The NFL all-rookie team was announced Tuesday, and it didn’t include any Eagles. However, the team’s group of rookies had multiple stellar performers who got off to hot starts in their individual careers.
As the coaching staff and front office prepare to head south next week to attend and scout prospects at the annual Senior Bowl, let’s look back at the Eagles’ 2021 draft class and assess how the group performed.
WR DeVonta Smith (first round, No. 10 overall)
The team’s top pick and 2020 Heisman Trophy winner exceeded all expectations. Smith has established himself as one of the team’s best players. He led the Eagles with 64 catches for 916 yards — setting a franchise record for rookie receiving yards — and five touchdowns. It’s fair to argue that Smith should have warranted even more targets; he finished with just 104 (6.1 per game).
The 23-year-old wideout needs to be a priority in Nick Sirianni’s passing offense. After the loss to the Buccaneers in the NFC wild-card round, Sirianni expressed regret for neglecting Smith, one of his top playmakers, during the most important game of the year.
General manager Howie Roseman whiffed in consecutive drafts with premium picks spent on receivers JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor. But Smith is already a budding star.
OL Landon Dickerson (second round, No. 37)
After he missed all of training camp recovering from a knee injury he suffered at Alabama, Dickerson surprised with his sooner-than-expected return. He made his NFL debut against the 49ers in Week 2.
Dickerson battled typical rookie growing pains, but his play improved drastically with additional reps. He quickly earned the trust of offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland and was awarded a starting spot just one month into the season. He gained valuable experience playing at both guard spots, although Dickerson’s best fit seems to be at left guard alongside left tackle Jordan Mailata. Dickerson is a mauler and he played through multiple injuries, indicators of his toughness and durability. He’s also versatile and can play center when called upon.
DL Milton Williams (third round, No. 73)
Williams proved to be a solid rotational piece for the defensive line. He played in every regular-season game, finishing with 30 tackles, including six tackles for losses and two sacks.
“I set a different standard for myself,” Williams said this month. “What you see is just a little piece of what I feel like I can bring to the table.
“I think experience is the best teacher. I’m learning more techniques and terminology.”
CB Zech McPhearson (fourth round, No. 123)
Stuck behind veteran cornerbacks Darius Slay, Steven Nelson, and Avonte Maddox, McPhearson was relegated to appearances mostly on special teams. He was one of the featured gunners, a role typically assigned to the team’s fastest and most agile players. With Nelson’s one-year deal expiring, McPhearson will have an opportunity in training camp to earn a starting spot opposite Slay.
RB Kenneth Gainwell, (fifth round, No. 150)
Gainwell wound up being a late-round steal for the Eagles. He finished second on the team in total touchdowns with six (five rushing, one receiving). Gainwell accomplished this feat despite playing in a limited role behind fellow tailbacks Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and Jordan Howard. Gainwell played only 29% of the offensive snaps and was even listed as a healthy inactive for one game.
Through it all, Gainwell was shifty, explosive, and effective. The former Memphis standout was often the featured running back in the two-minute drill and in a variety of goal-line packages.
“When we first came here,” Gainwell said, “we came in with a full head of steam and wanted to be great — the best rookie class to come through Philadelphia. All during camp, we worked hard to be the best. We take pride in working hard, being smart, and taking everything from practice to the field.
“I’ve been waiting for my chance to show off a lot of things.”
DL Marlon Tuipulotu (sixth round, No. 189)
Tuipulotu was a healthy scratch in 12 games. The defensive line is aging, but there are other rising pieces poised to take over -- see: Williams. Tuipulotu, who finished with five tackles in five games, will need a strong performance in training camp to make the 53-man roster.
DE Tarron Jackson (sixth round, No. 191)
Similar to Williams, Jackson was another rotational piece at defensive end. He provided support behind starters Derek Barnett and Josh Sweat. Jackson tallied 18 tackles, including two tackles for losses and one sack, across 17 games. During the wild-card loss to the Bucs, Sweat did not play, and the coaching staff opted to start Ryan Kerrigan over Jackson.
LB JaCoby Stevens (sixth round, No. 224)
After playing safety at LSU, Stevens was converted to linebacker in Philadelphia. He spent most of the season on the practice squad; Stevens was elevated for the final two games, against Washington and Dallas. He played 71% of the defensive snaps during the finale, finishing with three tackles in his two games. At the end of the season, Stevens signed a futures deal with the team. Stevens remains a project-type player. A better assessment can be offered during training camp as Stevens continues his adjustment to linebacker.
LB Patrick Johnson (seventh round, No. 234)
Jackson got must of his run on special teams, while providing limited backup at linebacker. He played in every game, finishing with 17 tackles. The front office will likely prioritize improving its linebacker corps, but Johnson — at minimum — proved his worth on special teams, which is a valuable trait for a late-round selection. In several instances, Johnson’s performance was praised by coordinator Michael Clay.
TE Jack Stoll (undrafted)
Stoll had only four catches for 22 yards, but his contributions went beyond the passing game. He was elevated to the TE2 role following the Zach Ertz trade and finished with 331 offensive snaps. During multi-tight-end packages, Stoll served as an extension of the offensive line and blocked on most of his snaps as the Eagles evolved into a run-first offense.