There have been plenty of narratives to follow during Doug Pederson’s first season as an NFL Head Coach, but one of the most exciting has been a focus on development. The Eagles drafted plenty of rookies this season as well as signing a multitude of undrafted free agents to the roster. It’s surprising that so many were able to make an impact throughout the season, but just how impressive were the Eagles rookie class of 2016?
The man needs no real introduction. Drafted second overall by the Eagles, Wentz was expected to sit his rookie year behind Sam Bradford, learning the ropes and the marinating under the tutelage of Chase Daniel. Instead, Wentz set a rookie record for most passes attempted in a regular season, as well as ending the year with 3,782 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Various accolades including Rookie Of The Week and NFC Offensive Player Of The Week rewarded the incredible early form of Wentz, while a hot start and big wins over the likes of Minnesota, Atlanta and New York did the rest.
It wasn’t all Sunshine and Rainbows for the pride of North Dakota State. But whenever Wentz appeared to hit a Wall or present a flaw in his play, it would be corrected within a week. The long release that was slated by the Browns was absent in week 2 against the Bears. The decisions to slide when scrambling became far more educated and Wentz as a result grew into a far more confident quarterback outside the pocket. His tendencies to stare down receivers, once punished by the Seahawks, began to dissipate.
This season was always intended to be one of growth for Carson Wentz and it proved to be just that. Wentz didn’t just grow as a Leader, but as a quarterback, a teammate and a person. Watching Wentz develop and overcome problems each and every week was truly one of the bright spots in a bumpy 2016 campaign. If there’s one thing we know, it’s that the future is very, very bright for the face of the Franchise.
After a Baptism of Fire against the Washington Redskins, it’s safe to say that expectations were low for Big-V. But a resurgent 2016 saw him fill the hole left by Franchise RT Lane Johnson adequately. Vaitai flashed during his rookie year and as he began to build chemistry with the rest of the Offensive line, his play also improved.
Offensive line depth was a weakness in 2015 and given how heavily it was relied upon in Pederson’s first year as Head Coach, that problem has now become a strength for the Eagles. Vaitai was a major part of that and without his growing consistency, the Eagles would have struggled much more than they did.
In his rookie year, Vaitai was forced to line up against the likes of Minnesota, Seattle and the team that humiliated him during his debut. The TCU product isn’t the most explosive Right Tackle in the league, but showed enough promise to prove himself worthy of a third-round pick and even more worthy of a spot on the Eagles Offensive line. Cementing his role as a potential replacement for when Johnson takes over the Left Tackle throne, Vaitai’s first year in the NFL was greeted with a steep learning curve..but one that really shaped his future.
The Eagles third round pick didn’t make the immediate impact many thought, although he proved to be a valued member of the Offensive line depth as the season progressed. What was really impressive was just how versatile he proved to be.
Playing at all of the following positions: LG, RG, RT, LT & swing this year, Seumalo rarely put a foot wrong and was absolutely vital in later adapting a zonal rushing attack. His consistency simply has to be applauded and his start in the season finale was just as impressive.
He may not have had the same spotlight as Big-V, but he shined just as brightly.
The Eagles running back was called on much more than he perhaps thought in 2016, rushing for 312 yards and a touchdown on 77 attempts. An injury cut his impressive campaign short, along with a chance to prove himself worthy of a featured role in the Offense, but Smallwood arguably did that in flurries during his first year.
A big game against the Falcons in which he averaged 5.4 yards per carry may have been the highlight for Smallwood, who continued to punch it up the gut efficiently for the Eagles as the season drew on.
Smallwood didn’t have the most exciting campaign and in a backfield littered with inconsistency, it would have been nice to see more. But 2016 unfolded as a solid start to his career.
The seventh round pick shone during Training camp and after the Eagles traded Eric Rowe to the Patriots, became an integral part of the Eagles cornerback depth. But nobody expected Mills to get his first taste of NFL action as early as the opening game of the season..just as nobody expected him to develop as quickly as he has.
