This is the second-breath weekend, the gigantic gulp of air that players who haven't been through the grind of an NFL season appreciate more than anything – a chance to clear their minds for a few days, heal from the physical nature of the business, and gain the spring back in their legs. For the Eagles' 2021 Draft Class, the season has already been a tremendous ride. What's ahead could make it even more special.
The Eagles have gotten a lot of mileage from this class and, we all expect, the best is yet to come. Let's take a stock report on the Class of '21 ...
WR DeVonta Smith, Round 1
Durable, productive, explosive. DeVonta Smith has been all of the above and then some for the Eagles. He has 50 receptions, 701 yards, and four touchdowns in 13 games and has defeated pretty much everything defenses have thrown his way. He is a special talent who will benefit greatly from the bye week.
"He's just a good football player," Head Coach Nick Sirianni said.
Smith has such great feet and his route-running has been outstanding. He is what the Eagles hoped he would be with his productivity and has seamlessly blended into the prime wide receiving target in the passing game.
"He's a heck of a football player. He was drafted where he was for a reason," Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen said. "(Executive Vice President/General Manager) Howie (Roseman) did a heck of a job in seeing that in him. He's a good player. We're excited about him."
G Landon Dickerson, Round 2
The progress made by Landon Dickerson, who suffered a torn ACL late last season at Alabama, has been remarkable. Dickerson has started 11 games, played in 12, and shows signs of being a dominating player. Head Coach Nick Sirianni said as much when he compared Dickerson earlier this week to an All-Pro player with the Colts.
"I know this is high praise, but I do see some of the physical movements that kind of like (Colts guard) Quenton Nelson had. There are some things that I see and I'm like, 'That looked like Quenton right there.' Obviously, I think Quenton is a great football player, so that's a high praise, because Quenton has done a lot for me in my career in the teams that I've been on," Sirianni said. "But I do see that every once in a while where I'm like, 'Hey, that movement looked like Quenton right there,' as comp goes. I just see Landon playing tough and playing physical and playing nasty, right? Which is what you want out of your offensive line. So, he's getting more confident, more comfortable being on that offensive line, and he's got one of the best centers to ever play this game next to him helping him through it. What an opportunity for him to play alongside Jason Kelce and help him through that first year and forward.
"Then also being able to have combination blocks with (left tackle) Jordan Mailata. He's huge, and so now you get those two huge bodies on the left side working combination blocks, whether that's on the front side of a run, which you saw on the touchdown run by Kenny (Gainwell) working a combination block into the linebacker, or whether that's on the back side of a run where they're working that combination block. So, he's got two good guys to work with alongside him, too, and obviously Coach Stout (Jeff Stoutland) is a great coach that is continuing to develop him along."
DL Milton Williams, Round 3
Making the transition from college to the NFL along the defensive line is among the most difficult, but Milton Williams has impressed in his 330 defensive snaps. Williams has recorded 21 tackles, two for loss, and one quarterback sack. While the numbers don't jump off the page, Williams' effort and versatility playing both inside and on the edge have gained notice from the coaching staff.
"What I love about Milton and all our rookies is, again, you've heard me talk about it, they correct their mistakes and don't let – they're not repeat offenders. 'Milton, you can't get cut out in this technique. Here's why you got cut out. This is what you have to do with your feet or your hands or your body.' And you see him self-correct that," Defensive Coordinator Jonathan Gannon said. "It's awesome to see because we stack back to back to back plays. This is the same play in the same defense. This is what happened in Week 12 and this is what happened this week and look why you made the play. Or look why, because you did your job, your buddy made the play. So, I would say not making the same mistake over and over and over is what I'm most pleased with Milton about and just his intensity, his football character, the motor that he plays with, and the production that you see that he's playing with right now. He's affecting the game for us."
CB Zech McPhearson, Round 4
The 33 snaps played against the Jets after Steven Nelson suffered a shoulder injury represented Zech McPhearson's highest of the season, and Gannon came away impressed. In all, McPhearson – who has been outstanding on special teams – has played 96 defensive snaps and has made eight tackles.
"I really thought he made a big-time improvement this week, as far as just his eye discipline, his alignments, made a couple plays. The one PI (pass interference penalty), I'm completely OK with the defensive holding. That was good, tight, sticky coverage, the call didn't go his way," Gannon said of McPhearson. "I think he did a really good job of the snaps that he played, he did a good job for us. You always hear me talk about, especially for young guys, game reps are the most critical, the most valuable thing for a young guy, even more so than practice reps because, when you do make mistakes in a game, that's the best form of learning in my opinion. You don't want to make a lot of mistakes, but he's doing a good job of not making the same mistake multiple times and he's playing well."
RB Kenny Gainwell, Round 5
From the very first game of the season, Kenny Gainwell showed that he was ready for the NFL. Gainwell has produced 447 total yards from scrimmage on 83 touches with five touchdowns. The Eagles have a foursome of backs who have all had their moments this season, Gainwell included. In Sunday's win over the Jets, he gained a career-high 54 rushing yards and added another 33 yards on five receptions. His 18-yard touchdown run in the first half was a thing of beauty, a culmination of the entire offense's performance but also an indication of how Gainwell runs low, with good pad level, keeps his balance, and is explosive.
"He was great, he did a good job," Offensive Coordinator Shane Steichen said earlier this week of Gainwell's performance at MetLife Stadium. "Obviously, he hit the big touchdown run, that third touchdown run. It was a great job by the offensive line on the double-team on the 3-technique and him hitting it and seeing it and (Jalen) Reagor making the block for him. It was one-on-one with the corner. He did a heck of a job there. Coming out of the backfield, catching those footballs, and hitting it. He's an explosive player. We're glad we have him on our team. Again, he saw the holes well, he hit it well, he had a good game."
DT Marlon Tuipulotu, Round 6
This is just the start for Marlon Tuipulotu, who has played in four games and has been inactive in nine games. Big and strong, Tuipulotu is in the developmental stage for the Eagles and he's a player who will be expected to make a big jump from Year 1 to Year 2. Tuipulotu has played 29 defensive snaps and has recorded one tackle.
DE Tarron Jackson, Round 6
Jumping from Coastal Carolina to the NFL is not easy, so give Tarron Jackson a lot of credit for seeing action in all 13 games, mostly on special teams. He has flashed, recording a sack against Detroit and playing around the football in many of the 166 snaps he has played on defense. Jackson has been credited with six total tackles. He is another late-round pick who will attack the offseason and come in a much more polished player in 2022. Jackson will continue to be part of the defensive end rotation the remainder of the season and the Eagles need him to continue to play with energy and aggressiveness – Jackson has played 20, 19, and 19 snaps the last three weeks.
LB Patrick Johnson, Round 7
With 13 games, including one start, under his belt, Patrick Johnson has a good sense of the challenge of playing down-in, down-out football in the NFL. An edge pass rusher at Tulane, Johnson has added to the pass-rush punch with the Eagles and he's also learned the nuances of the demanding position. Johnson has played 53 snaps on defense and has been a staple on special teams and has contributed four total tackles there.