We’re officially under a month until training camp gets underway at the NovaCare Complex. Coming off a 4-11-1 season, expectations for the Eagles are naturally low. There will be a new head coach in town, along with a new starting quarterback under center. Things will look a bit different this upcoming season, but change is a good thing in regards to the Eagles, who became a slog to watch on Sundays last season.
The Eagles offense will be very interesting to watch as the season progresses. Obviously all eyes will be on Jalen Hurts, as his success will essentially determine the fate of his offense. But there are several other weapons around Hurts that are worth discussing and keeping a close eye on throughout the 2021 season.
For some of these skill players, the jury is still out on them. In a new offensive system with a new quarterback, they may flourish in ways they haven’t been able to up to this point in their NFL careers.
Here’s a ranking of each starting skill position player along the Eagles offense, from worst to best.
7. Greg Ward
Ever since Greg Ward was inserted into the Eagles lineup halfway through the 2019 season, he’s been a consistent slot receiver. He’s quick and nimble, making it difficult to cover him on short to intermediate routes.
Last season, Ward tallied 53 receptions for 419 yards and he led the team in receiving touchdowns with 6. While the consistency is there, it doesn’t feel like there’s much room for growth with Ward. He is what he is at this point. Standing at 5-foot-11, 190 pounds with average speed, his athleticism doesn’t lend itself to having a high ceiling.
I like what Ward brings to the field — there are certainly worse slot receivers across the NFL. But the Eagles will likely look to upgrade that position within the next year. With reports indicating that Jalen Reagor will see more time from the slot this season, Ward’s days in Philly could be numbered.
By season’s end, he could be an after thought in Philly’s offense.
6. Richard Rodgers
Assuming Zach Ertz will be gone before the season starts, Richard Rodgers figures to be the TE2 in Nick Sirianni’s offense. Like Doug Pederson, Sirianni is expected to run a lot of two tight end sets in his west coast system. Rodgers will have ample opportunities to make an impact playing in an offense like this.
In 2020, Rodgers produced 24 receptions for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns. He’s not a spectacular athlete, but his 6-foot-4 stature allows him to cause matchup problems for opposing defenses. Rodgers lacks great speed, but he’s agile enough to wiggle open and he’s a fine jump ball receiver in contested situations.
There are better tight end duos around the league, but the Rodgers-Dallas Goedert tandem should still be a consistent aspect of the Eagles offense in 2021. Rodgers is no Zach Ertz, but he’s a serviceable TE2 in this league.
5. Travis Fulgham
Out of all the Eagles receivers, Travis Fulgham may be the most interesting to watch as the 2021 season unfolds. Was his insane production at the beginning of the 2020 season just a fluke, or is he a serious receiving threat who just needs to hone his skills? 2020 left us with more questions than answers in regards to Fulgham.
Despite starting just 8 games last season, Fulgham led the team in receiving yards with 539, and he found the end zone a total of 4 times. He has the size of a prototypical WR1, and he pairs his stature with great athleticism and above average speed.
The potential is certainly there with Fulgham. Learning under the tutelage of Sirianni, a heralded developer of wide receivers, should help his development. Not to mention, he won’t be forced to be the No.1 wideout for the Eagles, as that position belongs to DeVonta Smith.
I’m excited to see what Fulgham can do with a full offseason of work and more opportunities to shine in the Eagles offense this season. If he can capture what he did at the beginning of last season and consistently produce close to that level throughout 2021, he may be the best receiver on the roster when it’s all said and done.
4. Jalen Reagor
Jalen Reagor was largely a disappointment in his rookie campaign last season. In 11 starts, he accumulated 31 catches for 396 yards and just 1 touchdown. Injuries played a role, but it was clear that Reagor just didnt have a substantial impact whenever he was on the field.
Some of that can be attributed to coaching. Doug Pederson routinely misused his skill position players last season. But some of the blame needs to fall on Reagor, too. His route running was a bit of question mark coming out of college, and the concerns manifested on the field during his rookie year. He was really only effective on deep routes and slants/wide receiver screens last year.
