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Eagles rookie report card: Midseason edition

Miami Dolphins v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

The Eagles’ 2023 draft class came in with a ton of fanfare, with many early declarations that Howie Roseman and the Birds had won the draft. While that excitement was well founded, none of it really says anything until we see the players on the field. Now, with nine games down in the season and plenty of playing time for some Eagles rookies, we have a better idea of just how good this group of first years is and good they can be. (Statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.)

Jalen Carter: A-

2023 Stats: 251 Snaps (49%), 16 Total Tackles, Nine Solo Tackles, Four Sacks, Five Tackles for a Loss, Two Forced Fumbles, 14 Total QB Pressures

Jalen Carter has been as advertised. Many, including myself, had Carter pegged as the best player in the class and he has delivered on lofty expectations through nine games. As a featured piece in the Eagles pass rush rotation, Carter has been a menace on the interior of the defensive line. His sack production has been impressive, especially as a rookie, but more notable is how much attention he is drawing already in his first year. Even with the loaded line that the Eagles have, offenses are keying in on Carter, which opens up opportunities for the rest Philadelphia’s pass rush. Carter’s last few games have not been nearly as dominant as his start to the season, but he has been dealing with a back injury that could be keeping him from playing full out on every snap. I’d expect the bye week to serve him quite well in recovering and getting back to himself.

Nolan Smith: C-

2023 Stats: 56 Snaps (10%), Seven Total Tackles, Six Solo Tackles, One Sack, One Tackle for a Loss, Two Total QB Pressures

Nolan Smith was never going to be a huge factor in his first year with the Eagles. Smith was drafted to play behind Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham among the Eagles edge rushers. What has been surprising is that the Eagles played Derek Barnett ahead of him for so much of the season, given that Barnett hasn’t been a difference maker since his rookie year.

When he is on the field, Smith has not made much of an impact. His speed off the line is evident but he has a ways to go when it comes to shedding the long arms of NFL offensive tackles. The talent is evident but it is also evident that they want Smith to keep growing as a player before he gets significant playing time.

Tyler Steen: B-

2023 Stats: One Start

Tyler Steen was drafted to be a project player for Jeff Stoutland. Steen is a fantastic athlete with the size to play tackle or guard at a high level. Well that theory was put to test a bit earlier than the Eagles expected. With Cam Jurgens hurt and Sua Opeta struggling, Steen stepped up to play right guard against the Cowboys. Not exactly an easy test for a player’s first NFL start. Despite the challenge, Steen played a very solid four quarters. While pass blocking was uneven, Steen played very well as a run blocker. Steen committed a frustrating penalty on special teams in that game, but otherwise an admirable performance. Jurgens is likely back against the Chiefs, but now the Eagles can take comfort in Steen having some meaningful snaps under his belt this early on.

Sydney Brown: C+

2023 Stats: 123 Snaps (30%), 18 Total Tackles, 14 Solo Tackles, One Tackle for a Loss, One Pass Defended, One Forced Fumble, Allowing 80% Completion when targeted

Sydney Brown’s role has changed a few times in his young career. At first, there was hopes he could compete for the Eagles open safety spot next to Reed Blankenship. Early season injuries kept him out of the lineup but he returned to play some good football before the Eagles traded for Kevin Byard. Now, Brown is playing as a big slot defender who can add value as a run defender. Brown has had some bright moments against the run and in coverage. He plays with a ton of energy and can bring ball carriers to a complete stop with big hits. His coverage skills need work. He is a great athlete, but the Eagles are asking him to man-up with NFL slot receivers and it’s a challenge for him at this stage. As he gets more snaps in this new role and hopefully stays healthy, hopefully his play improves too.

Eli Ricks: B-

2023 Stats: 112 Snaps (22%), Nine Total Tackles, Six Solo Tackles, One Tackle for a Loss, One Pass Defended, Allowing 64.3% Completion when targeted

Eli Ricks went from being an undrafted free agent to covering Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill, and CeeDee Lamb in his rookie season. Injuries to the Eagles secondary forced Philadelphia to experiment with their defensive backs which eventually found Eli Ricks playing a heavy dose of snaps in the slot. Ricks played great football in preseason, allowing him to jump Kelee Ringo on the depth chart. Now he is put to the test on a weekly basis against some of the NFL’s top playmakers. The results have been varying, as anyone would expect, and Ricks has made his fair share of rookie mistakes both in terms of costly penalties and bad coverage. That being said, Ricks has continued to play with a lot of confidence and continues to rebound from bad plays with good ones. It is encouraging and indicative of the faith the defensive staff have put into him. Here’s hoping he can keep growing and cut down on the mistakes.

The Rest

  • Kelee Ringo has mostly been a special teams player, with his highlight of the season so far being a bad penalty on interfering with a kick returner. The Eagles clearly see the 21-year-old as a project.
  • Moro Ojomo has seen the field for only a handful of defensive snaps. While he looked fine, there is just far too much talent along the defensive interior for Ojomo to have been a factor at this point.
  • Tanner McKee has been inactive for most of the season as the Eagles’ emergency third QB. Hardly a surprise.
  • Mekhi Garner had to play safety for a big part of the Jets game due to injuries despite never having played that position before. Otherwise he has barely played this year.

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