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Eagles 2014 NFL Draft Review: How did rookies perform relative to expectations?

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How are you feeling about the Eagles 2014 draft?

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Whereas the Philadelphia Eagles drafted some quality impact players in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 NFL Draft class did not provide much of an impact for Philadelphia. The team's first round pick only played 105 snaps the entire season (defense and special teams combined). Two players were never even active for a regular season game. To say this draft class is a abject failure would be rushing to judgement, but Philadelphia is going to need some of these players to step up in the future.

Here's a review of how the Eagles rookies performed in 2014. I've also included my original predictions for these rookies from a post I wrote back in May. Let's see how they did.

Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville

Original Prediction: Heavy rotational linebacker and key backup. With Connor Barwin and Trent Cole as the starters on the outside, Smith will find playing time coming off the bench. Smith could play backup at either position (ROLB or LOLB) but I imagine they will try to rotate him with Cole. Perhaps Cole could be more effective as a pass rusher with less snaps. Another thing to watch with Smith is if the Eagles will line him up on the inside. DeMeco Ryans played almost the entirety of the Eagles defensive snaps last year. He's still a very good force against the run but he just doesn't have the ideal speed in coverage. Smith could come in on third downs in place of Ryans since he can both rush and cover. Just something to think about. In any case, I imagine the Eagles will want to be creative with Smith. ~40% defensive snaps, 4.5 sacks, 2 batted passes, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass defensed.

Review: Oops. Like many, I overestimated Smith's rookie role. As mentioned earlier, the Eagles' first round pick only played a mere 105 snaps in his first season. The problem with my prediction is that I didn't account for Brandon Graham, which was a bad mistake. While it was disappointing not to see Smith contribute more, in hindsight my expectations didn't make any sense.

The Eagles really only used three outside linebackers in 2013: Trent Cole, Connor Barwin, and Brandon Graham. The fourth outside linebacker was... inside linebacker Casey Matthews, who barely saw any time at that position (70 snaps). Smith basically replaced Matthews in that role in 2014 (74 snaps). Smith was stuck behind players playing well in front of him: Barwin made the Pro Bowl, Cole finished with 6.5 sacks and three forced fumbles, and Graham really excelled as a rotational pass rusher. It wasn't like the players in front of him struggled and he couldn't get on the field.

As for the in-season switch to inside linebacker, that experiment didn't seem to go very well. The transition clearly wasn't easy for Smith.

Moving forward, Smith has a lot of ground to make up and it's going to be hard for the Eagles to count on him as a sure thing considering he's so unproven. Heck, the Eagles admitted they don't even know what Smith's future position will be. My vision for Smith is a player in Barwin's mold: not a natural pass rusher that dominates his blockers but a guy who can make plays with his athleticism, set the edge, and drop into coverage. He's got a long way to go before he reaches a player of Barwin's caliber, but that seems to be the goal.

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt

Original Prediction: Starting slot receiver. The Eagles will likely move Matthews around on offense but Chip Kelly even admitted Matthews figures in as the team's starter on the inside. Kelly wants Matthews matched up against smaller NFL slot cornerbacks. Matthews will be a weapon in the red zone and useful as a run blocker in open space. 65% offensive snaps, 40 catches, 510 yards, 4 TD.

Review: I nailed the playing time prediction: Matthews played exactly 65% of the Eagles' snaps in 2014. I underestimated his stats, however. He finished with 67 receptions, 876 yards, and 8 TD. Matthews had a great season for a rookie and he's still only 22. He led the team in drops so that's an issue that needs to improve, but otherwise he looks like a real promising player for the future. Matthews could be a solid fixture in the slot for the Eagles for years to come.

Josh Huff, WR, Oregon

Original Prediction: Offensive role player, fourth receiver, and key special teams contributor. Huff's addition gives the Eagles the flexibility to run more four wide receiver sets. That's not something they did very often in 2013. I'm sure it was related to a lack of personnel. Huff is also no stranger to blocking. He will contribute on special teams on the coverage unit and possibly as a returner. ~10% offensive snaps, 10 catches, 100 yards, 1 TD, 15 rush yards.

Review: Huff ended up playing 17.9% of the team's offensive snaps, made eight receptions for 97 yards, 0 TD, and had seven rushing yards. He proved to be heck of a blocker and made significant contributions on special teams. He returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, though only one in the regular season.

