Eagles Training Camp

Eagles' McKee turning heads with ‘clean eyes' in preseason

Tanner McKee has looked great this preseason and is turning heads with what Brian Johnson calls "clean eyes"

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Tanner McKee entered his rookie training camp in a battle with Ian Book to be the Eagles’ third-string quarterback.

Now some fans are wondering if he should be the backup.

That’s how good of a summer it has been for the sixth-round pick out of Stanford. McKee, 23, looked solid in practice but really stepped it up in the Eagles’ first two preseason games, making his veteran teammates take notice.

“What’s the kid’s name? Tanner McKee,” said cornerback James Bradberry, when asked which young teammates have stood out this summer. “Yeah, he looks really good. I didn’t know much about him coming into training camp and stuff but he’s definitely putting me on notice.”

A quick crash course on McKee for Bradberry and whoever else: The Eagles drafted McKee (6-6, 231) with the No. 188 overall pick out of Stanford this spring. McKee missed the first two years of college on a 21-month mission trip to Brazil. He joined the team in 2020 and became a starter in 2021. He was a two-year starter for the Cardinal and completed 63% of his passes for over 5,000 yards with 28 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

The Eagles drafted McKee because he showed promise. But he’s been even better than expected.

In the first two preseason games, McKee has shown the Eagles exactly what they wanted to see. He looks poised, makes the right decisions, reads, and aggressively pushes the ball downfield with great accuracy. There’s a lot to like about McKee.

“With Tanner, I think the biggest thing with him is obviously he’s extremely smart. He’s poised. He has a very, very natural feel,” Eagles offensive coordinator Brian Johnson said. “The one thing I think in particular with his game is he has really, really clean eyes. He plays with his eyes out in front. He can see stuff. He just has a great feeling and sense of timing and anticipation.”

Clean eyes. That phrase really stood out, especially when you remember that McKee is just a rookie.

If you were to simply watch the first two preseason games without knowing anything about Marcus Mariota or McKee and were asked which quarterback was the nine-year veteran and which quarterback was a sixth-round rookie … you’d get it wrong.

About those clean eyes?

“I think one of the most important attributes that you could have at that position is obviously your vision and feel, and just being able to diagnose things a little bit — maybe a count before they happen,” Johnson explained.

“So, we talk a lot about that in the quarterback room, of just making sure — like these guys are all so talented and they have so much ability, and the majority of the time if you’re looking at the right stuff, you’re going to play pretty clean for the most part. The decision making of it is going to get to shine because your eyes are in the right place all the time.”

McKee has played so well this summer, coinciding with struggles from Mariota, that many have wondered if he has a shot to win the No. 2 job. Head coach Nick Sirianni was quick to shoot that down last week, saying Mariota is their backup.

But there’s no question that McKee has looked better than Mariota this preseason.

Here’s a look at their statistics from the preseason games so far:

Tanner McKee: 20/38, 295 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT, 87.1 rating

Marcus Mariota: 16/28, 144 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT, 56.2 rating

While the Eagles are sticking with Mariota as their backup in 2023, it’s worth noting that he’s here on a one-year contract. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but there seems to be a chance the Eagles could go into the 2024 season with McKee as their No. 2.

That’s so enticing because McKee’s four-year rookie contract runs through the 2026 season and his highest cap hit in that contract is still under $1.2 million. For reference, Mariota’s one-year deal is worth $5 million and he’ll have a dead cap figure of over $3 million in 2024 based on the structure of his contract.

Remember, when the Eagles drafted Jalen Hurts in the second round back in 2020, it was about finding a cheap backup. Obviously, a lot has changed since then and Hurts has ascended to superstar status. But the Eagles might have finally found one in McKee.

The kid definitely doesn’t look like a rookie.

“Well, he’s played a lot of football, as well,” Johnson said. “There are a bunch of differences in the pro game to the college game, but at the end of the day there are a lot of similarities, as well.

“He’s done a good job of acclimating to our system. And the language of our system, and like I said, we’ve been pleased with his development to this point.”

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