A long-range running back plan, the rarity of two elite young receivers and a look at DeVonta Smith’s Celtics fandom.
We’re two weeks removed from the Super Bowl, the Combine and free agency are approaching rapidly, and Roob’s 10 Random Eagles Offseason Observations are in full swing.
1. Why would the Eagles claim Trey Sermon on waivers from the 49ers before the season and then let him spend virtually the entire season in mothballs on the bench? The 49ers drafted Sermon in the third round in 2021, and he had a decent rookie year, averaging 4.1 yards on 41 carries. He didn’t have a very good training camp, and they released him on Aug. 31 with the intention of adding him to their practice squad. But the Eagles jumped in and claimed him, then kept him on their active roster all year while playing him in only two games – the Jaguars and Cards in early October. Sermon played just eight snaps and got two carries – he was 2-for-19 vs. the Jags. He didn’t dress out for any of the Eagles’ last 15 games. Why would the Eagles claim him and use a roster spot on him all year and then not play him? Here’s my theory: I think the Eagles’ brought in Sermon solely with 2023 in mind. They knew if they put him on the practice squad they’d lose him and they also knew that Miles Sanders, Kenny Gainwell and Boston Scott would be their three running backs this year. But they were also well aware that Sanders and Scott would be hitting free agency after the season, and with Sanders likely to be too expensive to keep, Howie Roseman was already thinking about 2023 before 2022 began. He figured bring in a talented running back, let him learn Nick Sirianni’s offense and get used to position coach Jemal Singleton, protect him from poachers by keeping him on the 53 instead of the practice squad and when you start building that 2023 running back room, you already have a 24-year-old former 3rd-round pick who’s comfortable here and knows the offense. Gainwell may not be a 15-carry guy, but the combination of the speedy, elusive Gainwell and the powerhouse Sermon seems like a great starting place for a running back room in a post-Sanders world. That’s my theory and I’m sticking with it.
2. Gainwell already has more career postseason scrimmage yards than LeSean McCoy or Miles Sanders.
3. Of the Eagles’ 29 draft picks in the first round since 1991, all but three have been either linemen or wide receivers. The only exceptions are QBs Donovan McNabb in 1999 and Carson Wentz in 2016 – both with the second pick – and corner Lito Sheppard in 2002 with the 26th pick. Of the other 26 picks, 12 were defensive linemen, nine were offensive linemen and five WRs.
4. Assuming the Eagles lose James Bradberry, can they just draft a corner and plop him into the starting lineup? Heck yeah. That’s the expectation these days. Six rookie corners started at least 10 games this year, and only two of them were 1st-round picks (all-pro Sauce Gardner, Trent McDuffie). In the last five years, 33 rookie corners have started at least 10 games. And Gardner isn’t the only one who’s excelled in his first season. Tariq Woolen shared the NFL interception lead with six this year. Patrick Surtain II had four picks as a rookie last year. Donte Jackson had four with the Panthers in 2018. Trevon Diggs was a playmaker from the start. Denzel Ward made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018. The days where teams would take a year or two to develop young corners into starters are long gone. College passing games have advanced so much in recent years, and that means corners coming out of college are far better equipped for the NFL than they used to be. In the 50 years from 1960 through 2009, 10 rookie corners made a Pro Bowl. But since 2010 eight have. The Eagles haven’t had a rookie corner start double-digit games since Bobby Taylor in 1995, but I expect that streak to end in 2023.
5. Apparently it’s a thing now that DeVonta Smith is a Celtics fan and got a signed Jayson Tatum jersey after the 76ers-Celtics game Saturday night after ringing the bell before the game? Of all the silly, contrived, ridiculous controversies this might be the stupidest. We live in a city where fans demand loyalty. If you’ve been a Phillies fan all your life, you don’t just become a Braves fan if they happen to have a better season than the Eagles. We praise loyalty and blast those who switch their allegiance. But that loyalty has to work both ways. If someone’s been a hard-core Celtics fan their whole life now we’re expecting them to just abandon that and suddenly become a 76ers fan just because they were drafted here? That makes zero sense. Either you want people to be loyal fans or you don’t. Smith is the best young receiver we’ve had around here since Mike Quick. That’s the only thing that matters. Not what basketball team he's rooting for.
6. With A.J. Brown (1,496 yards) and Smith (1,196 yards), the Eagles this year became only the fourth team in NFL history with two players 25 or under with 1,150 receiving yards in a season. The others were the 1984 Dolphins (Mark Clayton, Mark Duper), 2005 Cards (Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald) and 2011 Giants (Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks).
7. Brent Kern wasn’t very good filling in while Arryn Sippos was hurt. But consider this: Kadarius Toney’s return off that awful Sippos 4th-quarter Super Bowl punt went for 65 yards. Kern punted 16 times in an Eagles uniform, and his punts were returned a combined 56 yards.
8. Meanwhile, Cameron Johnston in two years with the Texans has a 47.4 average and a 42.1 net. His 47.2 average career average – including his three years with the Eagles - is 7th-highest in NFL history and his 42.0 net is 14th-highest in history.
9. One more on Kadarius Toney: We all know that 65-yard punt return was the longest of his career. His other return in the Super Bowl went for 12 yards, and that’s the 2nd-longest of the year. Yikes.
10. One of the biggest mysteries of this past season is why the Eagles suddenly stopped intercepting passes. They had 15 INTs in their first 11 games and just three in their last nine, including just one in the postseason – James Bradberry’s in the Giants game. They led the NFL the first 11 games of the season, but this was only the fifth time since 1940 they’ve had three or fewer INTs the last nine games of any season. The weird thing is how the decline in INTs coincided with one of the greatest sack performances in NFL history. During those last nine games, the Eagles had 42 sacks – 3rd-most ever over the last nine games of a season. Pass pressure should translate into interceptions, but the Eagles became the first NFL team ever to finish a season with 40 or more sacks but three or fewer over INTs the last nine weeks of a season. And that shouldn't happen.