Grading the Eagles 2021 NFL Draft class three years later

It's been three years since they were introduced as the newest Eagles. Here are grades for Philly's nine draftees from 2021.
DeVonta Smith, 2021 NFL Draft
DeVonta Smith, 2021 NFL Draft / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

Howie Roseman and the Philadelphia Eagles have put fans through everything during the past NFL Drafts. It’s just as easy to look at the players who are picked and say, ‘That’s huge. Amazing pick. We’re all the way back,’ as it is to say, ‘Bust. What the hell? We’re never going to recover from this.’

No one should shame you for saying either of those things. Being irrationally and overly emotional is the best part of being a fan. That being said, the best time to evaluate a team's draft is three years after the draft because, as per, three years is the average length of a career for a player in the NFL.

It’s time to see how Howie Roseman and the gang did with the Eagles 2021 draft class. 

Entering the 2021 NFL Draft, the Eagles had 11 picks but ended the selection meeting only making nine, because that's how Howie does things. Two huge trades were announced: The Eagles struck a deal with the Miami Dolphins. Philly dropped from the 6th overall selection and wound up picking 12th. They didn't stop there. They struck another deal with the hated Dallas Cowboys to move from the 12th selection to the 10th.

1st Round: DeVonta Smith (Pick 10)

This is an easy one to grade. DeVonta Smith has been an amazing player. Entering the draft, the only knock on him was that he was a pipsqueak. He’s been anything but that.

In his three seasons in the NFL, he’s only missed ONE GAME, and that was in Week 18 of the 2024 season because of a leg injury he sustained during a very stupid screen pass in Week 17. 

Now he’s continuing his career as an Eagle through 2028. That career has so far produced 240 receptions for 3,178 yards and 19 touchdowns. 

The only outside thing to think of here is the aforementioned trade that the Eagles made with the Cowboys, where Dallas was able to draft Micah Parsons. The question you have to ask yourself is simple, ‘Micah or DeVonta?’ Personally, DeVonta and by kind of a huge margin.

Grade: A+

2nd Round: Landon Dickerson (Pick 37)

Landon Dickerson has played in 52 games out of a potential 56 games. He’s started in 51 of those games. That alone is good enough to give this pick a B grade, but he’s played extremely well in those 52 games.

Take it for what it’s worth, but he’s been a Pro-Bowler in two of his first three seasons. He’s allowed just 8 sacks and to put that in perspective, Jalen Hurts has been sacked 109 times since Dickerson has been his left guard. That means he accounted for 7% of the sacks. While that’s not a definitive measure of how good a guard is, it’s fairly telling. 

He’s another player that the Eagles extended. Any time a second-round draft pick plays at an elite level and makes elite money, you have to be happy.

Grade: A+

3rd Round: Milton Williams (Pick 73)

Milton Williams has played an average of 41% of the defensive snaps each season since he’s been drafted. When we’re talking about a third-round interior defensive lineman, which is a very rotatable position, that’s a good percentage. 

In his three seasons in the NFL, he had 6.5 sacks, 19 quarterback pressures, 108 total tackles, and 18 tackles for a loss. When he makes a literal impact, it’s noticeable, and that’s impressive when he’s on a very talented defensive line.

Now we’re in a waiting formation for his future. Is he going to get a contract thrown his way, is he going to get traded during the 2024 draft, or is he going to play out the 2024 season with the Eagles before he tries to get a bag in 2025?

It was Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis, Fletcher Cox… and then Milton. He has a goofy name, but he’s a good ball player. 

Grade: B+

4th Round: Zech McPhearson (Pick 123)

Zech McPhearson is a peculiar case. He was a middle-round pick and he was supposed to be a depth option on the outside. Then, entering the 2023 season he was expected to be a backup slot corner behind Avonte Maddox, which was objectively a good move given Maddox’s inability to stay healthy.

Unfortunately, Zech tore his Achilles in the second preseason game, so that plan went down the toilet. 

Defensively, he’s only played 278 snaps from a total of 2,152 that he has been healthy for (excludes the entirety of the 2023 season). That’s 12.9% of the defensive snaps. That’s not great.

Special teams are where he’s shined. He’s played 687 snaps from a total of 874 that he’s been healthy for. That’s 78.6% of the special teams snaps. That’s pretty good. On top of that, he won NFC Special Teams Player of the Week back in 2022. 

So, given all of this, we’re looking at a depth guy who was unfortunately not able to stay healthy when the team really needed him to be. It sucks because the Achilles tear is a freak injury, but you can’t ignore it.

Grade: C-

5th Round: Kenneth Gainwell (Pick 150)

There were eight running backs drafted before Kenny G. in 2021: Najee Harris (No. 24, Pittsburgh), Travis Etienne (No. 25, Jacksonville), Javonte Williams (No. 35, Denver), Trey Sermon (No. 88, San Francisco), and Michael Carter (No. 107, New York Jets), Kene Nwangu (No. 119, Minnesota), Rhamondre Stevenson (No. 120, New England), Chuba Hubbard (No. 126, Carolina). 

Keep that in mind when we look at Kenny. Yes, we might not like how the Eagles used him in 2022 and 2023, but comparing him to the majority of the other players drafted before him, it has been tremendous.

He’s been the Eagles’ best pass-protection running back the previous two seasons, which is incredibly valuable for this offense, and that puts him in position to (sometimes frustratingly) be an open check down receiver. 

He had great production in the 2022 playoffs, but other than that he has been perfectly fine; not great, not bad, just perfectly fine. It wouldn’t be the most surprising thing in the world if the Eagles gave Gainwell a second contract given how much they seem to love him.

Grade: B

6th Round: Marlon Tuipulotu (Pick 189)

Marlon Tuipulotu has played 23.6% of the defensive snaps in his career. He racked up most of those snaps in 2022 when he played 232 snaps (38%). That isn't surprising because that’s when the defensive line was doing most of its rotation and they were generationally dominant.

A 6th-round pick being the fifth, or sixth player down the depth chart AND being productive, isn’t bad. He’s logged 43 tackles, three sacks, and four QB hits in his career. 

The bottom line is that when he rotates in, he’s not overwhelmingly exposed, he’s actually a usable piece. 

Grade: B-

6th round: Tarron Jackson (Pick 191)

Tarron Jackson has been on the practice squad since October of 2022. He had some playing time in 2021, where he played 253 snaps (23%) and logged 18 tackles and one sack. It’s hard to give a good grade to a practice squad guy.

Grade: D

6th Round: JaCoby Stevens (Pick 224)

JaCoby Stevens only played in two games at the end of the 2021 season before the Eagles waived him during the 2023 off-season. He’s no longer in the NFL. He’s now on the coaching staff of his alma mater, LSU.

Grade: F

7th Round: Patrick Johnson (Pick 234)

On defense, Patrick Johnson has played an average of just 8.3% of the snaps in three years. That number dropped significantly in 2023 when he moved from defensive end to linebacker. At DE in 2022, he played 21% of the snaps and at linebacker in 2023, he played 4% of the snaps.

He doesn’t make his money on defense, he makes it on special teams. He’s a core player for the Eagles in that regard. He’s played an average of 69% of the snaps on special teams. 

He will consistently find himself on the bubble when it comes time for the team to come up with the final 53 players, but his value on special teams will consistently give him an edge.

Grade: C+

Final thoughts/Final grade: This was a terrific draft that resulted in two keystone players for the Eagles and only one player who was a dud. Howie knocked it out of the park in 2021.

Overall Grade: A

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