There’s something impressive about the Eagles’ rookie class and it goes way beyond talent.
You could see it from the start of training camp. They were serious-minded. They were hungry to learn. They were focused. They were mature. They didn’t carry themselves like rookies.
On Sunday, the Eagles needed most of them. And they came up huge.
No fewer than 10 Eagles made their NFL debut Sunday in Atlanta - eight rookies, two first-year pros - and each of them contributed to the season-opening 32-6 win over the Falcons.
The Eagles had 45 players in uniform, which means 22 percent of their roster had never played an NFL game before.
On top of a head coach who had never been a head coach, a defensive coordinator who’d never been a defensive coordinator and an opening-day quarterback who’d never been an opening-day quarterback.
The 10 first-timers played a combined 210 snaps - 99 on offense, 48 on defense and 63 on special teams.
And none of them looked like rookies. They all played with poise and composure, they all played with intelligence and instinct, they all acted like they belonged.
“Every rookie come in here with the attitude to attack each day and just have that mindset of being a pro that’s coming in here,” Kenny Gainwell said. “We’re just trying to attack every day the right way. … Just being humble, waiting on our moment, being excited to be here.”
The only 2021 Eagles draft picks who didn’t play Sunday were Landon Dickerson, who was inactive as he works back from a torn ACL from college, and JaCoby Stevens, who’s on the practice squad.
We all saw what DeVonta Smith did. But how about Gainwell – a rookie 5th-round pick playing 25 important snaps, netting 43 yards, scoring a touchdown and blocking really well? How about undrafted tight end Jack Stoll getting 12 snaps? How about Zech McPhearson downing two punts inside the 10-yard-line?
What about Patrick Johnson – a rookie 7th-round pick – stuffing Davis for no gain late in the first quarter? What about Milton Williams playing 31 snaps – only 10 fewer than Fletcher Cox? Or Arryn Siposs dropping the first three punts of his NFL career inside the 20 – two inside the 10?
Every one of them was playing in his first NFL game. So did 6th-round picks Tarron Jackson and Marlon Tuipulotu. And so did Andre Chachere, who led the Eagles with 18 special teams snaps in his NFL debut.
Those guys are a big part of the reason the Eagles are 1-0.
“Those guys specifically (on offense), they came in ready to work,” Jalen Hurts said. “Eager to learn, eager to get the system down, eager to learn their roles on the team and continue to try to master those roles. They’re growing every day. Like us all. Growing every day, attacking every day, trying to get better every day.”
We’ve all seen rookies who seem overwhelmed, who are just interested in cashing checks, who aren’t emotionally or mentally ready for the transition to the NFL or who simply aren’t good enough.
Everybody in this rookie class seems to have their act together.
“When we drafted these guys, the first thing we looked at, obviously, was talent,” Sirianni said. “The second thing we wanted to know was if they love football ... if they have high character and were they tough. And we felt like that was a common denominator of all these guys and my experience with players is if they have these things, they reach their ceiling.” It’s only one game, but it’s a promising start.
The last time the Eagles had 10 players make their NFL debut on opening day was 1986, also the first year of a new coach trying to change a team’s culture.
In Buddy Ryan’s first game – a blowout loss in Washington – the first-time players were draft picks Keith Byars, Matt Darwin, Alonzo Johnson, Clyde Simmons, Reggie Singletary and Junior Tautalatasi, along with John Teltschik, Mike Waters. Joe Conwell and Charles Crawford.
Notably missing from that group is rookie Seth Joyner, who Ryan released and wouldn’t re-sign for another two weeks.
Is there another Clyde, Seth or Keith in this group? It’s only one game but it’s a heck of a start.
“I feel good about those guys because they have those things and all of them are good people and all are them are tough, all of them love ball and that's important in just the evaluation process.
“It's a tribute to Howie (Roseman) and his staff to find those things out and get that information. And that’s why – when you have guys like that, sometimes it feels like the moment isn't too big for those guys. Because they are mature enough to handle it.”