While other teams in the NFC East had specific needs heading into the 2021 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles’ needs were all over the board. After finishing in last place in the division last season with a 4-11-1 record, Philly has looked less and less like the team that won a Super Bowl just four years ago.
And that is in both the literal and figurative sense. Doug Pederson was released this offseason and replaced by former Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni. Carson Wentz, who was once believed to be the team’s franchise quarterback, has moved on to Indianapolis and the Eagles have handed the reigns to Jalen Hurts.
The organization as a whole is in the midst of rebuild and Howie Roseman knows that. In fact, he has planned for it. Philadelphia is poised to have an abundance of draft picks in 2022, including two guaranteed first-round selections and two second-round selections. Also, one of the second-round picks could become a first if Wentz meets a few requirements with the Colts, thereby giving the Eagles three first-round picks in addition to the nine players they drafted this year.
The Eagles entered the 2021 NFL Draft with 11 picks - the most of any team in the league. They used that draft capital to make certain trades for certain players who fit specific needs.
Below is the list of all nine players selected by the Eagles:
- Round 1 (No. 10): DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama
- Round 2 (No. 37): Landon Dickerson, C/G, Alabama
- Round 3 (No. 73): Milton Williams, DL, Louisiana Tech
- Round 4 (No. 123): Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech
- Round 5 (No. 150): Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis
- Round 6 (No. 189): Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC
- Round 6 (No. 191): Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina
- Round 6 (No. 224): JaCoby Stevens, S, LSU
- Round 7 (No. 234): Patrick Johnson, DE/LB, Tulane
A quick glance at the positions selected will tell you that the Eagles drafted players at many different positions, which is promising considering the team’s many needs. But now let’s take a closer look at their 2021 draft haul.
Wide receiver was a pressing need for Philly heading into the draft and has been for a long time. Last season, the Eagles’ wide receivers combined for 2,802 receiving yards, the third fewest in the NFL according to ESPN Stats & Information. Travis Fulgham led the Eagles in receiving yards last season with 539 - the lowest by a team leader last year.
Once the top cornerbacks went off the board on Thursday night to the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos, Philly made a trade with the Cowboys to move up to No. 10, giving up only a third-round pick (No. 84) in the process. LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle were already off the board but the Eagles still got to pick Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith.
Smith has the potential to turn around the Eagles’ receiving corps. He led the NCAA in receptions (117), receiving yards (1,856) and receiving TDs (23) last season. He may be small at 166 pounds but his explosiveness on the field is enough to render that number insignificant.
Selecting Smith was not just an investment in the Eagles’ receiving corps but an investment in Jalen Hurts himself, who is about to enter a tryout year. Smith will be reuniting with his former Alabama quarterback in Hurts, with whom he recorded 12 receptions, 207 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns.
Thin at cornerback
Though the Eagles had many positions of need heading into the draft, cornerback was at the top of the list behind wide receiver. They selected Zech McPhearson out of Texas Tech in the fourth round but failed to add any more depth at the position.
Roseman tried to make a move for cornerback in the third round. The Eagles had the No. 70 overall pick but thought they could select Aaron Robinson if they traded three picks back (and acquire an extra sixth-round pick in the process). So Philly traded back to No. 73 but then the Giants, as we know, traded up from No. 76 to No. 71 to get Robinson.
Drafting McPhearson in the fourth round was still a high value pick as the Eagles initially tried to acquire him in the third round. It is just concerning that McPhearson is the only cornerback the Eagles drafted. Darius Slay is a projected starter on the outside and Avonte Maddox is expected to start in the slot, but the Eagles still need someone to start opposite Slay and more depth at the position in general. With this need not filled in the draft, expect Philly to try to make a signing in free agency.
Other needs met
While cornerback remains thin, the Eagles largely addressed their other needs throughout the draft. The team’s second round pick, Landon Dickerson, was selected as a guard and should provide immediate help on the interior line. While he has some injury concerns, Dickerson could potentially replace center Jason Kelce down the road if he is able to stay healthy. Defensive lineman Milton Williams joins a somewhat crowded defensive tackle group that includes Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, but he will add more depth to that position.
Kenneth Gainwell, a running back out of Memphis, will compete for playing time behind Miles Sanders and alongside Boston Scott and Jordan Howard. A dual threat back, Gainwell rushed for 1,459 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 51 passes for 610 yards for three more scores in 2019 before opting out of the 2020 season.
Defensive end was a sneaky position of need for the Eagles as Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett are set to hit free agency and Brandon Graham turning 33 years old this offseason. It was therefore a smart move by the Eagles to draft DE Tarron Jackson in the sixth round. The Coastal Carolina product had 18 sacks and 26.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.
While the Eagles remain thin at some positions and perhaps prioritized other positions too much, they did address some major needs and invested in Hurts, putting him in a better position to succeed next season.
This is a rebuild year for Philly but with two guaranteed (and potentially three) first-round picks in next year’s draft, this rebuild may not take long. Particularly because next year’s draft class will likely be easier to evaluate because of a more normal playing season and NFL Combine, it is smart to plan for the future. to Step by step, the Eagles are building themselves back up, suggesting that they might not be last in the division for long.