All the picks are in, and if you listen to their new teams talk about them, they’re all going to be All-Pros in a year or two. The reality, of course, is that more of the Eagles’ picks will end up on the practice squad rather than the Pro Bowl. That’s the nature of the NFL draft, where everybody thinks they got exactly what they needed to become contenders, and then they finally put in the pads and discover that, hey, Marcus Smith really can’t play.
In case you’re not familiar with the Eagles’ depth chart, Smith, a defensive end, is a former first-round pick who has been a bust from Day 1, and the Eagles have reportedly declined to pick up his contract option, the first step toward releasing him. And that is why the Eagles had to use another first-round pick on another defensive end this year, when they selected Tennessee’s Derek Barnett with the 14th overall pick in last week’s draft.
Then the Eagles brass said lots of nice things about Barnett, just like they did about Smith in 2014. See if you can guess which player is being talked about in these two comments – one is about Smith and the other about Barnett.
“He’s got a high motor and he’s a tough, hard-nosed football player.”
“He plays with an attitude and gives great effort on every snap of the football.”
It could be either one, right? Well, the first quote is from former coach Chip Kelly about Smith and the second quote is from current director of pro personnel Joe Douglas about Barnett.
So, everybody looks good on draft day, even the seventh-round picks. When you listen to personnel people gush over their new players, you’re convinced they’re all going to play prominent roles in the future of their teams. The truth is that a few will become stars, some will become solid players and a bunch will never even play in a real NFL game.
With that in mind, here are the Eagles’ 2017 draft picks who will actually earn their money as rookies:
Defensive end Derek Barnett, Tennessee (1st round, 14th overall): This could be a terrific choice, which is why we predicted before the draft that the Eagles would select Barnett.
The Eagles desperately need a potent pass rush, and even though other defensive ends are stronger and faster, few if any get to the quarterback as well as this Barnett, who finished his college career with 30 sacks in 39 games. And that’s the difference between Barnett and someone like Smith – Barnett is a finisher. It’s like basketball – a lot of guys can make fancy moves and get to the hoop, but not all of them can then put the ball through the hoop.
Barnett may not be the starter in Week 1, but the Eagles rotate their d-linemen frequently and he’ll get plenty of chances to prove he deserves that high draft-day status.
Cornerback Rasul Douglas, (3rd round, 99th overall): He should have an immediate impact simply because the Eagles are so thin at cornerback, especially with second-round pick Sidney Jones sidelined indefinitely with a torn Achilles tendon.
Douglas could even win a starting job, but, again, that’s because the two players who go into training camp ahead of him on the depth chart – Javon Mills and Patrick Robinson – haven’t really proven themselves as top-flight corners. Even if he doesn’t start, Douglas will see plenty of action against three- and four-receiver sets, which are becoming more and more the norm in the NFL these days.
Wide receiver Mack Hollins, (4th round, 118th overall): How much he plays on offense will be determined by what the Eagles decide to do with under-achieving veterans Nelson Agholor and Dorial Greene-Beckham. The Eagles will go to training camp with a starting trio of Alshon Jeffrey, Torrey Smith and Jordan Matthews, and if they decide to part ways with Agholor and Greene-Beckham, then Hollins will get a chance to play. Even if the Eagles decide to stay with the veterans and let Hollins and fellow rookie receiver Shelton Gibson sit and learn, Hollins will have an impact on special teams – he was special teams captain at North Carolina for four straight years, so you know that he takes that role seriously, unlike many other college stars. Delaware fans got a good look at Hollins in 2015, when he caught three passes for 100 yards, including touchdowns of 33 and 64 yards, in the Tar Heels’ 41-14 victory over the Blue Hens.
Running back Donnel Pumphrey (4th round, 132nd overall): Like Hollins, Pumphrey’s playing time as a rookie will depend on what happens with the veterans in front of him. Right now, the Eagles have two vets on their depth chart, Darren Sproles and Smyrna native Wendell Smallwood, who missed the final three games last year as a rookie because of a knee injury. Sproles is too old and small to be an every-down back and he’s too valuable as a versatile runner-receiver to limit him to just carrying the ball. Smallwood showed flashes last season, he’s hardly a proven commodity. The Eagles could also sign another veteran runner before the season begins, but as it stands now Pumphrey should get a chance to show what he can do.
Wide receiver Shelton Gibson (fifth round, 166th overall): Like Hollins, Gibson’s fate will be decided by what the Eagles do with Agholor and Greene-Beckham. Also like Hollins, Gibson is a deep threat (he averaged more than 20 yards per reception last year and scored 17 TDs) and the Eagles may be intrigued by that speed and big-play ability and decide to throw the two young receivers into the deep end of the pool. That will be an interesting part of training camp and the preseason, as the two young guns compete against each other for playing time. Then it will be up to them to either sink – like Marcus Smith – or swim.