Eagles: 3 bold predictions for 2021 rookie class this season

We may need to wait a few more months before we see the 2021 Eagles on the field together practicing, but we’ll get our first glimpse of this year’s rookie class starting on Friday, May 14.

Rookie minicamp will take place this weekend, and while we may not learn a whole lot about this year’s crop of rookies during that time, it’ll be nice to see the new additions take the practice field wearing midnight green for the first time.

In preparation for rookie minicamp, it’s time to hand out some bold predictions for the Birds’ rookie class.

DeVonta Smith goes over 1,000 yards receiving

Since 2015, only two rookie wideouts have eclipsed the 1,000 yard receiving mark: Justin Jefferson last year and Michael Thomas in 2016. It’s rare to see rookie wideouts produce at such a high rate, but if there’s a rookie from this year’s class who’s going to become the third since 2015 to go over 1,000, it’s DeVonta Smith.

He’ll be the No. 1 wide receiver in Philly from day one. Nick Sirianni, and especially Jalen Hurts, will lean on Smith early and often in 2021. He’ll be the best receiving option on the team this year.

Being ultra productive is nothing new for Smith. Last season at Alabama, he led the nation in receptions with 117. The next closest was Elijah Moore with 86, but Smith nearly reached that mark with his first down + touchdown receptions alone (84). Not to mention Smith was just 144 receiving yards shy of reaching 2,000 on the season.

Smith will be a dynamic weapon from Week 1 and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he becomes the first Eagle wideout to go over 1,000 yards since Jeremy Maclin in 2014.

Kenneth Gainwell will lead all rookie backs in receiving touchdowns

Coming out of Memphis, Kenneth Gainwell was arguably the best receiving back entering the draft this year. Some scouts even suggested that he may project better as a slot receiver at the next level. While he won’t play in the slot here in Philly, Gainwell’s receiving skill set should make him an asset for Sirianni’s offense from day one.

Sirianni utilized his backs a ton in the passing game in Indianapolis and I expect him to do the same here. Nyheim Hines led the Colts in receptions last season with 63 and came in second on the team in receiving touchdowns (4), while rookie back Jonathan Taylor totaled 36 receptions and one receiving touchdown.

Gainwell may already be the best pure receiving threat out of the backfield in Philly. Couple that with his polished blocking on blitz pick ups, and you have a back who will definitely see third down snaps from day one. If he impresses early, expect him to expand his role and potentially line up in the slot or out wide in certain formations.

At season’s end, I wouldn’t be shocked if we’re talking about the backfield duo of Sanders and Gainwell as one of the best young backfields in the league. The recent signing of Kerryon Johnson does throw a bit of wrench in Gainwell’s potential playing time, but I have faith in Gainwell solidifying his status as the team’s go-to receiving back pretty early on in his rookie campaign.

Zech McPhearson leads Eagles cornerbacks in interceptions

The Eagles haven’t had a ball hawking corner since the days of Asante Samuel in the early 2010s. Last year, no cornerback on the roster recorded more than one interception, and you’d have to go back to 2018 to find a corner who’s recorded at least three for the Eagles.

Zech McPhearson will have his work cut out for him as a rookie. Unless the team signs a veteran to come in and play opposite of Darius Slay, this fourth round rookie may need to start from day one. I wrote specifically on how well McPhearson would do in year one if he’s asked to start, so you can click here for the full story. But in short, he has all the physical tools to succeed at the next level, along with solid awareness and ball skills.

He led Texas Tech in interceptions during his final year in college with four. Even if he gets at least three in his rookie year, McPhearson would more than likely lead the cornerback room in INTs.

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