Opening day for the Eagles is just 23 days away. We’ve heard some buzz out of camp, but without any preseason games, it’ll be hard to accurately assess where this team stands heading into the regular season.
There are a handful of question marks surrounding this Birds team, and unfortunately we’ll have to wait until September 13 to get any real answers. Here are the five biggest questions I have heading into the 2020 campaign.
Will J.J. Arcega-Whiteside rebound from his awful rookie season?
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was one of the biggest disappointments from last season. After getting selected in the second round of the NFL Draft, ahead of D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin, fans expected at least some kind of production out of the Stanford product.
What we ended up getting was a pretty pitiful outing. JJAW finished his rookie season with just 10 receptions on 22 targets, for 169 yards and one touchdown. Not great.
Seeing the rookie wideout step up after the team’s top three WRs went down with injuries would’ve given the fanbase some hope for his future, but Greg Ward ended up being the one to step up after being signed from the practice squad.
It’s not fair to label JJAW a bust just yet, though. At just 23 years old, standing at 6-foot-2 and weighing about 220 pounds heading into camp this year, Arcega-Whiteside certainly still has the potential to be a starter for Doug Pederson’s offense. With Alshon Jeffery slated to miss the first six weeks of the season, JJAW will get his opportunities. We’ll just have to wait and see if he can make the most out of them.
Does Sidney Jones have a place on this roster?
I’ve been rooting for Sidney Jones to succeed ever since he stepped foot on the field in an Eagles uniform. The former second round pick has always had the potential to be a stud on the outside, but injuries and confidence issues have continuously held the young CB back.
Each of the past two offseasons we’ve heard that this year will be different for Jones, but it’s yet to materialize on the field. He did make some key plays down the stretch for Jim Schwartz’s defense after being benched halfway through the season, but he still didn’t play a defensive snap during the wildcard game against Seattle.
Reports out of camp have stated that the starting trio of corners so far has been Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox on the outside, with Nickell Robey-Coleman manning the slot. And surprise surprise, Jones has already been listed on the injury report.
I don’t need to tell you how much better this secondary would be if Jones reached his full potential. If you’re like me, you’re probably sick of hearing about the potential. If Jones can’t find ways to contribute this year, his time in Philly may come to an end sooner than we think.
Is Andre Dillard the left tackle of the future?
2019 first round pick Andre Dillard played sparingly during his rookie season. He definitely had some good moments, containing Khalil Mack during the Bears game being the most notable. But he also had some pretty bad moments, particularly against the Seattle Seahawks during the regular season when he was asked to play right tackle.
There’s been a lot of good buzz about Dillard this offseason. He’s apparently bulked up by almost 30 pounds, and with that he’s gotten much stronger, which was a clear weakness in his game last season.
How will Doug Pederson utilize Jalen Hurts, if at all?
I, like every Eagles fan, was shocked when Howie decided to take Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round of this year’s draft. It’s no secret that the organization values their QB room, but using a second round pick, when there were a handful of veterans on the open market, just never made sense to me.
Some have speculated that Hurts will have a Taysom Hill like role in 2020. It’s hard to deny the intrigue that comes with that, but it’s still unclear how exactly Hurts can help this offense this year. Ideally, he doesn’t see the field at all and Carson Wentz stays healthy all season.
There’s no way Pederson or any other offensive coach will spill the beans if they do plan to utilize Hurts similarly to Hill, so there’s really no way of knowing what his role will be until week 1.
If he can help the team win ball games, I’m in. But I’m not banking on a gimmick player to be a pivotal part of this offense in 2020.
Will the LBs hold Jim Schwartz’s defense back?
The linebacker group for the Eagles is easily the worst position group on the team. After cutting Nigel Bradham this offseason, the team brought in Jatavis Brown to help mitigate the loss, only for the 26-year-old LB to retire before camp even started.
Now, it looks like Nate Gerry and Duke Riley are the two starting backers in Schwartz’s nickel package, which is essentially their base defense. Gerry showed some flashes last season, but was an inconsistent tackler and he failed to make a major impact on the defense.
He was better in coverage, snagging two interceptions and recording five pass deflections, but his Pro Football Focus coverage grade still came out to 61.8.
Riley is essentially an unknown at this point. In 12 games last season he totaled just 14 tackles, while only playing 3% of the defensive snaps. T.J. Edwards showed some promise in his limited action last season, especially in the run game, where he posted a PFF run defense grade of 90.3 on 112 defensive snaps.
Then we have rookie third round pick Davion Taylor, who looks like he has the talent to be a starter in this group, but he still feels like a project at this point.
No one can truly know how this linebacking group will fair in 2020. There just isn’t enough tape on these guys. They could surprise us all and keep pace with the rest of the defense, but it’s impossible to predict.