Eagles rookies who will have an immediate impact in year one

While it’s not always ideal relying on rookies to play extensively in their first year, the Eagles’ crop of rookies may not have a choice. The team wasn’t able to fill many needs through free agency due to their lack of cap space, so a handful of their 2021 NFL Draft selections will need to see the field in year one.

In total, the Eagles brought in nine players during draft weekend — three on the offensive side of the ball and six on the defensive side.

Here are the rookies who will have immediate impacts in 2021.

DeVonta Smith

This one’s obvious. First round selection DeVonta Smith should be a starter on the outside from day one in Philly.

According to Vegas Insider, Smith has the ninth highest odds (+1600) to win NFL Rookie of the Year in 2021. The only receiver ahead of him is Ja’Marr Chase. Considering how heavily the Eagles will probably lean on Smith this season, I’d say that +1600 is a good bet.

Nick Sirianni will be able to use Smith in a variety of ways in his west coast system. While he’ll primarily be an outside threat, lining Smith up in the slot or even in the backfield will still be effective. There’s a good chance Smith leads all Eagles wideouts in receiving this year, but something that often gets overlooked when assessing this pick is how much Smith’s presence will help the rest of the wide receiving corps.

Jalen Reagor should benefit the most. Not having to deal with the pressure of being a No. 1 wideout should do wonders for the 2020 first round selection.

The Smith pick alone makes this entire 2021 draft a win for the Eagles. I can’t wait to see what he does in midnight green.

Landon Dickerson

It’s unclear at this point if Landon Dickerson will be fully healthy in time for the start of the season. When he was asked about his health following his arrival in Philly, Dickerson said, “My recovery is right where I want it to be. We don’t have an exact timeframe. My ultimate goal is to be able to do whatever I can to make the team better, no matter what stage I’m at this summer or whenever we get to the season.”

Whether he’s ready Week 1 or not, expect Dickerson to have an impact during the 2021 season due to his versatility along the offensive line. While his long-term outlook with the team may be at center once Jason Kelce retires, Dickerson should be able to slide in at left guard as a starter once he’s ready to go in 2021. Say Lane Johnson or Brandon Brooks gets injured, Dickerson could also fill in at either of those spots if need be.

His injury history is alarming, that’s undeniable, but his talent alone is first round material. If he’s able to remain healthy, Dickerson will be a Pro Bowl lineman for the Eagles for years to come.

Milton Williams

While Milton Williams won’t be a starter in year one, expect him to be one of the first defensive tackles off the bench in pass rushing situations.

Williams was one of the best pass rushing interior defensive lineman entering the draft this year. During his collegiate career, Williams racked up 106 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and 10 sacks at Louisiana Tech. Not to mention his 34 total QB hurries over his three-year college career. Williams got after the passer on a regular basis.

He’s also an athletic freak for 284 pounds, running a 4.67-second 40-yard dash at his Pro Day and recording a 38.5-inch vertical.

The Eagles depth at defensive tackle was one of the more overlooked needs for this team heading into draft night. Williams certainly helps fill that need with the potential to be starter down the line after Fletcher Cox, who’s now 30 years old, is gone.

Zech McPhearson

While Zech McPhearson may not be fully ready to start in year one, due to the Eagles circumstances at corner, he may be thrusted into action earlier than expected. Under Jonathan Gannon’s tutelage, I have faith that he’ll at least be competent enough to be viable on the outside.

McPhearson is a versatile defensive back, ling up out wide and in the slot during his collegiate career at Texas Tech. And he has the ideal size to play anywhere in the secondary, 5’11”, 195 pounds with 31.5-inch arms. McPhearson is a very instinctual corner who does a nice job of reading where his receiver is trying to go on his route. McPhearson recorded four interceptions and allowed a QB rating of 71.5 when targeted during his final year at Tech.

His athleticism and size, coupled with his solid pass coverage instincts gives coaches a lot to work with.

Ideally, the Eagles would’ve selected a corner in the third or second round where they could’ve gotten their hands on a more polished prospect. But McPhearson certainly has potential to be a viable piece in this Eagles secondary, even in year one.

Kenneth Gainwell

Arguably the best receiving back entering this year’s draft, Kenneth Gainwell out of Memphis should get third down snaps from day one in Philly.

During his college career, Gainwell dropped just three of 60 catchable targets. He has truly elite route running ability for a running back, some scouts even projected him as a slot receiver at the next level. But what separates Gainwell from the rest of the receiving backs in this class is his blocking ability when picking up the blitz.

Typically, blocking incoming pass rushers is a steep learning curve for rookie running backs, which is why some of them never pan out. Gainwell clearly understands the importance of it and for that he’ll find his way onto the field in 2021.

While he’s not the most explosive runner, he’s very quick and possesses great agility in the open field. He does remind me of Darren Sproles a bit, just a less twitchy, bigger version of him.

Miles Sanders played over 70% of the Eagles third down snaps last season, and he wasn’t nearly as effective as a receiver in 2020 as he was as a rookie. It wouldn’t surprise me if Gainwell takes up almost all of those third down snaps in 2021. Keeping Sanders fresh on running downs and giving the offense a more effective third down back, you can’t really ask for much more out of a day three pick.


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