As we near the start of the 2021 season with the 53-man roster confirmed, a lot of focus will be placed on the latter half of the squad. Rightfully so, as the top end of most rosters has been cemented for some time now. Nevertheless, the Eagles are in a unique position.
As they transition to a new coaching staff and their roster gets younger, it is yet to be determined who the key parts to this offence could be. Of course, there is the obvious sentiment that this season will hinge on the success and development of 2nd year QB Jalen Hurts and his former college teammate, rookie Devonta Smith. While it’s likely set in stone that the Eagles’ season will be contingent on Hurts’ production, there are other players on the roster that will play a significant role in the team’s development.
QB | Jalen Hurts
Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. In the modern NFL the success of any team is dependent upon the ability of their quarterback, so this is no shock to anyone. However, while many teams will look to their young quarterbacks to develop as a gunslinger or precision passer — the Eagles’ win rate will depend on Hurts’ ability to limit his turnovers. New Head Coach Nick Sirianni’s offense is all about fabricating high-percentage plays and maintaining efficiency.
With the sheer number of playmakers on this offense, the Birds should have no trouble racking up yards after the catch. We’ve already seen the screen game play a major role in Philadelphia’s three preseason games. Sirianni will also have the benefit of his always-efficient rushing offense and a stable of capable runners. This offense should be able to churn out yards and move down the field provided they are able to limit mistakes.
That will start and end with Hurts’ decision making. This team doesn’t need him to lead the league in passing yards, or throw for 35+ touchdowns (although he may surprise in both categories). Instead, they need him to be an efficient game manager that can make the right throws and use his legs when a play breaks down. Developing his accuracy and pocket presence will be the biggest keys to success in that regard. Of course, fans will be clamoring for flashy plays and big yardage, but that will just be icing on the cake if the new QB1 can be smart with the football.
WR | Jalen Reagor
All eyes will be on this year’s first round pick Devonta Smith, but this offence’s success will be much more dependent on last year’s first rounder Jalen Reagor. If for no other reason, we know what Devonta can (and should) bring to the table. He’s got reliable hands and his savvy and explosive route running will pay dividends in Sirianni’s high efficiency offence.
Reagor, on the other hand, was nowhere near his potential ceiling in his first year. If he can break out, the sky is the limit for this young receiving corps. With his speed and ability after the catch, he and Smith could form one of the more exciting one-two punches in the league. While his acumen as a speed merchant has been well noted, Reagor was also one of the better contested catch specialists in his draft class. We didn’t see much of that in 2020, but a bounce-back in that category would be incredibly welcome on a team that will look to start three smaller receivers on Sundays.
Having Reagor and off-season standout Quez Watkins as two explosive, versatile move-pieces will also open up the playbook for this creative offensive staff. If Reagor can continue to hone his route-running and develop his ability to create separation at the line and out of his breaks, he will be exactly what this offence needs to take a that first big step forwards in 2021.
TE | Zach Ertz
This is probably not the tight end you expected to see on this list. However, as we start to get a better picture of how this offence will operate, Zach Ertz becomes a more and more significant piece to the puzzle. While we may not see as much 12 personnel as we saw with Doug Pederson, you can be certain both TEs will play a big role in this offense. For everything that Dallas Goedert brings to the offence as a playmaking threat, it will be Ertz’ steadying presence as a pass-catcher and leader that will be central to this offence.
Reports that Ertz and Hurts have already been establishing some chemistry should come as no surprise. The veteran tight end has always had a knack for finding open space. Couple that with his steady hands and mental toughness and it becomes obvious why he has become every Philly QB’s safety blanket for the last half decade. In a year with a young QB and completely new coaching staff, keeping Ertz around may prove to be one of Howie Roseman’s better decisions this offseason. At the very least, he provides ample insurance in case Goedert misses any time.
RT | Lane Johnson
Again, with so much controversy on the other side of the line, this may not be the tackle you were expecting. However, with all the question marks surrounding Jordan Mailata‘s ability to become the full-time starting left tackle — the Eagles cannot afford any missteps on the other side of the offensive line.
After three straight Pro Bowl season, Lane Johnson had a frustrating 2020 marred by injury. Playing in only 7 games, he never quite looked like his dominant self. Of course, a lot of that had to do with a nagging ankle injury that turned out to be worse than first anticipated. Another major factor was the loss of his line-mate RG Brandon Brooks. With both returning from injury, this should be a redemption season for the entire right side of the line.
While we know what Johnson is capable of when healthy, there will be a lot of pressure on him to perform at the height of his game early on in the season. The Eagles offensive line will be tested by the 49ers, Chiefs and Buccaneers defensive fronts within the first five weeks of the season. With Jalen Hurts settling into the starting role, the team will need to keep their new QB upright as much as possible. Ankle injuries can be a difficult thing to come back from, but the Eagles will need Johnson at 100% in 2021.
While Jordan Mailata’s growth may determine the floor for this group, bank on Lane Johnson’s recovery and return to dominance to dictate it’s ceiling.
LG | Isaac Seumalo
Isaac Seumalo has been an underrated piece to the Eagles offensive line ever since he began starting in 2018. Although he could afford to play with more consistency, he has become a more-than-serviceable starting left guard for the Birds.
Another offensive lineman to be lost to injury last season, Seumalo’s return to health is the least talked about of the bunch. Nevertheless, his return to the starting lineup is intrinsic to the offensive line and the offense’s success as a whole. While Jordan Mailata has shown incredible growth early in his career, he will need his line-mate (generally thought of the youngster of the group) to show some veteran dependability.
Sua Opeta and Nate Herbig have shown they can be counted on in relief, but neither has proven they are ready to take the next step as full-time starters. Seumalo, when healthy will bring a steady dose of needed experience to what could easily be a top 5 offensive line. However, the Birds will need him to play his best football in 2021 if the OL group is to reach that height.
This spot could have also went to Miles Sanders, who has struggled with drops this off-season. While drops are always troubling, the Birds should be able to count on Miles to do what he does best — rack up 20+ yard runs. Those runs, however, will depend entirely on the offensive line opening up running lanes. There is no doubt what a healthy Brandon Brooks can do to the interior of an opponent’s defensive line. If Seumalo can continue trending upwards, Sanders (or whoever is toting the rock) will be able to fall forward for 5.0+ yards per carry.
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