We are a few short days away from the Eagles opening game against the Detroit Lions. The offseason hype has everyone buzzing, but none of that matters when the season kicks off and new storylines emerge. While plenty of attention will be paid to all the stars the Eagles added and the development of young cornerstones like Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith, it will be worth tracking how the Eagles first year players do early in the season. Here are some things to watch in the Eagles rookies’ first NFL game.
Will Jonathan Gannon Let the Dawgs Out?
Jordan Davis and Nokbe Dean joined the Eagles to much fanfare via April’s NFL draft. Both former Georgia Bulldogs were the key pieces of UGA’s championship run and their legendary defense. As they step up to the pro level, the question is how quickly they are thrown into the mix with the Eagles starting defense.
Jordan Davis’ early fit is a bit more clear. The defensive tackle will become a part of the rotation as soon as possible, probably being featured on early downs to stuff up the run. Davis can play any interior defensive line spot, from five-technique to true nose tackle, and Jonathan Gannon will likely move him around to exploit weaknesses in opposing offensive lines. Detroit’s offense is particularly strong up front, even as the unit deals with injuries. The Lions field a physical offense that wants to run the ball up the middle often to set the tone. Davis seeing the field in the base defense to stop the run is a likely scenario. The question is, how does he respond to an early career challenge like that?
We saw flashes of Davis’ dominance early in preseason, but the team mostly kept the first round pick on ice ahead of the regular season. Sunday is when Eagles fans and coaches alike will get a real glimpse of what Davis does in this defense. Nakobe Dean’s early fit is not so clear. Dean is coming off a highly decorated 2021 campaign at linebacker, but the Eagles might not see him as a starter in their defense… yet. Kyzir White, TJ Edwards, and Haason Reddick figure to start at linebacker in a 4-3 alignment for the Eagles. If the Eagles go into a nickel package, it is likely Reddick slides down to edge defender while Edwards and White remain at linebacker.
Dean’s preseason was fine, but he did not stand out enough to earn a featured role on the retooled Eagles defense. Gannon is very high on Edwards and White, so they might opt for veterans over dealing with a rookie’s learning curve when linebacker was such a problematic spot last year. Dean’s trump card at the position is the speed he can play at. His combination of speed and physicality is something that is not really anywhere else among the Eagles linebackers and it can be an asset especially as a blitzer. The Eagles, who have teased all offseason how “multiple” their defense may be, could use Dean as a role player early on. As he gets comfortable with NFL game speed, maybe he takes on a larger and larger role as the season goes on.
For Sunday, I don’t expect to see much of the linebacker on the starting defense barring an injury. However, it would be a pleasant surprise if the team gives him a bunch of snaps so he can get his legs under him. After all, his ceiling is higher than any other linebacker on the team.