Young nucleus gives Eagles something that's been missing for years originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Randall never had this.
In Randall Cunningham’s first few seasons, the only young weapons the Eagles had were Keith Byars, a lumbering halfback who was years away from finding his calling as a receiver, and Cris Carter, who didn’t make an impact until Cunningham’s fourth season and then was off to a Hall of Fame career Minnesota.
Donovan never had this.
Not even close. In Donovan McNabb's first few years, the Eagles’ young skill players were Freddie Mitchell and Na Brown. Say no more.
The quarterback now playing for the Colts didn’t have it either. The Eagles’ young receivers when he was getting started were and up-and-down Nelson Agholor and an entirely down Dorial Green-Beckham.
Young quarterbacks need young receivers, young weapons, to grow with. To develop chemistry with. You can have success without it, but every team wants a young nucleus of skill players that can stay together, build together and just keep getting better and better.
It’s a little earlier to say that Jalen Hurts has that, but he sure has a chance.
The Eagles have finally collected an arsenal of young skill players to go with a young quarterback, and in their first game together they showed why Eagles football just might be fun again.
DeVonta Smith caught 7 passes for 71 yards and a touchdown. He’s 22. Kenny Gainwell squeezed 43 scrimmage yards and a touchdown into 25 snaps. He’s 22. Jalen Reagor had a career-high six catches and scored a touchdown. He’s 22.
This was the first time since 2009 three 22-year-old Eagles scored touchdowns in the same game. Their names were LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin.
It’s also the first time in franchise history two players scored touchdowns in their first career game.
This was Hurts’ first game with Gainwell and Smith and only his fifth start with Reagor and Miles Sanders — who is still only 24 — and the chemistry they all showed together was electrifying.
Howie Roseman has had his share of swings and misses, but he’s given Nick Sirianni a stable of fast, athletic, versatile playmakers who should give Hurts a real chance to shine.
The Eagles gained 437 scrimmage yards in their 32-6 win over the Falcons Sunday. Take a look at those yards by age:
That’s 361 yards from guys who are 24 or younger, with the only exceptions being the two veteran tight ends. They’re all homegrown, they’re all draft picks, and they’re all very close on and off the field.
And there's no reason to think they're not all going to keep improving.
Hurts threw 35 passes Sunday in Atlanta, and 28 of his targets were Smith, Reagor, Watkins, Gainwell and Sanders. That’s a youth movement.
The oldest receiver on the roster is 26-year-old Greg Ward, who played 16 snaps and wasn’t targeted. Next oldest is 24-year-old J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who played 16 snaps and wasn’t targeted.
The last time four Eagles 23 or younger netted at least 40 scrimmage yards in the same game?
How about never.
And the last time two Eagles netted at least 40 scrimmage yards in their first NFL game?
How about never.
Or at least not since 1950, which is as far back as the Stathead database tracks performance by age.
The best thing about all of this is that every one of these guys is playing on his rookie contract. That means they’re all bargains. Sanders is signed through 2022, Watkins and Hurts through 2023, Gainwell and Reagor through 2024 and Smith through 2025.
This group has a long way to go before it can be considered one of the NFL’s best groups of skill players. Hurts has started five games. Smith and Gainwell have played one game. Reagor still has a lot to prove. Watkins has 10 career catches.
But the early results were impressive. This is a group that is serious about football, puts in the work and wants to improve.
How can it not be fun watching them grow together?