Recently we wrote about how members of the Eagles' 2015 NFL Draft class really need to step up in year two. While that's true, there's no greater pressure on any one Eagles draft class than the picks from 2014. It's truly do-or-die time for a lot of those selections. Let's review.
DE Marcus Smith
The long-running debate about who actually decided to draft Marcus Smith with the No. 26 overall pick in 2014 was finally ended (or was it?!) when Howie Roseman owed up to being responsible earlier this offseason. The 24-year-old Smith has obviously been a big bust to this point. In three years with the Eagles, he's only recorded three tackles and 1.5 sacks. That's no good.
It's not like Smith has gotten a lot of playing time and has proven to be bad. It's that he hasn't even been able to get on the field. Part of that was because he didn't do anything good to warrant snaps. It also didn't help that he seemed to be in Chip Kelly's doghouse all the time.
Smith's playing time isn't likely to go up anytime soon. As he transitions back to playing 4-3 defensive end, Smith finds himself behind three players earning starting money on the Eagles' depth chart: Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Connor Barwin. At best, Smith finds himself as the fourth defensive end in the rotation.
The feeling here is Smith gets one last shot and makes the team, but he's hardly a lock. The Eagles might like to trade him for whatever they can get. Trading Smith saves the Eagles a tiny amount of cap space (130,992) while cutting him actually costs the Eagles just under $1 million against the cap.
WR Jordan Matthews
JMatt is clearly Philadelphia's most productive player from the 2014 class. He's the best wide receiver on the team right now, although that isn't saying much. Still, the 23-year-old Matthews has shown promise to this point. Among Eagles players in their first two seasons, Matthews ranks: first in receptions (152), second in yards (1,869), and second in touchdowns (16).
Matthews is far from a perfect player. He still drops the ball way too much. That was an issue for him in college (7.69% drop rate, which is high) and it's been an issue for him in the NFL. PFF claims he had nine drops last season. I personally counted 14, though there's obviously some subjectivity involved. By my calculation, which doesn't account for YAC, Matthews would have had at least one more touchdown and at least 154 more yards if he didn't have any drops.
Another "issue" with Matthews is that he appears to not be much more than a slot receiver. That's not the end of the world, but it potentially limits his role. There's been talk about Matthews playing on the outside but I'll believe it when I see it because he took most of his reps on the inside during spring practices.
WR Josh Huff
I was really high on Josh Huff coming out of Oregon. I used to watch Ducks games because I liked to watch former future Eagles quarterback Marcus Mariota and Huff kept popping up on tape even when I wasn't focusing on him. In the NFL, it's been just the opposite. Huff has largely been too invisible. He's flashed talent at times, sure, but those moments have been few and far between.
Huff struggled in spring practices this year. There's a good chance the 24-year-old receiver loses playing time to the likes of Rueben Randle and/or Chris Givens. The only thing that might be saving Huff's spot on this roster is Philadelphia's severe lack of receiver talent and their need for a kick returner.
DB Jaylen Watkins
Watkins is still around despite being waived by the Eagles in final cuts last summer. The 24-year-old defensive back got a lot of looks at safety during the spring. The good thing about Watkins is he can play both safety and cornerback. The bad thing about Watkins is he hasn't proved to play either position very well. Watkins might have a better chance to stick at safety because the Eagles lack depth there, but there are big concerns about his tackling ability. There's a good chance he doesn't make the final roster.
DT Taylor Hart
Hart didn't play at all as a rookie in 2014. He got playing time last year but never impressed. Now the 25-year-old lineman is switching from being a two-gapping 3-4 defensive end to a 4-3 defensive tackle. The Eagles don't have a lot of defensive tackle depth so Hart has a chance to make the team, but I don't think it happens. Mike Martin took reps over him this spring. The same goes for some of the team's undrafted rookie free agents defensive tackles. Maybe Roseman can swing a deal with Trent Baalke to get Hart reunited with Kelly in San Francisco.
S Ed Reynolds
Reynolds has been cut by the Eagles twice but he still remains. The 24-year-old safety has made some nice contributions on special teams and he can hold his own in coverage. Tackling has been an issue, though. Reynolds missed a whopping eight tackles to the 16 he recorded, according to Pro Football Focus. Reynolds is competing against Watkins and rookie Blake Countess for the role of reserve safety.
DT Beau Allen
The 6-3, 333 pound Allen is transitioning from 3-4 nose tackle to 4-3 defensive tackle. It remains to be seen how he fits in the team's new scheme. Allen hasn't made much of an impact while serving as Bennie Logan's backup since being drafted. He's in the mix to compete for a reserve role this offseason.
Matthews is the only true lock to make Philadelphia's final roster this year. I have Smith and Huff making the team for now, but I can't say it's a guarantee. And assuming that they do make the cut this year, they could easily be gone after this season. There's a real chance Matthews could be the only player from the Eagles' 2014 class on the final 2017 roster.
For some of these players, this summer could not only be their last shot with the Eagles but their last shot in the NFL entirely. It's time to do-or-die.