For months the consensus was that the Eagles would select either WR Ja’Marr Chase or TE Kyle Pitts at 6th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. Then the Eagles shocked the world by trading back to 12th overall. Fans were upset, lamenting the missed opportunity to select a dynamic offensive playmaker at the top of the first round. Who could blame them? The Eagles receiver room has been very shaky in recent years, failing to have a single 1,000-yard receiver since Jeremy Maclin in 2014.
Despite investing the 4th most draft capital at the position since 2011, the Eagles have also failed to sign a single receiver to a second contract in that time frame. However, despite the recent failings at the position, the Eagles chose to trade out of a prime spot to add a dynamic pass-catching threat. Why would they make that decision?
The Current Receiver Room
The composition of the Eagles current receiver room is a log jam of youth and potential. 25-year-old Travis Fulgham lit the league on fire last season before he was inexplicably benched for Alshon Jeffrey. 22-year-old Jalen Reagor was a 1st round pick last year who struggled with injuries and a COVID interrupted offseason. 25-year-old slot WR Greg Ward Jr. has a lot of experience in the slot and although he isn’t a big playmaker, he showed early chemistry with Jalen Hurts. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside enters his 3rd year in the league, having shown very little so far but still only 24-years-old, while 24-year-old John Hightower and 22-year-old Quez Watkins enter their 2nd year for the team.
Is it an awe-inspiring group? No. But it is a very young group that may benefit drastically from the coaching change. Adding an early receiver could certainly help the offense, but would it be the best use of resources? The receiver room is a zero-sum game, where any draft pick will cost a current player his roster spot. While the Eagles could certainly move on from both Greg Ward and JJAW, the other 4 receivers should be fairly secure in their standing for at least another season.
What Would a Healthy Offense Look Like?
It’s hard to even imagine an Eagles season not riddled by injuries. In the last 3 years, the team has averaged 109.2 games lost in Football Outsiders’ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) Metric. With finishes of 31st in 2020, 21st in 2019, and 32 in 2018, the Eagles are 1 of only 2 teams to finish in the bottom 20 each of the last 3 years and average a higher AGL per season than every team except the New York Jets and the San Francisco 49ers. At some point, the team has to experience a regression towards the mean in injury frequency, and if that ever happens, the offense looks pretty good on paper.
Left Tackle – Jordan Mailata / Andre Dillard
Left Guard – Isaac Seumalo
Center – Jason Kelce
Right Guard – Brandon Brooks
Right Tackle – Lane Johnson
Mailata and Dillard can battle it out for the left tackle spot in training camp and fans can feel fairly confident that whoever emerges as the winner will be an adequate starting tackle. Seumalo has settled in nicely at guard and the trio of Kelce, Brooks, and Johnson are all potential all-pro players if they remain healthy. It’s not unreasonable to expect the unit to be a top 10 offensive line in the league if they can remain healthy.
Ah, Jalen Hurts. I’m on record with my expectations for Jalen Hurts already. While I don’t have grand aspirations of him being a long-term franchise QB, the Eagles are out of the QB sweepstakes this year and wouldn’t be taking a starter here anyways. They can use this season to evaluate Hurts and make the final decision next offseason.
Tight End – Dallas Goedert, Zach Ertz
Running Back – Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard
Receiver – Jalen Reagor, Travis Fulgham, Greg Ward, Quez Watkins, John Hightower, JJAW
Assuming Ertz remains an Eagle (which looks more and more likely every day), he will combine with Dallas Goedert to be a high-level tight end duo. Miles Sanders is an average to above-average running back and Jordan Howard is one of the better pass-blocking backs in the league. As covered earlier, the receiver room isn’t exciting but there is enough young potential there to reasonably expect a new coaching staff to work with.
Is this group of playmakers a top unit in the league? No. But is it good enough to evaluate a 2nd-year quarterback and new coaching staff? The Eagles appear to think so.
The Void of Defensive Talent
Don’t be surprised if the #Eagles go heavy defense in the draft. They have a bunch of young WRs that may flourish under a new coaching staff. There is no talent at LB or in the secondary on the roster.— Shane Haff (@HAFFnHAFF_TPL) April 7, 2021
While the offense has some young players to be excited about and build around, what does the defense have? Fletcher Cox is 30, Brandon Graham is 33, Darius Slay is 30, and Rodney McLeod is 30.
The back 7 of the Eagles defense is currently this:
Safety – Rodney McLeod (30), Anthony Harris (29)
Cornerback – Darius Slay (30), Avonte Maddox (25)
Linebacker – T.J. Edwards (24), Alex Singleton (27), Eric Wilson (26)
Of that group, both Harris and Wilson are on 1-year deals, leaving the only players signed long term and under the age of 30 as T.J. Edwards, Alex Singleton, and Avonte Maddox. Edwards was a UDFA who has played 11% and 45% of the snaps for the Eagles in his 2 years in the league despite them having the worst linebacker corps in the league during that time. Singleton racked up a lot of tackles last season and appears like he could hold a starting role for the team. Avonte Maddox has struggled mightily since his rookie season and the best-case scenario is that he can salvage his career in the slot or at free safety. While a fully healthy offense could hover around league average, a fully healthy defense would still be a bottom unit in the league.
The Defensive Draft
The Eagles trade back from the top of an offensively top-heavy draft has positioned them perfectly to focus on the defensive side of the ball early in the draft. The team can easily find a starting CB in the 1st round while potentially adding starters at linebacker and safety anywhere on day 2. The decision to do so while also adding an extra first-round pick in the 2022 draft will buy new coach Nick Sirianni some time to evaluate his current quarterback and young receiver room while at the same time revitalizing the defense and giving the team maximum flexibility to build the offense in Sirianni’s image next offseason.