Skip to content
Eagles/NFL

Eagles preseason superlatives: Which players are rising and falling going into the regular-season opener

Going through the five players who earned a role in the initial game-plan during the last month of summer practices and which ones didn’t.

Quez Watkins blows by the Steelers' secondary on Aug. 12. The second-year receiver was a standout for the Eagles this preseason.. ... Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer
by EJ Smith
Updated 
Sept. 4, 2021

When the Eagles return to the practice field Monday after the long weekend, they’ll be in full preparation mode for their season opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 12.

Below, we’ll go through the five players who earned a role in the initial game plan during the last month of summer practices and which ones didn’t.

Rising

1. Quez Watkins

Watkins is the biggest winner coming out of training camp, going from one of the receivers battling for a roster spot to a presumptive starter with the potential to be a difference-maker this season.

ADVERTISEMENT

The second-year receiver’s 79-yard touchdown off a screen pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers is the most memorable moment Watkins had, but he consistently showed an ability to separate during joint practices against the New England Patriots and New York Jets in successive weeks as well.

Watkins figures to be one of the team’s starting outside receivers if/when Jalen Reagor is in the slot. When the Eagles are in 12-personnel, it remains to be seen if Reagor or Watkins gets the nod opposite DeVonta Smith. Still, there’s reason to believe Watkins will be a major contributor in the offense this year.

» READ MORE: Eagles win-loss predictions for the 2021 season | Jeff McLane

2. Jordan Mailata

ADVERTISEMENT

Mailata had a quiet camp in the best way possible. The 6-foot-8, 346-pound Australia native entered camp in a competition for the starting left tackle job with Andre Dillard (more on him later) and enters Week 1 as the clear-cut starter.

Mailata excelled in pass protection during joint practices, preseason games, and even in one-on-one drills that typically favor pass rushers. He notably knocked Brandon Graham over during a team session early in camp and forged large running lanes with key blocks on a few occasions.

Mailata will have to continue his progress and stay healthy in order to become a long-term starter, but his combination of size, strength, and agility could make him a very good offensive tackle for many years.

» READ MORE: How Jordan Mailata won the Eagles’ starting left tackle job

Offensive guard Sua Opeta (left) warms up with nose tackle Javon Hargrave (right) before the Eagles' preseason game against Pittsburgh on Aug. 12. Hargrave has been a force through training camp. . ... Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

3. Javon Hargrave

Hargrave came in last year with high expectations after signing a three-year deal worth up to $39 million, but injuries during last training camp caused him to get off to a slow start.

ADVERTISEMENT

This year has been the complete opposite for the defensive tackle. He came into training camp seemingly leaner than before, and has been constantly disruptive throughout the summer. Against the Jets, Hargrave blew up so many plays, a few Jets’ offensive linemen got chippy with him toward the end of the first day in practice.

If this training camp is any indication, the chances of Hargrave surpassing his career-high 6.5 sacks seems very likely.

» READ MORE: How the Eagles stack up against other NFC East offenses | KC Joyner

4. Josh Sweat

ADVERTISEMENT

Sweat has made strides as an edge rusher each year and this summer was no exception. The 24-year-old split reps on the first-team defense with Derek Barnett and has been cited as one of the players most likely to have a breakout season by his teammates.

Sweat will likely see an increase in playing time this year (he played 38% of the defensive snaps last season) and could be in store for his first double-digit sack season.

5. Milton Williams

Another defensive lineman. Williams, the third-round pick in this year’s draft, didn’t immediately project as a rotational rusher this season, but he seems deserving going into the opener.

ADVERTISEMENT

Williams flashed capable rushing skills both as a defensive end and an interior rusher. He primarily played three-technique in college, but said he figured he’d play multiple spots with the Eagles. Williams won’t be a starter and may only get a handful of snaps every game, but his promising preseason is enough to feel good about him moving forward.

Honorable mentions: CB Zech McPhearson, QB Jalen Hurts, TE Tyree Jackson, TE Jack Stoll

Eagles offensive tackle Andre Dillard jumps offside against the Jets on Aug. 27. . ... Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Falling

1. Andre Dillard

For the second summer in a row, Dillard struggled through a concerning training camp at offensive tackle. The 2019 first-round pick dealt with a knee injury and an apparent hand injury as well, but had several lowlights during team periods and in pass-rushing one-on-ones.

Dillard did play reasonably well against the Jets in the preseason finale, but had some concerning reps during the joint practices, including one where he was bowled over by Jets defensive end Jeremiah Valoaga.

Whether Dillard can rebound after a tumultuous start to his career remains to be seen, but he’s just a backup to start the season.

» READ MORE: Philadelphia Eagles Roster 2021

2. Travis Fulgham

Fulgham’s another player who played himself out of a starting role during camp. Unlike Dillard, his stock plummeted far enough to cost him a roster spot. He put together one of the most productive stretches of any receiver for a short stint last year, but had a quiet camp capped off by a costly fumble in the preseason finale.

When push came to shove, the Eagles chose JJ Arcega-Whiteside and his “willingness” to grind it out on special teams over Fulgham’s potential to recapture the stretch that led to him being the team’s leading receiver last season.

From getting reps with the starting offense to the practice squad, Fulgham slid as far as anyone this summer.

3. John Hightower

Hightower was a training-camp all-star last season, but couldn’t manage a repeat performance and was instead outshined by Watkins.

The wide receiver from Boise State missed some time with an injury, but didn’t do much when he was on the field. He had three catches for 21 yards against the Jets, but it wasn’t enough to earn a roster spot.

» READ MORE: A closer look at the Eagles’ 53-man roster and what the endorsement of Jalen Hurts says about the future at QB

4. Michael Jacquet

Whatever potential cornerback Jacquet may have flashed as a practice-squad promotion last year is largely overshadowed with just how many times he’s been beaten, dating back to last year’s game against Dallas.

Jacquet’s long frame is still intriguing, but his lack of ball skills and poor coverage ability downfield were apparent this summer.

5. Nate Herbig

Herbig opened camp starting at left guard in place of Isaac Seumalo and finished it as the second-team center. There’s a good chance he’ll lose that job in due time, too, with rookie lineman Landon Dickerson fresh off of IR and expected to be fully healthy in the next month or so.

Honorable mentions: G Sua Opeta, LB Davion Taylor, S K’Von Wallace, OL Matt Pryor

You‘ve reached your free article limit for this month.
To continue reading, subscribe now for unlimited digital access to our app and inquirer.com.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Published 
Sept. 4, 2021
I cover pro sports, primarily the NFL and specifically, the Philadelphia Eagles.
ADVERTISEMENT
Always asking on behalf of the people. Always Local. Always Philly.