EAGLES

10 unheralded players who helped the Eagles reach the playoffs

EAGLES

Even if you don’t include Sunday’s meaningless season finale against the Cowboys, the Eagles used 68 players this year, including 43 different starters.

So while most of the focus around this team has revolved around steady veterans like Lane Johnson, Darius Slay and Jason Kelce and promising youngsters like Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith and Landon Dickerson, the reality is you don’t reach the playoffs unless it’s a genuine team effort.

And the Eagles got contributions from all over the place.

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“We talked a lot about roles on the team early in the year,” Nick Sirianni said. “That was one of our talks we had: ‘Hey, what's your role on this football team?’

“We really thought it was important to explain roles, to point out roles and let everyone be aware, ‘Hey, this is your role on this football team.’ The guys that were at the back end of the roster, it was always, ‘Hey, we need you to contribute on special teams and be a guy that's on special teams and ready to make plays on special teams, those 22 to 25 plays a game.’

“But also, your job is to be there and be ready without a lot of the reps, to be ready to go if your number is called upon. Everybody is going to want a role of being the guy and being the starter (but) there are 22 of them. … I don't think guys play their role unless you have good leaders on the football team like we do, and good people on this football team like we do.”

 

That said, we thought we would spotlight 10 unheralded members of the 2021 Eagles who made significant contributions at some point during the run to the playoffs.

Andre Dillard: When Dillard learned Jordan Mailata had won the left tackle job after training camp, he promised he would keep working as hard as ever in case he had to play. As it turned out, he had to play. Mailata hurt his ankle at practice on Sept. 23 and missed two games and then filled in for two more games at right tackle, and Dillard filled in admirably at left tackle in his first four starts since 2019.

Jack Driscoll: He started the season on the bench and finished the season on Injured Reserve, but Driscoll quietly gave the Eagles very good play at right guard from Week 5 through Week 12. Driscoll had started four games at right tackle last year, but guard was a new position, and Driscoll filled in capably for two months. I don’t know how many 4th-round picks are ready to play at a high level at both tackle and guard in their first two seasons, but Driscoll has been solid wherever the Eagles put him.

Nate Herbig: Like a few other guys on this list – Sua Opeta, Greg Ward, Cameron Malveaux, Jack Stoll – Herbig was undrafted, and with undrafted guys who’ve gotten this far you generally know this might not be the most talented guy in the world but you’re going to get maximum effort. And Herbie certainly gives that. Herbig entered the lineup at left guard after Driscoll went on IR following the first Giants game and started four straight wins that propelled the Eagles into the playoffs.

Cameron Malveaux: With Ryan Kerrigan on the COVID list for the second Giants game, the Eagles went deep onto their practice squad for Malveaux, who hadn’t played this year, played 18 snaps all last year (for the Browns) and didn’t play at all in 2019. So the Eagles went into a must-win divisional game against a team they had just lost to with a rotational edge rusher who had played 18 snaps since the end of 2018. But Malveaux contributed 34 snaps – more than Josh Sweat – and had two hurries as the Eagles held the Giants to 192 yards and 10 points and moved one step closer to the playoffs.

Zach McPhearson: It was a bit of a surprise that the Eagles only kept Josiah Scott, a 21-year-old second-year pro, and McPhearson, a rookie 4th-round pick, as backup outside corners at final roster cuts. Scott is mainly a special teamer and with Avonte Maddox now exclusively an outside corner, McPhearson became the third outside cornerback. Darius Slay and Steve Nelson both stayed mainly healthy and started all 16 meaningful games, but both got banged up at various points and McPhearson held his own against some pretty accomplished WRs. McPhearson wound up playing 179 defensive snaps, and while some were at the tail end of blowout wins, he showed promise when he did have to play in meaningful moments.

 

Sua Opeta: I can’t imagine any NFL team has a better 6th-string guard than the Eagles. With Brandon Brooks, Isaac Seumalo and Jack Driscoll on IR, Landon Dickerson on the COVID list and Nate Herbig already playing right guard, Opeta – who was undrafted, has been released twice and was on the practice squad earlier this year - made an emergency start at left guard in the first Washington game. Opeta had played only nine snaps all year, but the Eagles beat Washington 27-17 and all the offense did was rack up a season-high 519 yards.

Boston Scott: It’s amazing to think about now, but Boston Scott got only four snaps and no rushing attempts the first six weeks of the season. Once Miles Sanders got hurt and then Jordan Howard also suffered a couple injuries, Scott was ready. He racked up 60 scrimmage yards in the win over the Lions, 105 in the win over the Broncos, 72 in the first Giants game, 41 in the second Giants game and 86 in the virtual playoff clincher over Washington. Overall, Scott squeezed 456 yards and seven touchdowns into eight games. Whether he plays one snap or 70, he gives you everything he's got.

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Jack Stoll: He only caught four passes for 22 yards all year so it’s easy to miss Stoll’s contributions, but once the Eagles traded Zach Ertz to the Cards Stoll become TE2, and in the Eagles’ 11 meaningful games after the Ertz trade, the undrafted rookie averaged 30 snaps per game. That’s only 8 ½ fewer per game than Ertz was averaging. And Stoll’s playing time coincided with the Eagles’ new emphasis on running the football, which wasn’t a coincidence because he’s a terrific blocker. Stoll made a big impact on this team despite catching just four passes.

K’Von Wallace: It wasn’t the easiest season for Wallace, who suffered a groin injury early in training camp, spent four weeks on Injured Reserve with a shoulder injury and didn’t play a defensive snap from Week 8 until the meaningless second Dallas game. But with Rodney McLeod out for the opener in Atlanta and Marcus Epps suffering a concussion early in the game, the Eagles desperately needed Wallace against the Falcons, and in by far his most extensive career playing time – Anthony Harris and Wallace were the Eagles’ only healthy safeties – Wallace played 64 snaps in a 32-6 upset win.

 

Greg Ward: Ward caught 53 passes last year but found himself outside the regular WR rotation this year and went into the crucial second Washington game with just four catches all year. But with Washington leading 16-7 early in the second half and the Eagles facing a 3rd-and-14 on the Washington 31-yard-line, where did Jalen Hurts throw? Ward. His 27-yard catch down to the 4-yard-line, which set up a crucial Boston Scott touchdown, was the Eagles’ second-longest 3rd-down conversion this year, Ward’s longest catch this year, Hurts’ longest 2nd-longest career 3rd-down conversion and Ward’s only 3rd-down conversion all year. It helped send the Eagles to the playoffs.