Last year, the Eagles saw big contributions from their rookie class early in the season. DeVonta Smith had established himself as the team’s top receiver almost immediately, Landon Dickerson stepped on guard, Kenneth Gainwell was an established role player on offense and Milton Williams turned around on the defensive line. This year it is a different story.
There’s a simple reason why: The Eagles started a rebuilding process in the spring of 2021, so young players would definitely see big roles last season. And now that the team has moved from plucky startup to legit contender, it’s no surprise that dynamics have shifted on the roster where freshman players contribute less. That said, there are a few rookies to keep an eye on in the Eagles’ confrontation with the Arizona Cardinals.
The Rise of Jordan Davis
One rookie has undeniably been a difference maker and it is the most important rookie of the entire Eagles class. Jordan Davis looks better and better every week, providing instant impact defense when on the field.
Cardinals’ attack is subpar, but it’s still a unit with explosive potential in the pass and run game. Davis is likely to see early snaps as the Eagles will try to force the Cardinals to go one-dimensional and leave the run.
Davis registered his first tackle for a loss against the Jaguars. Expect him to improve his box score a bit more in the desert.
Where is Nakobe Dean?
Nakobe Dean was one of college football’s most acclaimed players last year and he plays no part in the Eagles’ defense. His last time playing with the defense was when he had three snaps against Detroit. Since then, he has been limited to playing on special teams.
The Eagles have a good problem with Dean. For the first time in a long time they are deep at linebacker. Kyzir White was really solid, while TJ Edwards played by heart this year. The Eagles just don’t need Dean to perform. Yet.
Among the Eagles linebackers, Dean is unique in the way his speed and aggressiveness allow him to be a defensive chess piece. With Haason Reddick playing more on the line it would be: pleasure (?) to see Dean thrown onto the field and used as a blitzer from the off-ball linebacker position. As the defense gains confidence, it shouldn’t come as a shock to see Jonathan Gannon potentially getting more exotic with the plan. Dean could be part of that shift.
Arizona may not be the opponent to get really spicy with it in defense, but given what Dean could be aware of this defense… his involvement always justifies watching.
Should the Eagles immerse themselves in the young defensive group?
Darius Slay and Avonte Maddox are still dealing with injuries. Slay is on track to play, while it looks like Maddox could be out. It might be a chance for Josh Jobe to get some snaps at the cornerback. Obviously Zech McPhearson kept it in the rain last week, but if the group thins out further we could see the UDFA play.