Two weeks into preseason, with the September 11th matchup against Cleveland looming, the Eagles are getting a lot of their young players' feet wet. After an offseason in which the team made a massive overhaul on the offensive side of the ball through the draft, including adding the presumptive franchise quarterback, there is much intrigue to how the young players are looking so far. Of course, it is important to to take everything with a grain of salt: There are a lot of jitters to work out in preseason for younger players, plus the scheming and level of talent being faced often pales in comparison to what an NFL regular season game will look like. Nonetheless, it is notable to see who is standing out early in the process and track throughout the season how this class fares and improves.
Most notable is the Eagles' future, Carson Wentz. The 23 year old rookie out of North Dakota state got a bulk of the playing time in the Eagles preseason debut. His playing time came against players who will most likely not be starting, but there was a lot to think about his introduction to the NFL. The numbers did not look great for Wentz because he was inconsistent. His accuracy was all over the place, he missed some hot reads and his feet were a mess. Under pressure, Wentz only completed three of twelve passes, throwing a pick in the red zone to add to a down night. Of course, he was not aided by the talent around him, an issue that Eagles signal callers were plagued by all of last season, but he himself looked like the raw player he was coming out of NDSU. However, it was incredibly encouraging to see the way he carried himself in his first game. Wentz' best trait as a draft prospect was his composure and confidence as a passer. Despite dealing with bad throws, drops and taking big hits, Wentz was constantly coming back to bat, never once looking scared. That was his defining trait and will really determine if he sinks or swims in the NFL, so it was encouraging to see it on display against Tampa two weeks ago. Another concern is Wentz' health and ability to protect himself. Not unlike other Eagles quarterbacks in recent history, Wentz tends to hold onto the ball for too long and does not have great sense of things going on around him, which can lead to taking massive hits. Wentz suffered a rib injury after taking a huge shot against Tampa and since he is not new to getting injured, as he missed a significant amount of time at NDSU, the Eagles need to really focus on getting Wentz to make decisions faster. None of these things are new, which is actually a good thing. No one really likes to be surprised in preseason, especially in the first game, because that means that something went wrong during the evaluation or coaching process.
Besides Wentz, the biggest name in the Eagles draft class is Isaac Seumalo, the versatile offensive lineman from Oregon State. Seumalo has looked better with every snap over the last two games, flashing his ability to make a positive impact as a run and pass blocker. It is going to be huge for the Eagles if Seumalo can continue his upward trajectory, because putting him inside the line with Jason Kelce and Brandon Brooks, with Jason Peters still holding it down on the outside, could make the offensive line a serious strength for the team this season, even wight Lane Johnson's absence.
One of the Eagles biggest needs going into the offseason was re-upping their running game. Between Ryan Mathews' health and Darren Sproles' age, it seemed imperative that Philly added some youth to the running back depth chart. They answered that need with drafting Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round. Despite getting good reviews from the coaching staff, Smallwood has not seen the field yet for the Eagles in preseason, which is a worry for him considering how well Kenjon Barner is playing. It's a bit disappointing that he has not been able to come out and play yet, but injuries are injuries and need to be taken seriously. However, as of now, it looks like he is battling Byron Marshall for the fourth RB spot and the team may like Marshall for his receiving ability.
Other Observations, including around the NFC East:
- Rookie UDFA, Paul Turner looks like a keeper. He has made plays where other receivers have not and after Jordan Matthews, Dorial Green Beckham and Nelson Agholor, the receiver depth chart is wide open for Turner to climb. Overall, the Eagles crop of UDFAs has made more of a relative impact than their draft class.
- Despite garnering rave reviews in camp, Jalen Mills has been disappointing. While his ability is evident as a defensive back, he still needs to adjust to the game above the shoulders. Not surprising for a rookie corner.
- Despite Ezekiel Elliot stealing the headlines for Dallas' draft class, it has been Dak Prescott who has impressed the last two weeks. Prescott has been poised, accurate and decisive, posting a near perfect passer rating through his two games. Of course, he is playing behind a tremendous offensive line and against vanilla preseason coverages, but it's impressive to see how ahead of the curve he is for a prospect many considered to be a big project.
- The Giants draft class has had the most impressive preseason so far. Eli Apple, Sterling Shepard and Darian Thompson have all made splashy plays so far and it is likely that the three of them will be impact starters sooner than later.