Much has been made of the fact that the seven players the Philadelphia Eagles selected in the 2014 NFL Draft might not be immediate contributors. First round pick Marcus Smith is learning behind veteran linebacker Trent Cole and Connor Barwin. Second round selection Jordan Matthews is fighting with veteran receiver Brad Smith for the starting slot position. And so on.
While these rookies may not be major contributors in their first season, they have the potential to become core players in the future. For now, however, the more interesting draft class to focus on is the one that took place last year. The 2013 Eagles draft class features a number of players who are ready to step up in their second season.
OT Lane Johnson
The Eagles first selection from 2013 (No. 4 overall) had an up and down rookie season. There were moments where Johnson's athleticism was on full display and it was a thing of beauty. Johnson was effective moving in space and getting to the second level. An area where Johnson could improve is in pass protection. The former Oklahoma Sooner has spent the 2014 offseason adding weight and building strength. Johnson, who weighed 310 in his rookie season, gained 7 pounds and is now up to 317. Johnson figures to once again be the team's starting right tackle before he eventually takes over at left tackle in the future.
TE Zach Ertz
I remember some being upset when the Eagles used a second round pick on a tight end last year. That shouldn't be the case now. In the context of rookie tight ends, Ertz put up some really impressive numbers in 2013. Ertz also found more success as the season went along. He admitted he got off to a slow start, which wasn't helped by the fact he missed Eagles offseason workouts while finishing up classes at Stanford. Ertz has had a full offseason in the team's program and could take a big leap forward in 2014. The only issue here is that the Eagles still have Brent Celek and he's a better blocker than Ertz. Blocking from wide receivers and tight ends remains very important in Chip Kelly's run heavy offense.
NT Bennie Logan
Bennie Logan loves playing nose tackle. He also added around 6 pounds of muscle this offseason (from 309 to 315). I wrote about Logan last week: "While Logan may never be the massive nose tackle that some clamor for, he seems to be the perfect nose tackle for what the Eagles want. Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis tends to value athletic, attacking players at the nose as opposed to a big body run stuffer. The Eagles drafted a situational bigger NT in the former of seventh round rookie Beau Allen, but expect Logan to be the one handling the bulk of the NT snaps." I know Logan has some doubters, but I can't shake the feeling Logan is going to surprise some people in a good way.
QB Matt Barkley
Second year QB Matt Barkley is currently running with the third string unit in Eagles OTAs but he has every chance to beat out veteran Mark Sanchez for the No. 2 QB job. Barkley struggled in his rookie season so he needs to show some progress this offseason.
Wolff was beating out Patrick Chung for a starting job at one point last season until Wolff's season effectively ended with a leg injury. The Eagles signed Malcolm Jenkins this offseason so that one safety spot is locked in. The second one comes down to a position battle between Wolff and incumbent veteran Nate Allen. At this point, Allen has the advantage. Wolff will have to play well enough to unseat Allen.
DE Joe Kruger
Kruger is another player I've talked about recently. "After suffering an injury late in the preseason, Kruger was placed on the Eagles' injured reserve list and missed the entire season. While he wasn't able to officially practice with the team, Kruger was able to take advantage of the time off and work on getting stronger. According to an interview with PE.com, Kruger has added about 20 pounds since last offseason. He currently weighs in at 290." Kruger is fighting for a backup defensive line job.
The Eagles have a few returning players who signed as undrafted free agents last year.
DL Damion Square struggled as the team's backup nose tackle and will battle against rookie NT Beau Allen. RB Matthew Tucker spent last season on the practice squad and then the active roster but didn't really play. Tucker has a chance to win a job if the Eagles keep four RBs again in 2014. OL Matt Tobin is a player who the Eagles are reportedly high on. He could be the second lineman off the bench after Allen Barbre. Last, but not least, there's LB Jake Knott. Knott is suspended for the first four games of the season but the team seemed to like him last year. He played well on special teams and offers depth at a position where the Eagles lack it.
Really not a bad group overall. The Eagles have at least a couple starters here plus the potential to have some key role players. Having depth doesn't hurt either.