Over the past couple of years, I’ve taken a dive into keeping up to date with Eagles draft classes. How did they fare during their stint in Midnight green? Who moved on to greener pastures? Which players became unexpected heroes, while others fell from grace?
With there still being a while before Training Camp will open, I thought it’s a perfect time to look at the last draft of an era. Chip Kelly took the GM reins in 2015 and orchestrated a truly shocking offseason. Jeremy Maclin was released, Byron Maxwell and DeMarco Murray were given salivating deals, while Brandon Graham was deservedly given an extension. If that wasn’t chaotic enough, just wait until we revisit his lone shot at having full-control over a draft class…
Round 1 (Pick 20): Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
There’s so much to say about this pick in retrospect. Agholor did most of his damage from the slot during his days at USC, which made the decision to push him outside as a replacement for Jeremy Maclin a puzzling one. He caught just 23 passes for 283 yards and a touchdown as a rookie.
Under Doug Pederson, Agholor moved into the slot, but the concentration issues and drops followed him inside. This led to Pederson essentially benching him for a few weeks, keeping him away from the growing pressure and intense spotlight that his flaws had drawn.
After an offseason of reflection, Agholor burst out of the gate with a new sense of confidence in 2017 and ended that season with 768 yards, 8 touchdowns, and a Super Bowl ring. He became a key cog in the team’s miraculous run and finally showed the type of form that fans had been begging to see.
One year later, the wheels started to wobble once more, but another 736-yard season at least proved that he could replicate the form from one year ago, if not with a few more mistakes.
Then came 2019. The team picked up his fifth-year option, only for Agholor’s old mental setbacks to creep up on him. 363 receiving yards really don’t highlight just how significant the dropoff was here. The lack of effort on certain drops, woeful misses when attempting to track the deep ball, and an injury, all added up to a flailing disappointment.
Agholor’s time in Philadelphia was nothing short of torrid. There were highs and nobody can take away his contributions to the Super Bowl team…but for every touchdown, there was a drop, a setback, or evidence of a player struggling to get out of his own way.
He signed a one-year deal with the Raiders after entering free agency worth under $1M. It’ll be a good chance for him to start in a fresh city with a transient market and no weight of expectation, but his stint in Philadelphia was disappointing at best.
Round 2 (pick 47) Eric Rowe, CB, Utah
This still sings. Eric Rowe had such great potential for the Eagles and his tenure was cut short after…one season.
In his rookie year, Rowe amassed 31 tackles and an interception after enduring a trial by fire on “Megatron island”. He did show some real potential early on, including an impressive game against the Patriots…who would spot that untapped ability and snatch it from the Eagles less than a year later.
With a new era beginning, it rapidly became clear that like Rasul Douglas after him, Rowe’s game just didn’t quite fit the Jim Schwartz system. The team were obliterated through the air in preseason and on September 7th, Rowe was traded to the team he allowed 42 yards against on 12 targets, with 2 pass breakups to his name.
Rowe spent three years with the Patriots, where he won two Super Bowl rings (and one runner-up pat on the back thanks to the team that drafted him) before signing a one-year $3.5M deal with the Dolphins.
After a stunning eight passes defensed in his first year, the Fins decided to give him a three-year extension worth $18M. Rowe moved from cornerback up to safety after cluster injuries, and his first real impact would symbolically come against the Eagles where he covered Zach Ertz.
Rowe amassed 81 tackles last season and now projects to be an important piece of the Dolphins secondary. For a player who had comfort ripped away after just one year, it’s nice to see him doing better than most in this draft class.
Round 3 (pick 84) Jordan Hicks, LB, Texas
It’s time to get back in our feelings again.
It really did not take Hicks long to make an impact. In just two years with the team, he had 135 tackles and 3 interceptions, taking the baton from DeMeco Ryans as a dominant leader over the middle. Simba had risen, but there was one thing keeping him from leading the Animal Kingdom to greatness.
