Good morning, Eagles fans. Here’s hoping this newsletter finds you well. The Eagles are officially in the bye week, which is good news depending on how you look at it. Sure, there won’t be a game this weekend. But given how dreadful last Sunday was, is that such a bad thing? The players and coaches are definitely eager to take a step away, although this bye week is unlike the ones in years past.
Players typically retreat to their offseason homes for the bye, no matter how far they might be. This season, you shouldn’t expect to see Carson Wentz or Fletcher Cox posting hunting pics from exotic locations because the players have to stay close to the team facility to continue daily coronavirus testing. Doug Pederson also mentioned that he’d bring the players in on Wednesday, but it’s unclear whether that’s for a practice or a meeting.
Since we’re exactly halfway through the season, with a bye week to help us take a moment to evaluate the first eight weeks, we’ll take a look at the rookies. More on that later.
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Rookies at the turn
The Eagles finished last April’s draft with a clear emphasis on adding speed and explosiveness, even if it came at the expense of college production. It’s important to note that it’s too early for any definitive statements about these rookies, especially considering the coronavirus-altered offseason left them behind the learning curve most young players have in normal times.
That said, let’s sort through the rookies still on the active roster to see whose stock is rising, falling, or staying the same.
The Eagles first-round receiver may be the toughest player to make a fair evaluation of. He’s missed a good chunk of time this season, but it’s been because of two fluky injuries, from both of which he’s been able to return a week or two sooner than expected. Still, he’s played in just three games so far, and understandably hasn’t carved out a huge role in the Eagles' offense yet. At this point, he’s looked like a gadget player and a deep threat who commands attention from opposing defenses. Time will tell if he evolves into a true No.1 receiver or at least an elite talent on the perimeter.
It’s obvious the Eagles are still trying to figure out how to best use his speed. Reagor ran almost exclusively vertical routes in the season opener in which he caught a 55-yard pass from Carson Wentz. The following week, he mostly ran crossing routes. Against the Cowboys, Reagor was frequently used in jet-sweep motions.
Reagor will likely make his mark in the second half of the season, but he’ll have serious ground to make up to be in the same class as Justin Jefferson, the prospect the Eagles most notably passed on to draft Reagor. Jefferson, who fell to the Vikings one pick after Reagor, has not only been the most productive rookie receiver, but he’s been one of the most productive wideouts in the league as a whole. The former LSU standout is on pace for 71 catches, 1,287 yards and seven touchdowns.
CeeDee Lamb, taken four picks before Reagor, has also flashed elite potential. The same goes for players taken after Reagor, such as Brandon Aiyuk, Chase Claypool, and Tee Higgins. Reagor and Jefferson will likely always be compared more closely because of their proximity on draft night. Reagor still has a chance to make up the ground, but Jefferson is off to a remarkable start. Passing on Jefferson could haunt the Eagles, but we haven’t seen enough of Reagor to make a determination.
When discussing Hurts' stock, it’s again important to differentiate the value of the pick with the thoughts on the player. The decision to use the 53rd pick on a backup quarterback, especially on a team with as many holes as the Eagles have, was deservedly criticized at the time. That’s not to say Hurts can’t eventually become a good player.
Hurts' role in the offense has been limited in the first half of the season. He’s only on the field for a handful of snaps each game, although he’s given the offense enough of a jolt to make the case for more playing time moving forward.
It’s hard to know how good Hurts is as a conventional quarterback based on the first half of the season. He’s thrown only two passes, completing both of them. The amount of attention he demands is promising, though, and there’s at least a blueprint for what the Eagles offense could look like if Hurts is called on to start. Considering how much Wentz has struggled this season, Hurts' value is higher than it was expected to be going into the year. If Wentz was playing at a high level, things would be different.
