bowl and All-Pro players in Jordan Mailata, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce, an up-and-coming second-year player in Landon Dickerson and a solid veteran in Isaac Seumalo. They spearheaded the NFL’s No. 1 rushing offense last season and have historically been stingy in giving up sacks in pass protection, allowing just 29 last season, 2nd-fewest in the NFL.
But it’s not just the starters. There is solid depth should one of the starting five go down, with Andre Dillard, Brett Toth and Sua Opeta in the wings, and there is hope second-round pick Cam Jurgens will eventually take over Kelce’s spot at center with minimal waves after this season. They are well insulated in the event of injuries, and it doesn’t hurt to have the best positional coach in the NFL, Jeff Stoutland, overseeing everything.
This could be the best offensive line in all of football, so it obviously tops the list of Eagles’ positional groups.
It’s amazing how the addition of one player, late in an off-season, can transform a unit from a question mark to one of the best in the league.
When the Giants released James Bradberry back in early May, the Eagles took advantage of New York’s cap-cutting desperation and signed him to a one-year, $10 million contract to be the team’s second outside corner, pairing him with Pro Bowler Darius Slay. Not only did that give Jonathan Gannon a truly reliable corner to play opposite opposing teams’ No. 2 receivers, it allowed them to shift Avonte Maddox to the slot full-time, a position where he is much more comfortable.
With Slay-Bradberry-Maddox as the top-three, the Eagles suddenly have one of the best trios or corners in the NFL. Concerns about relying on youngsters like Zech McPhearson or Tay Gowan only need be voiced in the event one of the Big Three go down with an injury. Failing that, QBs should have a much more difficult time moving the ball through the air against the Eagles’ secondary this season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Last year’s top four receivers were DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor and Greg Ward.
This year’s top four receivers are A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal.
Pretty big difference, both from talent added and “talent” subtracted. The Eagles relied on Reagor for far too many snaps last year, and essentially replaced him with Brown, a perennial 1,000 yard receiver who would have crossed that threshold last season were it not for several missed games due to injury. It remains to be seen how Jalen Hurts will connect with Brown in ‘22, but with Smith, Watkins, tight end Dallas Goedert and a very good No. 4 receiver in Pascal, this unit should be one of the five best in the NFC, and the third-best unit on the Birds.
I can’t believe I’m putting the Eagles’ linebacker group ahead of the defensive line, but here we are.
Everyone thinks drafting Nakobe Dean in the third round was a steal, and they’re correct. He has a chance to be a special player, but he’s still just a rookie, so a tapping of the brakes is warranted. T.J. Edwards is solid, if unspectacular as the MIKE, but expect Reddick to play a lot of strong-side, and the addition of Kyzir White from the Chargers was inspired.
This group has an opportunity to be a play-making, ball-hawking, blitzing menace, and this is more talent than we’ve seen at this position since the Jeremiah Trotter, Dhani Jones, Mark Simoneau days of 2004, and could be as good a unit as those Byron Evans/Seth Joyner squads from the Buddy Ryan era.
While I do have concerns about this unit, on paper, it appears strong.
Brandon Graham will be back and if he’s not cooked, will be an important addition. Adding Jordan Davis to the tackle rotation with Javon Hargrave, Fletcher Cox and rapidly improving Milton Williams should allow the Eagles to stop the run and push the pile in the middle, allowing their biggest free agent addition, Haason Redick, to get to the QB when he’s played defensive end. Josh Sweat needs to do better against good teams, but he’s still improving. Derek Barnett is still here.
There are a lot of question marks on the edge with Graham, Sweat and Barnett, but with Reddick, this unit has a chance to be a pretty good one. But it also could struggle getting to the passer. It’s wait-and-see mode for these guys.
If Miles Sanders could ever stay healthy for a full season, he’d be a 1,000-yard rusher, but he just has a hard time staying on the field. Boston Scott continues to be productive in a back-up role, but are we ready for him as the team’s No. 2? Or is the main backup Kenny Gainwell, who had a fine rookie season as a receiver out of the backfield last season? Jason Huntley is the No. 4 RB at the moment, although the team could potentially add another player when teams begin cutting players during camp.
If Sanders can stay healthy, this is a good group, but falls short of the other units listed above.
The range of outcomes for Jalen Hurts this year are tremendous, but as things stand now, he is among the items you are least sure about heading into the season. His skills as a runner are well documented and there are enough bad teams on the schedule to believe he can take the Eagles back to the playoffs, but his 87.2 QB rating was 22nd in the NFL last season, with only 16 TD passes.
Everyone knows the team needs for Hurts to gel as a passer. If it doesn’t happen early in the season, it will be interesting to see when Nick Sirianni pulls the trigger on back-up Gardner Minshew, whose limitations as a QB are well known, but at this stage in his career, is still a superior thrower. Minshew is one of the best back-up QBs in the NFL, and the combination of Hurts/Minshew means the Eagles won’t be forced into the types of holes we saw other teams find themselves last season.
The Eagles are intrigued by undrafted rookie Carson Strong and see him as an interesting developmental quarterback. Which is just fine. Much of how far the team will go in 2022 rests on this unit being better than they’re current ranking.
As of July 19, your starting safeties are Anthony Harris and Marcus Epps, with K’Von Wallace and Jaquiski Tartt as the primary back-ups. The Eagles like Epps’ play-making ability, but he has yet to showcase it yet on a regular basis. He’ll get that chance with the departure of Rodney McLeod. If there is one position left that Howie Roseman could address in a significant way before camp begins, it is here.
Bengals safety Jessie Bates was just franchise tagged by Cincinnati, but the 25-year-old says he has no plans to play on the tag, likely precipitating a trade. Should the Bengals move him, the Eagles are speculated to be among a number of teams as a likely landing spot. If that happens, this group moves up the rankings at least one, if not two, spots.