Eagles rookie report card: DeVonta Smith, Kenneth Gainwell shine in NFL debuts

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Encouraging start for Philadelphia’s 2021 NFL Draft class!

The Eagles kicked off their season with a win and it wasn’t without some inspired performances from their rookies! Here’s how the first-year players fared in their NFL debuts.

DeVonta Smith: A

Few better ways to start off an NFL career than DeVonta Smith did with a long touchdown in the first quarter. It was a beautiful play design, but Smith tracked and secured a great ball from Jalen Hurts in the end zone.

Smith wasn’t done there. He caught a bunch more passes, consistently converting them into first downs. The rookie receiver constantly attacked soft spots in the Falcons zone defense and Jalen Hurts was smart to find him quickly. Smith looks more than comfortable catching the football and picking up yards after the catch.

Another area where DeVonta Smith stood out, somewhat surprisingly, was as a blocker. Smith is not exactly known for being a strong player, but he consistently made key blocks on the perimeter to boost the run and screen game. This is crucial in Nick Sirianni’s offense and another reason Smith will not be coming off the field much.

DeVonta Smith’s one small wart on his stellar debut was an early dropped pass on third down. It was not a great throw, but Smith should have secured the catch against contact. That is one area where he will need to grow, surely, but it is hard not to be excited about where the Eagles rookie receiver is taking this offense.

Landon Dickerson: N/A

Dickerson hasn’t been given the green light to play in games yet.

Milton Williams: B-

One of the storylines heading into this game is how big of a role Milton Williams would have on this seasoned defensive line. The big news for the rookie, is his role was sizable against the Falcons.

Jonathan Gannon is committed to a multiple defense with a multi-look defensive front. Milton Williams saw time playing on the edge, at five tech, and inside as a one-gapping tacke. His versatility was a big sale for him as a prospect and the Eagles are intent on using him in as many ways as possible.

Williams did a solid, but unspectacular job in his role, which is a good sign for him going forward. The fact that he is already seeing the field so much means he will get plenty of opportunities to shine in his rookie year.

Zech McPhearson: C

Zech McPhearson did not see meaningful time on defense, but has a clear-cut role as a punt gunner where his play yielded mixed results.

McPhearson had good coverage on a few stellar punts from Arryn Sipposs, but also missed some tackles and took bad angles on other returns.

Barring injury, McPhearson will remain a special teams player. However, he showed some decent enough play today to make everyone happy.

Kenneth Gainwell: A

Kenneth Gainwell is the Eagles number two running back and already their top pass catcher out of the backfield.

Gainwell looked really solid running in relief of Miles Sanders, scoring a touchdown behind some great run blocking. As a receiver, the Eagles confidence in Gainwell was evident when he saw every running back snap in the two minute drill. Nick Sirianni clearly values his hands, quickness and route running ability.

It is a bit surprising that Gainwell has already usurped the number two job from Boston Scott, but it is clear the role is perfect for his skill set.

Patrick Johnson: C

The rookie linebacker only saw a few snaps on defense in his NFL debut. However, despite the overall performance of the Eagles defense, it is hard not to see a weakness at the linebacker position.

If the position continues to lag and actually gets to a situation where they need to bring up some younger talent, it will be interesting to see whether or not Patrick Johnson gets the call up.

Marlon Tuipulotu: N/A

No meaningful time for the rookie defensive tackle.

Tarron Jackson: N/A

Like Tuipulotu, Jackson did not see the field much in his rookie debut. The Eagles have a deep, talented defensive line, so it may be some time before Jackson sees any heavy dose of snaps.

Jack Stoll: B

Jack Stoll did not see the field much, but it is clear he is the team’s third tight end. They brought him on a few times in heavy packages and he played well as a run blocker, which will be his primary function all year.

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