Earlier we looked at how it started; now we’ll look at how it is going, and the answer is: pretty good! Let’s overreact some more!
Rookies are making an impact. Jordan Davis was unfair in college and gave plenty of reasons to believe he can continue that in the NFL. Triple teams by the Jets in Week 1 of the preseason merely slowed him down; it is going to be a riot watching him play.
Cam Jurgens deputizing for Jason Kelce has been as seamless a transition there can be from a top-tier player to a rookie. Nakobe Dean was having a so-so camp and then got unleashed in the preseason and played like the first-round talent he was compared to. Sure, it was just one preseason game against a hapless Jets team, but if they didn’t play well, there would be panic.
The preseason game against the Browns in Week 2 was lackluster, but the more important performances for the coaches were the scrimmages against the Dolphins and Browns, where the Eagles were the better team.
This draft class is beginning to feel like a 1-2-3 combo up there with Lane Johnson/Zach Ertz/Bennie Logan in 2013 and Fletcher Cox/Mychal Kendricks/Vinny Curry in 2012 (and for a bonus, Nick Foles was their fourth selection). That was a back-to-back draft that helped produce a Super Bowl winner. Hmm, Devonta Smith/Landon Dickerson/Milton Williams was a quality trio last year as well. HMM.
Nick Sirianni isn’t dicking around. Sirianni gave backup and fringe roster players their fair share early in camp as every coach does. But for the most part, the first-team reps have gone to first-team players. There was a time when Andy Reid, the league’s leader in overthinking it, would give guys everyone knew wouldn’t be starters the starting job to begin camp, and they would always lose the job to the guy everyone knew was going to be the starter when the season began. It was a waste of everyone’s time.
Sirianni is having none of that. In practice, Jalen Reagor wasn’t unnecessarily running with the first team prior to being traded to the Minnesota Vikings. The now-departed J.J. Arcega-Whiteside didn’t get meaningful reps or playing time at tight end, and Jaquiski Tartt, who started in the Super Bowl a few years ago, didn’t get to cut the line in playing time at safety and was eventually cut when the team established its 53-man roster. Everyone had to earn their keep, which is the kind of approach that veteran-laden teams that routinely have double-digit win seasons have.
Roster battles were largely as expected. The biggest sign your team stinks is that there are a lot of starting or key contributor jobs up for grabs. For the Eagles, every roster spot that had a competition was, if not entirely expected, not a shock either. Anthony Harris being cut and the team trading for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was a surprise, but going into camp everyone knew the safety position was unsettled. When a 25-year-old rookie, Britain Covey, is one of the more notable roster cuts (and lands on the practice squad instead), your roster is in a good spot.
Safety was worse than expected. But now it may be better? Credit the Eagles for never stopping to try to upgrade the position all summer. They brought in UDFAs to compete and gave them a fair shot, and two of them made the initial 53-man roster: Reed Blankenship and Josh Jobe. Jobe is a corner for now but he profiles as a player who may move to safety.
They signed Jaquiski Tartt in June. He didn’t work out, and they didn’t waste too much time trying to make it work. They moved Andre Chachere (now on the practice squad) to safety and gave Josiah Scott reps there to see if they could stick. They traded for Ugo Amadi and then quickly moved on. And then of course they cut Anthony Harris and traded for Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. The Eagles should be in a better spot now than they were when training camp began. If not, at least you can’t fault them for trying.
The major veteran additions largely met expectations. Shiny new toy A.J. Brown immediately hit it off on the practice field with Jalen Hurts, with practice report after practice report giving glowing reviews of the duo. This made his preseason debut funny, because he did nothing — on purpose. Hurts never threw to him, which was hilarious. And smart; why bother putting anything on tape? Anyway, his play and an injury to Devonta Smith practically made Devonta Smith an afterthought until the Browns scrimmages, and that’s no knock on Smith! Brown and Smith look like the best WR duo the Eagles have had since… DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin combined for over 2,000 yards and 16 TDs in 2010?
The Giants cut James Bradberry because no one would trade for him, and the Eagles wisely snapped him up as a free agent. That’s looking like a shrewd move; he’s been terrific in practice. This might be the best CB duo the Eagles have had since … Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown in 2008?
Kyzir White played five snaps against the Jets and made two plays, an incredible ratio, and continued to make plays in scrimmages against the Browns. Zach Pascal dropped to cruiserweight after a bad case of food poisoning and came back like it was nothing; he may prove to be a valuable addition in the red zone.
If I’m going to overreact, then Haason Reddick’s quiet camp is reason for concern.
The kids are alright. An area that has been a dead spot for the Eagles in recent years has been player development. The team simply has not pulled its weight at bringing in young players and getting improvement out of them, and there’s been a near-total lack of late-round players who have turned into contributors. From 2016 through 2019, only three players taken in Rounds 5 through 7 made a real impact: Jalen Mills, who was viewed by many as a second-round caliber talent; Halapoulivaati Vaitai; and Jordan Mailata, who’d never played football before. Three fine picks, but overall not a great track record.
That started to change last year. Not to speak ill of Doug Pederson, but he is at his best with a veteran team. One of the selling points of hiring Nick Sirianni was his (and his staff’s) ability to teach. Jeffery Lurie and Howie Roseman seemed to have shopped wisely there. The improvement by second-year players under Sirianni, or in some cases young players in their second year under Sirianni, has been big enough and widespread enough to believe that the selling point is real and not just a fortunate coincidence.
Jalen Hurts had his flaws in 2021, but he was also massively improved from 2020. Quez Watkins played in just six games in 2020, and in 2021 he was the second-best WR on the team and not just because somebody has to be. Josh Sweat (24), T.J. Edwards (25), Sua Opeta (25), Marcus Epps (25), and Andre Chachere (25) were all 25 or younger and made strides in 2021 under Sirianni.
This summer Marlon Tuipulotu, Patrick Johnson, Tarron Jackson, Kayode Awosika (who landed on the practice squad), Noah Togiai (practice squad), Davion Taylor (practice squad), Josiah Scott, and even Jalen Reagor (prior to being traded) all had good camps, and all are either in their second year or 25 and under and in their second year with Sirianni. Again, no disrespect to Doug Pederson — I would never disrespect him — but that kind of depth of improvement by young players never really happened on his watch.
That’s not all on Pederson. The Eagles’ draft approach was scattershot during his tenure, such as going from drafting guys with great stats but limited physical upside in 2017, then taking guys who tested well in 2018, or going back-to-back drafts in 2018 and 2019 making only 10 total selections. It’s hard to turn picks into good players when you don’t make many picks.
Once again, it’s fair to wonder if not feeling the need to draft players to fit Carson Wentz and instead going with a more “best player available” type of approach has helped change things for the better!
Let the good times roll. If in June you drew up a best case scenario for the Eagles by 53-man roster cutdowns, it wouldn’t look much different than what has happened: Stocks trended up, young players improved, veterans looked mostly as advertised, and the team is healthy.
I’m not a gambling man, but our friends at Draft Kings put the Eagles over/under at 9.5, and given the improvements we’ve seen so far, and their schedule, I’d easily take the over.