2022 NFL Previews: Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles are a frisky team that is looking to build off a surprisingly good season in 2021. The Eagles had some success last season behind a breakout year from quarterback Jalen Hurts and were able to sneak into the playoffs. Unfortunately, that is where the good luck ended, as Philly got trounced by Tampa Bay in the wild card round.

But the lesson to take from that season is that the Eagles are a lot closer to being a contending team than was perceived at this time last year. this team actually has a pretty good foundation and the few holes that were apparent last year have mainly been addressed in the offseason.

Of course, the biggest variable in the Eagle’s success is the quarterback position (just like almost every other team). Hurts had an excellent season last year, especially for fantasy, but it is still unclear what his ceiling is as the leader of a team.

He has definitely improved as a passer and has gotten to a place where he is solid at that part of his job, but he is still most dangerous using his legs. That works in the regular season but we have yet to see that type of quarterback have success in the postseason. If Philadelphia wants to be a perennial title contender, which they certainly do, they will have to figure out if Hurts can take them there.

Now, one reason Hurts was so much more effective as a rusher than a passer may have been the weapons around him. DeVonta Smith was his only reliable receiver and he was a rookie that was still learning the NFL game. He also had Dallas Goedert at tight end but he was just starting to come into his own as a player after the midseason trade of tight end Zach Ertz. The rest of his options were players such as Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor, Greg Ward, and Jack Stoll (aka not very reliable).

That will definitely change this year. Smith and Goedert should reprise their roles as dependable pass-catching options but now Hurts will have wide receiver A.J. Brown as well. The Eagles made a move for Brown during the draft and acquired him from the Titans, and signed him to a large contract extension soon after.

Brown will come in and immediately be a number one, go-to target for Hurts. He has been one of the best wide receivers recently, possessing a combination of size, strength, speed, and skill that allows him to do anything needed of him on the field. He will boost the offense considerably and will also allow Smith and Goedert to see more favorable coverage, which should help them to be more productive.

An area that Brown won’t directly impact is the running game, although his presence may force defenses to leave fewer defenders in the box to stop the run. Philly already has a dangerous ground attack just from Hurts alone but it would help to have an equally imposing threat in the backfield next to him.

That player should be Miles Sanders. The young running back has been effective over his three-year career but experienced a down year in 2021. He was still good at gaining yardage but failed to record a single touchdown, which is a problem. That may have been due to Hurts taking away some of those opportunities and scoring 10 rushing touchdowns, but that didn’t stop the other running backs on the roster to score a combined 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Sanders needs to get it together this season and have a great year in order to prove he deserves to be the guy next to Hurts in the backfield. If he doesn’t, then there will be a few players more than capable of taking that spot from him and producing. Running backs Kenneth Gainwell, Boston Scott, and Kennedy Brooks will all be looking for a chance to earn more touches and will take advantage of any slip-up from Sanders as a way to do just that.

One thing Sanders does have going for him is the fact that he gets to run behind a fantastic offensive line. A big reason why the rushing attack was so effective last season (the Eagles led the league in rushing yards) is because they had one of the best o-line units in the league, and every member of that group is coming back.

Tackles Jordan Mailata and Lane Johnson are two of the best at their respective positions in the NFL. Guards Landon Dickerson and Isaac Seumalo are also incredibly effective on the interior. Rounding out the unit is center Jason Kelce. He is a respected veteran and leader in the middle of the line and is still one of the top centers in the game despite his advanced age (34 years old).

As good as the offense is set to look in 2022, it may actually be the defense that ends up as the better unit when all is said and done. The defense was already pretty good last year, and now Philly has added impact players at each level in hopes of elevating the unit to one of the best in the league.

The Eagles added cornerback James Bradberry in free agency, signing him away from the division rival Giants, in an effort to improve the pass defense, which was perhaps the weakest part of the unit last year. Bradberry may not be cut out to be a number one corner anymore but luckily he won’t have to be because Philly has Darius Slay in place. Slay has been playing incredibly lately, maybe even having the best year of his very good career last year, so he and Bradberry should be a very daunting duo out wide.

