The 2021 NFL season continues to inch closer and closer as mandatory minicamp kicks off this week across the league. As we continue towards a more recognizable off-season, there are players who face increasing pressure throughout the league. While some players face pressure because of the position they play, others face pressure because of the expectations their name and track record brings. Every team has players that fit one or both of those criteria, and the Eagles are no different. Here we look at the three faces of the 2021 Philadelphia Eagles.
2021 Philadelphia Eagles: Faces of the Team
The Eagles are putting their trust in a second-year quarterback to lead their team in the sport’s most important position. Jalen Hurts started just four games last year and failed to consistently impress in his role as a starting quarterback. Many Eagles fans, however, remain optimistic and patient with Hurts who proved in college that he is not afraid of a challenge or competition in general. While Hurts will likely compete for the starting job with Joe Flacco, it seems unlikely Hurts will be in a backup role come Week 1, especially after the team’s decision to trade Carson Wentz to the Indianapolis Colts in the off-season.
Hurts has a lot to prove to a fanbase that tends to be fairly impatient. The former second-round pick gets mixed reviews from fans across the NFL landscape but it seems unfair to count him out yet. Hurts is in a very similar situation to that of Drew Lock last year, who to this day has yet to show he is the guy in Denver. If Hurts is unable to find his groove and show why he deserves to start for years to come in Philly, then he will likely find himself in a more intense quarterback-battle, similar to the one Lock is in with Teddy Bridgewater.
A couple of keys to Hurts’ success will be taking what is given to him and taking advantage of his ability to run. Hurts was the best dual-threat quarterback in the nation during his senior season at Oklahoma in 2019, he should look to continue that in the NFL. Hurts had instances as a rookie where he tried to do too much, and failed to trust his teammates. While this was somewhat understandable considering the offense around him in 2020, the Eagles made off-season moves that should and must secure Hurts’ trust in his teammates.
Drafting receiver Devonta Smith in the first round of 2021’s draft was the biggest move the team made to help strengthen the offense around Hurts. Smith had one of the best college seasons ever for a receiver in 2020 and won the Heisman trophy for his efforts. He is arguably the greatest wide receiver in the history of the University of Alabama, a school known for its rich football past. In what could end up as one of the bigger steals in draft history, Smith slipped to the 10th pick and the draft which prompted the Eagles to trade up and pick him.
The main reason Smith fell was because scouts, coaches and executives started to question if his size would affect his ability to get off the ball at the NFL level. Despite countless former and current NFL players dispelling these concerns, Smith was still selected behind two other receivers in April’s draft, including former-Alabama teammate Jaylen Waddle. Smith addresses a huge need that hasn’t been successfully filled since DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin left the franchise in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
Smith should have many chances to prove his doubters wrong as a rookie with the Eagles. The first-rounder will immediately step in as the team’s top receiver and likely the team’s top pass-catching option, as it seems increasingly likely that tight end Zach Ertz will be traded. While fans should expect 2020 first-rounder Jalen Reagor to make a jump in year two, there is little doubt who will be the team’s top receiving option come September.
If there’s one Eagles player that is universally respected, it is defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. Cox is a perennial Pro Bowler and is one of the best defensive linemen in team history. He was a member of the 2010s All-Decade Team and was voted a first-team all-pro in 2018. Cox continues to prove year in and year out why he is one of the 25-best defensive tackles in the history of the game. The 30-year-old has been the defensive face of this franchise for years, and rightfully so.
Cox has been with the Eagles for his entire nine-year career and he has easily been their most consistent defender since they drafted him in 2012. Cox, who is heading into the last season of a massive six-year contract, has been the subject of a fair amount of off-season chatter as reporters and fans speculate his future with the Eagles after 2021. With that being said, Cox is still in Philadelphia which means he will still play a big role for the franchise in 2021 as they fight for a playoff spot in the NFC East.
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