As Eagles return from bye week, it’s time to navigate the rookie wall


Nick Sirianni would rather not talk about the rookie wall.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

“I know things like that if you talk about more,” Sirianni said last week, “I think you kind of bring it to fruition a little bit more, so we don't really do a lot of talking about it.”

As the Eagles return from their bye week, they have four games remaining in the 2021 regular season and they’re desperately trying to make a playoff push. All season, they’ve been relying on a few key rookies. So they have to navigate the “rookie wall.”

Basically that means that these rookies would normally be finished with their college seasons right now. But the NFL has 17 games on the schedule these days and it’s a mental and physical grind to get through your first NFL season.

The guys who have gone through it before will tell you.

“Oh it’s real,” Fletcher Cox said before the bye week. “I think anybody in the NFL will tell you. If they tell you that it’s not real, they’re lying. Because it’s real.”

Cox pointed out that rookies leave their final college seasons, then go through the pre-draft process with all-star games, the combine and finally the draft. From there, they have rookie minicamp, OTAs, training camp and then a 17-game season.

There’s not much rest time built in for key players like DeVonta Smith, Landon Dickerson, Milton Williams, Kenny Gainwell and more. The Eagles drafted nine players this spring and eight of them have found major to minor roles with the team in their rookie seasons.


If the Eagles are going to make it to the playoffs, they’re going to need at least some of those rookies to continue to contribute.

“For me, this would kind of be my last week. At Alabama, this would be my last week playing,” Smith said before the bye. “I get to this point, I start feeling some things. But it’s like, I’ve been here before. But it’s all about adapting. You take care of yourself throughout the season to get to this point. So when you get to this point, you won’t feel as bad. It doesn’t just start here. It starts all the way from Week 1, taking care of your body.”

Sirianni pointed out that the Eagles, especially because of their late Week 14 bye week, had already been taking measures to ensure player safety. One of the biggest steps they took was to eliminate Wednesday practices and use that day for recovery and a walkthrough.

It’s important for the rookies, but it’s also important for every player on the roster.

“So, it's not just about the rookies. It's about helping all of them,” Sirianni said. “But we know we're getting really good contribution from our rookies, so we want to continue that.”

Here’s a reminder of the contributions the Eagles have gotten from their rookies this season:

1-10: DeVonta Smith: Smith has been the Eagles’ top receiver this season. While his production has slowed the last two games, he’s still on pace to set the Eagles’ rookie receiving record. Smith through 13 games has 50 catches for 701 yards and 4 touchdowns.

2-37: Landon Dickerson: The second-round pick from Alabama has started 11 games and has really settled in to his spot at left guard since Isaac Seumalo’s injury. Dickerson is playing so well there he might never give that spot back.

3-73: Milton Williams: The defensive tackle has played 38% of the Eagles’ defensive snaps, which is the third most of the interior DL behind Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave. Williams has 21 tackles and 1 sack.

4-123: Zech McPhearson: The rookie cornerback has held his own when needed to replace Darius Slay or Steven Nelson, but he’s really made a consistent impact on special teams. He is a gunner on the punt team, which is a very important role. So beyond being the top corner off the bench, he’s third on the team in special teams snaps.

5-150: Kenneth Gainwell: The young running back has had an up and down season in terms of role and playing time. But he’s done some really nice things, including having 87 yards from scrimmage in the win over the Jets before the bye. In total, Gainwell has 447 scrimmage yards and 5 touchdowns in 12 games played.

6-189: Marlon Tuipulotu: Tuipulotu hasn’t had much of a role this season. He’s played a total of 29 defensive snaps all season.


6-191: Tarron Jackson: Jackson has seen his playing time rise steadily over the season and he is basically playing the same amount of snaps as Ryan Kerrigan in recent games. Who saw that coming? Jackson has played in 10 games and has 10 tackles with 1 sack and 1 forced fumble.

6-224: JaCoby Stevens: The safety-turned-linebacker has spent all season on the Eagles’ practice squad.

7-234: Patrick Johnson: Early in the season, Johnson had a role on defense but that has completely dried up. He hasn’t played a single defensive snap in the last three games. But Johnson is playing a ton of special teams. He has 185 special teams snaps (55%), which is sixth on the team.

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