Eagles Rookies Who Will Make Instant Impact in 2021 Season
Entering the offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles knew most of their roster additions would have to come from the 2021 NFL draft because they didn't have the money to be big spenders in free agency. They are also in rebuild mode.
During the draft, Philadelphia took a step toward that by adding nine players over the three-day event. It addressed its offense early by adding two former Alabama standouts (wide receiver DeVonta Smith and offensive lineman Landon Dickerson) in the first two rounds. Then, it used six of its final seven picks on defensive players.
Are the Eagles going to immediately turn things around in 2021? There's always a chance, but it's more likely going to take a season or two before they're a threat to make a deep postseason run again.
However, several of Philadelphia's new rookies should quickly make an impact. Here's a look at some players who will likely have strong debut seasons in 2021.
DeVonta Smith, WR
For the second year in a row, the Eagles took a wide receiver in the first round. In 2020, Jalen Reagor didn't make much of an impact during his rookie season. That's unlikely to be the case with Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner and one of the top playmakers in this year's draft class.
There's never been any questions about Smith's speed and skill set after a tremendous four-year career with the Crimson Tide, capped by his huge 2020 season (117 receptions for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns). But there have been questions about his size, with the 6'0" receiver weighing in at 166 pounds during a medical combine last month, per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.
However, Smith has so much talent that he should continue to make big plays at the NFL level. He should quickly get on the field in Philadelphia, where he'll be reunited with quarterback Jalen Hurts, who played with Smith at Alabama from 2016-18.
"Jalen, that's my guy," Smith said, per Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia. "Even when I was a recruit, he was the guy trying to get me to come to Alabama. That's my guy. I have a great relationship [with him], and I'm ready to work."
Smith and Hurts should help each other improve while suiting up for the Eagles.
Landon Dickerson, OG/C
Dickerson's long-term future could be at center, but that's unlikely to be his position when he makes his Eagles debut in 2021. With veteran Jason Kelce still in the middle of Philadelphia's offensive line, Dickerson could start at one of the guard spots as a rookie this fall.
However, he's had a troublesome injury history, including an ACL tear (the second of his college career) in Alabama's win in the SEC Championship Game, which caused him to miss the College Football Playoff.
"My recovery is right where I want it to be," Dickerson said to reporters. "We don't have an exact timeframe. My ultimate goal is to be able to do whatever I can to make the team better, no matter what stage I'm at this summer or whenever we get to the season."
So, maybe Dickerson won't play Week 1 for the Eagles, although there's also a possibility he will. But the likely reason he was still available after the first round was because of his past injuries, not because of his talent. And his versatility across the offensive line should be beneficial for Philadelphia, especially if any lineman goes down with an injury or underperforms.
At some point in 2021, Dickerson should make an impact for the Eagles. Once he gets on the field, he'll likely secure a job for a long time.
Zech McPhearson, CB
One of the Eagles' biggest needs entering the draft was a nickel cornerback. They didn't take one during the first three rounds, so it became an area they had to address Saturday. And it didn't take long for them to do so once Day 3 of the draft was underway.
With the 18th pick of the fourth round, Philadelphia drafted McPhearson, who began his college career with two years at Penn State before transferring to Texas Tech for his final two seasons. During that time with the Red Raiders, McPhearson played 22 games and made 21 starts. In 2020, he had 53 tackles, four interceptions and six pass deflections in 10 games.
"McPhearson is an instinctive corner with good body control and top-end speed. He has shorter arms and smaller hands, but he flashes the ability to snatch the ball out of the air. He's a wrap-up tackler with adequate stopping power," ESPN's Steve Muench (h/t SportsMediaPass) wrote in a scouting report.
Darius Slay is likely the only Eagles cornerback who will surely be on the field most of the time in 2021. Beyond that, there's some uncertainty regarding which corners will get the most opportunities. But McPhearson should be in the mix, and if he impresses during training camp and the preseason, he could quickly earn playing time.
McPhearson should get enough reps to be a solid contributor for Philadelphia this upcoming season. But he has the potential to do even more.