Eagles' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IMay 31, 2021

Eagles' Position Battles to Watch Ahead of 2021 NFL Season

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    Matt Slocum/Associated Press

    No Carson Wentz under center. No DeSean Jackson or Alshon Jeffery in the receiving corps. No Doug Pederson on the sidelines.

    The Philadelphia Eagles are going to look quite different from the team that ended the 2020 season with a 4-11-1 record when the 2021 campaign gets underway. And that should be a good thing for a franchise that will be aiming to return to being a top contender out of the NFC East.

    As Nick Sirianni enters his first season as the Eagles head coach, it should be an intriguing summer for the team, with plenty of storylines emerging throughout training camp and the preseason. While some players are locks to be starters for Philadelphia during the upcoming season, there will also be position battles taking place across the roster, ones that could influence how the team fares in 2021.

    Here's a look at three positions where the Eagles are likely going to have some competitions taking place throughout training camp and the preseason.

Left Tackle

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Who will protect quarterback Jalen Hurts' blind side? That's one of the more pressing questions the Eagles face as they head into the summer, and it's one they will need to find an answer to prior to Week 1 of the 2021 season.

    It's likely going to be a battle between two players for the starting job at left tackle: Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard. Mailata, who is 24 and was a seventh-round draft pick in 2018, played in 15 games and made 10 starts for Philadelphia last year. Dillard, a 25-year-old selected in the first round of the 2019 draft, played in 16 games and made four starts for the Eagles in 2019.

    Mailata got an opportunity to get on the field last year because Dillard missed the entire season with a torn biceps. Both could factor into the mix up front for Philadelphia during the upcoming season.

    However, The Athletic's Bo Wulf recently noted that Mailata lined up with the starters early during recent OTA practices, so it appears he could be the favorite to secure the position. But that could quickly change, especially if he struggles or Dillard impresses now that he's healthy.

Wide Receiver

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    David Richard/Associated Press

    The Eagles have used their first-round draft pick on a wide receiver each of the past two years, taking Jalen Reagor in 2020 and DeVonta Smith this year. Those youngsters are locks to get on the field for Philadelphia during the 2021 campaign, and both could develop into offensive stars, even though Reagor had some struggles last year.

    Beyond those two, the Eagles will need to decide how to fill out the rest of their depth chart at wide receiver. Travis Fulgham and Greg Ward received substantial playing time in 2020. John Hightower, J.J. Arcega-Whiteside and Quez Watkins also had limited action and could be poised for larger roles in 2021. Philadelphia also signed Trevon Grimes as an undrafted free agent, and he could end up being a steal.

    That's eight total wide receivers, and it seems unlikely that the Eagles will keep all of them on their roster. Even if they do, there won't be enough playing time to go around for them all to factor into the mix.

    So it will be interesting to see who emerges from the group to join Smith and Reagor on the field. Fulgham was the team's leading receiver in 2020 (38 receptions for 539 yards and four touchdowns), but the 25-year-old came out of nowhere and got playing time as a necessity. Perhaps he will build off that in 2021 or maybe another receiver will step up and assume a larger role.

Cornerback

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    Chris Szagola/Associated Press

    Darius Slay will again be Philadelphia's No. 1 cornerback in 2021. But there's likely going to be some competition taking place for the other corner spots in the Eagles secondary, and several players could emerge as starting options for the team.

    Avonte Maddox has played in 35 games and made 23 starts for Philadelphia over the past three seasons, and he will likely get plenty of playing time in 2021, assuming he stays healthy. However, he could have several roles in the secondary, so he may not end up being the No. 2 cornerback.

    The Eagles took Zech McPhearson in the fourth round of the draft, and the former Texas Tech standout could carve out a large role on their defense if he impresses during training camp and the preseason. The 23-year-old began his college career at Penn State before transferring for his final two seasons. He had four interceptions over 22 games for the Red Raiders.

    K'Von Wallace and Josiah Scott were both rookies last season, and it's possible either (or both) could take a big step forward in 2021. There's playing time available, so they will be battling with the others to try to get on to the field more.

    While it's a young group, Slay's leadership and veteran presence could benefit the rest of the corners, especially as they are all battling for opportunities.

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