It’s an exciting week as Eagles training camp kicks off with its first practice on Wednesday. I’ll be there for the next few weeks, reporting back to everyone daily.
Every year, I go into training camp with a list of players I want to watch extra carefully. That doesn’t necessarily mean the best or most important players, but players with some added intrigue for various reasons.
Here are 10 offensive players to watch this summer (defense comes tomorrow):
QB Jalen Hurts
Let’s start off with the most obvious one. All eyes will be on the Eagles’ 22-year-old starting quarterback as he assumes the role of full-time starter. There has been plenty of chatter about Deshaun Watson but without any sort of trade imminent, Hurts is the starter of this team. We saw some good signs from Hurts during his rookie season but it was a small sample size and he had his ups and downs in 2020.
Aside from just watching his progress, it’ll also be interesting to see what kind of offense Nick Sirianni has created around his new starter. Remember, last season Hurts was playing in an offense that was optimized for Carson Wentz, who plays a much different style. This new offense will be different for several reasons, but one of them should be the emphasis on Hurts.
WR DeVonta Smith
Yes, we’re getting the obvious ones out of the way first. We will of course be watching every move from the Eagles’ first-round pick and Heisman Trophy winner. The small glimpse we got of Smith during spring workouts was encouraging. Sure, he’s every bit as slender as we heard he was, but the rest of him is as advertised too. Smith runs crips routes and he really attacks the football.
We’ll get to see where Smith lines up in the offense and we’ll also see him continue to rebuild his rapport with Hurts, his college teammate. Smith has a kind of quiet confidence to him that’s fun to see. He’s not a loud and boastful player, like a TO type, but he’s an alpha and sometimes you need a few of those guys.
LT Jordan Mailata/Andre Dillard
I’m cheating here and for that I apologize. I keep lumping Mailata and Dillard together but that’s unavoidable. This is the no-doubt-about-it competition of training camp. One of these two guys is going to be the Eagles’ starting left tackle and none of us know who it will be yet. There aren’t often completely open and even competitions for a starting role at training amp, but this is one of them. Mailata showed so much last year in his 10 starts but Dillard was drafted in the first-round in 2019 to be the guy at left tackle.
The most fun part about this competition is that it doesn’t feel like it’s a competition for 2021. We’ll see how long the leash is for the player who wins the job, but it feels like these two guys are battling to be the Eagles’ left tackle for the next decade to follow in the footsteps of Tra Thomas and Jason Peters.
WR Quez Watkins
The 2020 sixth-round pick out of Southern Mississippi didn’t get a ton of time to show what he could do last season, but he was at least thankful he got some opportunity late. Watkins started his rookie season on IR and was inactive for five weeks but finally got on the field for the last three games, catching 7 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. OK, it’s not great production but we saw clear flashes, enough to think there’s something to build on here.
And the most important part about Watkins’ production late last season was that it came with Hurts as the quarterback. Those two clearly built up a rapport in practice that translated on the field. The Eagles have a few guys ahead of Watkins on the depth chart but I still think he has the makings of a contributor.
WR Travis Fulgham
Unlike Watkins, Fulgham’s best production last season came with Carson Wentz as the quarterback. Fulgham’s five-game stretch with with 29 catches, 435 yards and 4 touchdowns was magical. But as magical as that was, his disappearance was as confounding. After the bye week, Fulgham had just nine catches for 104 yards without a score. So what the heck happened? Who the heck is Travis Fulgham?
It’s not an easy question to answer but it’s clearly one of the biggest questions surrounding the 2021 Eagles. Fulgham struggled and seemed to fall out of favor with last year’s coaching status. And he also had some sort of injury that required surgery after the year. So as we try to figure out if those five games were a fluke last year, maybe we’ll get some hints in training camp.
WR Jalen Reagor
It’s fair to say Reagor’s rookie season did not go as planned. The first-round pick had a disappointing rookie year that included three separate injuries and underwhelming production. He had just 31 catches for 396 yards and a touchdown in 11 games. The Eagles doubled down on receivers by drafting Smith this spring, but that doesn’t mean the Eagles don’t need Reagor. They still do. And the thought of Reagor having a better year, combined with Smith’s potential, is exciting.
Reagor seemed to struggle with the Philly limelight amid that disappointing season and he’s clearly coming into Year 2 with a chip on his shoulder to prove he can be a good NFL receiver. He has to walk a fine line here, but if harnessed correctly, I think that edge can be a good thing. I also want to watch how Sirianni plans to use Reagor. Getting him into the slot and getting the ball into his hands quickly at times would make sense to me.
RB Kenny Gainwell
I didn’t put Miles Sanders or Boston Scott on this list because I don’t really think there are things they can show me in training camp that I haven’t seen from them before, at least in flashes. But this is our first chance to see Gainwell, the fifth-round rookie out of Memphis. And I think he’s one of the Eagles’ rookies who stands a really good chance of contributing this season.
The comparison to Nyheim Hines was just too obvious to avoid when the Eagles drafted Gainwell. Heck, even Sirianni agreed that it was a good one. So let’s see how Sirianni plans to use Gainwell, who was a dual threat during his breakout year at Memphis in 2019. I want to see the explosive traits from Gainwell that made him so dynamic at the college level.
OL Landon Dickerson
Dickerson is technically a backup offensive lineman coming into his rookie season but he’s more than that. The No. 37 pick has dealt with an extensive injury history during his college career and comes into training camp coming off another ACL tear. During the spring, we heard that Dickerson was progressing nicely from that surgery but I’m curious to see how much he’ll be able to do at this training camp.
If Dickerson can at least do some drills during training camp, I want to see that big frame and power that we’ve heard so much about. If he’s far enough along in his rehab, we’ll also see where Dickerson is lining up. Do the Eagles play him at guard or center to start?
RT Lane Johnson
Over the last few seasons, Johnson has been dealing with that left ankle injury that dates back to the 2018 season. Just last week, he told NBC10 that he’s feeling good but that his left ankle might never have the strength of his right. He said he’s about at 90%. Still, 90% of Lane Johnson is a good thing.
The Eagles have plenty of question marks on that offensive line and two of them are two of their best players. Johnson is coming off the ankle surgery and Brandon Brooks is coming off an Achilles. But I feel more confident in Brooks getting past this injury than Johnson, simply because Johnson’s injury has lingered so long.
TE Tyree Jackson
Kind of a wild card on this list of really good players, many of whom will be starters. So why is Jackson on this list? Because I’m intrigued. Just seeing him on the field in the spring, it was hard to take my eyes off the 6-7, 245-pound tight end. He’s a former college quarterback who is transitioning to a new position, so there’s a learning curve, but it can be fun to watch the projects progress.
And new tight ends coach Jason Michael was able to turn basketball star Mo Elie-Cox into a legitimate weapon in Indianapolis, so I’m on board for giving him another project with noticeable tools.
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