EAGLES HAVE BUILDING BLOCKS TO BE SPECIAL
The Eagles clinched a playoff spot with a week 17 win at the Washington Football Team to win their 4th straight game and climb to 9-7.
The following week, first-year head coach, Nick Sirianni, decided to rest a number of starters in their finale against the rival Dallas Cowboys.
The season ended with a convincing loss to the World Champion Tampa Bay Bucs finishing the 2021 campaign with a playoff berth and a 9-9 record.
By any measure the season was wildly successful. Especially with a coaching cleanout and a disinfectant sprayed around Novacare to erase the odors of a 4-11-1 season the year prior. A big part of the turnaround was the infusion of youth at a number of key positions. Those players will be at the nucleus of this team going forward and include Jalen Hurts, Devonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, Kenneth Gainwell, and Milton Williams.
Four rookies and a quarterback in his second season who showed steady improvement as a player and the undisputed leader of the team. I believe in Jalen Hurts at quarterback. He has still only started 21 games and has come light years in that time.
The offense really transitioned from the start to the finish of the season going from a spread offense that wanted to throw it to a team that became a 12 personnel team (1 RB 2 TE's) that led the NFL in rushing yards per game.
Hurts was a huge part of that stat as he led the team in carries (139) yards (784) rush average (5.6) and rushing touchdowns (10). The amount of running took its toll as he finished the season hobbled by a high ankle sprain that never really healed.
His 16/9 TD/INT ratio was not bad for basically being a rookie. As the team around him gets better and he learns more about how defenses defend him I expect both the touchdowns and completion percentage to go up.
I am a big, big fan of Hurts and nothing he did this season will detract me from that. He wants to be coached hard, and can take the criticisms from both the coaches and the fans. That's good.
And although GM, Howie Roseman, gave an endorsement that Hurts is the QB of our team going forward they, the Eagles, would be foolish not to have a conversation with Seattle about Russell Wilson or perhaps with Houston about Deshaun Watson.
With three first round draft picks you should see how interested those teams could be to part ways with said player.
If the price is too steep or those said players prefer some other place then use the assets to continue to build the team around Hurts.
DeVonta Smith was NFL ready when he showed up at the first mini camp. He has a mindset that is very focused on becoming the best at his position.
We saw great route running, consistent hands, an ability to beat man coverage and his footwork on the sidelines was dazzling. After overcoming a training camp knee sprain, despite his "slim reaper" frame showed he could up to the physicality of the NFL game.
His blocking does need to get better on the perimeter and I think he needs to be more aggressive at finding open windows when the initial play breaks down and Hurts is looking for help. Finally I believe that Smith will make multiple pro bowls as an Eagle.
Landon Dickerson was my favorite player in the 2021 NFL Draft. I was so hoping the Eagles would draft this player despite a long injury history. The upside and the person were worth the second round pick investment.
He started the final 14 games after starting the season on PUP while continuing his rehab from an ACL reconstruction while at the University of Alabama. Once he was plugged into the left guard spot, sandwiched between Jason Kelce and Jordan Mailata he was home.
As the season moved along and his knee got stronger and stronger, so did his power and the ability to move big people in the run game. He is a very big and powerful man and not lacking in any area of confidence. He wants the opposition to feel his punch.
The left side with Mailata was dominant in some games. When they ran the ball 50 times at the New Orleans Saints, they pounded the defense ranked No.1 repeatedly.
They seemed hard pressed to be able to stop the onslaught .I believe that Dickerson can become either a Pro Bowl guard or center. If Kelce decides to retire in this off-season, I think Dickerson could move inside and man up that position.
The down side is breaking up Mailata and Dickerson which already might be the most physical left side in the NFL.
Gainwell was exactly what he was coming out of Memphis. His coaches cross trained a bunch of NFL backs to be both traditional backs and slot receivers.
Because of this, he was a very good receiver wherever he lined up catching 33 passes and one for a TD. He also ran both inside and outside the tackles 68 times for a 4.3 average and five TD's
On a team that used a variety of backs depending on health and gameplanning, Gainwell proved that he can be a valuable asset to that committee. He was part of a four-back committee who along with Hurts became one of the more dependable rushing attacks in the NFL. He also showed good durability and availability. He was more than a rookie spark. He was a steady contributor.
The interior tandem of Cox and Hargraves saw Hargraves become a consistently dominant interior defender. Exactly why they signed him in free agency the year prior. Cox had his moments but more than a decade into this business that he might be an expensive option to keep.
Make no mistake about it though, they will be a better defense in 2022 with Cox on the team. But if they make a business decision to move on then their third round pick, Milton Wiiliams might be ready for full time duty.
He had a presence inside and although not the biggest interior tackles he showed the ability to beat and shed blocks in defending the run and getting after the QB's.
I think he has a bright future considering almost every defensive lineman needs a year to figure the pro game out and the various blocking schemes and offenses out. I expect Williams to make that leap this season. If the Eagles could add five more good young players at a variety of key positions this season it could go a long long way to building a young core that could be a perennial playoff team.
The five players aforementioned also carry the characteristics of champions. Humble, hard working, team players. The future is bright for these five; now Howie and Andy, go find five more for 2022. *