Eagles Players to Watch Ahead of Preseason Week 1
The Philadelphia Eagles are soon going to be back in action in a competitive setting. And they'll hope they're taking the right steps to being a better team than the last time they played a game at Lincoln Financial Field.
On Thursday, the Eagles will open their three-game postseason slate with a home matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It marks the first time that Philadelphia will play in a competitive setting since its Week 17 loss to Washington that capped a disappointing 4-11-1 campaign in 2020.
A lot has changed for the Eagles since then, including their hiring of Nick Sirianni as head coach. He and his staff have been evaluating Philadelphia's roster since training camp began late last month, and that will continue during preseason action.
With the Eagles' preseason opener only three days away, here are a few players to keep an eye on heading into the matchup vs. the Steelers.
Jalen Reagor, WR
The Eagles bolstered their receiving corps by selecting DeVonta Smith in the first round of the 2021 NFL draft. However, Smith is sidelined in camp because of an MCL sprain. That means Philadelphia's offense may not look too different from the 2020 version over the next couple weeks.
Of course, there are Eagles players who may have improved since the end of last season. And one of them could be Reagor, a 2020 first-round draft pick who didn't live up to potential as a rookie. He had 31 receptions for 396 yards and one touchdown last year, but he could be a much bigger factor in 2021.
Reagor has had some impressive moments already in camp, such as a one-handed catch he made last Thursday, a day after he received an on-field scolding from Sirianni, per The Athletic's Zach Berman. So Reagor clearly has the skills to potentially bounce back in his second NFL season.
While Smith is out, Reagor will again be the Eagles' top receiving option. He may have better results once Smith returns, as there will be more playmakers on the field for opposing defenses to worry about. But still, it should be interesting to see how much Reagor has improved once he returns to facing other teams.
Derek Barnett, DE
Since getting drafted by the Eagles in the first round in 2017, Barnett hasn't quite been the dominant pass rusher that the team hoped he would be. He's dealt with some injuries, and when healthy, he hasn't put up huge numbers. In 2020, he had 5.5 sacks in 13 games.
Now, Barnett is trying to keep his starting spot on Philadelphia's defense, with fourth-year pass rusher Josh Sweat impressing in camp and attempting to get more playing time himself. Barnett, who is still only 25, is entering the final season of his rookie contract, so this is an important year for him to prove himself.
The Eagles' pass rush could be improved from last season, especially if Barnett can finally start to produce at the level of a former first-round pick. And his preseason play could give an indication of whether that may be possible once real games begin.
Barnett could help take Philadelphia's defense to another level in 2021, so keep an eye on him when he gets on to the field against other teams this month.
Steven Nelson, CB
The Eagles secondary got a huge boost when the team signed Nelson in late July. It wasn't clear who the No. 2 cornerback would be behind Darius Slay on the depth chart, but now, the 28-year-old Nelson should be a perfect fit for that role.
Nelson is a six-year NFL veteran who spent the past two seasons with the Steelers. He has seven interceptions over the last three years, and he's only missed two games over that span, so he should bring consistent and reliable production to Philadelphia's defense.
Now, Nelson is ready for a fresh opportunity after his time in Pittsburgh ended with him getting released in March.
"It doesn't matter the outcome. I'm just going to do whatever it takes to win," Nelson said in July, per Dave Spadaro of the Eagles' official website.
When Slay and Nelson take the field as a tandem for the first time, it will be exciting to see how much that betters a unit that the Eagles needed to improve this offseason.