Eagles Wake-Up Call: Whither the 2011 Draft Class?

Philadelphia Eagles right guard Danny Watkins.Look closely at Thursday’s game against the Jets, and you will see the 2011 Eagles draft class fighting for its life.

Five of the 11 draftees — Jaiquawn Jarrett, Dion Lewis, Brian Rolle, Greg Lloyd and Stanley Havili — are no longer with the team. Jarrett will be on the field Thursday as a member of the  Jets, as the Temple product tries to breathe life back into his career.

Two of the six remaining members — fourth-round pick Alex Henery and sixth-rounder Jason Kelce — are safe. The rest, not as much. Casey Matthews and Julian Vandervelde are on the fringe. Third-round pick Curtis Marsh is in murky waters after breaking his hand.

And then there is Danny Watkins. The former No. 23 overall selection is trying to claim a reserve role. Maybe he’ll make the 53-man, maybe he won’t. It’s really not about whether Watkins survives the final cut. The story is that his status is in question to begin with.

On the day the Eagles drafted the then 26-year old, Andy Reid called Watkins ”as good of a football player as there was in the draft.” Said that he received glowing reviews from just about everyone in the building, including Howie Roseman.

“Howie had this guy, right from the get-go, at the top. This was a guy that he really wanted and liked,” said Reid. [This, by the way, seems to run counter to Jeffrey Lurie's claim that "The mistakes that were made in the 2011 draft have little or nothing to do with Howie’s evaluations."]

“And so, when I looked at him I said, ‘This guy is as fine of a football player on the offensive line that you have in this draft.’ And then Howard [Mudd] came back and he said the same thing…He’s one of those guys that you can’t help but like when you look at him. He knows how to play the game. It’s not going to take a Rhodes  Scholar.”

Two seasons later, Watkins is on the bubble. He is the symbol of a draft gone largely wrong.

In an attempt to make Eagles fans weep, Bill Barnwell of Grantland just penned a piece  that contends that the 2011 draft class  is shaping up to be the best defensive group  in modern NFL history. The Eagles have zero projected starters on defense from that crop. [They went Jarrett, Marsh, Matthews in Rounds 2-4.]

The good news is that the 2012 class has the early looks of a winner. Fletcher Cox,  Mychal Kendricks, Vinny Curry, Nick Foles, Brandon Boykin, Bryce Brown and Dennis Kelly could all have roles on this team. Some of them starring roles, even. It’s way too early to judge the ’13 group, but that, too, has potential. There are some building blocks.

You can argue that 10 players from the past two drafts (Lane Johnson, Zach Ertz, Bennie Logan, Earl Wolff, Cox, Kendricks, Curry, Foles, Boykin, Brown) have a legitimate chance of contributing in a meaningful way this season. Throw in Kelly for 11 if you want. Either way, it’s a healthy representation.

The ’11 class, meanwhile, is just trying to survive.

WHAT YOU MISSED

Sheil identifies 10 players that are on the roster bubble. 

Chip Kelly may be hands off to some degree when it comes to defense, but it is still being built in his vision.

Last call to be an intern for Birds 24/7.

Matt Barkley doesn’t want his rookie season to “slip away.”

WHAT THEY’RE SAYING

DeMeco Ryans is high on Kendricks. From Reuben Frank:

“He’s communicating more, he’s understanding the game better, he’s seeing things a lot better. I’m just proud of the way he’s grown from Year 1 to now. I can just see that maturity in him, and the knowledge in his game is just picking up.

“I’m really proud of the steps that he’s made. The kid has unbelievable talent, and I just want to see him reach his full potential. The sky’s the limit for him because he has ability that a lot of people don’t have. He’s just gifted. Just God-given talent, and I want to see him able to maximize it.”

Phil Sheridan predicts that the Eagles go 8-8.

