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Eagles Rookie Report Card: Final edition

Cleveland Browns v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With the Eagles season mercifully in the rearview mirror, we can recap and then hopefully look forward to much improvement over the coming months. The Eagles relied on their rookies quite a bit more in 2023 than they might have hoped. Injuries played a huge role in this and the rookies responded with fairly uneven play. It’s not all bad though, as the young core got great experience that could help accelerate their development heading into next year. Here’s how they did. (Stats from Pro Football Reference)

Jalen Carter: B+

Stats: 20 Solo Tackles, Six Sacks, Eight TFLs, 9 QB Hits, 2 Forced Fumbles, 1 Defensive Touchdown

Jalen Carter started the 2023 season hot. Over the first few weeks of the year, Carter was simply unblockable and it looked like the Eagles had the next great NFL defender blossoming on their team. The second half of the season but a damper on those hopes, however. Carter’s play regressed, as did the rest of the defense, and he made less and less of an impact down the stretch. It is very possible a midseason back injury lingered and also possible that he just ran out of gas. NFL conditioning is a whole new beast and the Eagles offensive inefficiency meant the defense was out on the field a lot. A sour end of the season shouldn’t change the fact that Carter was incredible when he was at his best. Hopefully an offseason to get healthy and continue to prepare for a demanding NFL season will yield a more even sophomore season from Carter. It is still likely Carter ends up an elite defender and soon.

Poll

Grade Jalen Carter’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 37%
    A
    (1256 votes)
  • 52%
    B
    (1741 votes)
  • 8%
    C
    (287 votes)
  • 0%
    D
    (14 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (12 votes)
3310 votes total Vote Now

Nolan Smith: C-

Stats: 10 Solo Tackles, One Sack, 1 TFL, 3 QB Hits

Nolan Smith’s rookie season was always going to be a wash. Smith was playing behind Haason Reddick, Josh Sweat, and Brandon Graham and it was known to most that there would be a steep learning curve for the undersized defender as he came back from a lower body injury. Smith got more play as the season went along and the team looked for ways to add more speed to the defense. Smith even got a few snaps playing off ball linebacker as injuries really thinned the group out. It was clear Smith has a lot of work to do and the lack of consistent play made it difficult for him to find a groove. However, his motor on the field was really encouraging. Any time he was out there, he played fast and actually laid out some impressive hits against the run and short passing game. Smith is a smart, talented player and a competent defensive coordinator should be able to make the most of his abilities in Year 2.

Poll

Grade Nolan Smith’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    A
    (29 votes)
  • 21%
    B
    (629 votes)
  • 51%
    C
    (1499 votes)
  • 23%
    D
    (668 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (77 votes)
2902 votes total Vote Now

Tyler Steen: B

Rookie Season Stats: 1 Start, 71 Offensive Snaps

Tyler Steen was drafted to be a project player. He has all the physical ability to be an excellent NFL lineman and just needs time with Jeff Stoutland to develop those talents. Injuries along the Eagles line meant Steen started one game at right guard when Cam Jurgens was out with injury and Sua Opeta was struggling. Steen was impressive at times, looking especially good as a run blocker. It was a glimpse into the player Steen could be and if Cam Jurgens is moving to center in 2024, the Eagles can feel comfortable with Steen sliding in at guard.

Poll

Grade Tyler Steen’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    A
    (176 votes)
  • 49%
    B
    (1229 votes)
  • 36%
    C
    (909 votes)
  • 4%
    D
    (121 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (29 votes)
2464 votes total Vote Now

Sydney Brown: B-

Stats: 32 Solo Tackles, One TFL, One Interception, One Forced Fumble, Three Passes Defended, One Defensive Touchdown

Sydney Brown’s rookie year was book-ended by injuries. The first year safety got off to a slow start due to a hamstring issue and then tore his ACL in the final regular season game. In between, Brown showed a lot of encouraging flashes. The injuries to the Eagles secondary meant Brown played all over at safety, nickel linebacker, and slot corner. He played fast, physical football and made a few highlight tackles. His most impressive play of the year was easily his 99 yard pick-six against the Cardinals where he weaved in and out of would be tacklers to score. He is an impressive athlete! Brown’s enthusiasm as a tackler was a bit of a double edged sword, as he missed some tackles that allowed big games. Hopefully Brown can get healthy and return to form, because his ceiling at safety is really high if the Eagles can just let him stay comfortably at one spot on defense.

Poll

Grade Sydney Brown’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    A
    (341 votes)
  • 59%
    B
    (1501 votes)
  • 23%
    C
    (585 votes)
  • 2%
    D
    (69 votes)
  • 0%
    F
    (21 votes)
2517 votes total Vote Now

Eli Ricks: C

Stats: 13 Solo Tackles, One TFL, Three Passes Defended

After an impressive preseason, there was a ton of buzz around Eli Ricks. Despite his status as an undrafted free agent, he looked confident and competent in preseason play. An injury to Avonte Maddox early in the year meant Ricks had to step in as a nickel cornerback, playing in the slot. He had an up and down stretch in the middle of the season as he was tasked with covering the likes of Tyreek Hill, CeeDee Lamb, Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua, as well as tons of other talented receivers. Ricks had his hands full and looked overmatched at times. His play tightened up down the stretch in the season, which is encouraging. The Eagles secondary will likely go through a huge makeover this offseason and Ricks could be competing for starting time in 2024.

Poll

Grade Eli Ricks’ rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A
    (63 votes)
  • 24%
    B
    (556 votes)
  • 49%
    C
    (1124 votes)
  • 20%
    D
    (475 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (68 votes)
2286 votes total Vote Now

Kelee Ringo: B-

Stats: 17 Solo Tackles, One Interception, Two Passes Defended, One Fumble Recovery

Kelee Ringo was a guy I thought was way under-drafted given his talents. His size, speed, and physicality was prototypical for the NFL and he was one of the youngest players in the 2023 class. However, his early absence from the Eagles defense suggested he might have struggled to earn the coaching staff’s trust. Maybe picking up an NFL playbook was challenging. However, Ringo found his way onto the field later in the season when Darius Slay was injured and just looked really solid. His athleticism was evident immediately in his ability to run with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf and he was fearless as a tackler. His playing style was welcomed in a secondary that felt like it lost a step and wasn’t overly physical. Here’s hoping he gets a shot to contribute on the 2024 defense.

Poll

Grade Kelee Ringo’s rookie season

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    A
    (215 votes)
  • 58%
    B
    (1371 votes)
  • 26%
    C
    (621 votes)
  • 4%
    D
    (108 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (26 votes)
2341 votes total Vote Now

The rest

  • Ben VanSumeren: The Eagles’ abysmal linebacker depth meant relying on BVS down the stretch to hold it down at linebacker. VanSumeren had some bright moments, but mostly struggled to hold up athletically on an NFL defense.
  • Moro Ojomo: Ojomo saw sparing snaps in a deep, deep defensive line group. However he always made the most out of his snaps and could earn some more playing time in year two as the Eagles try to get younger up front.
  • Mekhi Garner: Mekhi Garner was called up from the practice squad to play safety in emergency situations despite never playing the position before. He looked fine, all things considered, but ideally the Eagles won’t have to rely much on him going forward.
  • Tanner McKee: Luckily the Eagles never had to see Tanner McKee during the regular season. Nothing against him, but it would have just meant that something really bad happened. McKee looked excellent in the preseason, better than most probably expected. He should compete for the QB2 position this summer.

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