What we learned about the Eagles from the 2017 draft

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Derek Barnett (USATSI)

Derek Barnett (USATSI)

That was fun, wasn’t it? The 2017 NFL Draft is behind us, and boy were we treated to a show. It had everything; drama, surprise, tears, and just a little bit of that anger that makes Philly fans great (Thanks Drew Pearson). When the dust settled, the Eagles emerged with some new names on the roster, eight to be exact.

Let’s look at some of the things we learned from a wild week in Philadelphia.

The defensive line will get to the QB – The Eagles added a ton of depth to their defensive line this offseason, culminating with the additions of Derek Barnett and Elijah Qualls in the draft. The team came into the offseason looking to improve on their ability to get to the quarterback. Last year, they sacked opposing QB’s 34 times, good for 17th in the NFL.

Barnett should impact those numbers right away: the rookie holds the career sacks record at Tennessee, with 33.0 in just three seasons. His speed, strength, and ability to turn the corner on offensive linemen should pay dividends right away for the Birds.

In addition to adding Barnett, the Eagles acquired big defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who started 15 games for the Baltimore Ravens last year. He is expected to slide next to perennial pro-bowler Fletcher Cox in the starting lineup. The Birds also brought in veteran Chris Long from the Super Bowl Champion Patriots. He will likely come off the bench in his tenth NFL season. These two guys know how to get to the QB, with over 70 career sacks between them.

All of that depth means the Eagles can rotate players in and out, sending fresh bodies to the quarterback every play. If Barnett lives up to the hype, this could be the scariest defensive line in football.

The secondary is still just…eh – Think of the secondary group as the exact opposite of the defensive line: Shallow, unproven, and a cause for concern heading into training camp. The Eagles were expected to focus on the secondary, specifically cornerback, heading into the draft. And while they did do that, grabbing Sidney Jones in the second round and Rasul Douglas in the third, the position group is still a relative question mark headed towards training camp.

Jones is a first-round talent, when healthy. Problem is, we’re not sure “when healthy” will be. Jones suffered a horrific injury during his March Pro Day, completely tearing the tendon in his Achilles. After his successful surgery, it is believed that he will be given Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list, meaning the earliest we will see Jones is Week 9. Depending on his recovery, the team may not see Jones on the field this year. The Eagles got a great player, just maybe not for 2017.

After Jones, the Eagles selected Douglas; a solid, playmaking cornerback. His eight interceptions tied for most in the nation, and was named first-team All-Big 12 after a very successful season at West Virginia. For a third-round pick, Douglas offers great value, and should easily fit into one of the starting corner spots in 2017.

The problem is not Jones or Douglas. The problem is the incumbents. If Jones isn’t ready to go, Jalen Mills would likely start opposite Douglas. Mills is a serviceable player, who played admirably as a seventh-round rookie last year. He started two games last year, and played.. like a seventh-round rookie. He has the skills to play in the league, but his skillset would have him play the slot corner position rather than one of the starting spots.

The secondary has a ton of potential, especially with the defensive line putting pressure on the quarterback. But unless Jones makes it back onto the field at 100%, or Mills makes a leap no one foresees, this position group may again be average, at best.

The front office is taking care of Wentz – Carson Wentz must’ve been watching days two and three of the draft like a kid unwrapping presents on Christmas day. After the spending spree on offense in free agency, the Eagles further added to the arsenal of weapons at Wentz’s disposal. Most notably, the team grabbed speedster receiver Mack Hollins in the fourth round, and then traded up in that same round to nab FBS all-time rushing leader Donnel Pumphrey.

The Eagles are suddenly loaded at wide receiver, one year after having one of the worst groups of pass catchers in the league. Hollins is a big-play threat waiting to happen. His speed (4.53 40-yard dash) combined with his size (6’4, 221 lbs.) makes it possible for him to break off a huge play any time he’s on the field. He’s very raw, and his route running has to improve. But Wentz, with his big arm, has to be dying to get on the field with this guy.

Pumphrey has an obvious NFL comparison that was made even more obvious by the team that drafted him: Darren Sproles. Pumphrey has great vision, the ability to cut on a dime, and adds value as a pass catcher and a return man, much like the aforementioned Sproles. Pumphrey may not end up being an every-down back in the NFL, but having a Sproles clone on the roster for the foreseeable future should excite Wentz and the Eagles.

Wentz showed last year he has all of the physical tools to be a successful QB in the NFL. Now, he has the tools around him. Let’s see what he can do with them.

Philly knows how to throw a party – Ok, not really related to “on-field” activities. But let’s give the city of Philly a round of applause. How great was this draft? The mayor of Philadelphia, the Eagles organization, and the fans did such an incredible job transforming the Philadelphia Museum of Art into the center of the NFL. For three days, all eyes were on the city, and the city responded by breaking the all-time draft attendance record.

It was great to see the fans on full display. Everyone knows the passion that Eagles fans have for their team, but having the draft there brought that ferocity to another level. The energy that you could feel throughout that building felt like an NFL game. The loudness of the boos every time a rival team made a pick was enough to bring a smile to your face, even if you root for those teams. Simply put, the city turned the opportunity to host the draft into one of the most successful NFL events in recent memory. Thank you, Philadelphia.

I’m just one guy, and my opinions have zero weight in this discussion, but the NFL may need to consider giving Philly another shot at this.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know on Twitter! @ZachBonanno

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