2022 Eagles draft class: How much will rookies play?

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How much will Eagles draft picks play in 2022? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles entered the 2022 draft with nine picks but walked away with just five players in the draft, not including veteran A.J. Brown, who was acquired with picks.

Sure, Brown is going to play a ton and will be a starter this season. But what about the rest of the 2022 haul?

Here’s a look at this year’s draft class as we attempt to figure out how much these guys will play in their rookie seasons:

1-13: Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia

Last year’s first-round pick DeVonta Smith was a no-doubt starter but this year this is much trickier because the Eagles still have Fletcher Cox and Javon Hargrave as returning starters from last season in front of Davis. Cox has a $14 million salary this season after the Eagles brought him back and Hargrave is entering the final year of his three-year, $39 million deal. So it’s not just that the Eagles have incumbent starters; they have incumbent starters with high salaries who aren’t going to simply get pushed to the bench.

But even if Davis isn’t out there for the first play of games, he’s still going to play a good amount in 2022.

Let’s look at last year’s third-round pick Milton Williams. Williams was the defensive tackle out of Louisiana Tech and while he is more of a 3-technique and Davis is more of a nose tackle, we can use Williams’ usage as a rookie to guide us here. Williams started just two games but ended up playing 456 of 1,127 defensive snaps (40%) in 2021. Of course, Williams saw snaps at both the defensive tackle and defensive end spots, and that helped. Davis isn’t going to be asked to play on the edge very often.

The last time the Eagles used a first-round pick on a defensive tackle was when they took Cox with the No. 12 pick back in 2012. As a rookie, Cox ended up playing in 15 of 16 games and started 9. He played 509 defensive snaps (52%) as a rookie. It seems unlikely Davis will play that much in the Eagles’ four-man defensive tackle rotation.

Figuring out how much Davis will play is a big deal in 2022. At Georgia, he rotated and averaged just 25 snaps per game last season. If he averages 25 snaps per game this year in the NFL, he’d play just 425 snaps or around 38% (based on last year’s snap totals) in 17 games. That’s under where he should be as a first-round pick, but the Eagles would still be wise to limit his usage to some degree. Davis will be more effective if he’s able to give maximum effort on every play.

It’ll be up to Davis and the sports science department in Philly to make sure he’s in shape. Last week, Davis said he weighs 345 pounds but his goal is to play in the 330s. If he can maintain his power and keep his explosiveness after cutting some weight, it could also help his endurance and increase the amount of snaps he can play while still being effective. Even if he’s able to play 30 snaps per game, that could put him at about 45% on the season. That wouldn’t be quite as many as Cox played in 2012 but would be more than Williams did as the third guy in the rotation last year.

2-51: Cam Jurgens, C, Nebraska

If all goes well in 2022, you probably won’t see much of Jurgens. It’s a weird situation, to draft a center this high without the expectation of seeing him play very much early. But Jurgens is expected to be Jason Kelce’s backup in 2022 as Kelce returns to the Eagles on a one-year deal. Of course, this time last year we didn’t project 2021 second-round pick Landon Dickerson to have a huge role as a rookie either. But things happen. The Eagles suffered injuries to both of their starting guards and Dickerson ended up starting 13 games and playing 77% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps.

But there are a few key differences between Dickerson and Jurgens. For starters, Dickerson was mainly backing up Brandon Brooks and Isaac Seumalo, who have both had injury histories. Jurgens will mainly be backing up Kelce, who has started 122 straight regular season games, a streak dating back to 2014.

The other big difference is that Dickerson (6-6, 333) was seen as a guard who has the ability to play center, while Jurgens (6-3, 303) is seen as a center who might be able to play guard. The Eagles plan on cross-training Jurgens but he definitely seems to be more of a pure center. Jurgens played only center during his college career at Nebraska after the early transition from tight end, while Dickerson started games at all five offensive line positions at Florida State and Alabama.

Barring an injury (knock on wood), Jurgens will be active on game days but will be a backup, who will be asked to contribute on special teams. (For reference, Dickerson played 61 special teams snaps in 2021.) The Eagles will cross-train Jurgens at guard during the summer so he can provide depth at all three interior positions. He doesn’t seem like an ideal guard, but backups must be able to play multiple positions, even those who are waiting to replace a legend.

3-83: Nakobe Dean, LB, Georgia

Of these five draft picks, Dean is probably the most likely to become a starter in Year 1. Sure, the Eagles have free agent pickup Kyzir White and incumbent starter T.J. Edwards on the roster (they also have Davion Taylor and Shaun Bradley) but as long as Dean is healthy, he’s going to play quite a bit. One of the big questions going into training camp will be about this linebacker rotation and how it will work. But even last year in training camp, defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon tried out a bunch of different combinations.

