The 2020 NFL season was a disaster for the Philadelphia Eagles.
The team’s fall from grace had been unexpected and swift. Super Bowl champions in 2018, the Eagles now resided in the basement of the lowly NFC East. Although they were plagued with an almost comical array of injuries, the performance was simply unacceptable.
The front office responded by promptly trading former second overall pick Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts. Following that, GM Howie Roseman fired Super Bowl-winning head coach Doug Pederson and injected new faces into the team. These moves were the catalyst for a shift in mentality towards a rebuild.
In this article we will read the report card on each of the prospects the Eagles took in the 2021 NFL Draft to rebuild their team.
DeVonta Smith: 10th Overall Selection, WR, Alabama
The Eagles were transactionally active on draft night. Following a deal that dealt their sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia leapt in front of their divisional rival Dallas Cowboys to select coveted receiver DeVonta Smith. In the process, they acquired a future first-round pick and continued to stockpile assets.
The Eagles used their newly acquired tenth pick to select Smith. Thus, they had acquired a sensational route runner who earned the most prestigious college football honor, the Heisman Trophy. Some scouts were concerned with Smith’s frame, but he proved to be a terrific pick. His presence was the lone reliable bright spot out wide for an otherwise barren receiving room.
Smith ended the season with 916 yards receiving on 64 receptions and scored five touchdowns. Targeting the rookie was incredibly fruitful for Smith’s former college teammate Jalen Hurts, as it led to a 102.1 passer rating when throwing in his direction. Moreover, the partnership is projected to develop further in season two.
This pick was undoubtedly a successful one, yielding a terrific first season of production.
Landon Dickerson: 37th Overall Selection, IOL, Alabama
The Philadelphia Eagles looked to the Crimson Tide again for their second-round selection.
Howie Roseman selected interior offensive lineman Landon Dickerson with the 37th overall pick. After a 2020 season which saw 14 different offensive line combinations due to injury, the Eagles needed to get some youth and depth. With Jason Kelce ageing and since retired Brandon Brooks struggling with injury issues, Philadelphia chose to grab center Landon Dickerson out of Alabama.
The rookie had an inconsistent first year. Dickerson allowed 31 pressures and eight hits on the quarterback in just 13 starts. Moreover, his final game of the season (Week 17) he allowed six pressures on just 29 pass protection snaps according to PFF. He will have a lot to prove in year two, yet was a solid run blocker, earning a Pro-Football Focus grade of 69.7 for his run blocking.
Milton Williams: Pick 73, Defensive Tackle, Louisiana Tech
At first glance, the selection of Milton Williams was puzzling. Adding depth to the defensive line felt like an errant use of a solid draft asset, with so many more pressing needs on the board.
Williams did not disappoint, however. Despite only seeing the field on 41% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, the third-round selection showed flashes of terrific pass rush ability. His rotational value as a pocket disrupter was sound, yet will likely be more visible in season two as he continues to develop.
According to PFF, Williams had 19 pressures and two sacks, despite his modest number of snaps. Thus, the Louisiana Tech product figures to be a integral part of the Eagles’ transitional period to a younger defensive line group.
Zech McPhearson: Pick 123, Cornerback, Texas Tech
McPhearson’s value in the fourth round cannot be quantified by his 2021 statistics.
The rookie saw the field mostly due to injury issues across the secondary. Despite only taking the field for 179 snaps, McPhearson showed promise as a solid rotational corner. The Texas Tech product showed toughness in coverage, allowing only nine passes to be completed on 17 targets. He forced an excellent 69.7 opposing passer rating and allowed only 96 yards.
McPhearson will likely see an expanded role in 2022, as the Eagles are likely not to re-sign CB2 Steven Nelson. The free agent was dismal in coverage last season and will likely not receive an investment in the free agency period. The Eagles may look to the draft for more cornerback talent, but McPhearson will certainly earn the right to compete for more snaps in his second year.
Kenneth Gainwell: Pick 150, Running Back, Memphis
The Philadelphia Eagles ended 2021 with the best rushing attack in the NFL.
So then, Gainwell should receive an A+ right? Well, it’s a little more nuanced than that.
The rookie fifth-round selection appeared in just 29% of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps in 2021. He showed prowess as a receiver out of the backfield and sound instincts in the running game. Buried fourth in the depth chart behind a committee of talented backs, Gainwell became the team’s primary pass -catching back and showed immense potential in the role.
In this context, the rookie flaunted an elite ability to run after the catch. He ended the season with 33 catches that led to 253 yards. Staggeringly, 226 of these came after the catch, making him an invaluable outlet for Hurts in the backfield. Conversely, he had five drops on just 50 targets. He must fix that issue before the 2022 season.
In juxtaposition, Gainwell was underwhelming on the ground. He had just 98 of his 291 rushing yards after contact and was buried behind a complementary committee of backs that were far more productive running the ball. Although averaging a sound 4.3 yards per attempt, most of his yardage was achieved by gap identifying as the dominant offensive line created large creases for him to squeeze through.
Gainwell will need to show development on the ground quickly. In his first game with double digit carries (13), he rushed for only 27 yards. Gainwell will have the opportunity to prove himself though, as Jordan Howard remains unsigned in free agency. His absence may allow for the second-year player to gain reps as a runner.
If he can develop his rushing consistency, he figures to solidify himself behind Sanders as the second-string running back this season.
Marlon Tuipulotu: Pick 189, Defensive Tackle, USC
Instead of addressing other areas of need, the Eagles are back to the trenches.
Their recurring proclivity to the defensive line did not produce gold here. Tuipulotu was active in only five contests in 2021, achieving just five tackles. He had a forgettable introductory campaign, especially compared to his defensive line counterpart taken just two picks later.
Due to only appearing in 55 defensive snaps, we cannot make a hard judgement on the USC product yet. Unfortunately for Tuipulotu, we must only use the information we have currently.
Tarron Jackson: Pick 191, Defensive End, Coastal Carolina
After disappointing two picks earlier, the Eagles found a solid rotational defender in Tarron Jackson.
The sixth-round pick appeared in just 23% of the Eagles defensive snaps yet made an impact. He played all 17 games and was productive, notching nine quarterback pressures, a sack and a forced fumble. Moreover, he missed only one tackle and had two in the backfield.
Jackson certainly showed flashes of what could make him a rotational piece going forward for the deep defensive line. The Eagles can be satisfied by what seems like a solid pickup.
Jacoby Stevens: Pick 224, Safety, LSU
This one is tough.
Due to the sound play of both Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris, Stevens barely saw the field in his rookie season. The sixth-round pick played only 44 snaps all season.
On the plus side, Stevens allowed only one of his three targets to be completed. Unfortunately, that one completion led to a touchdown.
Perhaps we will come back to this one?
Patrick Johnson: Pick 234, Outside Linebacker, Tulane
It is unfortunate that the Eagles chose to only address linebacker in the seventh round.
Clearly an area of need, Johnson started two out of his 17 games played. He played just 10% of snaps and had 17 tackles on the year. He was sound in pass coverage, allowing just 13 yards on four completions. That being said, he was only targeted four times.
Johnson may be able to earn himself more snaps if the Eagles choose to not upgrade their linebacking corps further in the draft. Perhaps year two will allow him the opportunity to compete for extra snaps.