The Philadelphia Eagles defied expectations in 2021. A team most pundits agreed was the worst in the NFC East at the beginning of the year ended up snagging nine wins and getting a playoff bid. Though the playoff game was pretty terrible, there’s something to be said for how much this team improved this past year.
There were players on both sides of the ball who really took a step in their development this season. Here are the four most improved players from 2021.
CB Avonte Maddox
According to Pro Football Focus, Avonte Maddox was the most improved player on the Eagles this past year. His overall grade jumped up 33.2 points, from 37.8 to a respectable 71.0. He finished the season as a top-5 graded player from the slot, per PFF.
Prior to 2021, Maddox was exclusively an outside corner. His 5-foot-9 frame never fit into a prototypical outside corner role. The move into the slot was long overdue and his play saw a drastic improvement because of it. He finished the year with one interception, two forced fumbles, and nine pass deflections. His 75.7 completion percentage when targeted is a bit high, but he only surrendered 7.4 yards per completion and 5.6 yards per target, both career-best marks for Maddox.
There are still some concerns with Maddox, though. He was exposed in the playoff game against Tampa Bay, where the Bucs decided to put Mike Evans in the slot for the majority of the game. Maddox has always had trouble against bigger, more physical receivers, and it still seems to be an issue for the nickel corner. Nevertheless, most teams don’t have a receiver as good as Evans who can lineup in any alignment and still be productive.
Maddox resigned with the team during the season to a three-year extension worth $22.5 million with $14 million guaranteed. He’ll be in the nickel of Jonathan Gannon’s defense for years to come.
LB T.J. Edwards
Heading into the 2021 season, T.J. Edwards was considered as an afterthought. The team signed Eric Wilson over the offseason and Alex Singleton was coming off a solid year in 2020. It wasn’t until Week 8 that Edwards finally got an opportunity to start. And he didn’t disappoint.
He finished the year with 130 tackles, five tackles for loss, and one sack. Edwards finished the year as the tenth-best linebacker in the league according to PFF, ending the season with an overall grade of 75.5.
The Eagles defense, especially against the run, took a huge leap once Edwards was a full-time starter. From Week 8 to Week 17, the Eagles only allowed one team do eclipse the 100-yard mark on the ground. In the seven games prior to Edwards’ insertion into the lineup, the defense allowed an average of 133 rushing yards per game.
Edwards also vastly improved his coverage ability in 2021, which made him the most well-rounded backer on the team.
Like Maddox, Edwards was also handed a contract extension in 2021. Though the extension is only through next season, it’ll at least ensure the Eagles have one viable linebacker heading into next season. If he continues to show growth, Edwards could be a long-term solution at the position.
LT Jordan Mailata
Most Eagles fans expected Jordan Mailata to be a solid starter in 2021 — despite the coaching staff trying to convince the media that there was a legitimate competition between him and Andre Dillard at the beginning of training camp. But no one truly expected Mailata to play at an elite level. He finished the year as the third-best left tackle in football according to PFF, earning an overall grade of 88.3.
On 461 pass blocking snaps this past season, Mailata only surrendered three sacks, one quarterback hit, and 20 quarterback pressures. At just 24 years old, the former rugby player is already solidifying himself as a Pro Bowl caliber left tackle in the NFL. It’s remarkable, really. There’s no reason to think he’ll be anything less than elite in the coming years. Mailata could cement himself as the best tackle in football in the near future, he’s that talented.
TE Dallas Goedert
We all knew Dallas Goedert has the ability to be a solid TE1 in this league. Once Zach Ertz was trade mid-season to Arizona, Goedert finally got that opportunity. From Week 7 on, Goedert accumulated 41 receptions on 57 targets for 614 yards (14.9 yards per reception) and two touchdowns.
PFF graded him as the second-best tight end in football this season, handing him an overall grade of 90.7 for the year. Goedert did have some inopportune drops from time to time, but overall he was a great weapon for Jalen Hurts and the Eagles offense.
An aspect of his game that often gets overlooked is his run blocking acumen. There are very few tight ends in the league that possess both great receiving ability and the ability to be an asset in the ground game. It’s what separates the good from the great tight ends. Goedert is on a great trajectory and with another season as the unquestioned TE1 in Nick Sirianni’s offense, we should expect to see even more production.