You need more out of a guy who was drafted in the first round, that much is obvious. The question is can he rebound in year two and prove that he was worth the first round selection. I think that’s definitely possible.
Nick Sirianni has said time and time again how important it is to put your skill players in positions that will get the most out of them. If the head coach sticks to this mantra throughout the year, Reagor should benefit greatly from it. He’s expected to play out of the slot more often this year, which should allow him to utilize his great speed and quickness more effectively. Getting pressed on the line of scrimmage won’t happen as often from the slot, something that stifled Reagor numerous times last season playing on the outside.
Reagor’s skillset lends itself to so many possibilities on offense. If Sirianni can figure out a way to consistently get the ball into Reagor’s hands, his disappointing rookie year will quickly become a distant memory.
3. DeVonta Smith
Although I think DeVonta Smith could be the team’s best offensive weapon this season, it’s hard to place a rookie any higher than where I have him here. With that said, the sky is the limit for Smith.
He has all the tools to be an effective No. 1 receiver from day one. Pristine, crisp route running, superb hands, ability to make contested catches, outstanding speed and quickness. He has it all — with the exception of size. Sure, ideally a team’s best wideout should be heavier than 160 pounds. But Smith is a different animal, and he proved that throughout his career at Alabama.
If his small stature didn’t hinder his play in the closest thing to the NFL, that being the SEC, it won’t hinder him in the league. Smith faced NFL talent every single day at Alabama, he’s built for the NFL and his size won’t take away from what he’s about to do on Sundays.
He should be a focal point of Philly’s offense from Week 1. I can’t wait to see what this guy can do on the NFL stage.
2. Miles Sanders
A lot of fans, including myself, expected Sanders to take a big leap in 2020. He was coming off an outstanding rookie season where he totaled 1,327 yards from scrimmage, and he entered the 2020 season as the unquestioned leader in the Eagles backfield. But for some reason, his breakout season never truly materialized and his development seemed to stagnate.
As was the case with a handful of skill players last season, coaching played a role. Sanders averaged 5.3 yards per carry last season, yet, he only toted the ball 164 times, 15 less than he did the year prior. There was only one game where Sanders had at least 20 carries in 2020, and that was his first start of the season in Week 2. Under Sirianni, expect Sanders to average at least 15 carries per game.
Sanders’ lacking production wasn’t all on the coaching staff, though. He took a major step back as a pass catching threat out of the backfield. He caught 28 balls for 197 yards last season, whereas in 2019, he totaled 50 receptions for 509 yards and 3 touchdowns. It’s not like he was targeted way more in his rookie season, either. Sanders had 63 targets in 2019 and 52 last year.
His drop percentage rose from 4.8 percent in 2019 to 13.5 percent in 2020. I don’t expect his struggles to continue in the passing game, but he’ll need to prove himself worthy of being a three-down back early on in 2021. Kerryon Johnson, Boston Scott, and Kenneth Gainwell will all be chomping at the bit to get third down snaps. Sanders can hold them off as long as he bounces back and proves once again that he’s a premiere dual threat back in this league.
Sanders has the potential to be the next great Eagles running back. He has the speed, the elusiveness, the power, and the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Like last offseason, a lot of fans will be expecting Sanders to breakout in 2021. If he can put it all together and stay healthy, there’s no reason he can’t become the best weapon on this Eagles offense.
1. Dallas Goedert
Dallas Goedert is the complete package at tight end. Not only is he a nuanced receiver who can beat his defenders in a multitude of ways, he’s among the best blocking tight ends in football, making him the best all-around weapon on the Eagles offense heading into this season.
In 9 starts last season, Goedert hauled in 46 receptions for 524 yards and 3 touchdowns. 2021 will be the first year where he’ll be the unquestioned TE1 in Philadelphia. He doesn’t have many weaknesses in his game, and now that he’ll have more opportunities, expect Goedert to firmly cement himself as one of the best tight ends in the NFL.