Flying or falling? Grading the Eagles Draft class through first half of preseason

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We’re halfway into the Eagles preseason and there is understandably a hefty focus on this year’s rookies. Perhaps it’s because so many have the potential to become starters or are expected to contribute in their first season. It’s been an exciting offseason for the Eagles and an incredibly exciting group of rookies acted as the Cherry on the Cake. But with two preseason games and a lot of depth chart decisions remaining, have those expectations changed? Here’s a closer look at each rookie as we head into week 3 of preseason.

 

Derek Barnett:
Tackles: 4
QB Hits: 2
Sacks: 4

To say that the Tennessee pass-rusher has lived up to expectation so far would be an understatement. His hustle has been backed up by numbers and his development can be seen at such an early stage, leading many to believe he could potentially challenge Vinny Curry for the starting DE spot before the end of the regular season.

From nurturing a counter-move with the help of Jason Peters, to showing that trademark ankle flexion time after time along with an unrelenting motor to hunt Tyrod Taylor down, Barnett has been exceptional so far.

Grade: A

 

Rasul Douglas:
Tackles: 3
Passes Defensed: 1

The long WVU cornerback has struggled with consistency throughout training camp and although once expected to be a starter alongside Jalen Mills should Patrick Robinson struggle, that weight has now been lifted with the arrival of Ronald Darby. This gives Douglas some much needed breathing room in a preseason where development is still clearly key. His footwork and play-recognition is still often called into question, especially in man-coverage looks where Douglas struggles to keep the play ahead of him.

The promising signs are there however. Douglas had a nice pass breakup against the Bills and appeared a little more comfortable when drawn down to the line of scrimmage. There’s a long way to go however until he unseats Jalen Mills or Patrick Robinson for a starting or top backup role.

Grade: C

 

Mack Hollins:
Tar/Rec: 10/5
Yards: 70
Touchdowns: 1

Hollins burst out of the gate with a huge touchdown against the Green Bay Packers in week one of preseason. A strong Training Camp was supported by a 64-yard preseason debut which contained his first NFL touchdown out of the slot. His size and speed combination matched with some incredibly crisp route running make him a danger from anywhere on the field, not just on special teams.

One week later, he was targeted five times but through no real faults of his own, struggled to catch anything thrown his way. Wayward passes were common when Hollins was on the field, but the big-body target still registered a short catch.

At this stage, his safe on the final 53 appears to be relatively cemented…the only question at this stage is how much of an offensive role will Hollins see in his rookie year? He has the physicality and explosiveness to work out of the slot, with the frame and speed to be a reliable deep-threat as shown at UNC. It’s an interesting predicament for the Eagles, and one that preseason will continue to answer.

Grade: A-

 

Donnel Pumphrey:
Carries: 7
Yards: 2
Tar/Rec: 7/8
Rec yards: 32

Pumphrey’s preseason has been interesting to say the least. The Eagles running back had a very promising Training Camp and OTA period and was widely expected to turn heads during preseason. An average of 1.3 YPC against the Packers and -1 YPC against the Bills paint the picture of anything but an explosive dual-threat running back.

Pumphrey made a nice receiving play against the Bills, finally showcasing his ability to make defenders miss and create something out of nothing. When running the ball however, Pumphrey is being swallowed up before he even gets to the minimal holes opened by his linemen. Admittedly, his offensive linemen haven’t been the most reliable when it comes to setting lanes and pulling blocks, but other running backs (including a similarly skilled Byron Marshall) have been able to produce…so why can’t Pumphrey?

He’s not in danger of missing out on the Eagles 53-man roster and his receptions show the versatility that the Eagles fell in love with…but it hasn’t been a strong start by anyone’s standards.

Grade: C

 

Shelton Gibson:
Tar/Rec: 9/2
Yards: 12

The second wide receiver drafted by the Eagles has had a far more turbulent offseason. An apparent drop issue plagued Gibson at the dawn of OTA’s and lingered ever since. When preseason rolled around, it was clear Gibson had come a long way with some camp flashes under his belt…but was it too little, too late?

Gibson struggled against the Packers. He was targeted 7 times and caught just two passes in an effort that was disappointing at best. One week later, he didn’t register a single catch…but not for the want of trying. In fact, Dane Evans took a home-run shot on Gibson deep down the field and although the pass was knocked away, a PI flag was thrown and it gave the Eagles a fresh set of downs at the one-yard line, ultimately leading them to a crucial touchdown.

Gibson is by no-means a lock to make the roster, but the improvement can be seen. Unfortunately, his flashes of potential thus far have been met with several question marks, all while Mack Hollins, Greg Ward Jr. and Marcus Johnson continue to turn heads.

Grade: D

 

 

Nate Gerry:
Tackles: 4

To say the former Nebraska Safety has adapted well to playing inside the box would be an understatement. Of course, it’s easy to think of one missed tackle this preseason when looking back, but at a closer glance Gerry has been extremely exciting to work. Whether it’s sitting in contain, picking up runners out of the backfield, or coming down like a ton of bricks on his opponents, Gerry truly has the coverage tendencies of a Safety, with the hitting power of a Linebacker.

Gerry will be a player worth watching when the Phins are in town next week and he’s been quietly having a very, very promising preseason. The expectation here is to simply find his niche at a linebacker spot that lacks starting depth outside Hicks, Bradham and arguably Kendricks. He’s ticking all the boxes so far.

Grade: B

 

Elijah Qualls
Tackles: 3

The big-bodied former Washington DT has had a strong Training Camp for the Eagles and preseason looked to start in the same way. With some big plays against Green Bay that showed off his ability to get inside and use his rare athleticism to spin off of his blocks, Qualls proved what we all knew; His thick base and impressive level of athleticism could be a worthy addition to the Eagles Defense.

An encroachment penalty on 4th & 3 against the Bills however turned out to be costly. Justin Hamilton began to see some more time at DT as the battle in the trenches unfolds with Gabe Wright watching on intensely. Qualls has had a strong showing as a run-defender and someone who can have the “Fletch effect”, as he helped Alex McCalister to a sack in his first taste of NFL experience, but it’s going to take a little more to secure his spot on the final 53, especially with such a hungry pack behind him.

Grade: B-

 

Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

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