Last week at rookie camp, Dean said he’s learning both inside linebacker positions: The WILL and the MIKE. Back at the combine, before he knew where he’d end up, Dean talked about his quest to get that green dot on his helmet. That green sticker indicates which player has built-in communication with coaches for play-calls. Dean was the quarterback of the defense at Georgia and he wants to do the same thing at the NFL level.

The last time the Eagles used a third-round pick on a linebacker was in 2020 on Taylor, but these situations have almost nothing in common. Dean was pick 83, while Taylor was No. 103. And Dean was the leader on the best defense in the country, while Taylor was an admittedly raw player with a limited football background who was selected because of his athletic traits. So looking at Taylor’s 2020 rookie season (he played in 12 games with 1 starts and just 32 defensive snaps) doesn’t even help a little bit. Dean will play more snaps than that in most games in 2022 if things go to plan.

If Dean is healthy and if he is every bit as good as advertised — he was thought to be a first-round talent — then the Eagles can’ let White or Edwards, both on one-year contracts, get in the way of his playing time. Dean needs to play a lot from the jump and I think he will.

6-181: Kyron Johnson, LB, Kansas

Once you get into the sixth round, we’re talking about players who have to make the roster first. The Eagles drafted three sixth-rounders last year; two of them (Tarron Jackson, Marlon Tuipulotu) made the team and one (JaCoby Stevens) didn’t. In Howie Roseman’s previous 11 drafts, the Eagles have selected 14 players in the sixth round. Of those 14 players, 8 have made it through final cuts to make the roster. In 2020 and 2021, the Eagles have drafted six players in the sixth round and four of them have made the team. The two who didn’t were Stevens and OT Prince Tega-Wanogho.

But the Eagles have also had some really big hits in the sixth round like Jason Kelce in 2011 and Quez Watkins in 2020.

So what will it take for Johnson to make the team? He’ll likely be battling for the backup SAM linebacker position behind Haason Reddick. In fact, Johnson (6-0, 235) said Reddick is one of the players he’s really studied. Right now, his primary competition for that backup SAM spot is last year’s seventh-round pick Patrick Johnson. As a rookie, Patrick Johnson played in all 17 games with 2 starts but played a total of just 111 defensives snaps and 55 of them came in the meaningless regular season finale. Johnson had a role on defense through the first three weeks but then lost that role completely to Genard Avery, who let Philly as a free agent this offseason.

While Patrick Johnson didn’t play much on defense, he did play 254 special teams snaps, the fourth-most on the entire roster. If Kyron Johnson wants to beat out Patrick Johnson for a roster spot, it’ll start on defense, but he’ll also need to show ability on special teams too. The good news is that Johnson at rookie minicamp professed his love for special teams and says he’s always been a “menace” when it comes to that phase of the game.

6-198: Grant Calcaterra, TE, SMU

The former Oklahoma and SMU tight end has a real opportunity in front of him not just to make the Eagles’ roster but to find some playing time in his rookie season. The Eagles obviously have Dallas Goedert, who is a borderline top five tight end in the NFL, so it’s not like Calcaterra is going to start taking snaps from him. But after Goedert, there’s a big drop-off.

The Eagles’ incumbent No. 2 tight end is Jack Stoll, who went from being a UDFA out of Nebraska to the second tight end on the depth chart after the Zach Ertz trade. The Eagles’ third-string tight end Tyree Jackson suffered a torn ACL in Week 18 and likely won’t be ready for the start of the 2022 season. Even more opportunity for Calcaterra.

Stoll played in 16 games with 5 starts in 2021. Excluding the regular season final when he was on the COVID list, Stoll played a 284 snaps out of a possible 666 after the Ertz trade. That’s over 42% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps in that span. He also had a significant role on special teams. Despite all those offensive snaps, Stoll was really just an extra blocker in the Eagles’ 12 personnel package. He finished the year with just four catches for 22 yards.

From Day 1, Calcaterra will be a better receiver than Stoll. But he won’t be a better blocker. The Eagles view Calcaterra as an “F” tight end. That basically means he won’t be asked to be on the line of scrimmage much but will instead line up in the slot and try to take advantage of mismatches against linebackers and safeties. Based on his college career, Calcaterra will have the ability to do that. He even has a history with Jalen Hurts because the two were teammates briefly at Oklahoma in 2019.

Calcaterra still needs to become a better blocker, but he offers the Eagles a tight end option who will be a bigger threat to catch the football than Stoll. The Eagles were a really heavy running team in 2021, but that was mostly out of necessity. They’d like to be more balanced in 2022 and having another tight end who can catch will play a role. Although, they also added A.J. Brown, which means there’s a chance we see much less 12 personnel this season than last.

Still, Calcaterra has a very good shot of making the team in 2022 and then taking snaps away from Stoll.

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