Heading into the 2022 season, the Philadelphia Eagles have a strong roster, but questions remain about the quarterback, where Jalen Hurts will need to make significant strides forward if the Eagles are to move from playoff contenders to Super Bowl contenders.
A breakthrough season for Hurts in his third season would have major implications for both the short- and long-term prospects of this team. That is obvious. Here are five additional Eagles players who could have a breakthrough season. Note that we don’t include rookies here, so you won’t find Jordan Davis or Nakobe Dean below.
1) AND Landon Dickerson
Dickerson tore an ACL in the SEC Championship Game in December 2020 and he missed the entire 2021 Eagles training camp as a rookie. He was not activated from the PUP/NFI list until August 30, less than two weeks before the start of the regular season.
He was thrown to the wolves in Week 2 against a tough San Francisco 49ers defense after Brandon Brooks went down with a chest injury. Dickerson had some early issues, as would be expected, but as the season progressed, he became a good starter, both at RG and LG.
In the second half of the season, Dickerson paired up with Jordan Mailata on the left to form a bulldozer duo that helped make the Eagles the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL.
Had it not been for a laundry list of injuries, Dickerson would most likely have been a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. He has that kind of ability, when he’s healthy. Heading into his second season in the NFL, Dickerson has been on the field rather than in the trainer’s room. During the 2022 season, he will be thinking more about domination than when he was a rookie, when he was really just trying to survive.
2) WR Quez Watkins
With DeVonta Smith heading into Year 2 after a record-breaking rookie season, as well as the addition of AJ Brown, Watkins is kind of the forgotten man at wide receiver, but he had a pretty good season last year, with 43 catches, 647 yards (15.0 YPC), and 1 TD after a standout training camp.
Watkins would have had better stats if he hadn’t played in the toughest offense in the league with a quarterback who didn’t make the most of his chances of getting the ball onto the field. But as a sixth-round player from Southern Mississippi, Watkins has quickly adapted to the pace of the NFL.
Watkins’ production in 2022 is arguably more dependent on Hurts’ progression as a quarterback than the Eagles’ other receivers, as his best attribute is his ability to top the defense with his 4.35-40 pace. van Hurts as a passer improves in 2022, Watkins will have a greater impact on the Eagles offense, even if he goes from WR2 to WR3.
3) RB Kenny Gainwell
As a rookie, Gainwell contributed 68 times for 291 yards (4.3 YPC) and a surprising 5 TDs. He also caught 33 passes on 50 targets for 253 yards (7.7 YPR) and 1 TD.
It’s Gainwell’s contributions to the passing game that will be interesting to follow as we head into the 2022 season. Gainwell often queued in 2021, and Nick Sirianni occasionally tried to come up with short throws to get his way, with mixed results.
It is noteworthy that Gainwell appeared to be part of the game plan in the playoffs as he was targeted by the Buccaneers five times. He caught all five targets for 49 yards and a TD. During the regular season, Gainwell had 5.1 yards per target, a number that should improve in 2022 to justify his use in the passing game, with the addition of other legitimate offensive weapons.
4) DT Milton Williams
Williams played a mix of DT and Brandon Graham’s defense of the Eagles during training camp and preseason, but after Graham went down week 2, Jonathan Gannon played ill-fitting guys like Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Sweat instead from Williams, who played mostly at DT instead. It would have been nice to see him get more pictures in that role, but ️.
Williams finished his rookie season with 30 tackles (6 for loss), 2 sacks, 6 QB hits and 2 batted passes. He flashed the trajectory and gave the Eagles cause for optimism in his game in 2022 and beyond.
In an Eagles defensive front that includes Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and now Jordan Davis, Williams will be part of a rotation at defensive tackle that can turn in and out of games, staying fresh against attacking linemen inside tasked with blocking a shot. variety of players with different skills. He will have the opportunity to thrive when given opportunities.
5) CB Zech McPhearson
The Eagles had a rare season in 2021 in which they did not sustain many injuries at cornerback. With the exception of the Eagles’ meaningless week 18 game against Dallas, Darius Slay, Steven Nelson and Avonte Maddox did not miss a single game.
Due to the Eagles’ health at corner, McPhearson didn’t get as much playing time in 2021 as in any other season. He was a special teamer, playing 325 snaps on those units, including a shooter role on the point cover team, but only playing 179 snaps in regular defense. Had the Eagles sustained an injury to Slay or Nelson, McPhearson probably would have started in their place.
In 2022, McPhearson will enter training camp as the best backup to Slay and/or James Bradberry. He could also fill in for Avonte Maddox, depending on whether he proves he can play the NFL-level slot, as he sometimes did in college.
Earlier this low season, we took a closer look at McPhearson’s 2021 season. He was tacky in men’s reporting, but also catchy. In zone, he was typically in the right place and seems like a smart player. As a tackler, McPhearson got his man to the ground when he packed up, but he also occasionally went diving. The Eagles will want to see him more physically in that division.
The Eagles are unlikely to have the same injury-luck in a corner in 2022 as they did in 2021, and they will need one of their young corners to get up, with McPhearson being the most likely first man on the bench for now.
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