Recapping rookie seasons for Jordan Davis and other Eagles

Eagles have 'so much' confidence in Davis; recapping rookie seasons originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Eagles made it all the way to Super Bowl LVII but they didn’t need a lot of rookie contributions to get there.

In fact, the Eagles used their rookies on offense and defense less than any other team in the NFL.

According to ProFootballFocus, the Eagles were the only team in the NFL to play their rookies less than a combined 1,000 offensive and defensive snaps in the 2022 season. The Seahawks led the NFL with over 5,000 snaps from their rookies.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean the Eagles’ 2022 class was a flop. It means that they had a veteran-filled roster. When the rookies were out there, they actually did some nice things.

Let’s take a deeper look at the rookie class now that the year is over:

1-13: DT Jordan Davis

Defensive snaps: 224 (20%); playoffs: 45 (36%)
Special teams snaps: 79 (17%); playoffs: 26 (34%)
Stats: 16 games, 5 starts; 22 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 QB hits

The Eagles traded up to draft Davis with the No. 13 pick out of Georgia because they thought he was a special player. And even though his rookie season might not have been a huge success, they still feel that way about him.

“We have so much confidence in Jordan that he's going to continue to develop as a player,” head coach Nick Sirianni said after the 2022 season ended. “He's going to take the reps -- he's only going to continue to get better with the reps that he has. He has unusual traits. His unusual size, unusual athletic ability, unusual play strength. And looking forward to him being able to get more and more reps.”

Sirianni pointed out that the Eagles were in a unique situation with so much talent on their defensive line this season that there weren’t a ton of snaps to go around for younger players. But before he suffered his high ankle sprain against the Steelers in Week 8, Davis had really come on strong. He started five games in a row and was a key cog in the middle of the Eagles’ defense.

But then he hurt his ankle and missed the next four games and when he returned after his stint on IR, he still wasn’t right. That high ankle sprain really gave him trouble for a lot of the season. While Davis is never going to be a huge statistic accumulator, he failed to record any stats in four of the last six games of the regular season after coming back from injury.

In the playoffs, Davis began to out-snap veteran Linval Joseph, who took his starting job, and had 3 tackles and 2 QB hits in his 45 snaps in the playoffs. The Eagles are expecting a big Year 2 from Davis in 2023.

2-51: OL Cam Jurgens

Offensive snaps: 35 (3%); playoffs: 9 (4%)
Special teams snaps: 82 (18%); playoffs: 16 (21%)
Stats: 20 games played

The good news is Jurgens didn’t really play in 2022. The bad news is Jurgens didn’t really play in 2022.

Jason Kelce, who turned 35 during the season, played at an All-Pro level again in the Eagles’ offense. And he didn’t get hurt. So Jurgens ended up having a redshirt season of sorts after taking a ton of first-team reps in training camp (and in the preseason) after Kelce had an elbow cleanout that kept him out until the opener.

The second-round pick soaked up information from the future Hall of Famer with the franchise’s hopes that one day Jurgens will replace Kelce at center. But after how well Kelce played in 2022, he might just return for another season.

If Kelce returns next year, then Jurgens could be a replacement for pending free agent Isaac Seumalo at right guard. If that’s the case, expect Jurgens to get a ton of reps at right guard when OTAs begin.

During his rookie training camp, Jurgens didn’t get a ton of reps at guard because he was filling in for Kelce as first-team center. The Eagles’ initial plan was to cross-train Jurgens during the summer but that process was pushed back into the regular season. But Jurgens eventually got some practice reps at guard but played just one snap there in the 2022 season. A former tight end, Jurgens played only center on the line at Nebraska.

With the Eagles as a rookie, most of his snaps came at center after Kelce was taken out of the game. But he did play one snap at guard and a handful at tight end as an extra blocker.

3-83: LB Nakobe Dean

Defensive snaps: 34 (3%); playoffs: 9 (9%)
Special teams snaps: 340 (75%); playoffs: 57 (75%)
Stats: 20 games played; 15 tackles, 1 TFL; 9 ST tackles (7 regular season, 2 playoffs)

Dean was heralded as one of the steals of the 2022 NFL Draft but it became pretty clear when training camp started that he was behind T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White in the pecking order. And since the Eagles didn’t really utilize a three-linebacker package, and since Edwards and White stayed healthy all year, that meant a lot of time on the bench for the former star from Georgia.

While Dean didn’t play on defense much at all, he did finish second on the team in special teams snaps behind just Zech McPhearson. That transition was a little easier than you might expect. Dean explained that Kirby Smart at Georgia made his starters and stars play on special teams. While playing on teams might be an adjustment for some young players, it wasn’t for Dean, who had seven special teams tackles in the regular season. Dean also kept his mature attitude all year about his role.

Of course, the Eagles have higher expectations for Dean than for him to become a career special teams player. Despite his smaller frame (5-11, 231) they still think he has a bright future as a linebacker. And we might get to see that in 2023.

Both of those starting linebackers — Edwards and White — are pending free agents this offseason. It seems very unlikely that both will be back next season, which should open up a starting job for Dean. During his first training camp, the Eagles gave Dean reps as the MIKE and as the WILL in their defense. So they should feel some confidence in his filling either role in 2023.

