Eagles

Eagles mailbag: Is Williams ready to be a starter?

Eagles

As we wait for free agency, it’s clear there’s still a ton of interest in the Eagles this offseason.

We got a ton of questions and broke down the mailbag into several parts. If we didn’t get to your question, sorry about that. But if it’s not below, check Parts 1 or 2.

Part 1.

Part 2.

Part 3:

There’s a very good chance Williams is a starter in 2023, his third year in the NFL. Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave are set to be free agents and it seems highly unlikely the Eagles will be able to retain both. If Jordan Davis is penciled in as a starter (and he should be) that leaves one or two open starting spots at the defensive tackle position. Even if the Eagles use a high-round draft pick on one, my guess would still be that Williams gets the first crack at a starting gig.

He’s ready for it too. Williams struggled with a couple injuries early in his second NFL season in 2022. He played through turf toe and a hyperextended elbow and his level of play suffered because of it. That showed up in the stat sheet. In his first six games of the season, Williams didn’t have a sack, a TFL and had just one QB hit.

The final 11 games of the regular season, Williams had 4 sacks, 29 tackles, 9 TFLs and 5 QB hits. He played some of his best football down the stretch and he probably didn’t play enough in Super Bowl LVII; he got just 12 defensive snaps. But there’s a lot to like about Williams as a rotational player and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t at least be a solid starter if given the opportunity in 2023.

 

I’m in the minority on this one. Because I’m aware that Quez Watkins didn’t have a great season in 2022 but I still think he’s a decent option as a No. 3 receiver. That’s not to excuse his play last season or his drop in the Super Bowl. He needs to be better. But this is a 24-year-old former sixth-round pick who had 647 receiving yards in 2021. When used correctly as a deep threat — and not as a gadget guy — Watkins has been fine.

Watkins’ numbers dropped in 2022 but he had 2 more catches of 40+ yards, giving him 5 from 2021-22. Over the last two seasons there have been 25 players in the NFL to have at least 5 catches of 40+ yards. The only player to accomplish that feat on fewer targets than Watkins (113) was DeSean Jackson (51), who is one of the greatest deep threats in NFL history.

Maybe Watkins really is better suited to play outside but in Nick Sirianni’s offense, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith get snaps inside too. I can’t see the Eagles spending big money on a third wideout so maybe it could come in the form of a draft pick if they want to upgrade. But unless it’s a Day 1 or 2 pick, Watkins should at least have the ability to compete for the WR3 job. And there's only one football to go around. Bringing in another big-time receiver might change the dynamic that worked well in 2022.

You know the history. The Eagles haven’t taken a cornerback in the first round since Lito Sheppard in 2002. But there are plenty of reasons to think that could or at least should change in 2023. Not only is James Bradberry likely leaving as a free agent but Darius Slay is 32 now. It’s time to start planning for the future at a very important position on the defense. While the Eagles will always lean toward the lines with top picks, there’s plenty of evidence of stud cornerbacks taken in the top 15 stepping in and playing well recently. Think about Sauce Gardner, Patrick Surtain II and Jayce Horn.

The top three cornerbacks in this year’s draft, according to most, are Christian Gonzalez from Oregon, Joey Porter Jr. from Penn State and Devon Witherspoon from Illinois. The order of those three changes depending on who you ask. But there’s a very good chance that the Eagles’ top cornerback is available when they’re on the clock at No. 10. It would likely be very tempting unless they think the level of talent doesn’t drop off much to the second tier to guys like Cam Smith, Deonte Banks, Emmanuel Forbes and Kelee Ringo.

 

It’s possible. But I’m at the point with Howie where a trade in either direction wouldn’t shock me. I know that’s not a definitive answer but that’s how he views and moves around the draft board. It’s all about maximizing value. So without a pick from Rounds 4-6, it would make a ton of sense to trade back and acquire more picks.

But would anybody be shocked about a trade-up? Say there are four quarterbacks taken in the top 10 (very possible) then that means good players will slide down the board. We’ve seen Roseman get aggressive in trade-ups for guys who slide a bit like Jordan Davis or Andre Dillard. That’s in play too. And then a few years ago in 2018, Roseman traded down from 32 into the second round and then traded back up to draft Dallas Goedert at 49. It’s all on the table.

I think this is more likely than the Eagles just selecting Robinson at No. 10 but still wouldn’t bet on it. The way the Eagles view value at positions, at least this way the Eagles would pick up some extra value before getting a running back. But I still find it tough to believe they’d draft a running back in the teens. Now, if Robinson happens to be on the board at No. 30 … then that’s a different story.

I like Derek Carr. Think he’s a pretty good quarterback and with how bad the NFC South was in 2022, adding him in New Orleans should make them the favorite to win that awful division. Once you get past that, anything is possible.

Yeah, aside from the obvious, Sirianni values competitiveness. That’s why they brought a mini hoop with them to the combine, it’s why Sirianni plays Rock-Paper-Scissors withe these guys. They want competitive, high football character, high football IQ players. That’s not a crazy departure from what most teams want but Sirianni really wants it.

The defense will look different in 2023 for a few reasons. One of them is strictly personnel. They have so many free agents on that side of the football and they won’t be able to bring them all back. It’s hard to imagine they’ll have as much talent this season as they did last year. So there’s a chance that the defense doesn’t perform as well in 2023 and if that happens, it won’t mean Sean Desai isn’t a good defensive coordinator. He’ll very likely be working with less talent than Jonathan Gannon had in 2022 and that will be important to remember when the defense hits a rough patch next season.

While a lot of the philosophy won’t change on defense — Nick Sirianni hired Desai because he fits his vision of defense — there will be some changes from Gannon to Desai, who is a truer disciple of the Vic Fangio scheme.

 

While I thought Dennard Wilson was a really strong candidate to be promoted, that doesn’t mean Desai won’t do a good job. At the combine last week in Indianapolis, I heard a ton of good things about him and his approach to teaching and defense. Looking forward to seeing what the final product looks like.

This is a question I can’t really answer. It’ll be up to the Eagles and other NFL teams to really take a deep dive into Carter and figure out his legal situation and his maturity level and then figure out how he’ll fit into an NFL locker room. But just looking at the player … that would be a home run. Carter was a dominant player at Georgie and putting him on the line next to Jordan Davis and in front of Nakobe Dean and basically recreating that Georgia defense at the next level is a fun thought.

Subscribe to the Eagle Eye podcast

Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify | Stitcher | Art19 | Watch on YouTube