The NFL Draft Circus has left a silence in Philadelphia. The hundreds of thousands of fans who were screaming the fight song at the top of their lungs are now back to work, and the Eagles are moving in the right direction. There’s no controversy..nothing to worry about..and no real developing stories. This means that our attention now turns to rookie minicamp and OTA’s, and more importantly, what impact each of the eight new arrivals will have on the Eagles 2017 season.
Round 1: DE, Derek Barnett
This should go without saying, but Barnett is among those drafted with the expectation of making an immediate impact as a starter. Many would project Barnett to start alongside Brandon Graham in his rookie season, bringing an immediate upgrade to the position, with a burst of explosiveness to a pass rush that thrives on it.
Brandon Graham played in 75% of the team’s defensive snaps last season and is still seen as the premier threat on the outside. Jim Schwartz seems to lean toward defensive line efforts by committee, so it’s likely that Barnett may play in 60%-70% of snaps on the defensive side of the ball in 2017, leaving the excess to be earned and distributed among the likes of Marcus Smith and Steven Means.
It’s a little too early to make production based predictions, but with Schwartz allowing his players to set their own stunts, the skill set that Barnett brings is like that of a versatile running back. It opens up so much in the way of possibilities when it comes to setting the edge and crashing through the trenches to harass the quarterback.
Barnett’s college stats need no introduction by now, and everybody is aware of the sack record he broke last year, one previously owned by Reggie White. It would be safe to say Barnett will be an integral cog in the Jim Schwartz Defense..and a cog that could put up some stunning numbers in his rookie season.
Round 2: CB, Sidney Jones
Unfortunately, the impact of Sidney Jones on the 2017 season will be minimal for the Eagles. It’s not yet known whether the Washington standout will be able to play a snap during the upcoming season, but even if he does, it will likely be in a reduced role to ensure his health and a full recovery are the main priorities.
Off the field, this will likely be a redshirt year for Jones. A chance to learn the ins and outs of the Defense, to study the Eagles and help assert his impressive leadership role in the film-room, by helping a group of young corners through what could be a rollercoaster year.
Round 3: CB, Rasul Douglas
The former West Virginia corner has the perfect complimentary skill set to start alongside Sidney Jones in years to come..but for this season, it’s a chance to really show what he can do. With competition at cornerback still wide open, the race for a starting role is anyones..but the Eagles’ third round pick is certainly among the front runners.
Douglas is a dinner cornerback who plays with exceptional instincts and the ability to dissect routes within seconds. Balancing keeping his eyes on the quarterback with his contact on the receiver, feeling the route down the sideline, this year may prove to be one of growth..but it’s a season he can use to his advantage. If Douglas is able to refine his technique and build upon an already solid foundation, the Eagles CB corps will be even stronger by the time Jones returns. At the very least, Douglas adds value on special teams..and at the most, he’s one of two starting outside corners heading into week one.
Round 4: WR, Mack Hollins
Having recently broke down game tape on the former North Carolina wideout, it’s clear to see Hollins has the potential to be far more than a special teamer, or a potential long-term replacement for Dorial Green-Beckham.
Competition at wide receiver is ripe..and this 6’4, notorious deep-threat, who averaged 24.8 yards per reception for North Carolina, may be in line to snag a stern role on the depth chart. Hollins makes some great adjustments on potential incompletions, helping his quarterback and going the extra mile to haul in some overthrown passes, while possessing some impressive route running for someone of his size.
The Eagles craved two things last year; a deep threat..and a redzone target. Hollins ticks both boxes and even though he may not start in 2017, he could well be in line to play in 40%-50% of offensive snaps, following in the footsteps of DGB, while also contributing on Fipp’s prestigious special teams unit, hat lacked receiver help entirely in 2016.
Round 4: RB, Donnel Pumphrey
The most prolific rusher in FBS history, Donnel Pumphrey comes into an extremely versatile backfield that is still in need of a three-down back. Could the San Diego State product prove to be the player they crave? This is the debate currently setting social media ablaze..and one that could extend deep into the heart of training camp. One thing is for sure, Pumphrey will contribute in 2017..and he will have a bigger impact than you think in Pederson’s Offense..regardless of whether he acts as a change of pace back, or has a heavier workload.
