If year 2 is an NFL player's "leap year" where he makes his biggest jump in terms of understanding the game and being physically able to play it, year 3 is really his "make it or break it" year. By year 3, he may be still be seen as a young player, but he's approaching veteran status. He may still be learning the game, but learning ceases to be an excuse for him. And while there may be plenty of examples of players who earn starting jobs later in their career, most of the best have locked down a starting spot by their third year.
So let's take a look at the Eagles at the year 3 expectations of the Eagles 2010 draft class. Note that I'm only going to go over guys that are still on the team, because if they're not then obviously they haven't "made it."
Brandon Graham, DE - There's probably no player on this roster who better exemplifies how year 3 is make it or break it. Even though Graham has yet to play a full season and therefore hasn't really had the opportunity to go through all the growing pains most guys do, the fact is that when you're as high a pick as Graham is your expectations are a lot higher. And three years in, the expectations are that Graham has to produce and do so at a pretty high level. For me to feel really good about Graham this season, I'd like to see him relegate Jason Babin to a pass down only specialist at some point. Whether that means he's technically called a starter or not isn't really that important, but he should be playing as many if not more snaps than Babin before this year is over.
Nate Allen, S - Allen's career has followed a pretty solid trajectory so far and heading into year 3 things seem to be on track. He showed a lot of early promise as a rookie, but his play fell off later in the year. Last season he struggled early, both with injuries and consistency but really finished strong. He looks to have the starting free safety spot locked down heading into year 3, so it's really time for him to make it his own. That means not only playing well with consistency, but also staying healthy.
Trevard Lindley CB - Lindley was cut prior to last season, but re-signed after it was over. So while he may be a long shot, he's here. The good news for Lindley is that CB spot is a little more open than it was last season. The Eagles had 4 corners heading into last year all but assured of a roster spot (Samuel, Asomugha, DRC & Hanson) as well as a rookie in Curtis Marsh who they weren't going to cut. With Samuel out, that mean an extra roster spot is there to be had. Plus, Hanson's place isn't as secure as it was and neither is Marsh's. However, Boykin probably takes that place as the unlikely to be cut rookie. I'd be surprised if Lindley makes the team, but in a lot of ways he's got a better shot this year than he did last.
Keenan Clayton, OLB - Another great example of a make it or break it guy. Clayton undoubtedly has a lot of athletic ability, but he may be a man without a position. He's fast, but probably not fast enough to play safety. He's got some size at 6-1, but may be a little light at around 230 to be an every down LB. In year 3 though, he's got to be something. There's more competition at LB than in recent years, so Clayton has to separate himself somewhere. That somewhere, by the way, may be on special teams.
We'll do part 2 starting with Mike Kafka tomorrow.