Huff's rookie season wasn't without major struggles: he fumbled in the red-zone against Arizona, he batted a ball that was picked off against the Houston Texans, he dropped four passes on only 17 targets, and so on. Despite this, the team remains high on him, and for good reason. The former Oregon Duck flashed explosive ability in limited playing time. It would be ideal for the Eagles to see Huff beat out the much-maligned Riley Cooper for more playing time. Huff may not reach his potential, but if he does, the Eagles will have another nice offensive weapon on their hands.

Jaylen Watkins, DB, Florida

Original Prediction: Depth corner, limited role player, and special teams contributor. Most of Watkins' playing time will come on special teams but he could also line up in a number of places on the Eagles' defense: outside corner, nickel corner, dime corner, and even some looks at safety. ~10% defensive snaps, 1 pass defensed.

Review: Watkins only ended up playing about 3% of the team's defensive snaps. The majority of that playing time came in Week 17 against the New York Giants. Watkins was torched by fellow rookie Odell Beckham Jr. after falling down in coverage but also made an impressive pass break-up. Watkins will be in the mix at an Eagles cornerback position that needs some major upgrades. He'll have to earn his shot, however.

Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon

Original Prediction: Rotational defensive lineman off the bench. The Eagles will use Hart in a regular but limited rotation. He may line up in different spots but ideally he'll be the team's 4-technique. ~20% defensive snaps, 1.5 sacks, 1 batted pass.

Review: Totally wrong on this one because Hart didn't even play a single snap. To be fair, virtually no one expected Brandon Bair to earn a spot on the team like he did. Like Marcus Smith, Hart ended up being stuck behind a number of talented players at his position: Fletcher Cox, Cedric Thornton, Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair. The Eagles really only use four defensive ends, so there just wasn't room for Hart. Moving forward, Hart needs to find a way to beat out a player like Bair.

Ed Reynolds, S, Stanford

Original Prediction: Depth safety, special teams contributor. Like Watkins, I expect most of Reynolds' playing time to come on special teams. He might not have much of a role in the actual defense right away. 90% special teams snaps.

Review: I correctly predicted Reynolds wouldn't have a big impact, but I did expect him to make the team. He spent the entire 2014 season on the practice squad. Some have pointed out how the signing of Chris Prosinski and Jerome Couplin shows the Eagles are down on Reynolds, but I don't necessarily agree. Prosinski was a proven special teams veteran who is more reliable than almost any rookie on special teams. As for Couplin, he never actually saw any playing time. He was just a glorified practice squad member that Philadelphia stole off of the Lions' practice squad. Reynolds has a lot of ground to make up for sure, but he'll have a chance to earn a roster spot likely as a depth safety in the summer.

Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin

Original Prediction: Situational nose tackle and key backup. Allen will likely rotate off the bench in a limited role with starting NT Bennie Logan. 10% snaps, 1 fat guy touchdown.

Review: Allen played 16.9% of the team's defensive snaps in the role that I predicted: a backup rotational nose tackle. He looked capable enough in his limited role. Not fat guy touchdown, unfortunately.

And now for the undrafted free agents that made the team:

Cody Parkey, PK, Auburn

What a surprise Cody Parkey was as a rookie. It looked like the Eagles were going to enter the season with a major question mark at kicker (see: Alex Henery) before he came along. Parkey finished his rookie season 32/36 (88.9%) from field goal range, which ranked tied for eighth best. His longest kick was 54 yards and he was a perfect 4-4 from kicks attempted from 50 yards or longer. Parkey made all 54 of his extra point attempts. His 145 total points eclipsed David Akers' former Eagles record and also broke the NFL rookie scoring record set by Bears kicker Kevin Butler in 1985.

Trey Burton, TE, Florida

The Florida alum was a key member of the Eagles special teams coverage and return units. Burton recorded six special teams tackles along with one assisted. He blocked a punt which was recovered by Brad Smith in the end-zone for a touchdown in Philadelphia's Week 4 game against the San Francisco 49ers. Burton also scored first career touchdown on a New York Giants punt that James Casey blocked in Week 17. Pro Football Focus graded Burton as their top rookie special teams player.


Final judgement: Overall, I think my predictions weren't too far off-base. There wasn't much immediate impact to be expected here. This still class has a lot to prove and there's obviously no guarantee they'll turn out well. But for now there's still hope for some of these prospects. This class could turn out to be an acquired taste. It doesn't give off the best impression at first but with time it might grow on you.