Which members of the 2021 Eagles draft class are primed to make the biggest jump in 2022?

NFL: OCT 03 Chiefs at Eagles
PHILADELPHIA, PA – OCTOBER 03: Philadelphia Eagles Wide Receiver Devonta Smith (6) sets up for a play in the first half during the game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles on October 03, 2021 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, PA. (Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire)

There’s understandably a lot of hype when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles Draft Class of 2022. But what about the players drafted last year who will be looking to build on what they achieved in 2021? Which players should we be paying the most attention to?

DeVonta Smith

Smitty might not take a huge leap in 2022, but that’s only in comparison to the monumental strides he took through 2021. A 913-yard rookie season is stunning by anyone’s standards, and that’s before you factor in some sporadic QB play throughout the year.

The Alabama product is the receiver that Eagles fans have been dreaming of for nearly a decade and it’s hard to bet against anything other than a very strong campaign in 2022.

Area of focus: This is tricky as Smith is so strong in his route-running and gaining separation. However, I would like to see how he fares after the catch a little more. If he can add some YAC attacks to his arsenal, he’s headed for generational territory. Let him thrive in open spaces and take advantage of one-on-one matchups as opposed to having to dominate the start of the route and be stopped near the point of the catch.

Landon Dickerson

The fact that Dickerson was healthy enough to play in 2021 to begin with was remarkable, but to play as well as he did was something else. Dickerson should be very clearly entrenched as the RG of the future now, especially with Herbig’s departure and the arrival of a new center to take over from Jason Kelce.

Now that there’s some stability, we get to see Dickerson’s first full-year as a starter and just how high that ceiling is.

Area of focus: Footwork. We saw a similar thing with Jordan Mailata where it felt as though overnight he was able to leverage blocks and drive with his lower body rather than relying on his hulk-like strength. It’s a common trait among monstrous framed guys and Dickerson is no different. I’ll be very intrigued to see how that changes after a full year under Jeff Stoutland.

Milton Williams

Playing in 41% of snaps as a third-round pick is a pretty big deal, and it’s clear that the Eagles view him as a long-term piece on their defensive line. He’s probably going to see a similar, if not slightly reduced snap-count this year, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be just as productive, especially if Jordan Davis can open things up.

Area of focus: Strength. Williams is elusive, agile, and explosive. If he can add some upper-body strength over the next few years so that he can hold his own more against bigger nose tackles, then he’s going to be a menace for years to come.

Zech McPhearson

It was a disappointing campaign for McPhearson, who many assumed was drafted to become a slot replacement for Avonte Maddox…until Maddox balled out and secured a contract extension. Is he good enough to be CB2? Maybe, but he’s built like a slot corner in the same way Maddox is and he too struggled outside.

Area of focus: If he is going to be competing for that CB2 spot, then he’s going to have to be physically tough in terms of his core strength. Bigger receivers punished McPhearson in the preseason, notably in New England, driving him off the stem of the route. If he can shrug off contact, he’ll have a chance.

Kenny Gainwell

In fairness, 291 rushing yards and 253 receiving yards is pretty good going for a day-3 draft pick in his rookie year. Gainwell looked, at times, as if he was going to displace Miles Sanders, and then vanished in others. He’s versatile, he’s twitchy, and he hits the hole decisively.

Area of focus: The biggest thing for him moving forward is going to be consistency. A lot of how he’s used comes down to game-planning, but if Gainwell can raise his floor, he’ll stand a much better chance of taking on a prominent role in 2023 given the backfield decisions that Roseman will have to make.

Tarron Jackson

Jackson was a rotational guy last year and he did show flashes of incredible athleticism. Unfortunately, with Reddick now in the frame, that role doesn’t look like it could be increasing in the immediate future. However, his skillset is very fun and does provide value to the Eagles.

Area of focus: Finish the job. Jackson reminds me a lot of Bryan Braman, a special teams ace who was so explosive and nasty that he ended up carving a bigger role on defense. I can see Jackson’s career taking a similar path, but for that he has to make more than the occasional flash in the pan-type play.

Patrick Johnson

Like Jackson, Johnson was a rotational guy. The only issue is that with Nakobe Dean now at the heart and soul of the defense, Davion Taylor on one side, and potentially a drop of Reddick on the other, there’s going to be limited upside for Johnson in the immediate future. The answer?

Area of focus: Special teams. If Johnson can build on his 57% of special teams snaps played last year and begin to make some splash plays, then he could embark on an Alex Singleton-like trajectory.

*I have left out Marlon Tuipolotu and Jacoby Stevens based on the fact that both had minimal exposure to the field in 2021 and are now buried in their respective depth charts. Special teams will likely be the name of the game for both.

Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire

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