We’re just a few hours away from the final game of the regular season. The Philadelphia Eagles will be facing the Dallas Cowboys and resting the starters is the smart play. This means there will be plenty of underdogs looking to shine in their final opportunity of the 2021-22 regular season thanks to an expanded role. Here are five names to watch out for.
It’s highly unlikely that Jalen Hurts sees much of the field tonight. He may get a drive or two early on, but there’s nothing to play for here and it makes sense to keep Hurts as healthy as possible for his postseason debut. That means turning the keys over to Gardner Minshew.
His Eagles debut was solid, but was pretty minimal from a passing output perspective. As expected, the Eagles ran the ball dominantly. They may not be able to assert their will as easily today given that their backfield has been hit by injury and COVID setbacks.
This, partnered with the fact that the Eagles should be resting starters anyway, may open the doors up for Gardner Minshew to turn in a preseason-like performance. It’s an audition to the front office and to teams around the league and he’ll know that.
It’s a big day for QB2 and while the offense around him is unlikely to be loaded with starters, he should have an opportunity to show what he can do for the majority of the evening.
Would there be anything more satisfying than watching Minshew sling rainbow passes deep down the field to deflate Dallas in week 18? I doubt it.
Activated from the practice squad earlier this week, the second-year player has one shot to prove his worth. The Eagles have lacked consistency from the Z spot all season long and although Quez Watkins has been explosive on screens, he works better over the middle where he has more space to eat up.
Hightower, for me, was the receiver with the highest upside in last years’ Eagles crop. He may have been one of the best low-risk, high-reward candidates in the entire class. His burst, route-running, and sheer speed are still among the best on the team (although DeVonta dropped him to second), but his hands and lack of consistency hurt.
Any previous gripes with the old coaching staff won’t matter now. Hightower might have one big chance to prove that he can not only hang on the outside, but give the Eagles a deep-threat candidate with a lot of untapped potential who could be fun to develop over the next few years.
I was torn between mentioning Zech McPhearson here or going with Gowan, but McPhearson is so similar to Avonte Maddox in terms of stature, strengths, and weaknesses, that Gowan became the more appealing candidate. Zech has been given healthy doses of playing time this year and has shown he can survive on an island, but we’ve seen very little from Tay Gowan.
The Eagles have placed a real emphasis on turnovers this season and Darius Slay has been at the epicenter of the movement. I think Gowan could be a really solid developmental CB2 and could tick many of the same boxes. Here’s what I wrote about him earlier in the year after he was acquired in the Zach Ertz trade:
Like most DB’s who graduate from UCF, Gowan is long. At 6’2, 185 lbs, he has ballhawking instincts and proved it during a solid 2019 campaign that saw him bat away 8 passes and pick off 2, rallying to 31 tackles in the process. He makes his living at the catch-point but has some solid speed as well which helps him stay in-phase and recover if beaten early, running a 4.4 40-yard dash.
I’d love to see Gowan get some reps on the outside today. Dallas may rest its starters as well, but they have some solid rotational wideouts such as Noah Brown who could at least act as a grading scale for the former Cards CB.
With Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll both out, all eyes turn to developmental stud Tyree Jackson. The summer of Jackson was nothing short of dreamy. His training camp was exceptional and he delivered consistent wow moments, forcing his way onto the roster.
The former Bills QB has struggled to make a dent since returning from IR, where he sat until week 9. He only averages around 25% of snaps per game and that number should shoot through the roof today, along with an expanded role that might finally see the ball fly in his direction.
If this monstrous athlete catches the rock in the open field, look out.
There is the chance that this is the final time we see Jason Kelce suit up at the Linc. It’s heartbreaking to think about, but the Eagles need to start planning for his eventual departure.
Mr. Anderson was a seventh-round pick earlier this year and has sat dormant on the Eagles practice squad until recently. There’s a strong chance he will get the majority of starting reps this evening and there’s no doubting that Howie will have his binoculars zoomed in as far as they can go.
If Anderson has been able to learn a lot from Jeff Stoutland, then who knows how well tonight could go. There’s also the potential to see the likes of Sua Opeta try his hand at snapping, as well as a few of the other guards looking to add another arrow to their bow.
The offensive line in general will carry some enticing names to watch tonight. From Andre Dillard’s shot at redemption, to versatile former Colt, Le’Raven Clark. There will be plenty of names vying to secure their long-term futures and a good game tonight could go a long way in doing exactly that.
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