PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles created quite a stir during the 2023 NFL draft.
They were the only team whose Super Bowl odds changed from the start of the draft, per Caesars Sportsbook, jumping from +850 to +750 thanks to a haul that included Georgia standouts Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Kelee Ringo, along with a trade for another former Bulldog, running back D’Andre Swift.
Analysts were just about unanimous in their approval. Mel Kiper Jr. handed out just two “A” grades post-draft: one to the Eagles and another to the Seattle Seahawks.
The most striking reaction may have come courtesy of Dallas Cowboys star edge rusher Micah Parsons, who could not hide his angst when Carter went ninth overall to Philadelphia.
“I’m just sick to my stomach right now,” Parsons said during a live Bleacher Report broadcast, describing it as an “A-plus pick” for Philadelphia. “I am just so shocked that eight teams let Jalen Carter fall to nine.”
Eagles receiver A.J. Brown was also part of the broadcast, and couldn’t let the opportunity to playfully rib his rival pass.
“Micah, just be a Philadelphia Eagle at this point,” he said with a smile. “You know you want to be a part of this great organization.”
The history of NFC teams falling short in the Super Bowl and then returning to the game the following year is scant. The last team to pull it off was the 1974 Minnesota Vikings. But an offseason that was supposed to be marked by significant loss in free agency has instead developed into an intriguing retooling, generating optimism that the Eagles are well-positioned to buck the trend.
Is the buzz justified? Let’s take a closer look at the state of affairs as the focus shifts toward the offseason training program:
Comings and goings
2023 draft class: DT Jalen Carter, Georgia; OLB Nolan Smith, Georgia; OT Tyler Steen, Alabama; S Sydney Brown, Illinois; CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia; QB Tanner McKee, Stanford; DT Moro Ojomo, Texas
Key acquisitions: RB D’Andre Swift, RB Rashaad Penny, S Terrell Edmunds, QB Marcus Mariota, CB Greedy Williams, LB Nicholas Morrow
Key departures: S C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DT Javon Hargrave, RB Miles Sanders, LB T.J. Edwards, LB Kyzir White, S Marcus Epps, QB Gardner Minshew
How the rookies fit
With Jalen Hurts still on a rookie contract and the roster loaded with talent from top to bottom, the Eagles had the luxury of easing the 2022 draft class in last season — a group headlined by defensive tackle Jordan Davis, center Cam Jurgens and linebacker Nakobe Dean.
The landscape has since shifted. Hurts signed a five-year, $255 million extension in April. Anticipating that large investment, Eagles management let notable contributors like Gardner-Johnson, Hargrave and Sanders walk. General manager Howie Roseman said the organization entered the offseason “with our eyes open and understanding that we’ve got to kind of flip it” to have some younger, less expensive players on the team.
While the roster remains in strong shape overall, there is a heightened urgency for this draft class to contribute in 2023. That starts with Carter, a first-team All-American who could have been a top-five pick if not for some off-field concerns.
Hargrave’s absence — he signed a four-year, $84 million deal with the San Francisco 49ers in free agency — needs to be accounted for. He was one of the Eagles’ best players last year, posting 11 sacks. Fletcher Cox, 32, shouldn’t be expected to carry all the defensive line weight at this stage of his career. Carter is projected to play right away and will be counted on to shore things up along the interior along with the likes of Davis and Milton Williams.
“It feels good that Philly is putting their trust in me to come in here and put in hard work and do what I can to help the team,” said Carter, who noted that he models his game after Los Angeles Rams star DT Aaron Donald. Anything close to that would be more than welcomed by the Eagles.
Smith was frequently compared to Haason Reddick during the pre-draft process and has a chance to move into the No. 2 SAM linebacker role behind him and be part of the pass-rush rotation. Steen could compete with Jurgens for the starting right guard spot. Brown will have a chance to contribute at safety (more on that in a moment) while Ringo, McKee and Ojomo will provide depth at their respective positions.
The highlights that made the Eagles jump on Jalen Carter
Check out some of the best highlights from Jalen Carter’s career at Georgia that have him drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Identifying the biggest holes
Safety and linebacker are the two biggest question marks on the roster, with both starters at each position no longer on the team.
Gardner-Johnson’s loss might be felt the most. He was a difference-maker for this team last year (he tied for most interceptions in the NFL with six despite missing five games with a lacerated kidney), had position versatility as a safety and corner, and played with an edge that the defense fed off.
The Eagles signed veteran Edmunds to a one-year deal in March — he’s a favorite to start alongside Reed Blankenship — and also inked former Saint Justin Evans. While there is some talent to work with, the position overall feels light for a championship-caliber team. Defensive coordinator Sean Desai’s group would benefit if Brown, who posted six interceptions en route to first-team All Big-Ten honors last season, could make his presence felt early.
“He has exceptional play tempo. He’s a big hitter. You see him flying around, making plays on the ball,” said Roseman. “He can blitz, he can play in the run game, he can cover the slot, he can cover tight ends. … I think our fans are going to love Sydney Brown, and we’re excited to get him here.”
Linebacker is also in an uncertain state following the departures of starters Edwards and White. Dean, the 2021 Butkus Award winner for best linebacker in college football, is expected to step into the vacancy alongside Morrow, who posted 116 tackles for the Chicago Bears last season.
It should be noted that the Eagles didn’t acquire Gardner-Johnson until late August last year. They are likely to add to both safety and linebacker before the start of the season.
Running back shuffle
Sanders signed with the Carolina Panthers in free agency following a career season in 2022 (1,269 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns). His departure was the most significant on the offensive side of the ball.
To make up for his absence, the Eagles inked Penny to a one-year deal in March and then acquired Swift from the Detroit Lions over the weekend for a 2025 fourth-round pick and a swap of seventh-rounders.
Penny has plenty of upside but has been hampered by injuries over his career. Swift has been dinged up some in his own right but is a handful both in the run and pass game when he’s healthy.
“You can definitely see his ability to make people miss in space, and you saw that against our defense last year,” said coach Nick Sirianni. “He had some unbelievable runs against us last year, where you look at each other like man, that guy is hard to tackle. So, he has the ability to make you miss and also accelerate through the hole, which will serve us well in some of the draws that we run and some of the RPOs that we run.”
After a 14-3 showing in the regular season, the defending NFC champion Eagles will play a first-place schedule this year. Their 2023 opponents had a collective win percentage of .567 last season — tops in the NFL.
Philadelphia not only had one of the easier schedules in football in ’22 but was also one of the healthiest teams over the course of the season. Chances are, the road will be tougher this time around. And it’s fair to wonder how much longer members of the old guard such as Cox, center Jason Kelce (35) and defensive end Brandon Graham (35) will continue to play at a high level.
On the other hand, the NFC remains wide open thanks in large part to the disparity in quarterback play in the two conferences — a gap that widened further with Aaron Rodgers leaving the Green Bay Packers for the New York Jets. Hurts is arguably the best signal-caller in the NFC, and is surrounded by one of the top offenses in football. The defense, meanwhile, was able to keep key players like cornerbacks Darius Slay and James Bradberry in the fold, added some solid veterans, and once again looks strong along the defensive front.
If a few of the new additions — headlined by Carter and Swift — can live up to the hype they generated over the weekend, the Eagles look to be in strong shape.