Eagles mailbag: Kenneth Gainwell’s role, picking a sleeper breakout player

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Eagles mailbag: Picking a sleeper Eagles player and Gainwell’s role originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

We’re just over a week from the Eagles’ season opener in Atlanta so it’s a very exciting time.

I can tell the season is almost here because when I asked for questions, I got dozens of them. Even though expectations might be somewhat tempered this year, people are still ready for football season.

Let’s get to your questions:

He might be less of a sleeper now than he was at the start of training camp, but I’m going to go with Javon Hargrave. The Eagles signed Hargrave last season to a three-year, $39 million deal and he had a disappointing year. After suffering an injury in the summer, it took him a while to get back into shape and to then learn a new defense.

Hargrave looked like a completely different player this summer. If you had to name the MVP of training camp, he’d be on a short list with Josh Sweat and Quez Watkins. Any of those three could be poised for a breakout year based on what we saw this training camp, but the safest bet in my mind is Hargrave.

In Jonathan Gannon’s defense, he’ll be asked to be aggressive getting after the quarterback at times and will also be asked to be reactionary at other times. It’s a nice blend of the two defenses Hargrave has played in since he entered the NFL. Hargrave’s single-season sack record is 6 1/2 and I expect him to break that in 2021. He’ll see plenty of 1-on-1s starting next to Fletcher Cox and he’s healthy enough this year to beat them consistently.

Yeah, I think Gainwell will play in the opener and all season. We’ll have to see exactly what kind of role he can carve out in this offense but there’s no reason to bring him along slowly. Rookie running backs can contribute in the NFL from Day 1 and I see no reason why Gainwell wouldn’t play.

That’s not to say he’s going to be the lead back — he won’t — but I think we’ll see him in certain situations. Against the Jets in joint practices, Gainwell was with the first team in hurry-up situations because of his prowess as a pass catcher. That could be an early role for him as a rookie.

I want to make it very clear that we’re just talking about the receivers here. Because the tight ends and even running backs are going to catch a lot of passes in this offense. But second among the receivers? Give me Jalen Reagor.

I know Reagor had a rough rookie season and I’m not totally sold on him showing that he was worth a first-round pick, but Reagor is going to get a ton of chances. And I think we’re going to see an emphasis on getting him the ball, especially on short passes near the line of scrimmage designed to let him create after the catch. And if one player loses snaps early to 12 personnel, it’ll probably be Watkins.

Cautiously optimistic. I don’t think you should come into this season expecting the Eagles to be serious Super Bowl contenders. It doesn’t look like they are, so expectations should be tempered. But just because the Eagles are in this transition period, it doesn’t mean they can’t be competitive. They better be competitive. Because there’s just too much parity in the NFL to take off full seasons for a rebuild these days.

I expect there to be some good moments and some bad moments for Eagles fans this season. Some moments where the Eagles lure you into thinking they’re a possible playoff team and then moments where you remember that they’re probably not. In all, it should still be a fun season and an opportunity to learn about Nick Sirianni, Jalen Hurts and plenty of other young players who will be vital to the team next year.

For those of you who listen to the Eagle Eye podcast, you heard me tell the story of what happened to my car on the way to MetLife Stadium for the preseason finale. For those who haven’t, the short version: I was driving in North Jersey, almost at the stadium, when my car got hit by lightning. It wasn’t a direct strike and I’m fine (although I was a tad shaken up that night). Still don’t know about my car. Waiting to hear from the mechanics and the insurance company. Just happy to be safe.

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