May 20, 2024   6 MIN READ

Under The Microscope

Birds Who Enter '24 With Most Scrutiny


The Eagles return to the NovaCare Complex practice fields Monday as the initial grouping of OTAs take place over a three-day period.

As a team that underwent considerable personnel alterations this offseason reconvenes for the first time officially, the countdown to the 53-man roster is unofficially underway.

If the Eagles are to rebound in 2024 and maximize their talent, they’ll need inspired performances from several key contributors.

With OTAs afoot, here are four players most under the microscope this season:

Saquon Barkley

ITB PHOTO: Staying healthy will be key to new RB Saquon Barkley maximizing his value.

Saquon Barkley, RB

In swinging for the fences and opening the check book to secure a player they deemed to be special — at a position the NFL has largely marginalized, no less — the Eagles ensured that Barkley would enter 2024 with elevated expectations.

Barkley’s burst and power in the running game along with his pass-catching prowess – a three-down back – makes him a dying breed among NFL ball carriers and projects him to add a new dimension to a prolific Eagles offense stockpiled with weaponry.

But given the money they invested in the 27-year-old, the Eagles are expecting significantly greater production than past ball-carriers Miles Sanders and D’Andre Swift, who accumulated 1,269-yard and 1,049-yard rushing seasons, respectively.

It’s hard to quantify what kind of stats Barkley needs to accrue, on an offense with other mouths to feed, to warrant the three-year, $37.5 million contract he signed.

There’s also milage and injury concerns that could potentially taint the addition, as Barkley has yet to log a complete season since his rookie year. He missed three games last season with an ankle injury. And if Barkley misses any time, his backups — Kenny Gainwell and rookie Will Shipley – are best-suited as complementary pieces rather than featured components.

On the surface, the Barkley addition furnishes the Eagles with potentially transformative elements and should benefit the ascent of quarterback Jalen Hurts. The team clearly believes in the player and his potential impact, and Barkley will be adequately utilized.

But with heightened expectations come pressure and scrutiny. Can Barkley deliver?

Bryce Huff

ITB PHOTO: New pass rusher Bryce Huff isn’t just being asked to sack quarterbacks but to replace traded Haason Reddick, one of the NFL’s elite edge rushers.

Bryce Huff, EDGE

When revered pass-rusher Haason Reddick was jettisoned up I-95 to the New York Jets in March, the Eagles pushed their proverbial chips toward the center of the table, doubling down in their conviction in free-agent sack artist Bryce Huff to carry the torch.

Like Barkley, Huff, who signed to a three-year, $51.1 million contract at the dawn of free agency, is a projection, acquired with the logic of replicating –  perhaps exceeding? – previous thresholds.

Rather than serve as a complementary piece like he did with the Jets, Huff is now expected to front a remade pass-rush contingent under new defensive coordinator Vic Fangio.

Muddying the waters is the fact that Huff has yet to exceed 51 percent of defensive snaps through his first four seasons. How will Huff’s production fare in an expanded role, which could realistically be forecasted to exceed Reddick’s 70-percent range?

The signing is further compounded by the myriad of uncertainties behind him, namely Josh Sweat eyeing a bounce-back and second-year pro Nolan Smith rounding into form. Given the hefty price tag and bar established by Reddick, Huff won’t be able to duck the limelight. The 26-year-old will be counted on to set the temperature for a youth and upside-laden room.

Nakobe Dean

ITB PHOTO: Third-year LB Nakobe Dean will try to come back from missing most of 2023 to establish himself in 2024 as a defensive centerpiece.

Nakobe Dean, LB

Highly intelligent, cerebral, self-aware and oozing leadership qualities, Dean checks off every box in terms of intangibles. But the third-year linebacker, who twice was placed on injured reserve last season due to foot injuries, faces a make-or-break season in Philadelphia.

A third-round pick in 2022, Dean entered his sophomore season as the uncontested starter at MIKE linebacker after logging just 34 defensive snaps as a rookie. Still, the Eagles, perhaps presumptuously, were banking on a soaring second-year leap from the former Georgia product who’d be at the controls of a defense boasting some of his decorated former college teammates, such as Jalen Carter, Jordan Davis and Nolan Smith.

Dean was solid, if unspectacular, in the five games in which he appeared last season, collecting 30 tackles (two for loss), a half-sack and a quarterback hit. Entering a critical third season, Dean qualifies as a bit enigmatic, logging just four career starts and neglecting to seize the job.

The developing durability concerns – the glaring elephant in the room – could pose as Dean’s ultimate deterrent. And at 5-foot-11 and 231 pounds, Dean’s slight frame raises questions about his ability to withstand the rigors of a full NFL season.

Sure, the Eagles aren’t inundated with optionality at the position, but Dean – who sports the green dot when in the lineup – will again be afforded every opportunity to nail down the starting role in the middle of the Eagles’ second level.

Dean has the tools, and perhaps the addition of Fangio optimizes his availability and effectiveness, unlocking his much-discussed potential.

Jordan Davis

GETTY IMAGES: Eagles third-year DT Jordan Davis will be under the microscope this year as the team needs him to be a dominant force.

Jordan Davis, DT

In the wake of Fletcher Cox’s retirement, an even larger shadow has been cast over Davis, the mountainous former first-round pick and one of the foundational building blocks of a reconstructed Eagles defense.

Disruptive, nimble and powerful, Davis has at times demonstrated spurts of dominance, controlling the line of scrimmage against the run. Now expected to undertake a more prominent role, however, Davis will be unable to avoid the probing this summer, as the 24-year-old has yet to account for more than 45 percent of the defensive snaps.

While Davis was never selected with the idea of developing into an elite pass-rusher, perhaps a sleeker version of the defensive lineman allows the potential of tapping into another facet.

Even still, as a one-dimensional defender, his flashes of mastery must become more consistent and sustainable, a presumed point of emphasis for Fangio.

It’s also worth noting that Fangio implemented a tight rotation of defensive linemen last season in Miami, so it’s conceivable to think Davis will be leaned on more heavily.

Channeling Davis’ early-season burst of production and riding that wave throughout the season will be a key factor in determining the direction of the Eagles’ defense.

– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for

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