Sat, 02 Jul 2022

The future is now: A look at the Class of '21

Philadelphia Eagles
17 May 2022, 19:12 GMT+10

Dave Spadaro

They're all grown up, one year later. It makes a difference, right? Having gone through this last season, the Eagles' 2021 Rookie Class understands the pace and the expectations and everything that goes with playing in the NFL. As Philadelphia's offseason program began a new phase on Monday with the rookies and veterans together for the first time, it was time to consider - amid all the anticipation of what's to come with this heralded first-year class - how the kids from last season are all grown up and ready to take their next steps in 2022.

With that, here's an update on the Rookie Class from one season ago and what to expect from them a second time around ...

DeVonta Smith, WR, first round

Smith says he wants to work on the "little things" in his game, which is his way of saying that he strives every day to be perfect. Rarely has such a driven player touched down at One NovaCare Way ... After his outstanding rookie season - 64 receptions, 916 yards, 5 touchdowns, and a half-dozen incredible, how-did-he-do-it? catches - Smith has extensive NFL experience to fall back on in addition to his wondrous receiving skills. With veteran A.J. Brown on board, Smith's chances to create even more favorable matchups improve instantly. How will Smith's role change within the offense? That's going to be part of the fun watching when the pads go on in Training Camp and into the regular season.

Landon Dickerson, OG, second round

An injury to Brandon Brooks in Week 2 against San Francisco thrust Dickerson into the lineup and, after switching to left guard, he just improved and improved and improved. Now, heading into his second season, Dickerson appears to have a handle at the left guard position and teams with tackle Jordan Mailata to form an imposing left side of the Eagles' offensive line. Both are huge; both are agile and intelligent and physical and, just like that, the Eagles have a left side of the offensive line that is young and rising.

Milton Williams, DT, third round

Part of a deep and talented defensive tackle picture, Williams showed in his rookie season that he can help the defense inside and, in the right situations, on the edge of the defensive line. Williams played 456 snaps, 40 percent of the defensive snaps, and had 2 quarterback sacks and 30 total tackles. The plan for the Eagles is to rotate their linemen and keep everyone fresh, so Williams is going to get his reps. If you believe in iron sharpening iron, the Eagles are going to be strong up front with a room of versatile players who are going to compete, who are going to push each other and who are going to make life very difficult for offensive blocking schemes.

Zech McPhearson, CB, fourth round

After playing 179 snaps on defense last year, McPhearson is hoping to take that next step in 2022. He's shown he can be an outstanding contributor on special teams after leading the team in snaps there, so now McPhearson has to earn his playing time at corner. He will have that opportunity through the spring and summer when the pads go on.

Kenneth Gainwell, RB, fifth round

Given some chances in the offense as a rookie, Gainwell made the most of his 298 snaps with 291 rushing yards, 253 receiving yards, and 6 total touchdowns - 5 on the ground. Gainwell caught 33 passes and averaged 4.3 yards per carry and he held up in pass protection. The present is bright for Gainwell, who is expected to be a substantial part of the Eagles' rotation in the backfield during the 17-game regular season.

Marlon Tuipulotu, DT, USC

With a small sample size - five games and 55 snaps - Tuipulotu did most of his work as a rookie improving off the field, so now it's time to take it up a notch at a crowded defensive tackle position. He's a big, strong prospect who is going to look to earn playing time with one of the deepest groups on the roster.

Tarron Jackson, DE, Coastal Carolina

He played last season with effort and intensity in the 253 snaps on defense, providing 2 quarterback sacks and 17 total tackles. Jackson was also a contributor on special teams. In Year 2, Jackson faces more competition, so we'll see how much he has improved his game in his first full offseason. The Eagles are always going to keep their eyes open for more pass-rushing punch.

JaCoby Stevens, LB, LSU

A decorated safety in college, Stevens last season made the switch to linebacker and played in two games and 44 defensive snaps. The big question is how much more comfortable Stevens will be at linebacker in his second season there.

Patrick Johnson, LB, Tulane

A key member of the special teams last season, Johnson adjusted to the speed of the game and made an impact there. He also switched from a defensive end in college to a linebacker in the NFL and the improvement was obvious by the time Johnson started the regular-season finale against Dallas and made 5 tackles. He is among a large handful of young and talented players the Eagles are excited to see in Training Camp.

Jack Stoll, TE, Nebraska

An undrafted rookie last year, Stoll earned a spot on the 53-man roster and ended up playing 30 percent of the offensive snaps. Stoll was used mainly as a blocker and he did a good job in that phase of the game. He caught 4 passes for 22 yards as a rookie and, at this point, is the No. 2 tight end on the roster behind starter Dallas Goedert. What kind of leap has Stoll taken in his second season? That's a question that he, and all of his fellow Class of '21 Eagles, will begin to answer in earnest when Training Camp begins in late July.

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