Eagles Rookie Review: Player-By-Player Breakdown
Below is a player-by-player look at how the Eagles’ rookie class performed in 2014 and what to expect going forward.
Marcus Smith (1st round, 26th overall)
He got on the field in eight of 16 games. Smith was inactive twice and a DNP-coach’s decision six times. In all, the Eagles’ first-round pick played just 68 snaps all season.
Smith started the season at outside linebacker, but switched to inside linebacker after the Eagles were decimated by injuries. At times, Billy Davis tried to use him in a specialized role in sub packages, but Smith’s head appeared to be spinning, and that experiment didn’t last.
The coaches were honest throughout in their assessments of Smith. Davis explained that switching from outside to inside was extremely difficult for a rookie. Chip Kelly noted that Smith wasn’t showing enough consistency at practice.
The bright side? Smith is an excellent athlete with great measurables. And as far as we could tell, his work ethic was not an issue. Smith was just unable to produce results.
Where he plays in Year 2 could depend on a number of factors. Will Brandon Graham and/or Trent Cole be back? How healthy will DeMeco Ryans and Najee Goode be in the spring?
I may be the last person on the planet who thinks Smith still has a chance, but even I’ll admit it was difficult to find any signs of encouragement from his rookie season.
Jordan Matthews (2nd round, 42nd overall)
We wrote about him earlier this week, so I’ll keep it relatively brief. But Matthews was as advertised, finishing with 67 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns, while working almost exclusively out of the slot.
Matthews showed improvement throughout the season and displayed an ability to make plays with the ball in his hands down the stretch. Overall, he played 65 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps.
The intangibles with Matthews have been written about at length, but by all accounts, they are legit. He’s a hard worker who wants to be great and is constantly congratulating/complimenting his teammates. The question going forward will be whether he gets a chance to play on the outside, but either way, Matthews’ future is bright.
Josh Huff (3rd round, 86th overall)
During the beginning part of the season, coaches suggested that Huff might have been expecting the Eagles’ offense to be exactly like Oregon’s, and that was not the case. So there ended up being more of an adjustment period than anticipated.
Huff was bothered by an injury at the end of the summer that could have affected his development. He was inactive for the first four games and played 18 percent of the offensive snaps in the final 12 games. Huff caught eight balls for 98 yards.
Something I didn’t realize until I looked it up: Huff averaged 29.6 yards per kickoff return (14 attempts). That would have ranked third in the NFL had he qualified statistically.
Whether it was a fumble here or a ball bouncing off his hands resulting in an interception, Huff certainly had some rough moments. But he also showed flashes like the 44-yard catch and run against the Cowboys.
If the Eagles want to keep Matthews inside, it’s not out of the question that Huff could steal a starting spot away from Riley Cooper next season. But nothing will be handed to him.
Jaylen Watkins (4th round, 101st overall)
He didn’t dress for 11 of 16 games and was a DNP-coach’s decision for another. The only time Watkins got on the field defensively was Week 17 against the Giants. He made one nice play down the sideline in that game, but also got burned on multiple occasions. In other words, ups and downs and pretty much what you’d expect from a rookie seeing his first action.
Watkins was drafted as a cornerback/safety hybrid, but at this point it appears his future is at corner. The coaches like his ability to play the slot, and if Brandon Boykin leaves after 2015, the Eagles could call on Watkins to be the full-time nickel.
As for next season, Watkins’ role depends largely on what the Eagles do at cornerback in the draft and free agency.
Taylor Hart (5th round, 141st overall)
The story has been repeated on multiple occasions by now. But in case you somehow missed it, Kelly said he would have considered taking Hart in the third round. Howie Roseman convinced him to stay patient, and the Eagles ended up taking the defensive lineman out of Oregon in the fifth.
As a rookie, he failed to dress for a single game. It’s true that the Eagles’ starting defensive line was very good, but Hart couldn’t manage to beat out veteran Brandon Bair for a reserve role.
The expectation should be for him to #sportscience it up in the offseason and fill a reserve role in his second season.
Ed Reynolds (5th round, 162nd overall)
The safety from Stanford was originally cut when the team got down to 53, but he eventually landed on the Eagles’ practice squad for the entire season.
Even though the team was in dire need of safety help, Reynolds never got promoted to the active roster, and the Eagles signed safety Chris Prosinski to help on special teams during the season.
Reynolds will be fighting for a roster spot next summer.
Beau Allen (7th round, 224th overall)
It’s not easy to find a good backup nose tackle, and there was certainly a dropoff from Bennie Logan to Allen.
The rookie out of Wisconsin ended up playing 17 percent of the snaps in a reserve role.
Allen is the favorite to back Logan up in 2015, but the Eagles could add competition for that spot in the coming months.
Trey Burton (undrafted free agent)
In terms of rookies contributing, Burton was one of the biggest success stories on this list. The tight end out of Florida emerged as a special teams ace on the best special teams unit in the NFL. He had seven special teams tackles, but more importantly, was an outstanding blocker on the return teams.
Offensively, he played just six snaps all season, but that could change in 2015. The expectation here is that James Casey will be let go, and Burton could fill his role as the third tight end.
Cody Parkey (undrafted free agent)
Where would the Eagles have been had they not snagged Parkey from the Colts late in the summer?
Parkey had a tremendous rookie campaign, making 32 of 36 kicks, including all four attempts from 50+.
He was playing with a groin injury for much of the season, which probably influenced his kickoffs. Parkey notched a touchback on 26.94 percent of his attempts (20th). Even so, the Eagles’ kickoff coverage unit ranked second in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders.
The success of kickers can vary from year to year, but Parkey will be the man going into 2015.