Heading into the 2021 season, the Philadelphia Eagles will rely heavily on their second year players. The jury’s still out on the team’s 2020 draft class. There were some bright spots during 2020, but the 2020 season by and large was marked with disappointment, and the rookie class wasn’t excluded from that.
They’ll have a lot to prove in 2021. A handful of these second year players will be full-time starters this year and the success of the team will hinge on how well they can develop entering their sophomore campaigns.
Here are four questions surrounding the Eagles 2020 draft class as they prepare for the 2021 season.
Is Jalen Reagor the electric offensive weapon he was projected to be coming out of TCU?
When the Eagles selected Jalen Reagor 21st overall in last year’s draft, it was met with some criticism. There was a portion of fans who wanted the team to take LSU wideout Justin Jefferson over Reagor, mostly due to the fact that Jefferson was closer to a finished product than Reagor. That thought process came to fruition last season, as Jefferson dominated in his rookie campaign, notching 88 receptions for 1,400 yards and 7 touchdowns, earning himself second-team All-Pro honors in the process.
Who’s to say if Jefferson would’ve seen the same kind of production had he came to Philly instead. But that’s neither here nor there. All eyes will be on Reagor this season to see if he can bounce back and prove he was worth the 21st overall selection last offseason.
He may not be the No. 1 wideout you’d hope a first round pick will be, but Reagor won’t be forced to be that guy in his second season. With the selection of DeVonta Smith in this year’s draft, Reagor should fit nicely opposite of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
He has all the tools to be a dynamic offensive weapon. He’s one of the fastest receivers on the team, he showed glimpses of his big play ability last year when he got the ball in his hands, and now Reagor will have a head coach that understands the importance of putting his skill players in favorable situations.
Doug Pederson just never seemed to figure that out, and the entire offense suffered because of it. Nick Sirianni, based on everything he’s said this offseason, places tremendous value on putting his players in positions to succeed at a high rate.
Saying Reagor is a bust after just one season is misguided. Especially when you consider how dysfunctional the team was on and off the field last year. With a full offseason of work not hindered by COVID-19, Reagor has no excuses entering his second NFL season.
Is Davion Taylor an NFL linebacker?
In the third round of last year’s draft, Howie Roseman decided to take a flier on Colorado linebacker Davion Taylor. Taylor was destined to be a project from the moment he was drafted by Philly. He didn’t start playing football until college because of his religious beliefs, and while his athleticism was noticeable on tape, he rarely made any impact plays, failing to record a single interception or forced fumble during his collegiate career.
This type of prospect shouldn’t be drafted higher than the fifth or sixth round. But if we’ve learned anything about Howie over the years, it’s that he doesn’t follow conventional wisdom on draft night. The 2020 draft was the defining example of that.
Taylor didn’t see the field much during his rookie season, playing only 32 defensive snaps on the year. Despite playing such a limited amount of snaps, opposing offenses were able to expose him nearly every time he got on the field.
His lack of experience at the position showed up on tape on each of his 32 snaps. Taylor was routinely fooled on play action passes and tended to play more reactionary than attacking. He was caught in no man’s land numerous times throughout the year.
His athletic ability does lend itself to making an impact on special teams, and that’s where he saw the majority of his playing time last season. Taylor recorded 6 tackles on special teams during his rookie season.
Special teams players are important, but the expectation for any third round pick is to eventually compete for a starting spot on either side of the ball. Entering this season, it doesn’t look like Taylor will be in a position to earn a starting spot. The top three backers, Alex Singleton, Eric Wilson, and T.J. Edwards, seem to be set in stone entering training camp. Taylor’s fellow 2020 draftee, Shaun Bradley, actually outplayed Taylor in 2020 and is probably higher on the depth chart at this point.
Taylor is likely fighting for a roster spot entering camp this year. We know he has the athletic ability to contribute — it’s up to him to figure out a way to put all together in 2021.
Can K’Von Wallace fill the third safety role?
Fourth round Clemson safety K’Von Wallace quickly became a fan favorite last offseason. But once the regular season rolled around, Wallace was delegated to the bench and special teams, only seeing extensive playing time towards the end of the season.
In three starts, Wallace recorded 21 combined tackles and 1 fumble recovery. With the addition of Anthony Harris this offseason, Wallace won’t be called upon to start on the backend unless there’s injury, or if Rodney McLeod is unable to go by the start of the season. But he should be looked at as the starter for the third safety role in Jonathan Gannon’s defense.
His skill set fits the third safety archetype. Wallace is a physical safety with prototypical size standing at 5-foot-11, 206 pounds. He isn’t afraid to mix it up in the running game and he’s stout enough in coverage to press slot receivers or tight ends at the line of scrimmage.
If Wallace can seamlessly fill the third safety role, it’ll help the entire secondary and give Gannon some maneuverability at the cornerback position. As of right now, no one knows who’s going to start at the second corner spot opposite of Darius Slay. Ideally, Michael Jacquet, Zech McPhearson, or Craig James can step up and fill that vacancy. But it’s far from a sure thing.
Worse comes to worst, Avonte Maddox may need to slide to the outside where he’s played the majority of the past few seasons. If that does happen, Wallace will see the field on nearly every snap as a third safety or nickel corner.
Unlike Davion Taylor, Wallace actually has an opportunity to carve out an impact role for himself on this Eagles defense in 2021. He could end up being one of the young bright spots on this defense at season’s end.
Is Jalen Hurts franchise quarterback material?
That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it?
Of all the second year players on this Eagles roster, none will garner as much attention as quarterback Jalen Hurts. He’s the unquestioned starter heading into training camp this year and will have an opportunity to stake his claim as the quarterback of the future in Philly.
It’s a tall order, there’s no doubt about that. With a new head coach and a young crop of weapons to work with, Hurts will have his work cut out for him. But if he’s truly going to be the face of this franchise moving forward, Hurts should be able to win ball games with this offense.
The offensive line is fully healthy heading into the year, his wide receiving group is mostly unproven but has a ton of potential. The backfield is stout, and Dallas Goedert is one of the better tight ends in football. There should be no excuses for Hurts entering this year.
This question may not be fully answered by the end of the season, but we should have a clearer picture on if this Hurts guy is it. The success of this team, and ultimately the path of this organization moving forward, hinges on Hurts’ performance in 2021.
It’s without question the most interesting storyline for the Eagles entering the 2021 season.