Philly sports have been nothing short of disappointing since the start of 2021. The Sixers fell to the fifth seeded Hawks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals; the Phillies continue to underperform. And now we’re just under a month until the Eagles take the field at the NovaCare Complex.
The Birds are coming off arguably their worst season in 20 years, with a new quarterback and head coach set to take the field this fall. Most of their best players are out of their prime, and the team is lacking any kind of young talent to hang their hat on. It’s not looking great, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t reasons to get excited for this season.
We’ll have all the time in the world to get down on the Eagles once the regular season rolls around, so why rain on our parade before it even starts?
Here are four reasons to be excited for the upcoming Eagles season.
Trading up in this year’s NFL Draft to select the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was by far the highlight of this offseason for the Eagles. Not only did the team get their hands on arguably the best wide receiver prospect in this year’s class, they bunny hopped over the New York Giants to do so — a team that everyone figured was going to take DeVonta Smith if he fell to them.
Smith fills an immediate need for this team and he’s one of the most high-profiled draft prospects to come to Philly in quite some time. His talent is apparent whenever you put on the tape, and based on everything we’ve heard from his coaches, both from Alabama and in Philly, Smith has the intangibles that separates the good from the great in this league.
He’ll immediately slot in as the team’s No. 1 option on the outside, and he’s versatile enough to move all over the offensive formation and still be effective. His slender build may be a cause for concern for some, but he’s proven time and time again that his size doesn’t hinder his game in the slightest.
Smith is going to be fun to watch from Week 1.
While most fans were happy to see Jim Schwartz leave as the team’s defensive coordinator after 2020, the Eagles defense hasn’t been all that bad over the past few years. But it’s hard to deny that Schwartz’s defensive scheme was growing a bit stale. New defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon should revitalize this defense a bit with his Mike Zimmer-esque scheme — one that will focus on more zone coverage and a more blitzing from his linebackers.
The base defense will likely look similar to Schwartz’s, with four down lineman and two linebackers, but everything that happens post-snap will be tweaked. At first, expect Gannon to utilize a lot of cover 2, with his cornerbacks pressing on the line of scrimmage. There will be plenty of two deep safety looks as well, whereas Schwartz used a lot of single high safety.
The personnel may not be ideal in this Eagles secondary just yet, but Gannon’s track record of developing corners is something every Eagles fan should be excited about. During his time as the Colts defensive backs coach, the team didn’t use a single first round pick on a corner, nor did they sign any high-priced free agents at the position. Gannon was forced to make Indy’s defense work with limited talent in his secondary, and he helped turn the Colts defense into one of the best against the pass during his time there.
He may not have the name recognition that someone like Schwartz had when he arrived in Philly, but his past success should excite fans and bring some new life to an often overlooked Eagles defense.
The Defensive Line
There aren’t many positions of strength on this Eagles roster, but that’s not the case with their defensive line. Despite some of their marquee players getting up there in age, Philly’s defensive line figures to still be one of the better fronts in football this season.
The Eagles accumulated 49 sacks as a team last season, third-most in the league, despite blitzing on only 22.2 percent of the snaps, the fifth-lowest blitz rate in the NFL. They’re returning every starter along their front, and they’ve added even more depth to an already deep front-four.
Veteran pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan should be a nice situational pass rusher alongside Josh Sweat. Third round pick Milton Williams provides a lot of upside as a pass rushing defensive tackle, with room to develop into a starter in the near future.
There’s no doubt that this defensive line is the strength of the Eagles defense. They should once again wreak havoc on opposing offenses in 2021.
A New Face Under Center
Regardless of what you think about Jalen Hurts, having the opportunity to see what this young man can do as the unquestioned starter is going to be very interesting to watch. The inner football nerd in me smiles whenever I have the chance to see a new quarterback in midnight green.
Hurts definitely has areas that he needs to improve in. His accuracy was less than stellar last year, his decision making was slower than you’d like. But, his athletic ability helped make up for it a bit. It shouldn’t be a crutch for Hurts to lean on, but if he can find that happy medium where his athleticism actually benefits the rest of his game, he’ll be in good shape.
We already know Hurts has the intangibles required to succeed at this level, it’s all his teammates and coaches seem to talk about.
Simply put, Hurts’ success will determine the fate of the 2021 Eagles. If he cements himself as this organization’s franchise quarterback with his play this year, we’ll more than likely see the Eagles in the postseason.
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