Eagles Wake-Up Call: On the 2014 Draft Class
Today’s question comes from reader Jeffrey via email. He had a lot to say, so I will just paraphrase here to give you the gist:
I was reading your roster projection, and it made me think about what a colossal failure the 2014 draft has been. Other than Jordan Matthews and Beau Allen, it was total trash. Champions pick Pro Bowlers on Day 3 and don’t totally blow first-round picks. Chip Kelly’s player selection in the draft could be his undoing. Would love to hear your thoughts.
We projected roles for rookies last week, so might as well go over second-year players today. Here’s a player-by-player look at where things stand with the guys taken in the 2014 draft.
Marcus Smith, OLB – I have joked all offseason that I’m the only person on his bandwagon if anybody wants to give me company. The truth is there are not a lot of positives to point to so far. Only one first-round pick played fewer snaps than Smith last season. He jumped around from outside linebacker to inside linebacker. And this spring he’s battled a groin injury. Best-case scenario for 2015 is that Smith improves and gets on the field as the third outside linebacker behind Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham. Maybe he flashes pass-rushing potential, displays his versatility and competes for a starting spot in 2016.
But there are obviously no guarantees that those things happen. Smith has the measurables and appears to have the work ethic. It is just a matter of putting it all together. If he gets beaten out by Travis Long for the No. 3 OLB job, the cries of “bust” will be deafening.
Jordan Matthews, WR – Reader Jeffrey made the point that between Matthews’ work ethic and physical tools, it would be tough for him to fail. And I tend to agree with him. The floor with Matthews is high. He already showed last year that at the very least he can be one of the more productive slot receivers in the game. It will be fascinating to see how much he can grow. I personally think he has the tools to win on the outside, although I know Kelly likes him in the slot. But either way, Matthews is going to be on the field for more snaps in his second season. I think everyone’s probably in agreement that he’s going to be a good player for years to come.
Josh Huff, WR – I sense that the fan base has gotten behind Huff this offseason. He certainly made his share of mistakes last year, but showed a few flashes. The thing with Huff is there’s not one trait he can really hang his hat on. He’s not the fastest guy, and he’s not the biggest guy. Huff is rocked up and can be a very physical receiver capable of making plays with the ball in his hands. But certain things are going to have to happen for him to have an impact – perhaps most importantly, he’ll have to stay healthy. I think Huff has a chance to make some noise this year, but he has plenty to prove.
Jaylen Watkins, CB/S – He’s probably the toughest guy on this list to project.
Asked if Watkins was playing more nickel or outside in practice, Kelly said: “I don’t know. That’s a good question for him. I mean, he’s playing outside. I’ve seen him in the slot. I’ve seen him at safety. I know he’s playing defensive back, so.”
One would think Watkins’ best shot at getting on the field would be at safety, but there’s been no indication that he’s made an imprint there. At this point, he probably needs a strong August to make the 53-man roster.
Taylor Hart, DL – Kelly said that last year was basically a redshirt season for Hart. Scheme familiarity and coaching should not be issues for him, considering Hart played for Jerry Azzinaro at Oregon. He needed to get stronger in the offseason and will now look to beat out Brandon Bair for a spot in the defensive line rotation. If he can’t make that jump, it might not happen here for Hart.
Ed Reynolds, S – He missed most of last spring because of the NCAA graduation rule and then didn’t make the 53-man roster coming out of training camp. Reynolds is another player who has to impress during training camp to make the roster. He’ll also have to prove he can be an asset on special teams.
Beau Allen, NT – He played 17 percent of the snaps last year as Bennie Logan’s backup. There was certainly a dropoff in 2014 going from the Eagles’ first-team defensive line to the second-team defensive line. But if Allen can develop into a solid backup, that’s good value for a seventh-round pick.
Overall, there are still a lot of questions that need to be answered about this class. But the spotlight is on Smith. If he develops, the overall group will look a lot better. If he doesn’t, that’s what everyone will remember.
WHAT YOU MISSED
Three Eagles numbers that matter: On the pass rush, a surprising Nick Foles stat and the run game under Kelly.
“We like the position flexibility.” T-Mac on the Eagles’ new-look secondary.
Some of you may have noticed that we received some tough news about loyal reader/commenter Andy having suffered a stroke last week. Per his wife Sarah, Andy (Andy Six Score and Four) is doing much better. Just wanted to take a moment to wish him a speedy recovery from the entire Birds 24/7 family. We need you back here before the preseason, so get well soon!
WHAT THEY’RE SAYING
Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice has some notes on the Eagles’ secondary, which is ninth-youngest in the NFL:
Of the four projected starters, Rowe is the most likely projection to be incorrect. He’ll battle it out with Nolan Carroll (28) in training camp for the starting job opposite Maxwell. So far Rowe has looked good in OTAs and minicamp, and has impressed the coaching staff. If the competition is even close, I think the Eagles would be wise to let Rowe play, take his lumps early, learn from them, and be a smarter player for the stretch run.
Geoff Mosher of CSN Philly offers some thoughts on the Eagles’ No. 3 tight end, Trey Burton:
Burton moves into the No. 3 tight end role that James Casey occupied last year but has the potential to make more of an impact on the offense than Casey did. Casey, also an excellent special teamer, had decent hands and blocked well. He earned some occasional snaps in 12 personnel and caught three passes in each of his two years in Chip Kelly’s offense, twice catching a sleeping defense for a touchdown. Burton is more polished in the passing game and can be another reliable target across the middle if the Eagles feature some two tight-end packages with him and Zach Ertz or in the backfield if the Eagles are hit with injuries at running back. Burton played all over the field at Florida and once rushed for five touchdowns in a game, so he can line up anywhere. Kelly doesn’t like to overwork rookies, but with one year under his belt Burton could see some action on the offense this year. He played just six snaps last year, all coming in a blowout of the Giants after Darren Sproles went down with a knee sprain. Burton has future No. 2 tight end potential.
We’ll take a look at what the national media are saying about the Birds.