From covering the likes of former teammate Odell Beckham Jr, to taking on Slot responsibilities, Mills encountered just about every situation possible in his rookie year. He was burned badly he recovered well and he hit hard. But what was really impressive, like Wentz, was his ability to learn from his mistakes.
In the early games of his rookie season, Mills was far too soft in zone coverage. This allowed wide receivers to dominate comeback routes and curls, creating acres of separation and leaving Mills constantly having to make up for lost ground. He often was near the top of the tackle stats on the team as a result. But as the year went on, this problem seemed to remove itself from the play of Jalen Mills.
After Jim Schwartz criticized Mills for playing with his back to the ball, he became much more aware of his receiver’s presence. The trademark finger wag snuck its way into his play, as the confidence began to blossom after some big plays.
Mills is by no-means a shutdown corner….yet. But his development not only saw him emerge as one of the most impressive rookies on the team, but one of the most impressive corners on the roster. It’s safe to say that the team are right to build the position around the Green Goblin, who painted a very bright picture in his rookie year.
He may have only rushed the ball 19 times for 64-yards, but the undrafted rookie who stuck around after being signed by the team during the offseason was able to flash plenty of potential in his first carries as an NFL running back.
It’s rare to see someone’s style adapt and evolve in a one-game period..but that’s exactly what we saw from Marshall against the Ravens. He then responded by averaging 4.2 yards per carry against the Cowboys in the final game of the year.
The Eagles backfield is ripe with uncertainty as of right now..but there’s one thing that should be a lock..and that’s Marshall’s spot on the active roster.
The undrafted DT found himself beating Aziz Shittu to a spot on the final roster and then earning snaps alongside Beau Allen throughout 2016. With Bennie Logan’s future anything but clear, Vaeao made sure to capitalize on every opportunity given.
Ending the year with 15 tackles, 2 sacks and a forced fumble, Vaeao was just as disruptive as he was during the preseason..which is exactly what the Doctor ordered. Vaeao’s bursts of tenacious play might not be enough to sway the Eagles into handing him a starting role, but Destiny Vaeao was easily one of the unsung heroes of 2016.
The Eagles acquired one more player at the time they signed Bryce Treggs off waivers, former Patriots linebacker, Kamu Grugier-Hill. Although he’s rarely played Defensively, KGH has had a massive impact on Fipp’s special teams unit, playing in 42% of snaps.
The hard-hitting linebacker has acted as depth at a position that lacks it, but more importantly has emerged as a very cost friendly weapon for the Eagles ever impressive Special Teams.
After a stunning catch in his debut, the hype around the former Niners receiver began to quieten down. Treggs ended his rookie year with just 3 catches for 80 yards and played in just nine games. Like DGB, Treggs was signed so late in the proceedings that it took a while to get the playbook down. This not only hampered his development within the team, but also hurt his chances of making an impact.
It remains to be seen if the Eagles will retain Treggs, but missing a deep catch in the finale, as he appeared to pull away from the end of the route when Cowboys Safety J.J Wilcox closed in, really doesn’t help his chances. It’s safe to say that the undrafted rookie was certainly capable of more in his rookie year.
The preseason hero himself, Paul Turner’s name is one that was heard incessantly throughout 2016 until he was finally activated. The man who led the NFL in receiving yards during preseason caught 9 passes for 126-yards in his rookie year, further disproving those who said he was too small to play the position.
A huge game against the Bengals followed by a nice end to the season against Dallas showed the Eagles coaching staff that chemistry really does matter. Turner worked with Wentz avidly during the offseason, as the then third-string quarterback spent plenty of time building a rapport. The Eagles need stability on the outside and Turner caught 8/14 passes thrown his way.
A first touchdown still alluded him, but Turner’s activation was followed by big plays and impressive catches. Turner stole the Hearts of the Philadelphia faithful..and he will be looking to do so in an increased role next year.
Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports