ESPN ranks Eagles’ 2021 draft class as one of NFL’s best
The 2021 season was largely a success for rookie head coach Nick Sirianni and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Heading into the year, they were viewed as a team going through a rebuilding phase. Thanks to an impressive run to close the regular season, the Eagles once again found themselves in the playoffs.
Arguably the biggest bright spot for the Eagles this season was rookie wide receiver, DeVonta Smith. After being drafted tenth overall in last year’s draft, the former Heisman trophy winner lived up to expectations.
ESPN recently released their rookie class rankings based on first-year production and have the Eagles’ ranked in the top-10:
Why they’re ranked here: DeVonta Smith showed that the ability to run routes and generate separation translates to the NFL level seamlessly, but his production was capped by the overall potency of the Eagles passing offense. Landon Dickerson ended up starting 13 games at guard once injuries struck the line, and Milton Williams played almost 500 snaps for the team on the defensive line. Kenneth Gainwell was also a contributor on offense but had just 107 total touches over the season including the wild-card loss.
How their top pick fared: Smith’s route running was as sharp and effective as ever, and he seems to generate quick separation at will, but he was featured less than fellow top receiver draft picks Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle. He showed the ability to make impressive sideline catches, but there were times where the greater physicality of the NFL caused some problems. Only Chase and Kadarius Toney had more yards per route run than Smith’s 1.77 among rookie receivers.
Best value pick: Gainwell might not have had a massive role as part of a timeshare in Philadelphia’s backfield, but the fifth-round pick did make positive contributions to the Eagles’ offense as a runner and receiver. 28% of Gainwell’s carries went for first downs or touchdowns (sixth among running backs with at least 50 carries), and he was targeted on a quarter of his 182 receiving routes.
The organization is very high on the young wideout, and for good reason. In just his first season as a pro, Smith showed the potential to become one of the league’s premier talents at the position.
When all was said and done, Smith found himself in the Eagles’ record books. His 916 receiving yards are the most in a season by a rookie. DeSean Jackson previously held the record, who notched 912 yards back in 2008.
Kenneth Gainwell gave good production as a 5th-round pick, combining for over 500+ total yards. Although he fell behind in the depth chart towards the end of the season, Gainwell will likely find himself in a more prominent role next season with Jordan Howard heading to free agency.
Dickerson and Milton Williams were traditional Howie Roseman selections, bolstering their trenches. Williams’ stats don’t show it but he was a vital part of their defensive line rotation and like Gainwell, could move up the depth chart if the team explores a trade for Fletcher Cox this offseason.
Dickerson proved to be a swiss army knife, succeeding at both guard positions as well as center, and was one of the best rookie linemen in the NFL this season.
Although it’s only been a year, the 2021 class is already looking like one of the best in recent memory for Roseman and the Eagles. The following year will be even more crucial, with Philadelphia holding three-first round picks — an excellent opportunity to attack positions of need like linebacker, edge rusher, and cornerback.
Mandatory Credit: USA Today Sportss