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On Tuesday, we outlined 10 Eagles who need to play better if this team is going to win some games the rest of the season.
You can find that piece here.
The hardest part of writing it was narrowing the list down to just 10. The hardest part of this story – 10 Eagles who’ve been pleasant surprises – was much more challenging.
When you’re 2-4 and have lost four of five, there isn’t a lot to celebrate.
But there have been a few bright spots, and we somehow found 10 of them on the Eagles’ roster.
Genard Avery: Considering I didn’t even think he’d survive final roster cuts, Avery has been a big surprise. He’s been the Eagles’ best linebacker, which falls into the low bar category. But he’s been solid, and his reps have steadily increased. He’s already played more defensive reps this year (172 in six games) than he played in his first year and a half (159 in 19 games). He’s tackled well and gotten occasional pressure. Like we said, low bar. But he’s been fine.
Andre Chachere: First of all, it’s pronounced SA-sure-ay. He was a late arrival here, arriving on a waiver claim on Sept. 2 after being released by (who else) the Colts, but Chachere has been one of the Eagles’ best special teamers. He’s played 132 of a possible 159 snaps on special teams – 2nd-most on the team, three fewer than Zach McPhearson – and has been very active and steady.
Andre Dillard: He’s clearly not Jordan Mailata, but Dillard did hang in there for the most part in his four starts at left tackle, first when Mailata was out with a knee injury and then when Mailata moved to right tackle in place of Lane Johnson. Dillard struggled against the Bucs, but overall he played at a high enough level for the offense to function. Did he play at a high enough level to bring the Eagles a draft pick and/or a player at the trade deadline? We shall see in the next two weeks.
Jack Driscoll: Driscoll made an emergency start at right tackle against the Chiefs and played well and has since settled in at right guard, where he’s also done a nice job. Driscoll is just a solid guy wherever you line him up and honestly there hasn’t been a huge dropoff wherever he’s played. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a full-time starter, but he’s sure a valuable 6th man. The best offensive lineman the Eagles have drafted in the 4th round since Todd Herremans.
Kenny Gainwell: He’s disappeared from the offense the last two games, but for a rookie 5th-round running back to amass 223 yards and two TDs in his first six career games is impressive. Gainwell is a tough runner and a smooth and productive receiver out of the backfield. He just happens to play for a coach who habitually forgets about running backs. Despite just four touches the last two games, Gainwell’s 223 scrimmage yards are 5th-most by any Eagles RB in the last 25 years in his first six career games, and his 15 catches are most by an Eagles rookie RB in his first six games in 51 years.
Javon Hargrave: There was a sense around the organization that Hargrave was going to take a big leap forward in his second season with the Eagles. But this? He’s been the NFL’s most productive interior lineman so far and barring a major drop-off will be headed to his first Pro Bowl in February. His 6.0 sacks are 6th-most overall in the NFL this year and 13th-most ever by a defensive tackle through six games. He’s the Eagles’ MVP through six games and nobody else is close.
Avonte Maddox: Back in the slot where he belongs, Maddox has moved on from a disappointing 2020 season and is playing the best football of his four-year career. Maddox just looks so much more comfortable when he’s playing inside. He’s one of the best tacklers on the Eagles’ defense – his 31 tackles are 7th-most of any NFL defensive back so far this year (while playing just 64 percent of the snaps), and his three tackles for loss are 6th-most. Maddox, in the final year of his rookie contract, is a logical candidate for a contract extension.
Steven Nelson: The Eagles have allowed only five pass plays of 30 yards or more, 7th-fewest in the league, and they’re also 7th in yards allowed per pass play. The pass defense – with little help from a non-existent pass rush - has had some rough moments, but Nelson has teamed up with Darius Slay to give the Eagles a legit cornerback tandem, something they’ve rarely had since the days of Lito and Sheldon. Nelson may not be an ideal No. 1 corner, but with Slay manning the opposite side Nelson is generally going to have a favorable matchup. So far this year, he’s been well worth the budget one-year contract.
Arryn Siposs: Cameron Johnston came into the 2021 season with the 3rd-highest punting average in NFL history at 47.0, so the Eagles were taking quite a risk replacing him with an unknown, untested 1st-year player who had never punted in a regular-season game. But Siposs has been very good. Not quite Johnston good, but he’s got a 45.9 average and a 40.4 net (Johnston is at 45.0 and 41.3) and seven inside the 20 kicks compared to just two touchbacks. Siposs has been terrific.
Quez Watkins: We all knew Watkins was fast, but his ability to beat corners off the line of scrimmage and track deep balls has made him one of the NFL’s most dangerous deep threats. He’s already got the most receiving yards in a season by any player the Eagles drafted in the 6th round or later in 27 years, and only two players – Ja’Marr Chase and Henry Ruggs – have more 40-yard catches. You never expect a 6th-round pick to make this kind of impact, but Watkins has been one of the few bright spots on offense.
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