A new era is set to begin for the Philadelphia Eagles as the team prepares for its first training camp under new coach Nick Sirianni. Philadelphia decided to switch things up after a dismal 2020 season that resulted in the firing of Doug Pederson and moving on from Carson Wentz as the franchise quarterback. In comes Sirianni, who is seeking to change the culture and preaching competition across the board.
The Eagles have stockpiled draft assets for next season while using this year to evaluate if Jalen Hurts can be the starting quarterback going forward. Hurts showed some promise in his rookie season, but will have 2021 to prove to the Eagles' front office he can be the next franchise quarterback (at least at the start of camp). The Eagles have a few issues they need to work out and a new system to install on both sides of the ball. They'll be busy this summer trying to find answers for many questions.
With training camp set to begin today, there are a few aspects of the 2021 Eagles we can decipher. Let's call this a camp guide for the next few weeks.
1. Jalen Hurts is the starting quarterback -- right now
Sirianni won't name Hurts his starting quarterback, but Joe Flacco and Nick Mullens are the other quarterbacks on the depth chart. Hurts will be the starter when camp opens -- there's no doubt about that. Will Hurts be QB1 come Week 1?
More reports are coming out linking the Eagles to Deshaun Watson (as CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora mentioned in March), which puts Hurts' future as the starter in question. Watson has to have his off-field matters resolved as he's facing 22 civil lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct.
The Eagles have draft capital with two first-round picks (and another first-round pick if Wentz players 70% of the snaps and the Colts make the playoffs). There's ammo to pull off a trade for Watson should they desire.
Right now, Hurts is the starter and the Eagles are moving forward with that.
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2. DeVonta Smith will make an immediate impact
Did you know Smith has more receptions and yards over his last two seasons at Alabama than all the wide receivers on the Eagles' roster combined? The Eagles landed an instant impact player in Smith, who immediately becomes the WR1 on this team -- and the top target they've been lacking since Alshon Jeffery's in 2017.
Smith is a game changer for this Eagles offense, and already told CBS Sports prior to the draft reuniting with Hurts "would be great." He'll get his opportunity in 2021 with Hurts, as Sirianni -- who has a strong background in coaching Pro Bowl wideouts -- will get the most out of Smith and his talent.
Expect a big year from Smith in this offense. The Eagles have the No. 1 wide receiver they've been seeking for years.
3. This team is better with Zach Ertz on it
The Eagles couldn't find a suitor for Ertz in trade discussions this offseason. Whether the price was too high or Ertz's 2020 season wasn't good enough for teams to take on his current salary, Ertz is going to be with the Eagles when camp starts. Philadelphia isn't giving Ertz away. They aren't going to release him.
Having Ertz back is vital for the Eagles offense. The Eagles won't put two tight ends on the field as much and Ertz will probably end up being the No. 2 tight end to Dallas Goedert, but he's a valuable weapon in the passing game who catches the ball in the middle of the field. For a first-year starting quarterback like Hurts, having Ertz as a security blanket in the middle of the field is vital.
Ertz is also a veteran in the locker room and a leader on this team. Having him for one more season in Philadelphia helps the Eagles and the locker room. The Eagles need Ertz in 2021.
4. Signing Steven Nelson was huge
This isn't a knock on Darius Slay, Avonte Maddox, or Zech McPhearson -- but the Eagles had a major problem prior to signing Nelson on Sunday. Prior to the Nelson signing, the Eagles were going into camp with Avonte Maddox and rookie fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson competing for the starting outside cornerback job. In other words, not good.
With Nelson in the fold, Maddox is the favorite to emerge as the slot cornerback (a better fit for him) while McPhearson provides valuable depth in the slot behind Maddox or as a third outside cornerback. Maddox could also provide depth on the outside if the Eagles choose to go with McPhearson as their slot cornerback.
Nelson is just what the doctor ordered at cornerback. He has played more than 500 coverage snaps in each of the past three seasons with the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, allowing just a 56.3 passer rating and nine touchdowns. Opposing quarterbacks have completed just 49.6% of their passes targeting Nelson.
The Eagles needed a CB2. They got one by convincing Nelson to come to Philadelphia.
5. Offensive line is the strength of this team
The Eagles offensive line allowed 65 sacks last season, the most in the NFL. So how can this unit possibly carry the offense? Simple, Brandon Brooks and Lane Johnson make a world of a difference on the right side of the line. Brooks has allowed just four sacks in 4,219 snaps over his four seasons with the Eagles, but missed all of last year with a torn Achilles. Johnson battled through an ankle injury that limited him all last year. There was a reason why Wentz looked beaten throughout last season.
