ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. recently re-graded every team's 2015 NFL Draft class. He gave the Eagles a C+ but he also wrote about this group still has potential to be better. Eagles rookies were a mixed bag this past season. Here's a review of how Philadelphia's rookies performed in 2015. I've also included my original predictions for these players from a post I wrote back in May. Let's see how they performed relative to expectations.
Nelson Agholor, WR, USC
Original Prediction: While the Eagles are kind of thin when it comes to proven talent at the wide receiver position, they sure do have a lot of bodies in the mix. Jordan Matthews seems like the only sure returning starter. His role might be expanding. Riley Cooper is trending down and Josh Huff could be trending up. The Eagles are kind of stuck with Cooper's bad contract so will they use him in a platoon role? Is Huff ready to step up and earn more playing time? Then there's Miles Austin. The team gave him $1 million guaranteed, and he doesn't really play special teams, so where does he fit in? The answers to those questions remain to be seen. In the meantime, it shouldn't be hard for Agholor to earn his snaps. He's versatile enough to play at multiple receiver positions. He can also split time fielding punts with Darren Sproles. Agholor might not be a full time starter as a rookie but it seems incredibly safe to say he'll see the field more often than the Eagles 2014 first round pick, Marcus Smith. 70% snaps, 65 receptions, 900 yards, 6 TD.
Review: Agholor clearly struggled as a rookie. He didn't come close to meeting the hype about being a potential rookie of the year candidate. The 22-year-old played 58% of the team's offensive snaps. He finished with a mere 23 receptions for 283 yards and one touchdown. He was penalized five times, fumbled once, and had at least four drops. Agholor graded out as the worst receiver in the NFL by Pro Football Focus.
For the second year in a row, the Eagles got virtually nothing out of their first round pick. There might be more hope for Agholor than there is Marcus Smith, but the USC alumnus is really going to need to step up in his sophomore season.
Eric Rowe, DB, Utah
Original Prediction: This is a tough one to figure out. Chip Kelly seemed to suggest Rowe will be used at cornerback instead of safety but that was before the team drafted JaCorey Sheppard and Randall Evans later in the draft. The Eagles have a gaping hole at safety and it could make more sense to put Rowe there instead. Rowe will have tougher competition trying to earn a starting cornerback spot because he's competing against some veterans like Nolan Carroll, Walter Thurmond, and Brandon Boykin (in theory). I honestly have no idea how Rowe is going to be used. Kind of have to wait this one out. I imagine he'll get on the field at some point.
Review: I didn't predict Rowe's stats or playing time because I wasn't sure about his position or role. It turns out that he played 41.5% of the Eagles' defensive snaps. Most of those snaps came at outside cornerback. He never really played at safety. Rowe was used in some dime sets early in the year before becoming the full time starter on the outside after Nolan Carroll went down to a season-ending injury. After getting destroyed by Calvin Johnson on Thanksgiving, Rowe showed some promise down the stretch. He figures to be a starter on the outside in 2016.
Jordan Hicks, ILB, Texas
Original Prediction: The Hicks pick may have been confusing, but it's really easy to see where he fits in on the team. He'll be a backup player who might see some rotational snaps at times. He'll also be expected to contribute on special teams. Hicks could potentially be a future starter. ~10% defensive snaps
Review: Oops! My Hicks prediction was way too modest. In fairness, Hicks was only really forced into action after the Eagles suffered a lot of injuries at inside linebacker. The original plan wasn't to make him a full time starter. But there's no denying Hicks was brilliant as a rookie. He was on pace to be the best defensive rookie in the NFL last season prior to suffering a season-ending injury. Hicks played 37.1% of the team's defensive snaps and finished with 42 tackles, two interceptions, one defensive touchdown, three passes defensed, one forced fumble, three fumble recoveries, and one sack. He also basically derailed the Cowboys' entire 2015 season by injuring Tony Romo in Week 2. Hicks looks like he can be a stud for years to come as long as he can stay healthy.
JaCorey Shepherd, CB, Kansas
Original Prediction: The cornerback position is crowded, especially if the Eagles end up keeping Rowe there. It would seem like Shepherd doesn't have much of a chance to contend for a starting job right away but he could serve as depth on the outside. Depth and special teams.
Review: Shepherd went down with a season-ending injury during training camp. It's a shame for him because he looked good during spring and summer practices. He was clearly in line to be the starting nickel cornerback after the team traded Brandon Boykin to the Steelers. Shepherd will likely have a chance to fill that slot role moving forward.
Randall Evans, CB, Kansas State
Original Prediction: Evans could figure in as the backup slot cornerback to Brandon Boykin and/or Walter Thurmond. Depth and special teams.
Review: Evans spent most of the season on the practice squad before getting called up to the active roster in Week 17. He'll likely be competing for a depth job at the outside cornerback positiion this offseason.
Original Prediction: Mihalik is huge and athletic. He'll compete for a depth roster spot but he might find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to final cuts. The team could try to find a way to keep him on the practice squad.
Review: Mihalik was signed to the Eagles' practice squad but then was released a few weeks later and hasn't had a sniff from the NFL since. This was a wasted pick for the Birds.
Undrafted rookie free agents
Denzel Rice was Philadelphia's lowest rated undrafted free agent signing. Despite this, he defied expectations by showing up in training camp practices and the preseason. Rice showed a knack for consistently making plays on the ball. He didn't really play as a rookie but he'll be able to compete for a depth job again this season.
Final judgement: Overall, my predictions weren't very accurate. Agholor underperformed. Hicks overperformed. I wasn't even sure what to expect out of Rowe. None of the other three picks really even played. This class still has some potential. I don't think they're doomed to fail. Year 2 will be very critical for these players, however.