The Eagles also have cornerback Avonte Maddox to cover the slot and some promising young players behind him in Kary Vincent, Ugo Amadi, Tay Gowan, and rookie Jackson Jobe who can step up if needed.

The corners may need to be especially productive this season in order to make up for a possible dropoff at safety. The Eagles lost safety Rodney McLeod from last year’s team, and while he wasn’t a special player, he was a solid veteran who could play his role adequately. Philadelphia will now turn to a group of Anthony Harris, Marcus Epps, and free-agent signing Jaquiski Tartt.

Harris should be the standout of the group but he failed to match his production from Minnesota during his inaugural season in Philly last year. Tartt should be serviceable, as he was in San Francisco, and Epps has the potential to break out if he gets a bigger role, so Harris will need to prove that he deserves to be in one of the starting spots.

In front of the secondary, the linebackers look like they can be a big strength of the defense. There are plenty of talented players in that group, with free-agent acquisition Haason Reddick being the most intriguing. Reddick has double-digit-sack-level production, which would be a welcome addition to the Eagles’ defense.

Philadelphia also has plenty of off-ball linebackers that can be used to shore up the middle of the defense. Linebacker T.J. Edwards is returning after finishing second on the team in tackles in 2021 while linebacker Kyzir White is joining the defense after leading the Chargers in tackles last year.

Those two will no doubt be solid and hold down the fort at linebacker, but rookie linebacker Nakobe Dean will be the player to keep an eye on. Dean slipped to the Eagles in the third round of the draft despite clearly being talented enough to get drafted on day one. He was the leader of the defense at the University of Georgia last year, which was one of the best defenses ever, so his skills should be translatable. He is already making his draft selection look like a massive steal and will likely find his way onto the field in some capacity due to how special a player he is.

Philadelphia also drafted one of Dean’s college teammates in defensive tackle Jordan Davis, whom they selected in the first round. Davis is one of the freakiest athletes college football has seen, constantly wowing people with what he could do despite his 6-foot-6, 336-pound frame.

He will make an impact right away on the interior defensive line and will likely be an incredibly productive player for years to come. He also will get a chance to learn from defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave, the other two players that will make up a great middle of the d-line.

With those three guys clogging up the middle of the line of scrimmage, it should make the defensive ends’ jobs that much easier. Not that Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett need the help.

Graham is the old man of the group at 34 years old and is experiencing a dip in production as a result of that. He is still a productive player but is no longer an every-down difference-maker like he used to be. That is where Sweat and Barnett, two young pass-rushers come in. They both appear ready to take on bigger roles with Sweat especially ready after tying for the team lead with 7.5 sacks last year and making his first Pro-Bowl. Those two combined with Reddick and the situational pass-rushing of Graham should make it hard for opposing quarterbacks to feel comfortable in the pocket.

Overall, I really like the team that the Eagles have put together. I am always a fan of when teams actually address their biggest needs and add players to fill those holes and I think Philadelphia did a fantastic job of that this offseason. I especially like what they did in the draft because I was very high on the Georgia defenders and they were able to come away with two very good Bulldogs.

I have very little concern about the defense. I think this will be a very good unit and has the potential to be a great unit if a couple of things break their way. Getting good play out of the safeties, whoever they end up being, will be very important, as will getting some consistent pressure off the edge from the pass-rushers. If the Eagles can get those two aspects under control then there is no reason why this defense can’t be elite in 2022.

On offense, I have a little bit more questions, but most of them revolve around Hurts and how effective he can be in the postseason. I think the addition of Brown was a great move and should really open up the passing game while the round game stays just as dangerous behind that fantastic offensive line.

At the end of the day, I see this team finishing with an 11-6 record, with the potential for an even better one. I think they’ll end up tied at the top of the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys but ultimately win the division when the tiebreakers go their way. But even though I’m predicting the same record for the two teams, I believe the Eagles will be the better team in 2022.

As far as where the Eagles go from there, that is all going to come down to Hurts and his improvements through the air. I am a big believer in this team and could possibly see a postseason run from them if things break right. I wouldn’t go as far as to predict anything crazy like a conference championship but I don’t think that sort of outcome is too far-fetched, especially with how wide-open the NFC looks at the moment.