Rookie Review: How the 2013 Class Fared

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

When asked how happy he was with the Eagles’ rookies this year, Chip Kelly offered a typical Chip Kelly response.

“It’s my favorite draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles,” said the head coach, sarcastically.

“I mean, I was really happy. I’m really, really happy with our young guys. I think they’ve all got really bright futures here. But is that going to happen every year? It’s a catch-22 because if it’s happened every year, then the top of your roster is not what it’s supposed to be. So if each year we’re bringing in 10 or 12 brand new guys and there’s only 46 guys active, they’re taking 10 or 12 guys that were on the team last year. So at some point in time, you hope you’re at a point in time when we’re not having anybody make the team as a young player because the older players we’ve got in place are doing a great job and we’re winning a ton of football games and we’re competing for championships. There’s that catch-22.

“But I think there was a lot of turnover early. I think that’s understandable. It’s a new coaching staff and new systems in every aspect of the game, so that part is a little bit different. But if we’re bringing in 10, 12 new faces every year, then that means we’re not where we need to be right now.”

Keeping that in mind, below is a player-by-player look at how the Eagles’ rookies performed in 2013 and what their outlooks are going forward.

Lane Johnson – The No. 4 overall pick performed pretty much how you’d expect a rookie with only two years of O-Line experience to perform. He showed off his athleticism, played well in stretches, but was inconsistent – specifically in pass protection. Most of the Eagles’ pass-blocking issues came on the right side with Johnson and Todd Herremans.

“A bunch of times whenever I got beat, I got beat on the inside,” Johnson said. “Just as far as mental mistakes, over-setting guys, stuff like that. So we’ll come back next season, I’ll probably watch some of my tape in the offseason, just seeing the errors that I made and knowing what to correct heading into next season. This year’s obviously just a big year to gain experience and just see how you play against some of these guys. So it was a great year for me.”

Johnson said his main goal is to get stronger. He’ll do some training in Arizona where he prepped for the Combine last year and then is headed to Houston to work out with some of his Eagles teammates like Connor Barwin, Evan Mathis and Jason Peters.

Johnson started all 16 games and only missed one offensive snap. There were bumps in the road in his first season, but he still figures to have a bright future.

Zach Ertz – The second-round pick finished the season with 36 catches for 469 yards and four touchdowns. He averaged 13.03 yards per catch and had eight grabs of 20+ yards. Since 2000, no rookie tight end who caught at least 30 balls had a higher yards per catch average than Ertz. Rob Gronkowski is second at 13.00.

Ertz is one of 13 tight ends since 2000 to have at least 450 yards receiving in his first season. In other words, the numbers might not blow you away at first, but compare Ertz to his peers, and it’s clear he was productive as a rookie.

“I’d like to get stronger obviously,” Ertz said. “That’s kind of the big thing is the size of the guys. I think from a physical and mental standpoint I had a very good year. I think there’s a lot of room to improve, and I think that’ll come with more coaching this offseason since I didn’t get to do the OTAs last year. And I think I’m gonna come in humming next year.”

Ertz played 41 percent of the Eagles’ snaps. He is still not in Brent Celek’s class as a blocker, but his opportunities as a receiver should increase in 2014.

Bennie Logan – The third-round pick out of LSU started eight games after Isaac Sopoaga was traded to the New England Patriots. He finished with 43 tackles, two sacks, seven hurries and a batted pass, playing nose tackle in the Eagles’ 3-4. Overall, Logan played 40 percent of the Eagles’ snaps.

Like the other rookies, he said he wants to get stronger in the offseason. It’ll be interesting to see what Kelly, Billy Davis and company want from this position. The guess is they’ll add a couple new bodies on the defensive line in the offseason to compete. But Logan has a decent chance of going into next season as the starter.

Matt Barkley – Tough to read too much into him coming in cold in three games, going 30-for-49 for 300 yards, 0 TDs and four interceptions.

“Matt was awesome,” Kelly said. “And that’s the other guy, I’m excited to get a full offseason with Matt in here to really get a chance to work with him because I think he’s got a skill set that’s exciting when you see him. How the ball comes out of his hands, the decisions that he makes, and that’s part of this whole deal.

“I think you can never have enough quarterbacks. I’ve said that no matter where I was. In this league, we were fortunate that we had two this year, and that was a huge benefit to us that we had two, and we’ll continue to always look at quarterbacks, and I think anybody that’s any good in this league always does that.”

The Eagles will add a quarterback at some point – either through free agency or the draft. And whoever it is will get a chance to compete with Barkley for the backup job in 2014.

Earl Wolff – The fifth-round pick battled a knee issue and only played four snaps in the final six regular season games. Overall, he started six games and was active for 11. Wolff made plenty of rookie mistakes, but showed he’s clearly the most athletic safety on the roster.

He’s going home to North Carolina and then will travel to Boca Raton, Fla. where he trained for last year’s Combine. Wolff said other NFL players, like Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, will also be training down there.

Nate Allen, Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson are all free agents. Patrick Chung seems like a longshot to be back, and there will be plenty of turnover at this position. Wolff should be in position to compete for a starting job going into next year.

Damion Square – The undrafted free agent out of Alabama was active for 10 games, but played just 12 percent of the Eagles’ defensive snaps at nose tackle. The coaching staff seems to really like him, but Square will have to get stronger and will be competing for a roster spot next summer.

Jake Knott – The rookie linebacker out of Iowa State only played 26 defensive snaps. He was active for 12 games (missed four due to injury) and had five special-teams tackles. Knott will be competing for a backup linebacker spot next summer.

***

The following rookies are on the roster, but did not play any snaps: OT Michael Bamiro, S Keelan Johnson, OLB Travis Long, WR Will Murphy, OT Matt Tobin, RB Matthew Tucker and DL Joe Kruger.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.
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