The Philadelphia Eagles were the definition of overachievers this season. A first-year head coach in Nick Sirianni and first-year starter in Jalen Hurts wasn't exactly a combination toward a playoff appearance over the summer, but that's exactly where the Eagles ended up through some in-season adjustments by the coach and improvement from the quarterback.
Sirianni turned the Eagles into the No. 1 rush offense in the NFL, the catalyst toward Philadelphia rallying from a 2-5 start into a 7-3 finish and a spot in the NFC playoffs. Not only was Sirianni the lone first-year head coach to make the playoffs this year, but he was the first head coach to take a team from 2-5 to the playoffs in his first year since Frank Reich in 2018.
Hurts completed 61.3% of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns to nine interceptions for an 87.2 rating on the year, and he's just the second quarterback in Eagles history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 750 yards in a season (eighth to reach those numbers in NFL history). He also became the youngest quarterback to start a playoff game for the Eagles.
Despite the promise the Eagles showed in year one of the Sirianni era, all the team's flaws were exposed in the playoffs. Philadelphia trailed 31-0 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after three quarters in a 31-15 blowout loss, showcasing the Eagles are a ways away from being amongst the NFL's elite.
With three first-round picks this year and enough cap space to improve the roster, the Eagles can transform into contenders in time for next season. Here's how they move up in the hierarchy in the NFC:
Improve the pass catchers
The Eagles can't make the full evaluation of Jalen Hurts until there are legitimate NFL weapons around him. Outside of DeVonta Smith (a rookie) and Dallas Goedert (first-year starter at tight end), Hurts didn't have many options to throw to. Jalen Reagor significantly regressed in his second season and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside was nothing more than a special teams player. That's two players picked in the top two rounds of the draft who provided next to nothing catching the football for the Eagles in 2021.
Quez Watkins deserves to stick around as a part of the offense, but he's not the No. 2 option on the outside. Greg Ward may find a spot on the roster for 2022, but the Eagles need to significantly upgrade at wide receiver. Free agency is the most intriguing option, especially with Allen Robinson, Mike Williams, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Davante Adams as the top wideouts. Adding a veteran or two to pair with Smith, Watkins, and Goedert would be ideal.
The Eagles could also use one of those three first-round picks on a wide receiver, but going with a veteran pass catcher is the best option. There are other holes on this roster and Philadelphia needs veteran options to help Hurts grow in what will be a crucial year for his future.
Pass rush needs a reboot
Losing Brandon Graham in Week 2 of the season didn't help the Eagles, but it revealed a significant problem that hindered Jonathan Gannon's defense all season long. The Eagles just couldn't get to the quarterback consistently, having just 29 sacks on the season -- the second fewest in the NFL.
Josh Sweat was a bright spot on the defense, finishing with 7.5 sacks and 13 quarterback hits. He deserved a contract extension, especially since the Eagles don't have much in the pass rushing department outside of him and Javon Hargrave (7.5 sacks, 18 quarterback hits). Fletcher Cox (3.5 sacks, 12 quarterback hits) indicated he wants to return, even after missing his first Pro Bowl selection since 2014.
Derek Barnett is done in Philadelphia, one of five players that had two or more sacks for the Eagles this year. Ryan Kerrigan also won't be back after having just three tackles on the year. Milton Williams is a good building block after becoming a reliable piece in the rotation in the second half of the year, while Graham will also be back after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon (he'll be 34 next year).
The Eagles need more consistent pressure of getting to the quarterback if Jonathan Gannon's defense is going to improve in 2022, especially since he relies on the front four generating pressure on the quarterback (the defense doesn't typically rush more than four). Fortunately this is a draft that's loaded with edge rusher talent, so the Eagles would be wise to spend one of those first-round picks on one. Graham basically is a free agent signing with his return, but it wouldn't hurt to have another veteran added to the mix.
Linebacker in the first round?
Hope the Eagles front office saw the impact Micah Parsons made with the Dallas Cowboys defense this year, as the Cowboys improved from one of the worst units in the league to a top-ten unit in points allowed. Parsons was all over the field as a pass rusher and linebacker, the prototypical player the Eagles need for Gannon's defense.
Here's the caveat. The Eagles haven't taken a linebacker in the first round since Jerry Robinson in 1979, but this is the year that should change. Philadelphia signed Eric Wilson to play the middle, then cut him after six weeks. T.J. Edwards and Alex Singleton played well, but the Eagles need a true difference maker at the position if the defense wants to become an elite unit. Davion Taylor is the type of linebacker Gannon wants in his defense, yet injuries have hindered the former third-round pick's development.
Even if Philadelphia doesn't use all their first-round picks, it's time for the Eagles to get a difference making linebacker with one of them. Nakobe Dean is the ideal pick here if he falls to No. 14 (the Eagles' first pick), but Devin Lloyd isn't a bad consolation prize. The Eagles allowed the most catches and touchdowns to opposing tight ends this year and both players correct a glaring hole in Gannon's scheme.
2022 has to be the year the Eagles invest in linebacker in the first round. This problem can no longer be ignored.