The 2021 season will be an intriguing one for the Philadelphia Eagles, as the organization will discover if it has its next franchise quarterback in Jalen Hurts. New head coach Nick Sirianni hasn’t officially named the second-year quarterback the starter, but the franchise has put the offensive weapons around Hurts — giving him every opportunity to entrench himself as the Eagles QB of the future.
Philadelphia added DeVonta Smith in the first round of the draft to give Hurts a No. 1 wide receiver, while franchise great tight end Zach Ertz remains on the team — for now. Having Ertz and Dallas Goedert on the roster makes the Eagles passing game significantly better, even if the club and Ertz are on a standstill regarding his future. The Eagles also have a healthy Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson back, which could reestablish one of the best offensive lines in the league.
Ryan Kerrigan, Eric Wilson, and Anthony Harris were the significant veteran additions on defense, a unit that boasts one of the best pass rushers in the league (Philadelphia was third in sacks last season). The defense is still a work in progress, but is expected to be improved under new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon.
The Eagles are in a rebuilding year, but the organization believes they can compete for the division title — especially in the NFC East where the division champion finished 7-9 last season. No team has repeated as NFC East champions since the Eagles in 2004 and the last five times Philadelphia finished last in the division, the team made the playoffs the following year.
Note: Asterisks denote rookies.
The most intriguing competition will come at running back and wide receiver — two roster battles that will take all of the preseason to be decided. Smith is the No. 1 wide receiver and 2020 first-round draft pick Jalen Reagor will be lined up primarily in the slot. Wide receivers coach Aaron Moorhead has admitted Travis Fulgham “has it” at the conclusion of minicamp. Fulgham had an impressive five-game stint before injuries and learning the intricacies of a defense caused him to fall down the depth chart and lose playing time. Hightower, Watkins and Arcega-Whiteside will battle for playing time.
Sanders is the clear No. 1 running back, but who will be No. 2? The Eagles claimed Johnson off waivers, so he is the presumptive favorite for the job. Gainwell — a fifth-round pick — will compete with Scott for snaps as those four will likely split carries throughout the year, similar to what the Indianapolis Colts offense did under Sirianni and Frank Reich.
The offensive line has a battle at left tackle, between Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. Mailata is still a raw player, but performed well in place of Jason Peters last year in several starts while Dillard — a former first-round pick — has a renewed mindset as he struggled with injuries and his play over the first two years. Dickerson, pending on his recovery from a torn ACL in December, could compete for a starting job on the line. He’s a valuable sixth lineman at guard and center should the Eagles sustain any significant injuries.
The Eagles have a significant depth on the line at all positions, one of the biggest strengths on this team. Driscoll, Herbig, Dillard, and Mailata all earned substantial playing time over the last two years — snaps that will benefit this team in 2021.
Patrick Johnson, JaQuan Bailey
T.Y. McGill, Raequan Williams
Marlon Tuipulotu, Willie Henry
Tarron Jackson, Matt Leo
Davion Taylor, Genard Avery
Joe Ostman, Jacoby Stevens, Rashad Smith
Grayland Arnold, Lavert Hill,
Josiah Scott, Shakial Taylor
Adding Ryan Kerrigan to this defensive line makes the battle for snaps all the more intriguing, especially since Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat each contributed to this unit significantly in 2020. Prior to the Kerrigan signing, Sweat was set to challenge Barnett for the starting job — but still will play a significant role in the edge rotation. The defensive tackle rotation appears set with Hargrave and Cox as the starters and Williams (a third-round pick) and Ridgeway as the backups. Philadelphia has plenty of depth on the defensive line, a strength of this team.
Wilson will start at the MIKE while Singleton will play at SAM. For the first time in years, the Eagles appear to have two solid starters at linebacker and a solid backup in Edwards. Outside linebacker is a concern as Taylor — a 2020 third-round pick — struggled to get on the field while Genard Avery and Joe Ostman moved from defensive end to linebacker. Shaun Bradley is a solid special teams contributor while JaCoby Stevens — a 2021 sixth-round pick — will learn linebacker after playing safety at LSU.
Slay is the No. 1 cornerback, but who will be the No. 2? The Eagles had Jacquet as the second outside cornerback throughout portions of minicamp, but Maddox is the favorite to line up on the outside if Philadelphia doesn’t put him in the slot. McPhearson — a 2021 fourth-round pick — is a favorite to line up as the slot corner and provides valuable depth at the position. James, Jacquet, and Scott could find their way onto the final roster — but expect the Eagles to sign a veteran cornerback to take the No. 2 role prior to training camp.
If a veteran is signed, Maddox is the favorite to slide into the slot and McPhearson can be moved around the outside and in the slot — instead of in a starter’s role. Harris and McLeod are the starters at safety, while Epps, Adams, and Wallace provide depth at the position. Epps was a surprise at safety in 2020 and played his way into competing for the No. 3 safety role.