Picking a .500 record seems like a cop-out, but there is precious little to go on as Chip Kelly takes over for Andy Reid in Philadelphia. Will Kelly’s go-go offensive approach work in the NFL? Can Michael Vick thrive again after two years marred by injuries and turnovers? Is the read option a growing trend or have defensive coordinators solved it? Can the Eagles’ defense regain respectability even as coordinator Bill Davis shifts from a 4-3 to a 3-4 with mismatched personnel?

That’s way too many big questions to consider the Eagles a likely playoff team. They are, after all, coming off a 4-12 season. But Kelly’s system, facilitated by LT Jason Peters and a healthy offensive line, should be able to put points on the board. One thing is for sure: The Eagles’ offensive players are very excited about their potential.

COMING UP

Game day. We’ll both be in New York. Kapadia will see some snaps at  quarterback for the Jets in the fourth quarter.

  • knighn

    RE: Phil Sheridan predicts that the Eagles go 8-8
    For this season, it’s a really simple queston: Will the Eagles put up more points than they allow?
    If they do it on a regular basis, they’ll win more than 8 games. If they fail to do that on a regular basis, they’ll win fewer than 8 games. Sure, you can get into all of the nitty gritty, but I think we should all know the Eagles potential right now: potentially an awesome offense (although there is a high turnover potential there, too); potentially a terrible defense; and an improved special teams (hopefully).

    • BlindChow

      Doesn’t every season come down to how many more points they put up than allow?

    • Dutch

      It’s not as simple or as easy as that. I don’t see a defense in the division capable of stopping the Eagles offensive attack if that offense is working on all cylinders . Some have better defensive lines, another has good linebackers, and almost none have the back end defenders they can rely on to close down an aerial assault.

      If the read option is working as intended, it’s difficult for a piece a meal defense to shut down an option attack.

      Once your defenders are spread out over the field some area of that defense without clear advantage in superior talent is exposed. Without support and coverage help, matching up against some of the athletes in skill positions the Eagles have on their roster is not attainable. Those are the mix matches Kelly’s often referring to he seeks to exploit. When your defense is spread out trying to match against a spread offense, the defense 11 is not enough to cover the field unless you “Guess Right” every time.

      • knighn

        You remain a little more optimistic, especially about the defense, than I am!

        However, there are a couple of “ifs” in your above statement, even about the offense:
        “if that offense is working on all cylinders”
        “if the read option is working as intended”

        I do not question that the Eagles offense is going to move the ball. I also don’t question that the Eagles offense is going to score a lot of points. I question the ability of the Eagles offense to stop turning the ball over. And I question the ability of the Eagles defense to stop anyone.

        In 2010 the Eagles scored 439 points (27.4 per game) and the most in franchise history.
        In 2012 the Eagles allowed 444 points (27.8 per game) and the most in franchise history.

        I could see both records broken this year. The only remaining questions for me:
        1) Which will be the bigger column for 2013: Points scored or points allowed?
        2) Will the Eagles be able to spread out those points enough to get 8 or more wins?

  • Joeknowsnada

    Tim, re – Andy Reid’s comment about Watkins – “road scholar?” Really? It’s “Rhodes Scholar,” dude! Guess you ain’t no “Rhodes Scholar,” or even “Road Scholar,” neither. “The ’10 class is just trying to survive?” It’s the ’11 class, right? Have Sheil proof your work, dude! Or, hire an intern.

    • EricT

      Maybe he didn’t get WaWa coffee? (Tim, you know we like you…)

    • ICDogg

      Possibly was a new intern who made these errors?

      • BlindChow

        Maybe it was the old intern, and that’s why they’re looking for a new one…

      • Tim McManus

        It was the intern’s fault. (I could get used to saying that!) Fixed, thanks.

    • asdfasd

      You could also add that Tim and Sheil will be in New Jersey to watch the Jets.

      It’s funny that the 2 teams called New York play in New Jersey and the team actually playing in New York is called Buffalo.

    • Anon

      In all fairness, it was a quote. Maybe Andy meant a scholar of the road. A traveling scholar, or someone who literally studies asphalt. Just sayin’.

