What to watch from the Eagles’ 2021 NFL Draft class and UDFAs.
As an annual tradition, the Eagles’ last preseason game will come against the New York Jets. While this comes in the newly shortened preseason schedule, the conventions might be similar in terms of playing time for the assumed regular season starters. With many of the top players expected to be on the shelf, the eyes shift to the young players and particularly the rookies.
How much playing time, if any, for the top picks?
DeVonta Smith had his moments in his debut a week ago, but will that be it for the Eagles first round pick this preseason? Smith is going to be a major player for the Eagles this season, so it would make sense if they put him on ice for another week before the regular season. However, it also wouldn’t be shocking if they decided to give him a few snaps on offense to get his legs under him. His training camp was shortened by injury, so giving him more playing time wouldn’t be out of this world. Milton Williams is another high pick who is likely to be contributor in his rookie season. However, he is far enough down the defensive line depth chart that he could see action against New York. It is a crowded positional group, so giving Williams snaps does make sense.
Fringe defensive line battles
Speaking of the defensive line, the Eagles have a few rookies in the group who need to show out this week to make the roster. Marlon Tuipulotu has been underwhelming to this point and would need a dominant game against New York to have a shot. Meanwhile, Tarron Jackson and JQquan Bailey have largely been impressive as late round and undrafted rookies. Still, they will need strong performances to crack the Eagles defensive line group.
Zech McPhearson needs a strong finish
Zech McPhearson has had an up and down preseason, as expected from a mid-round rookie defensive back. The TTU product has been given a lot of responsibility when he’s been on the field and has had bright and dark moments with that responsibility.
The Jets have a good group of pass catchers, even with starters sitting, and McPhearson will have a big opportunity to finish preseason strong and position himself for a role on defense this year.
One last audition for Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has had an impressive preseason as he moved to off-ball linebacker. He looks fast, physical and has good instincts. He should be on the field for a good while against the Jets, giving him plenty of time to continue impressing the coaching staff.
Can Kenneth Gainwell push for RB3?
The Eagles have a crowded running back group. Miles Sanders is established as the top back with Jordan Howard impressing in camp and Boston Scott a known entity as a pass catcher. Meanwhile, Kenneth Gainwell has flashed in preseason, especially catching the football. It will be tough for him to have a big role in his rookie year, but he should have some sort of function on this offense. He is too dynamic with the ball in his hands. It should be fun to watch him in the final preseason game, especially if he gets a heavy workload.
Jack Stoll climbing the depth chart
Largely due to injuries ahead of him, Jack Stoll has gotten more and more opportunities in preseason game and has typically made the most of them. The undrafted rookie has solid hands and has made tough catches when targeted. Stoll might have an outside shot at the third tight end position and likely will have a lot of chances against New York to show why he deserves that spot.