Round 1: Derek Barnett
After cementing his legacy at Tennessee by surpassing Reggie White’s sack record, expectations were high for Derek Barnett in his rookie season. Although he played a rotational role, it’s safe to say he surpassed them. Amassing 5 sacks, 21 tackles, 1 FF and 2 recoveries, Barnett was a wrecking ball on the outside for the Eagles, ensuring that the pass-rush didn’t lose any fire when the starting duo were off the field.
The ceiling for Barnett is incredibly high and it’s likely that the Eagles envision him growing into a starting role during the next year or two, especially with the impending contract-year to be had by Brandon Graham. A 2-sack game against the Redskins in the heart of the regular season opened a lot of eyes as to just how dangerous Barnett could become.
It wasn’t just the regular season where Barnett shined either. The 21-year old strip-sacked Case Keenum as the Vikings drove deep into enemy territory down 14-7. Barnett became the first Eagles rookie to record a strip-sack in the postseason since Derrick Burgess in 2002. The fumble helped set up a punishing 76-yard TD drive by the Eagles to extend their lead.
In the Super Bowl, it was the rookie who came up with the ball forced out of Tom Brady’s hands by Brandon Graham. At just 21-years old, Barnett was a part of one of the biggest plays in franchise history. Barnett is well and truly the future of the Eagles pass-rush and an offseason more with Jason Peters, who worked with the Nashville native after practices, could be all it takes to see Barnett raise his game once again.
Round 2: Sidney Jones
The Washington cornerback missed all of his rookie season except one game, a week 17 clash with the Dallas Cowboys. This was expected after Jones suffered a heartbreaking injury during his draft preparations which meant he fell into the laps of the Eagles in round 2 to begin with. How did he get on? Here’s a film breakdown of his Eagles debut.
Jones will likely be entrenched as the starter next season, with Jalen Mills potentially taking over from Patrick Robinson in the slot. After seeing how quickly he took to the NFL level against Dallas, I don’t think many would be mad at such an outcome.
Round 3: Rasul Douglas
The West Virginia product was one of the most pleasant surprises for the Eagles in 2017. When Ronald Darby endured an injury in week one that would mean he misses half of the season, the Birds turned to their third-round pick to step up. There were a few teething problems along the way, but Douglas picked off 2 passes and batted down 11 in his rookie year, an astonishing feat to say the least.
From learning patience on go-routes, to leaping up and contesting every 50/50 ball imaginable, Douglas showed signs of becoming the ballhawk he was regarded as during his time at West Virginia. Douglas has great length and his ball-skills speak for themselves. Turning the fate of your secondary over to a rookie who was bound to get picked on isn’t always going to pan out well, but Douglas was able to swim his way to safety and really take some major steps forward in his development, racking up 25 tackles in the process.
Round 4: Mack Hollins
Backpack Mack proved to the world that he was far more than just a special teams ace in his rookie year. Averaging 14.1 yards per reception, the most of any Eagles receiver, the big-bodied wideout used his deep speed to burn defenses and provide the Eagles with a ‘Chris Hogan’ type injection of explosiveness in his rookie year. 226 yards and a Milly-Rockin 64-yard touchdown against the Redskins put plenty of attention on ‘backpack Mack’.
The Eagles face uncertain times at wide receiver, especially with the future of Torrey Smith. Mack Hollins will be a factor in the receiving game moving forward and his role should become even more prominent as he heads into year two.
Round 4: Donnell Pumphrey
Pumphrey’s rookie year didn’t really go to plan. The former SDSU running back was regarded by many as the heir to the throne currently sat on by Darren Sproles due to his size and explosive versatile nature. However, an injury sustained after a disappointing offseason left Pumphrey on the sidelines, watching on as the Eagles developed a new rushing identity. It’s unclear what the future holds for one of the most elusive backs of the 2016 draft class, but a strong training camp will be absolutely pivotal.
Round 5: Shelton Gibson
Like Pumphrey, Gibson also spent most of his year sidelined after a poor offseason. Mental setbacks and problems with drops and inconsistencies saw Gibson named a healthy scratch for most of the season, until week 17 where he caught a pair of passes for a total of 11 yards. Gibson was active in five games during his rookie year and will need a strong offseason if he is to change his stars in a receiving corps flooded by talent and production.
Round 5: Nate Gerry
Ending his year with 5 tackles, Gerry was originally expected to carve a new role under Jim Schwartz ad a hybrid linebacker in the mold of Kurt Coleman. That process was complicated by the fact that he didn’t really have the strongest of preseason’s or training camp’s. Gerry would instead carve his niche on special teams and work his way up to some defensive snaps when the linebacker depth was tested.
Gerry certainly flashed potential during his limited time on the field and his ability as a Safety at Nebraska needs no introduction. Gerry will be one of the more exciting project players to watch in the offseason to come as Jim Schwartz will aim to find even more ways to use his explosive tackler who just simply needs some extra time to marinate.
Round 6: Elijah Qualls
The Washington defensive tackle ended his season with 4 tackles and was called upon when depth was running low in the trenches. Qualls has an incredible amount of athleticism for someone his size (6’1, 321 lbs) and as the Eagles strive to build that dominant DT rotation, Qualls is going to gradually see more and more time. Destiny Vaeao was largely a non-factor this year which plays perfectly into the hands of Qualls, who will be battling for a 3/4 spot on the roster come Training camp.
UDFA: Corey Clement
Do we even need to describe how impressive Clement was? A candidate for Eagles rookie of the year, the undrafted free agent scored 6 touchdowns in the regular season, all of which came inside the opposing 20. A ferocious red-zone threat, Clement was first trusted with the ball late in games to drain the clock, he did that with ease and began driving the Eagles into further scoring position.
Clement showed a unique blent of someone who can be a bruising runner through the tackles, amassing 321 total yards on the ground in the regular season, and someone who could potentially bring what Sproles took way in a versatile and dynamic threat out of the backfield. His 3 touchdown receptions all contained absurd amounts of athleticism, but none moreso than his 4th, that beautiful touchdown catch in the Super Bowl on a wheel route, thrown perfectly by Nick Foles.
Clement showed all the signs of becoming a top-10 back in the NFL and that is no bold prediction. His ball security, willingness to push through tackles, tough stiff arms and shiftiness out of the backfield paint the picture of a young back who could really take off and soar under Doug Pederson.
UDFA: Jake Elliott
Super. Jake. Elliott. Signed off of the Bengals practice squad in week 2, it didn’t take long for Elliott to make his mark. The iconic 61-yard game-winning field goal against the New York Giants will always stand out as his clutchest kick of all, but Elliott would go on to kick his way through the postseason and then the Super Bowl. Making 26/31 field goals in the regular season, Elliott made 5/6 from 50+ yards. In the playoffs, Eliott didn’t miss a trick, at least from field goal range. Two missed extra point attempts were less than ideal, but for an undrafted rookie kicker, I think it’s safe to say the Eagles have finally found another long-term option at the position.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports