Eagles

Eagles mailbag: Expectations for Smith's second season

Eagles

We’re in the dead period on the NFL calendar but it’ll be over before you know it. The Eagles report to training camp on July 26, less than one month away.

Until then, let’s take a dive into the mailbag.

As always, thanks for all your thoughtful questions.

No, I don’t think that’s likely. And that’s not a knock on Smith at all. We’ll get into the expectations for his second NFL season in just a moment. But to think he’s going to be clearly better than Brown doesn’t seem logical. Even if Smith takes a jump in his career — and he should — Brown is legitimately already a Pro Bowl caliber player. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue that level of play in Philadelphia.

And here’s the other thing to remember: As Brown enters Year 4 in the NFL, he’s still just 25 years old. So it’s very possible he hasn’t yet hit his ceiling in the NFL. Expect growth from Smith, but don’t be shocked to see growth from Brown too.

On one hand, the arrival of Brown could mean that he’s going to take targets away from Smith and Dallas Goedert, who were clearly the top two options in the Eagles’ offense in 2021. But the addition also means the Eagles expect to have a better overall passing attack. They were 25th in the NFL in passing in 2021 and desperately want to be better in that category this season. Now, the passing offense will go into games wanting to target Brown, Smith and Goedert. Are there going to be games when Brown stars? Sure. Are there going to be games when Goedert stars? Absolutely.

 

But Smith is going to have his games too. And I think it’s feasible to think his numbers will go up in Year 2 as long as he stays healthy. There’s plenty of meat on this bone. They might not go up drastically, but I think a 1,000-yard season for Smith is on deck. It won’t take much more production for him to get there and I expect him to.

It’s the most obvious answer, but I’ll go with Haason Reddick. There’s I guess some reason to question how he’ll fit in the Eagles’ defense but they know his main job will be to get after quarterbacks, something he’s done extremely well in recent seasons. He has 23 1/2 sacks over his last two years; 12 1/2 in 2020 and 11 in 2021. It’s also important to note that those sack totals came with two different teams. It wasn’t a scheme-specific thing.

The Eagles’ sack leaders in 2021 were Javon Hargrave and Josh Sweat, each with 7 1/2. The Eagles haven’t had a player hit double digits since Fletcher Cox (10 1/2) in 2018. The last time before then was Connor Barwin with 14 1/2 in 2014. It’s been a while since the Eagles had a big-time sack guy, but Reddick can be that. If Reddick hits 10+ sacks in 2022, he’ll become the first player to have three consecutive double digit sack seasons with three different teams since sacks became an official statistic in 1982.

First, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate that. This question leaves out Zech McPhearson, who was the top backup last year. The fourth-round pick from Texas Tech handled himself well when given the shot. But if we’re looking beyond him, I’ve been a fan of what I’ve seen of Tay Gowan in limited time. The Eagles liked him coming out of UCF and they were happy to get him back in the Zach Ertz trade. He’s a tad longer than those other guys and has a prototypical outside corner build. Since he was a midseason addition last year, we didn’t see him in training camp. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do this summer.

The two that come to mind first are defensive end and cornerback. While the Eagles addressed their pass rush by signing Reddick, they didn’t add anyone at the defensive end spot, running it back with Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat in 2022. Of those three, Graham is 34 now, Barnett has proven himself to be an average player and Sweat has shown real promise. Sweat is the only guy who seems solidified in that rotation this season. It’s such an important position and it would have made sense for the Eagles to add a DE in this past draft. They didn’t, so maybe next year.

 

And cornerback is a long-term need as well. The Eagles are in a good situation right now with Darius Slay, James Bradberry and Avonte Maddox. But it’s time to start thinking about the future at that position. Slay is 31, Bradberry is on a one-year deal and Maddox is best as the nickel. Bring in another corner to learn under Slay next season. Could one of those young guys mentioned above be an answer? Maybe. But you can’t count on that.

My guess is he’ll be on a practice squad somewhere. Whether that’s in Philly or elsewhere, I’m not sure. He’s a real long-shot to make the Eagles’ 53-man roster as he transitions from receiver to tight end. If he’s going to stick with the tight end position long-term and not go back to receiver, then maybe the Eagles keep him on their 16-man practice squad. If not, I think he’d still end up on a PS somewhere in the NFL. Another team would be willing to see if the former second-round pick can figure it out.

The loss to the Saints in the divisional round of the 2018 season. After the Double Doink game the week before, it was starting to feel like the Eagles had some magic left from the 2017 season. And that game against the Saints was very winnable. Remember, the Eagles jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter of that game before the Saints scored the next 20 points. Everyone remembers the Alshon Jeffery drop and that was brutal. But there’s no guarantee they’d win the game if Alshon catches it. And plenty went wrong after that quick start, including the loss of Brandon Brooks to injury. The players in the locker room were devastated after that one.

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