Hicks became a fan favorite during his short time with the Eagles, with some stunning plays against the Dallas Cowboys sending him straight into celebrity status. But for all his production and athleticism, the point remains that he had only played one full season since being drafted by the team up until last offseason when he walked away. With 15 appearances combined in 2015 & 2017, it became clear that the whole reason Hicks slipped into the laps of the Eagles to begin with, would be the reason he couldn’t stay forever. When healthy, Hicks becomes a natural leader in the defense…but when he’s not, his absence stings massively.
But then came a bitter twist of the knife. The Cardinals signed the former Eagles linebacker to a 4-year contract with $20M guaranteed, $36M altogether this past offseason and in a year where the Eagles linebacking corps was ravaged of depth and productivity, he went on to record 150 tackles, 7 QB hits, 6 passes defensed, and 16 starts.
The one that got away…
Round 6 (Pick 191) JaCorey Shepherd, CB, Kansas
After a hamstring injury lowered his draft stock, the Eagles took a chance on the former Jayhawk and Shepherd was regarded as one of the steals of the Draft. Shepherd enjoyed a strong Spring, turning heads and constantly making plays throughout OTA’s and Minicamp..but things took a turn for the worst in early August.
He continued the good run of form in the early stages of training camp before a collision with Darren Sproles on the sideline sent him to the ground in pain. Shepherd had torn his ACL and as a result, would miss his rookie season.
The worst possible thing happened next, from the eyes of Shepherd. Chip Kelly was dismissed and Jim Schwartz revamped the defense, bringing in Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks to run alongside Nolan Carroll. Then, there was the drafting of Blake Countess and Jalen Mills. The Mountain to climb was intimidating for a player missing most of the offseason rehabbing.
After being released by the Eagles, who else but Chip Kelly’s Niners would poach him almost instantly? Shepherd was plunged into action and averaged 34.7 yards on three kickoff returns against the Saints, playing in 22.47% of special teams snaps for the remainder of the season.
Following that short stint, he caught on with the Steelers but was unable to make the final roster.
After a brief year away, Shepherd surprisingly popped up on the Birmingham Iron roster in the AAF, where was rotating on and off of the roster before the season started.
This remains a really disappointing pick. I had high hopes for his career and the dominos just didn’t fall in his favor. Maybe he’ll push back onto an NFL roster one day, but as of right now, he remains without a team.
Round 6 (pick 196) Randall Evans, CB, Kansas State
Evans failed to make the Eagles’ roster in 2015 and would spend the next two years trying to fight his way off of the Chargers practice squad. While that didn’t go to plan, it did lead him to to the CFL.
A brief stint with the Tiger Cats was met with some CFL preseason action and was followed by one with the Redblacks, where the 28-year-old made 68 tackles in 2019 at cornerback and Safety. Ottawa handed him a one-year extension as a result, giving the Redblacks a solid backup DB.
Round 7 ( Pick 237) Brian Mihalik, DE, Boston College
A true late-round flyer, Mihalik couldn’t quite show enough as a 3-4 DE. The 6’9 (yes, 6’9) 295 lbs project may well have had a better ceiling under Schwartz as a defensive tackle, but that’s a debate for another day.
The Steelers, who had previously found great success in converting Alejandro Villanueva to offensive tackle just one year prior (and shared similar freak athletic profiles), decided to work out the athletic monster and handed him a contract.
Mihalik strained his MCL in the presason opener against Detroit, but it would be the Lions who offered him his next opportunity. He actually went on to start a few games for the Lions, who got a good look at him in that preseason game. The Steelers came knocking a few months later and poached him off of Detroit’s practice squad.
Pittsburgh waived him next season and surprise, the Lions were the team to snatch him back, listing him as a backup behind Greg Robinson. That backup role would follow him to New York (not Pittsburgh) in 2018, but he’d be waived the following offseason and spent the 2019 campaign without a team.
It’s actually surprising to see someone cut so soon into their career stay kicking around the NFL this long, let alone someone who moved from DE to OT. Hopefully there are more pages to this story when football resumes.