    • GiveMeABreak

      Joe, you have lived up to your name in this miss-the-double entendre posting. Let’s just leave it with the acknowledgement that subtlety is not your strong suit and move on. What i like about this posting is that someone has finally gone back and looked at the contemporaneous comments when examining a failed draft pick. So, if this is correct, then Howie is accountable for (1) Watkins, (2) the FA disaster signings and (3) Washburn being hired (this did come out during the meltdown). This still leaves open what role he played in other debacles like Jarrett, Marsh, Clayton, and Nesheim. Everyone in this town should understand that whatever Jeffie says about Howie, he is really in that position because he himself cannot command a decent salary and because he keeps the overall costs down. What he does not give us, however, is a decent chance to compete against the best franchises in this league and win. This is why I can’t get excited about this season because it is a fool’s errand: we can’t win.

      • Andy124

        “Joe, you have lived up to your name in this miss-the-double entendre posting. Let’s just leave it with the acknowledgement that subtlety is not your strong suit and move on.”

        Except that Tim just said it was a mistake and corrected it. Still a rude way to point out an error.

  • Anon

    It’s crazy how young the team is especially as we fans really give them no slack for being in a “rebuilding mode” (I blame the potency of the CK offense). I want them to win now, but when you consider that the majority of the starters on D were acquired in the last 2 years and they are on their third scheme in as many years they should be mediocre. That said i’m going to be super disssapointed if we lose game one on MNF. Win the day!

    • BlindChow

      I think it’ll be easier to accept the losing if it at least looks like we’re losing in different ways than the last two years. If Kelly calls three play action passes with slow developing deep routes to start the MNF game, a lot of televisions will be broken in Philly.

      • Andy124

        Agree completely. Also easier to swallow if you’re seeing improvement over time. Especially from young guys you expect to have a future with the team.

      • JofreyRice

        Totally. It will be a much more interesting season than the long slow deathwatch of ’12. I can get excited enough just by the offense, I’m really not counting on the defense at all.

    • Kleptolia

      I understand your point of view, but I have to say this: Chip and the team aren’t giving themselves the excuse of being in “rebuilding” mode. They expect to be competitive immediately. Maybe they won’t be, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re professionals.
      You don’t have to give them so much leeway. Mistakes will happen. Losses will happen. That’s imperfection.
      But it’s ok for you to expect the best effort from those guys every game. This team should win some football games. If they can’t do that, they should at least be entertaining during their losses. If they can’t do that, fire Chip Kelly and his coaching staff. He would expect nothing less.

    • aub32

      The D isn’t that young. Only Cox and Kendricks are slated to start at this point. They were our first and second pick last year. So they should be starting. However, everyone else has 3+ years in the league. 2 out of 11 is not a majority. (I am leaving out Thorton because we don’t know if he will start.)

  • Kleptolia

    This idea of the spread offense being a riddle or gimmick or mechanism that has a “solution” needs to end. You solve Kelly’s spread the same way you solv the WCO or the Pro-Set offense: defeat your blocks, maintain the lanes, and wrap up your tackles.
    For crying out loud, I’m so tired of sports writers acting like it’s a magic spell.
    Also, I’m tired of the Vick/Foles debate. I don’t even know why people have to root for one particular guy. I’m not really a huge Eagles fan (I watch college ball more than the NFL) but I like them both.
    I am following the Eagles because of this offense. Everybody said at the beginning that it can’t be done in the NFL. I want to see it work, just to shut the TV parrots up.

    • JofreyRice

      So you’re an Oregon fan, that’s still following Chip Kelly’s progress, and don’t believe Kelly’s schemes can ever be solved?

      • Andy124

        Sounds like it. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

        • JofreyRice

          Nah, there isn’t, I was just looking for clarification. I mean, I think it’s somewhat interesting the level of loyalty and respect that these Oregon guys have for him. I have to say, he’s impressed me tremendously in his short time here–I’m at least sipping the kool aid, if not chugging it down.