As the only player in FBS history with at least 5,000 rushing yards and 1,000 receiving yards, Pumphrey shattered school records, passing Marshall Faulk’s records in his final season. With six 200+ yard rushing games under his belt and 14 of 150+. Production is something that follows Pumphrey wherever he goes..and whether it’s kick returns, catching unsuspecting defenses off-guard, or carrying his low center of gravity through linebackers at the second level, Pumphrey will be a name who could raise a lot of eyebrows in 2017..the question is, what role will he fulfilling when raising them?
Round 5: WR, Shelton Gibson
Shelton Gibson was able to turn heads under-the-radar with a 4.39 40-yard dash, improving his previously recorded time of 4.5 drastically. But it’s his ability to take the top off of a defense that really shines through hen turning attention to the tape. Used as a perennial home-run hitter during his days at West Virginia, in 32 games, Gibson had 1,898 yards, averaging 22.6 yards per catch..and for good measures, 17 trips to the end zone. The 5’11. 191 lbs, wideout was targeted on deep looks 29 times. Of the 17 that were labelled “Catchable”, he hauled in each and every one for 726 yards and a score. In the last two seasons alone, 36% of his receptions went for 25 yards or more. So when we’re talking about the expectation for Shelton Gibson, the answer is all too simple.
Gibson is a wideout with incredible YAC ability and one who also shows as a willing blocker in setting up screens. Due to being almost marginalized at times on nearly nothing but vertical routes in college, Gibson has a lot of untapped potential and could well have the “Chris Hogan” effect that the team tried so hard to find with Bryce Treggs last year. He may not contribute as often as Mack Hollins, but a special teamer who can torch defenses for huge-plays at a moments notice, expect to see Gibson’s name pop up more than a few times when talking about memorable Carson Wentz touchdown passes in 2017.
Round 5: LB, Nathan Gerry
Gerry is perhaps the most intriguing prospect when discussing the impacts of rookies on the Eagles roster next season, because he’s such an unknown. After being named third-team All-Big Ten in 2016, with 68 tackles, four picks and eight pass breakups, Gerry looked set to compete at the next level. His 6’2, 218 lbs, frame certainly fits a DB prototype..but the Eagles seem intent to move him to linebacker and play him inside the box.
The Eagles were notably thin at linebacker coming into the draft, and it’s interesting that they didn’t actually draft one, instead deciding to kill two birds with one stone. Teams are seemingly coveting safeties who can charge down and contribute in the run, or wrap up a quarterback. Just ask Malcolm Jenkins, Kam Chancellor, Patrick Chung, and Tyrann Mathieu. Gerry fits that mold perfectly and would allow Jenkins to stay atop the final line of Defense, while allowing the explosive playmaker to contribute as a coverage linebacker inside the box, or a Safety when needed.
At the very minimum, Gerry will be a huge contributor for Fipp’s special teams unit..but he has the frame, skill set and aggression to be the Eagles most versatile defensive weapon drafted in this years class..and that brings with it a LOT of excitement for the season ahead.
Round 6: DT, Elijah Qualls
A former teammate of Sidney Jones, Qualls stands at 6’1 and weighs 313 lbs. Surprisingly, despite his impressive size, Qualls was used all across the Washington front four in 2016. A natural 3-technique, Qualls is beyond explosive, amassing 38 tackles, 3 sacks and 5 TFL in 2016.
With Jernigan and Cox manning the trenches and Beau Allen’s injury damaging his chances of playing in all 16 games, the addition of Qualls means that the Eagles can keep a solid rotation as they did in 2016, with Destiny Vaeao being the other part of the puzzle. A versatile lineman who is huge in run stopping, replacing the quality that Bennie Logan took with him to Kansas City, the production of Destiny Vaeao could be a strong template when looking ahead to what 2017 holds for this dominant defensive lineman.
What are your predictions for how this year’s draft class will contribute in the season ahead? Let us know in the comments!
Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports