This year’s draft was a transformative one for the Eagles. Not only did they boldly trade up to acquire their quarterback of the future, but the team shifted their visions and direction in order to address needs with a “low-risk, high-reward” mentality. After a string of hit and miss drafts and with Howie Roseman’s accountability now on the line, the Eagles needed this draft to be unlike the others, a draft in which the fortress for Carson Wentz can begin to be built.
But while the aim was for the long-term future to be fortified, it’s surprising to see that nine games into 2016, just how much impact the rookies have had on the current season.
First round pick: Carson Wentz
Pass completions: 202/311, 65%
Average yards per pass: 6.8
Perhaps the biggest surprise this season has been the sudden emergence of Carson Wentz. When it was announced that the rookie would be putting the team on his shoulders in 2016, there was a sense of hesitation and low expectation, as many prepared for a developmental season.
Instead, the North Dakota State standout is undefeated at home and has led the Eagles to five wins this season, while staying competitive in every game the team have played. There have been flurries of mistakes, as to be expected with any rookie quarterback, but the maturity, leadership, accuracy and confidence have all stunned the league. From racking up awards to setting records, Wentz had a dream start to his career.
The Eagles put all their chips on the table when drafting Carson Wentz..and did so once again in trading Sam Bradford. The effect that the young signal caller has had on this team is absolutely huge and although still incredibly early in his career, Wentz has been the key cog in the Eagles Offensive machine.
Third round pick: Isaac Seumalo
Seumalo saw 13 snaps on Sunday as an extra blocker..and although his impact has been minimal to this point, he looked solid. The depth on the line has surprisingly been a major strength despite the absence of Lane Johnson.
Having said that, with injuries still shadowing over the unit and the Bye-week long gone, Seumalo’s involvement in the Offense may increase in coming weeks.
Fifth round pick: Wendell Smallwoood
The Eagles fifth round pick has steadily seen his role grow as the season has progressed. After scoring his first touchdown against the Steelers in week 3, the campaign for Smallwood to see more carries has only grown stronger.
A fumble against the Cowboys may have dented the confidence of the rookie and the coaching staff, but he responded brilliantly in his 13 carries against the Falcons, rushing for 70 yards and averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
Smallwood is incredibly explosive and has shown his ability to make big plays, amassing a 19 yard carry in each of his last two games. In fact, his longest run has only been under 10 yards in four of the eight game’s he’s rushed the football.
There’s no doubt that the Eagles are developing a very talented and versatile running back, who also has a 14 yard reception under his belt..and his presence in the committee backfield has been growing ever prominent in recent weeks, as he continues to contribute in big ways and help the birds move the chains.
With four running backs on the roster, there was no guarantee that Smallwood would “break out” in this fashion or see as much action as he has. But turning heads with some big rushes and tough runs have certainly had a major impact on the Offense.
Fifth round pick: Halapoulivaati Vaitai
After enduring a baptism of fire against the Redskins, Vaitai has slowly emerged as a solid replacement for Lane Johnson. The development has been fun to watch and the rookie out of TCU has actually helped improve the efficiency of the Line, with penalties plummeting since his arrival.
After his first game, there was naturally a lot of concern over whether or not Vaitai was ready for the NFL. He’s since displaced those worries and has held his own in recent games.
Sixth round pick: Blake Countess
Surprisingly, Blake Countess was waived by the Eagles on September 3rd after falling victim to an intense overcrowded Secondary battle, both at Corner and Safety. However, it didn’t take Countess long to find a new team, with the LA Rams taking a chance on him just one day after he was released by the Eagles.
Seventh round pick: Jalen Mills
Passes Defensed: 4
Watching Jalen Mills develop has been one of the most exciting parts of the season. After a poor preseason was followed by nervous play in his opening games, Mills has found his feet in the NFL and emerged as a solid option in however the Eagles choose to use him.
With depth at cornerback being minimal and the effects of that amplified with injuries, Mills has been turned to and relied on in recent weeks but has exceeded expectations, battling head on with Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr.
Mills is carving his role in the Eagles Defense, adapting a leadership role for someone so young and seeing his play improve each and every week. There is definitely a case for Jalen Mills to be named most improved player of the year..and his effect on the Defense has been tremendous.
Seventh round pick: Alex McCalister
Placed on injured reserve back in August, McCalister is spending his rookie season on the sidelines, learning the Jim Schwartz Defense and the NFL from an outside perspective. The explosive 6’6, 254lb DE was primed to fight for a depth roster spot this season..but will instead be looking to re-ignite that fire when he’s fully healthy next year.
Seventh round pick: Joe Walker
There was a lot of excitement surrounding the former Oregon Ducks linebacker..and understandably so. A big Training Camp followed by an impressive preseason raised a few eyebrows as Walker was set to develop alongside Jordan Hicks, Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bradham.
Walker suffered a torn-ACL against the Steelers in preseason, prompting the Eagles to sign veteran Stephen Tulloch, but there’s no doubt that Walker flashed his ability and extremely high ceiling during his limited action in the Summer.
This list is of course failing to mention undrafted rookies Destiny Vaeao and Bryce Treggs. Both of whom have had impressive outings this season in situations where they were needed. C.J Smith and Aaron Grymes are now both ready to be inserted into a game should cornerback depth continue to hurt the Eagles, meaning that up to four undrafted rookies could be contributing to the Eagles in the coming weeks.
The birds may have the fifth oldest roster in the league, but they are getting a heavy dose of young blood this season..and it’s proving to be a huge factor in the team’s early success under Doug Pederson.