2023 Eagles draft class: How much will rookies play?
How much will Eagles draft picks play in 2023? originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
The Eagles entered the 2023 NFL Draft with six picks but ended up drafting seven players after a bunch of trades, including one to move up in the first round and another to get into the fourth rough with a future pick.
The Eagles’ 2022 class didn’t play very much as rookies but maybe the 2023 class will be different.
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:
1-9: Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
The Eagles drafted Carter’s defensive line teammate Jordan Davis in the first round last season. Davis didn’t have a great rookie season and some of those struggles came about because he missed several games in the middle of the season. By the end of the year, Davis played in 13 games with 5 starts and 224 snaps (20%) — that went up to 26% in just the games he played in.
What does that have to do with Carter? Well, maybe not all that much. The Eagles will likely start Davis as their nose tackle and Fletcher Cox at the other defensive tackle spot. Before the draft, it looked like Milton Williams would ascend into a starting role but we can now pencil in Carter. As a top-10 pick, it’s reasonable to expect Carter to start and to play a lot as a rookie.
In the decade before last year’s draft, there were six interior defensive linemen drafted in the top 10 and some have played a ton. In fact, all six were at 54 percent or higher and all but two were at 70+ percent.
2020: Derrick Brown: 16 games, 15 starts, 70%
2019: Ed Oliver: 16 games, 7 starts, 54%
2019: Quinnen Williams: 13 games, 9 starts, 57%
2017: Solomon Thomas: 14 games, 12 starts, 71%
2016: DeForest Buckner: 15 games, 15 starts, 93%
2015: Leonard Williams: 16 games, 15 starts, 77%
That should be around the expectation for Carter. While the Eagles are going to rotate and have some nice depth pieces on their line, they didn’t draft Carter to just be a rotational depth guy. He should play a ton as a rookie and based on what he did at an SEC powerhouse, he ought to be ready for that. Last season, Cox played 65% of the team’s defensive snaps and Javon Hargrave played 64%. It’s fair to expect Carter to be right around there — maybe a tad below — even as a rookie.
1-30: Nolan Smith, Edge, Georgia
Figuring out Smith’s role is a little trickier. The Eagles used the No. 30 overall pick on the smaller edge rusher from Georgia but he isn’t expected to be a starter. The Eagles have Haason Reddick and Josh Sweat as their top two edge players and both of them are coming off double digit sack seasons and have been Pro Bowl players within the last two years.
Reddick last season ended up playing 817 snaps (74%), while Sweat played 587 (53%) after missing most of two games at the end of the season. The Eagles also bring back their third edge rusher from the 2022 season in Brandon Graham, who played 474 snaps (43%) and he hit double digits in sacks as well. So all three of these guys are back for the 2023 season. But Graham is 35 now so it’s easy to envision his role being scaled back even more in 2023.
The Eagles were supposed to go with a legitimate four-man edge rotation last year but Derek Barnett got hurt in Week 1. The Eagles attempted to add a fourth when they brought in Robert Quinn in a trade and that obviously didn’t work. Their other top edge rusher was Patrick Johnson, who played 19% of their defensive snaps in the 2022 season. But because of the early injury to Barnett, we never really got to see the ideal work load for a fourth rusher in the rotation.
Smith will likely be the fourth edge rusher in this rotation to start. It’s not hard to see a situation where he and Graham are the second wave of edge rushers in the rotation and we see their snaps end up pretty even by the end of the year with Smith eventually overtaking him if things are going well.
3-65: Tyler Steen, OG, Alabama
This feels like a pretty all-or-nothing situation for Steen. The Eagles have just one starting spot open on their offensive line after Isaac Seumalo left in free agency to joint the Steelers.
While 2022 second-round pick Cam Jurgens will likely be given the first crack at it, Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni made it seem like this will be a fun training camp competition.
“That's really a long way away,” Sirianni said after the Steen pick. “We don't have to make that decision for a while, but best player will play at that position, and we feel like we have some good options, and the reason why we took him is because we feel good about him. Everybody in the building feels good about him. Yeah, it's too early to say that, but the best player will play, so I guess that kind of answers that question.”
This is such an interesting competition for the right guard spot because it’s a competition between two guys who both aren’t natural guards. Jurgens is more of a center and Steen is more of a tackle. At least Jurgens got some reps at guard during practice last season. Steen was only a tackle at the college level but the Eagles saw him work at guard at Senior Bowl and put him there to start rookie camp. If I had to guess right now, Jurgens is going to win that job.
So Steen’s outlook as a rookie is pretty simple: Win the job and play a ton. Or become a backup at multiple spots early on. Of course, Landon Dickerson wasn’t expected to be a starter in 2021 until injuries forced him into the starting lineup early. There’s always a chance injuries could force Steen into the lineup earlier than expected too.