Claypool went four picks before Hurts in the second round, but the most intriguing player who went shortly after Hurts is Panthers safety Jeremy Chinn, who went No. 64. Chinn has started every game for the Panthers and could have helped the Eagles' secondary. But Hurts' potential contributions to a struggling Eagles offense combined with his long-term potential make the selection a bit better than it originally seemed.
Taylor was always going to be raw, but his inability to make any impact on the Eagles' defense to this point is concerning nonetheless. He may be the player most adversely affected by the socially distant offseason. But considering how bad the Eagles' linebacking corps has been this year, his lack of playing time still puts the pick in question.
Wallace was getting some playing time when Jalen Mills was forced to play corner because of an injury to Avonte Maddox. The safety struggled at times against George Kittle during the 49ers game, but that should come as no surprise. With Mills back at safety, Wallace is primarily an energy guy on special teams who has a chance to develop into a solid defensive back down the road.
Driscoll has been the Lane Johnson insurance policy for most of the season, starting two games at right tackle and playing significant snaps in two other games. In his playing time, he hasn’t been a complete liability. Considering Driscoll was a fourth-round pick who is likely better suited at guard, that’s not a bad start. Driscoll had some really impressive reps against Washington Football Team edge rusher Chase Young in the season opener, and he probably played his best game against a solid Baltimore Ravens defensive front.
Driscoll’s floor is likely that of a decent swing tackle with the upside to possibly be a starter at guard. That’s pretty good value in the fourth round.
Hightower has struggled at times this season, but he’s been able to serve as a deep threat while injuries sidelined Jalen Reagor and DeSean Jackson. There’s still a chance Hightower develops into a reliable receiving threat, but it’s worth noting that Bears receiver Darnell Mooney was taken five picks later and has been much more productive than Hightower.
Bradley has gotten on the field in some goal-line situations and other obvious running situations. He was ahead of Davion Taylor on the depth chart during training camp and could eventually earn a bit more playing time as the season wears on. For a sixth-round pick, Bradley’s early returns are encouraging.
Watkins hasn’t played much after missing the start of the season with a hamstring injury. TBD.
What you need to know about the Eagles
Looking for this type of analysis on the rest of the Eagles' roster? Paul Domowitch grades every aspect of the team through eight weeks.
Doug Pederson has talked about Carson Wentz’s turnovers being unacceptable, but as Mike Sielski explains, Wentz’s gunslinger mentality is exactly what Pederson wants under center.
Speaking of the Eagles' coach-quarterback tandem, Jeff McLane explores whether Wentz or Pederson is the biggest issue for the Eagles' offense so far this season.
Jim Schwartz doesn’t typically call many blitzes, but he sent extra rushers often against the Cowboys. Domowitch dives into Schwartz’s decision and the success that came with it.
Still trying to wrap your head around how the Eagles escaped last Sunday with a win? Domo has his five reasons here.
For the first time all season, the Eagles are getting much healthier as they enter the bye week, as Bowen writes.
From the mailbag
Assuming no trades for the Birds today and the team will count on help from players returning from the IR; who makes the biggest impact in the final 8 games? — From Michael (@MikeKatz1) on Twitter.
For all the hype surrounding the Eagles at the trade deadline, they stayed quiet. The team was wise not to use draft picks to add veteran players or rentals for this push for the NFC East. If the Eagles can’t maintain first place as currently constructed, it further solidifies the case for a rebuild.
As far as which player coming off IR will help the most, assuming Brandon Brooks isn’t coming back this year despite his history of quick recoveries, Isaac Seumalo is the player I’d pick. Nate Herbig and Matt Pryor have both struggled at times this season. If everyone is healthy when Seumalo returns, the team could slot Jason Peters or Herbig at right guard and put together a solid offensive front that features Jordan Mailata at left tackle, Seumalo at left guard, Kelce at center, Peters at right guard and Lane Johnson at right tackle. There’s a chance the team prefers Peters at left tackle, but Seumalo’s return would at least put Pryor back in a reserve role for which he’s better suited.