      • Dutch

        the option like any offense can be solved provided the defense opposing the scheme has the athletes with the skills. One on One coverage ability outside, Safeties with instincts, range and closing speed, and linemen capable of winning the battles in the trenches. Also discipline linebackers who understand they don’t have to make every play.

        Chip’s idea is to spread you out and beat you with bigger, stronger and faster athletes. Saban and a few other option coaches at those football powerhouse schools in the sec have been doing this for years.

      • kleptolia

        I’m an Oregon fan, yes. Chip Kelly plays football the way I always thought it should be played. He designed an offense to score points, not just to hold the ball. Think about it: how stupid is it that for so many years people played the game with the idea of just holding the ball, not doing anything meaningful with it? There were exceptions Don Coryell, Ted Marchibroda and Marv Levy, and others. But, for the most part, football offense was DESIGNED to be slow. Chip Kelly took what others had done (outright stole most of it) and built it into an instrument designed to do exactly what football is about – scoring more points than the other guys.
        I like that. His offense actually produces (slightly) fewer injuries than most while scoring significantly more points.
        I guess the main thing that interests me, though, is simply that he defies the conventional institution of the NFL. For too long the NFL has been an old boys club where good coaches were passed up because some other guy (I’m looking at you, Rex Ryan) had more hype or knew more of the right people. Hearing Ron Jaworski talk about how this offense wouldn’t work in the NFL and then hearing the same thing from so many others, I had to follow the story. It’s not as much about Chip Kelly as it is about good football and common sense.
        As far as the offense goes, no it can’t be solved. There is no such thing as an offense that can be solved. It can be contained, at times out-schemed. Stanford out-schemed Kelly & Co. last year. I have a lot of respect for David Shaw (HC) and Derek Mason (DC) as a result of that game. That’s what makes football great: watching 11 men move as one to accomplish clearly defined objectives. People always compare a football game to a chess match, but they’re wrong. A football game is a chess tournament. A football play is a chess match.
        And it happens in 7 seconds.
        Chip Kelly’s offense just happens to give us more chess matches to watch on any given Sunday. How can you not like that?

  • JofreyRice

    Lurie talks out of both sides of his mouth, and makes a lot of weird proclamations in his press conferences. I’m not dissing him, but from listening to him speak for a number of years, it’s just something I have observed.

    Believing that Howie was on board with the bad picks, or maybe even partially responsible for some makes a lot more sense than him just being a wallflower while Reid and Banner–the team chiefly responsible for the success of the team in the early part of the decade–captained the ship into an iceberg.

    I can accept the idea that he may have actually learned something, as the 2012 and 2013 drafts, at this stage, seem to be a big step in the right direction.

    • B-West

      Ha. Even in your concessions, you have to find a way to get Howie under the bus just a little bit.

      • JofreyRice

        I wouldn’t say “throwing him under the bus” i just never bought that narrative that he had no hand in it. I think a healthy dose of skepticism should still be used when evaluating Roseman, he’s far from “proven”.

  • Run Eagles Run

    STanley Havili has looked solid in action with the colts, I honestly wouldnt be surprised if he turns out to be one of the better guys from that eagles draft class. colts look like they will be using him a lot.

  • JBShakes

    I went to open practice the Saturday before last, and one of the things I saw that got me really excited was the fact that frequently, when the team would break out into positional drills, there would be no drill for the ILB’s, and instead, Ryans and Kendricks would stand off on the sideline and they would just talk. You could tell from the body language that Kendricks was asking questions and Ryans answering them – these guys are going to be the quarterbacks of this defense, and the more knowledge Ryans can jam into Kendricks’ head, the more opportunity this young man has to take his athletic gifts and turn himself into something truly special.

  • All In Eagles

    Not sure I want to read it. We all lived the failures of that draft and are still licking our wounds, I’m trying to move on. : ) Good things!!

  • JofreyRice

    I do admit these drafts look way better than 2011. No doubt.