3-66: Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
The Eagles lost both of their starting safeties from the 2022 season. Marcus Epps joined the Raiders and C.J. Gardner-Johnson joined the Lions. But the Eagles got a high level of play from UDFA Reed Blankenship last season and he likely projects as a starter going into 2023. Blankenship’s body of work isn’t large — he played in 10 games with 4 starts — but did enough good things to think he could be a good starter. And Blankenship played the majority of his snaps last year as a free safety.
Brown should have a chance to compete for the other starting gig and the Eagles really fell in love with him during the pre-draft process. Based on how much he played near the line of scrimmage at Illinois, he seems like a natural fit to start along with Blankenship. Although, his skillset does seem a tad redundant to veteran free agent pickup Terrell Edmunds. But the Eagles saw Brown play in the post at the Senior Bowl and have some confidence he won’t be a limited player at the NFL level. They think Brown can play pretty much anywhere.
Edmunds is a former first-round pick who has started 75 games in the NFL and is still just 26. But if the competition between Edmunds and Brown is close, you’d think the Eagles would rather get Brown on the field. Not only is he younger and and a draft pick, but he’s under contract through 2026. Then again, the Eagles started Kyzir White throughout 2022 even with third-round pick Nakobe Dean waiting on the bench. So there’s no guarantee Brown will beat out Edmunds for that gig. But with how the Eagles have talked about Brown, it seems very possible he’ll be able to do enough in training camp to win the job. But even if Brown isn’t a starter early in his career, he figures to be a rotational backup and a special teams contributor.
4-105: Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
It was clear how much the Eagles liked Ringo by their willingness to jump back into the fourth round by giving up a future third-round pick. That’s something they really try not to do. But that also doesn’t mean we’re going to see much of Ringo as a rookie.
The Eagles are pretty set at their starting cornerback spots with Darius Slay, James Bradberry outside and Avonte Maddox in the slot. Ringo has a chance to be the Eagles’ top outside backup as a rookie if he can win that gig from another former fourth-round pick, Zech McPhearson, who held the job in 2022, and free agent addition Greedy Williams.
Both Slay and Bradberry started every game last season but both are over 30 as they prepare for this upcoming season. And there’s a reason to be a little worried about that. Just six cornerbacks over 30 started 10+ games in 2022: Stephon Gilmore (32): 16 starts, Patrick Peterson (32): 17 starts, Bryce Callahan (31): 11 starts, Troy Hill (31): 12 starts, Slay (31): 17 starts and Bradley Roby (30): 10 starts.
One of the quicker ways for this 2023 season to become derailed is an injury to one of their top cornerbacks. Ringo has a chance to be in a position to play an awful lot if there is an injury. If not, he’ll likely be a special teamer as a rookie.
6-188: Tanner McKee, QB, Stanford
If McKee ends up playing in his rookie season, things have not gone to plan.
As McKee joins the Eagles, the first item on his to-do list will be beating out incumbent Ian Book for the third-string QB job. The Eagles claimed Book after training camp last year to replace Reid Sinnett. You’d think the Eagles would prefer to see McKee win that job from Book but that would still make him the third-string quarterback.
If McKee wins that third QB job, he’ll still be inactive on game days behind Jalen Hurts and backup Marcus Mariota. If Hurts suffers an injury at some point, then there’s a chance McKee could be activated for some games. It’s also worth mentioning that Mariota has dealt with some injuries in his career.
7-249: Moro Ojomo, DT, Texas
Entering the draft, you could make a very strong argument that the Eagles’ biggest position of need — given the Eagles’ weighted view of positional importance — was defensive tackle. From that perspective, it wasn’t surprising to see them come back in the seventh and add another guy for the rotation. In addition to losing Javon Hargrave in free agency, older veterans Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph were also on expiring contracts.
The top four defensive tackles on this roster are obvious: Cox, Carter, Davis, Williams. After that, Ojomo will be fighting for a roster spot with Marlon Tuipulotu, Kentavius Street and Noah Elliss.
Ojomo is still just 21 but got to Texas at just 16 and has five years and 50 games under his belt. Last season, Tuipulotu was thought to be the Eagles’ fifth defensive tackle but actually played more snaps than Davis, even before Davis got hurt. So through six games last year before suffering his high ankle sprain, Davis was fifth in the rotation among DTs with 115 snaps (29.5%). That comes out to just under 20 snaps per game. Playing around 15-20 snaps seems to be Ojomo’s ceiling as a rookie. The floor would be getting cut and joining the practice squad.
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