By now, the nine draft picks of the 2021 Draft Class have returned as many of the text and voice messages that blew up their phones through the weekend and they've gained the very real understanding of the situation: They are Philadelphia Eagles. They are in the big leagues now, and it's all about business from this point forward.
"That's the thing," sixth-round draft pick JaCoby Stevens said on Sunday during an Insider Event powered by AAA for Season Ticket Members, "it's a dream come true when you get that phone call from the Eagles and you hear your name called. It was an amazing feeling. That night, it was just incredible. I woke up today and was like, 'It's real. I'm a professional football player.' I can't wait to get to work."
How will the Rookie Class – which includes a not-yet-officially-named post-draft group of signings – fit into the picture in 2021? That remains to be seen, of course, but let's take a look at the draft picks, their position groups, and the outlook for the competition that is sure to be there when Training Camp opens and the three-game preseason schedule starts. The March to 53 (players) has begun …
DeVonta Smith, WR
Smith is going to have a chance to make an immediate impact. Head Coach Nick Sirianni indicated over the weekend that Smith could be moved around the formation. A young group looks for more production in 2021, with three draft picks from a year ago looking to take that big next step. Jalen Reagor, John Hightower, and Quez Watkins look for that vital "next step" in Year 2. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside enters his third season hopeful to hit his stride. Greg Ward is the veteran of the group in his third real season as the team's slot receiver. Travis Fulgham wowed for four weeks in 2020 before his numbers diminished down the stretch. Khalil Tate is here as he makes the transition from a college quarterback (Arizona) to wide receiver.
Landon Dickerson, OL
Dickerson is recovering from surgery after suffering a torn ACL in December. He said he feels great. Howie Roseman said that 2021 is not a "redshirt season" for Dickerson. We'll consider him a guard for the moment, although he dominated at center last season for Alabama. Brandon Brooks returns from a torn Achilles tendon that forced him to miss all of 2020. Isaac Seumalo returns after his 2020 season was limited to nine games because of a knee injury. Young linemen like Matt Pryor, Nate Herbig, and Sua Opeta gained valuable playing time last year with all of the injuries and provide valuable depth moving forward. Ross Pierschbacher joined the Eagles late in 2020 and looks to assimilate himself into the picture. There is expected to be a ton of competition at this position.
Milton Williams, DL
We can consider Williams a defensive tackle here, even if the Eagles think he can help on the edge as well at times. The defensive tackle group gained a whole lot over the weekend with two draft picks added. Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave form a very good starting twosome, while Hassan Ridgeway, re-signed in free agency, helps as a third tackle. He hasn't been fully healthy in his two seasons here, but when he's played, Ridgeway has done a good job. Raequan Williams has promise entering his second season and the Eagles want to see him take another move forward, while T.Y. McGill rounds out the pre-draft defensive tackle room entering his seventh NFL season.
Zech McPhearson, CB
After a standout 2020 season at Texas Tech, McPhearson comes to a situation where there is open competition. The Eagles know that Darius Slay is one starter after playing on an island last season. Avonte Maddox has shown his versatility playing the nickel spot to the outside and back and forth for most of his three seasons here and his range is a plus. Those are the only two experienced cornerbacks on the roster. Craig James had some moments on special teams and at cornerback in 2019 and followed up with a fine Training Camp in 2020, but injuries limited him to just 15 defensive snaps in the regular season. Players like Michael Jacquet, Jameson Houston, Lavert Hill, Kevon Seymour, and Shakial Taylor are young prospects who need to develop.
Kenneth Gainwell, RB
The Eagles are high on Gainwell's hands, his burst, and the production he showed during the 2019 season at Memphis when he accounted for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage. The Eagles have Miles Sanders in the leading role in the backfield and it's going to be interesting to see how Nick Sirianni uses the third-year player who is so explosive. Boston Scott has been a productive No. 2 running back, and veteran Jordan Howard signed a one-year deal in free agency to rejoin the team. Jason Huntley saw sparse action last year after joining the team off waivers from Detroit, and young backs Elijah Holyfield and Adrian Killins are looking to impress the new coaching staff. This is going to be a fun group to watch in Training Camp.
Marlon Tuipulotu, DT
As with Williams, Tuipulotu enters a highly talented room at defensive tackle. We've seen in seasons past that the Eagles just can't have enough depth at defensive tackle, so Tuipulotu is going to get a long look when the players hit the playing field. The Eagles think Tuipulotu's skill set translates well to what Defensive Line Coach Tracy Rocker is teaching and what the Eagles want from their players up front: Nastiness, physical play, and production.
Tarron Jackson, DE
This is a group looking for more depth and Jackson is going to be right in the mix. Pro Bowl end Brandon Graham leads the way here entering his 12th NFL season. Derek Barnett is also back and healthy and hoping to stay that way in his fifth season. Josh Sweat continues his rise after a strong 2020 campaign and will be counted on as a vital contributor this season. Joe Ostman had a taste of play on the field after missing 2019 with a knee injury and Matt Leo is back for a second season. Genard Avery is listed as a defensive end, and his role could be multiple in Jonathan Gannon's defensive scheme.
JaCoby Stevens, LB
A safety who played all over the LSU defense in his career there, Stevens is being listed as a linebacker for the Eagles. We really don't yet know how Gannon plans to employ the linebackers, so we're kind of guessing here, but Stevens joins the likes of Alex Singleton, the leading tackler a season ago, and T.J. Edwards, a third-year man who logged plenty of reps and was productive in 2020. Second-year men Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley need to step up and compete for playing time here as well. The Eagles signed Eric Wilson in free agency and he is expected to make an impact in a defensive scheme with which he has some familiarity. Joe Bachie joined the team late in 2020 from the New Orleans practice squad and Rashad Smith returns for a second season after seeing some get-used-to-the-NFL reps in 2020.
Patrick Johnson, LB
A seventh-round draft pick, Johnson enjoyed a great career at Tulane, where he had a school-record 24.5 quarterback sacks. Clearly, the Eagles liked what they saw in his ability to get into the backfield, so he will be given a chance to grow those skills off the edge from the linebacker position. It's fair to see Johnson in the same light as Avery – explosive players who the Eagles want to see in space off the edge.