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The Eagles' Halfway Point: Rookie Progress Report

How's the 2016 Eagles Draft Class looking?

William Hauser-USA TODAY Sports

The Eagles have stumbled a bit as of late, due to a lot of factors. The reality is that the team overachieved to start the season, and this rebuild was far from being a quick fix.

And that's OK!

A lot of important pieces on the team are young and need time to mature in the league. The 2016 draft class put a lot of new pieces in place for the Eagles, so how have they fared eight games into their young careers...

Wentz Wagon Wheels Wobble

Over the first three weeks of the season, Carson Wentz looked every bit the stud quarterback the Eagles fell in love with to move up in the draft and make him the future of their franchise. However, he has fallen back to earth in the five weeks since and has looked more rookie than not.

Like any rookie quarterback, Wentz has had a lot of frustrating moments where he has made poor decisions throwing the ball, taking bad sacks, or being inaccurate. It has not all come crashing down, however. The team around him is struggling and Wentz can only do so much on his own as a rookie. Wentz has had moments in the last five weeks that show that even though the team, and him, have been struggling, there is still a ton of reasons for optimism.

Every week there are a handful of throws and moments that are impressive and exciting. However, Wentz absolutely needs to get better at not making negative plays under pressure. Too often his throwing mechanics regress or he'll take bad sacks. Wentz has a playmaker's mentality, which means he will always try to do too much. That's a great thing to have, but hopefully with time he will learn to temper that and know when to live to play another down.

Overall, Wentz has been solid. There was no way he was going to keep on with his incredible play from early in the season, but it would be nice to see him dig himself out of the hole he has been in for the last few games. He certainly has the mental fortitude to rebound.

Mills Island has several airports, a bridge and an open harbor.

Jalen Mills should not be a starter at this point in his career. The former seventh round pick has, unsurprisingly, been overmatched at cornerback, often lining up across from some of the best receivers in the NFL.

While the Eagles aren't exactly flush with cornerback talent, Mills has easily been the worst of the bunch and is a liability on a down to down basis. This is not to say he has no future, as he certainly has moments that can be encouraging, but overall there is no reason he should be starting on this football team.

He should probably start making actual defensive plays before he starts wagging his damn finger all the time.

Wendell's  Small Sample

In the barren wasteland that is the Eagles' offensive skill positions, Wendell Smallwood has offered glimmers of hope for the future. Though he has not gotten to touch the ball very much, there is some reason for positivity going forward.

Smallwood looked excellent when he got a handful of carries against the Steelers and his athletic ability was on full display when he blazed for a kick return touchdown against Washington. Smallwood has not seen the field much due to some fumbling issues, but the talent is very evident.

I am still of the belief that the Eagles should invest a premium pick in the running back position this coming offseason, but Smallwood deserves more carries going forward to see what he has.

Big V's Rebound

Halapoulivaati Vaitai had a memorable debut against Washington's defense. However, it wasn't memorable in the "wow, just won the lottery!" type of way, but rather memorable in the "a plane full of horse manure crashed into my house" type of way.

Asking a fifth round pick to open his career against one of the better defenders in the league in Ryan Kerrigan was just an invite for the disaster it was. However, Vaitai has quietly been playing better and better each week since that game. Of course he will still have his rookie moments, but he has played admirably solid football and looks like he could be a player going forward.

Hopefully the Eagles will be able to rely on Lane Johnson after he returns from suspension going forward, because Vaitai may be able to be the Eagles right tackle of the future once Lane moves over to fill Jason Peters' shoes.

Rotational Destiny

The Eagles have seen some solid play out of rookie undrafted free agent Destiny Vaeao at the defensive tackle position. The 6-3, 295 former Washington State player has seen a healthy amount of snaps in the Eagles defensive line rotation and those numbers have gone up with Bennie Logan being out the last few weeks. Vaeao has played with a ton of strength and has a very high motor that has helped him notch two sacks this season.

Vaeao will probably have a lot more opportunities over the course of this season to make plays in the Eagles rotation and with Bennie Logan set to be a free agent after the season, the presence of Vaeao and Beau Allen may make Logan expendable.

"Nice" Treggs

Bryce Treggs had 69 yards in his debut. That's the joke.

But in all seriousness, the rookie receiver out of Cal that the Eagles picked up from San Francisco's practice squad had more yards in his rookie debut than Nelson Agholor has had in any game in his career. Treggs is an outstanding athlete who averaged 20 yards per catch his final year at Cal. He never got to put up huge numbers in an offense that spread the ball around, but his talent was evident and still is. He had a huge catch against the Giants that showed off his speed and the Eagles would be smart to get him more involved in the coming weeks.

***

Overall the Eagles have gotten a ton of contribution from their rookie class to this point and frankly there is more reason for optimism than not. Even with Wentz' relative regression from his hot start and Mills' abysmal play, the positive plays that Wentz has made plus Halapoulivaati Vaitai's improvement are huge positives for the team going forward.

Around the NFC East

  • Sterling Shepard has been an outstanding number two receiver for the Giants. His speed and polish as a player have been an asset to the team and playing across from Odell Beckham means he has plenty of opportunities to show out, as evidenced by his touchdown against the Eagles this past week.
  • Ezekiel Elliott already has one thousand yards from scrimmage halfway into the season and looks like he will be threatening Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. He is every bit as good as he was made out to be prior to the draft. He will no doubt be a pain in the ass to play for the next few years.
  • Similarly, Dak Prescott has been a revelation for the Cowboys. He has led them to the best record in the NFC and has gotten better as the season has gone on. Not only has he been playing well, but he has been very poised for such a young player and has done well in adversity. Against the Eagles last week, his ability to rebound from a rough first half to lead the Cowboys to a win in overtime is a major mark of maturity. Frankly, the Cowboys would be smart to ride out the season with Prescott because he looks like the future of their franchise.
  • Maliek Collins has been another Cowboy to make a positive impact. Though he had been dealing with injuries and was playing as a rotational guy, he is coming off a big game where he divested the Browns for two sacks. He is a great athlete, so it will be something if the Cowboys can harness that ability going forward.