6-181: OLB Kyron Johnson

Defensive snaps: 18 (2%); playoffs: 0
Special teams snaps: 265 (59%); playoffs: 0
Stats: 16 games played; 8 tackles; 8 ST tackles

The sixth-round pick from Kansas flashed some during training camp but didn’t see much time at all on defense during the season. He did play a ton on special teams in the regular season. In fact, just five players saw more snaps than Johnson in the regular season.

But the curious thing is that after all those special teams snaps in the regular season, Johnson was inactive for the three playoff games as Christian Elliss, Dean and Patrick Johnson were the three linebackers to lead the team in special teams snaps.

Johnson will enter his second training camp this summer fighting to keep his roster spot.

6-198: TE Grant Calcaterra

Offensive snaps: 227 (19%); playoffs: 23 (11%)
Special teams snaps: 85 (19%); playoffs: 20 (26%)
Stats: 18 games played; 5 catches, 9 targets, 81 yards

For most of the season, Calcaterra was the third-string tight end behind Dallas Goedert and Jack Stoll. But in the five games when Goedert was on IR, Calcaterra was bumped up to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Stoll.

In those five games, Calcaterra averaged 27.6 snaps per game. It was during that stretch that Calcaterra had 4 catches on 8 targets for 41 yards. His only other catch came in his NFL debut when he caught a 40-yard pass against Washington in Week 3.

After missing a good portion of training camp with a hamstring injury, the Eagles actually made Calcaterra inactive for the first two games of the season and elevated Noah Togiai from the practice squad. Togiai had more experience, especially on special teams. But by Week 3, the Eagles were ready to activate Calcaterra and he was active in every game the rest of the way. In the Super Bowl, he played just 1 offensive snap.

UDFA: S Reed Blankenship

Defensive snaps: 291 (26%); playoffs: 56 (41%)
Special teams snaps: 90 (20%); playoffs: 53 (70%)
Stats: 13 games played, 5 starts; 45 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU, 1 FF

The Eagles signed Blankenship as an undrafted rookie out of Middle Tennessee State and gave him just $55,000 in guaranteed money, the second-lowest total in their initial UDFA class. But Blankenship quickly began to make an impression. He earned a roster spot out of training camp and eventually earned a role on defense.

You remember Blankenship making plays in the second half of the season but he was inactive for six of his first nine games in the NFL and didn’t see a single defensive snap until the Indianapolis game in Week 11. That’s when he supplanted K’Von Wallace as the Eagles’ extra defensive back in the dime package.

The next week, C.J. Gardner-Johnson suffered a lacerated kidney and Blankenship was playing a ton. At that point, the Eagles were without CJGJ and Avonte Maddox. And as things were looking bleak in the secondary, Blankenship played well. He played so well, in fact, that later in the season when Maddox was missing again, the Eagles felt more comfortable moving CJGJ to nickel corner and playing Blankenship at safety than they did simply plugging-and-playing Josiah Scott.

The moment never looked too big for Blankenship and maybe that’s because he was a rare five-year starter in college. But he constantly made plays for the Eagles and finished the season ranked as the No. 7 safety in the NFL by ProFootballFocus. Even if we admit Blankenship isn’t a top 10 safety, it was impressive to watch what he did in 2022.

And with both Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps set to hit the open market in March, Blankenship could figure into the Eagles’ plans. Even if he isn’t a starter in 2023, Blankenship will be back as a valuable backup with years of team control remaining.

UDFA: WR Britain Covey

Offensive snaps: 19 (2%); playoffs: 2 (1%)
Special teams snaps: 108 (24%); playoffs: 10 (13%)
Stats: 20 games played; 35 punt returns, 343 yards (9.8); 10 kick returns, 206 yards (20.6)

The electric college return man from Utah made the Eagles’ roster as the fifth receiver but he really made the team as a returner. And he didn’t get off to a great start. Through the first nine games of his NFL career, Covey had 10 kick returns for 206 yards (20.6) and 18 punt returns for 117 yards (6.5).

Covey then had kick return duties taken from him and given to Boston Scott. His 20.6 yard per kick return average ranked 34th in the NFL this season among players with at least 10 attempts.

But the good news is he got much better as a punt returner. From Week 11 on (including the playoffs), Covey had 17 returns for 226 yards (13.3). In that span, his average ranked third in the NFL among players with at least 10 attempts. He was behind just Kalif Raymond (18.5) and Donovan Peoples-Jones (14.7), who both had long returns for touchdowns. Covey’s longest return of the season was 27 yards in the Super Bowl.

UDFA: CB Josh Jobe

Defensive snaps: 12 (1%); playoffs: 9 (6%)
Special teams snaps: 220 (49%); 59 (78%)
Stats: 14 games, 2 tackles; 1 ST tackle

One of three UDFAs to make the team out of camp, along with Blankenship and Josh Sills, Jobe didn’t see much action on defense during the season. But he did have a couple big hits when he got the opportunity. After playing at Alabama, he didn’t look timid getting on an NFL field.

We also saw his special teams snaps increase in the playoffs, which is probably a good sign. Jobe seemed to handle his role as a gunner on the punt team well.

And when Sirianni was asked about the improved special teams back in January, he specifically mentioned five players: Zach Pascal, McPhearson, Wallace, Elliss and Jobe. That’s probably a good sign for Jobe too.

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