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7 bold predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles' first season under Nick Sirianni

7 bold predictions for the Philadelphia Eagles' first season under Nick Sirianni

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Washington Eagles Football

Philadelphia Eagles Alex Singleton (49) celebrates his sack against the Washington Football Team during an NFL football game, Sunday, Jan. 3, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

There are many unknowns about the Philadelphia Eagles’ upcoming season with a new coach, a new quarterback and new players scattered around the offense and defense.

For these and other reasons, the expectations are relatively low as the Eagles prepare to open the 2021 season Sunday against the Falcons in Atlanta.

But there is reason for optimism with a healthy offensive line, a strong and deep defensive line and — we think — a young and innovative coaching staff.

Here, then, are some bold predictions:

1. Jalen Hurts and Miles Sanders will each rush for more than 1,000 yards

Hurts and Sanders will accomplish something done only twice before in NFL history with a quarterback/running back combination each surpassing 1,000 yards rushing.

Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick (1,022 yards rushing) and running back Warrick Dunn (1,082) did it in 2006, and Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson (1,206) and Mark Ingram (1,018) did it in 2019.

Hurts had 301 yards rushing in 4 1/2 games last season as Carson Wentz’s replacement to end last season. That was on pace for more than 1,200 yards rushing over a full season. Sanders had 867 yards rushing last season in 12 games.

As a team, the Eagles haven’t had anyone rush for 1,000 yards or more since LeSean McCoy (1,319 yards) in 2014.

“I really think we can be dynamic,” Sanders said about him and Hurts as runners. “With a quarterback like Jalen, he’s going to clear out a lot of gaps because defenses have to feel him.”

2. Jalen Reagor, not DeVonta Smith, will be the Eagles’ leading receiver

Sure, all eyes will be on Smith, the rookie drafted 10th overall after winning the Heisman Trophy for national champion Alabama. But that, in a way, will open things up for Reagor, the Eagles’ first-round pick last season.

It has been well documented that Reagor didn’t live up to expectations last season with only 31 catches for 396 yards. Smith’s presence will open up lanes for Reagor to catch the ball in space with room to run.

Smith will still have a solid rookie season, but Reagor will benefit the most from Smith’s presence.

“I feel like I’m a totally different person,” Reagor said. “They’ll see a different player, a different attitude ... I’m stronger. I feel like just getting my body in actual great condition. I’ve always felt good, but now I have a routine. I’ve learned certain things.”

3. Alex Singleton will lead the Eagles in tackles

OK, that’s not really a bold prediction considering that Singleton, a linebacker, led the Eagles in tackles last season with 119. That was the most by an Eagle since DeMeco Ryans in 2013.

Incredibly, Singleton didn’t become a regular on defense until Week 6.

That will culminate with Singleton selected to the Pro Bowl. Not bad for someone cut six times, who spent three seasons playing in Canada and was strictly a special-teams player until getting his chance last October.

4. Jordan Mailata will be selected to the Pro Bowl

From 1998 through 2019, the Eagles had dominant left tackles in Tra Thomas (1998-2008) and Jason Peters (2009-19). But Peters dropped off significantly last season and Mailata, with limited experience, started in his place in nine games.

This summer, Mailata won the job outright over 2019 first-round pick Andre Dillard. Mailata, who’s 6-foot-8 and listed at 365 pounds, could become the anchor on the offensive line for the next several years.

“He’s a freak of nature,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “There’s nobody in the NFL that’s been that big, that size, that can move like that. I’m not trying to compare him to (Jonathan) Ogden, but Ogden was never that big.

“I’ve never seen a guy that big. He’s massive.”

Ogden, who is in the Hall of Fame, was listed as 6-9, 345 pounds. He played left tackle for the Ravens from 1996-2007.

5. Landon Dickerson will be a full-time starter by November

The Eagles made it clear when they removed Dickerson from the non-football injury list that this won’t be a glorified redshirt season for the second-round pick.

At some point this season, Dickerson will play just because injuries happen, as the Eagles found out last season by setting an NFL record with 14 different starting offensive line combinations.

But Dickerson could get his chance sooner rather than later, either at center or right or left guard.

Right guard Brandon Brooks, who’s 32, seems to be plagued with injuries. Brooks missed all of last season with a torn Achilles, then missed two weeks of training camp with a hamstring injury. He’s been limited this week with a knee injury, although he is expected to play Sunday.

Ultimately, Dickerson is seen as the heir apparent to Jason Kelce at center. If Kelce gets hurt, it’ll be this season. If not, it could be as soon as next season.

Kelce, it should be noted, has started 105 straight games, the sixth longest streak among active players.

6. Josh Sweat will lead the Eagles with 14 sacks and make the Pro Bowl

This isn’t much of a bold prediction considering that just about every Eagles player said Sweat is the most likely defensive player to have a breakout season.

Sweat had 6.0 sacks while playing just 38% of the defensive snaps last season. He’s expected to play more than that this season as part of a rotation with Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham and Ryan Kerrigan.

But Sweat will become the best of a deep and talented defensive line.

7. The Eagles will make the playoffs

There will be bumps along the way, and the first half of the Eagles’ schedule is brutal. Believe it or not, if the Eagles can make it through the first seven games of the season at 2-5, they should actually be in good shape for a postseason berth.

By then, they would have played both of last season’s Super Bowl participants in Kansas City and Tampa Bay, in addition to a road game against the Cowboys.

But beginning Week 8 against Detroit, the Eagles will play 9 of their final 10 games against teams that had a losing record in 2020. Five of the Eagles’ last six games are against NFC East foes.

If the Eagles go 7-3 during that stretch, they’ll end up 9-8. That should be good enough for one of the three wild-card berths. It might even be good enough to win the NFC East, although it would be a major upset if Dallas doesn’t take the division.

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