Philadelphia has valuable depth on the line thanks to Nate Herbig and Jack Driscoll earning valuable snaps while Brooks and Johnson were out. Jason Kelce played at an All-Pro level in 2020 and Isaac Seumalo is above average at left guard.
The biggest question on this offensive line involves Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. Which player will win the left tackle job? Mailata had a breakthrough season last year and is beginning to scratch the surface of his potential while Dillard has been revitalized after the former first-round pick had to fight for his job.
This offensive line will keep Hurts upright this year and its performance will go a long way toward Hurts' evaluation by the organization.
6. Defensive line is even better than last year
The Eagles defensive line finished third in the league in sacks (49) and ninth in pressures (317) while ranking fifth in pressure rate (50.6%). This despite a down season from Fletcher Cox and a slow start from Javon Hargrave. Cox and Hargrave man the interior while Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, and Josh Sweat line up on the edge -- a unit getting a significant boost with the signing of veteran Ryan Kerrigan.
Philadelphia has six players that can get after the quarterback at a high rate, the strength of the defense. Expect the Eagles to blitz significantly more than the Jim Schwartz days while rushing more than four. The pressure numbers will go up, but 49 sacks will be tough to top. This defensive line is good enough to do it.
7. Miles Sanders will finally get the touches he deserves
Sanders is one of only two players in the history of the Eagles to have 1,000 yards from scrimmage in each of his first two seasons -- and he missed four games last season. Despite his production, Sanders averaged just 15 touches per game under Pederson. That's not enough touches for a player with the big-play ability Sanders provides.
Sirianni is going to fix that, as the Colts offense utilized its running backs in the passing game over the past three seasons. Expect the same with Sanders with his target share in 2021, along with his carries going up. The Colts ran the football 45.4% of the time in 2020, while the Eagles were just at 40.3%. That will benefit Sanders, along with all the Eagles running backs.
8. Three wide receiver sets will be the norm
In the Pederson era, "12 personnel" was in the vocabulary frequently. Sirianni won't be using "12 personnel" as much in his offense, as the Colts used that formation on just 21% of the plays in 2020 (Eagles used it a league-high 35%). Indianapolis used "11 personnel" on 69% of the offensive plays last season, good for ninth in the NFL. "11 personnel" is a three-wide receiver set, so expect two wideouts on the outside and one in the slot.
Per Sharp Football Stats, the Colts averaged 5.4 yards per carry in "11 personnel" and the passer had a 95.8 passer rating. Indianapolis was just one of 12 teams to have over a 50% success rate in "11 personnel," another good sign the Eagles will use three-receiver sets.
Expect plenty of Smith and Jalen Reagor lined up together this year. Now who will be that third wideout?
9. Jason Kelce will play at an All-Pro level -- again
Kelce didn't make the All-Pro team last season after three consecutive years earning the honor -- and he should have. Kelce allowed just 20 pressures in 2020, 16 fewer than the season before (when he was an All-Pro). He allowed 13 hurries, 15 fewer than in 2019, and finished with a pressure rate allowed of 2.7% (the second-lowest mark for him in four years). This was in 749 pass-blocking snaps, the highest total since the stat was tracked in 2013.
All this came at 32 years old with a third-string right guard and a third-string right tackle at various points during the season. Brooks and Johnson are back on the right side, which will help Kelce's overall play.
Kelce isn't slowing down at 33. Don't be surprised if he earns another All-Pro honor.
10. Linebacker group is the best it's been in years
The Eagles having decent linebackers? The bar has been set low, but Philadelphia has two players who can produce at the position. Free agent signing Eric Wilson joined Fred Warner as one of only two players to record 110-plus tackles, five passes defensed, two interceptions, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery last year. Alex Singleton tied Zach Cunningham for the most tackles since Week 6 (111) -- the week Singleton became a starting linebacker for the Eagles.
How the Eagles will use Wilson and Singleton in Jonathan Gannon's defense is up in the air, but the two should see the field the majority of the time. Singleton needs work in coverage and Wilson needs to improve his tackling, the only glaring flaws in their game. Philadelphia still has two linebackers who can make plays, which the team hasn't seen since Jordan Hicks and Mychal Kendricks were on the roster.