NFL.com didn’t just give the Eagles the best draft grades in the NFC East; they also said the Eagles had the best draft class in the entire league.
Pro Football Focus has also been high on the Eagles’ draft class. It’s part of why they named Philadelphia the most improved team in the division. PFF went more into why they like the Eagles’ draft class during their recent podcast (hat tip to @Brendanekstrom). Transcript below:
STEVE PALAZZOLO: Let’s go to the Eagles, staying in the NFC East. I’ll let you rave about Derek Barnett, their first round pick at 14, but I really loved what the Eagles did the first four rounds, really. They got a lot of talent. Actually, all the way to five rounds. I love what the Eagles did all the way around. So start with Barnett, I’ll let you rave about him. You kept watching him quite closely during the entire draft process. I feel like you might have been putting Barnett closer to the Myles Garrett pedestal than even some others at PFF.
SAM MONSON: Yeah, I love certainly their first two picks. I’m a huge fan of [their draft]. I think Sidney Jones may have been the most talented corner in this entire draft class, but the guy injured himself, tearing his Achilles at his pro day. And people were talking about him as a mid-round guy, a lost cause. Whereas, even if he misses his entire rookie season, which is possible, or he’s not the same guy in his entire rookie season, even if you get the next three years out of him and then re-sign him to another deal and he’s as good as you thought he was, it’s still a steal, and especially in the second round.
SAM: Derek Barnett, I think is a phenomenal player. I think this guy was overlooked the entire pre-draft process. But the bottom line is, this guy pretty much matched Myles Garrett — if not outperformed him — from a pass rushing standpoint for three straight seasons in the SEC. Did more of his damage against the SEC than Myles Garrett did. There were less kind of cupcakes on [Barnett’s] schedule where he tore a guy a new one and racked up a huge amount of his pressure in that way. And when you put on the tape, this guy has ridiculous bend and dip around the edge that you just don’t see from very many pass rushers. And his ability to just hit the ground like horizontally and scoot his way around offensive tackles is completely unmatched in this draft class. And basically the only negative against him is that his workout numbers weren’t phenomenal. But frankly, when you’re putting up that much pressure, I don’t care.
STEVE: And in both workouts, his agent did step up and say — now whether this is just agent speak or not, making excuses for the player — “sick at the Combine, and then injured at pro day.” And again, if it’s just making excuses, that’s one thing, if there’s some validity to it, then, again, it’s a steal. We had him at number three on our final draft board because what we’ve seen in our three years of PFF, guys that dominate at the college level on the defensive line, I mean crush the PFF system, they’ve generally translated to the NFL. If you pair it with athleticism, all the better, so that’s why we feel good about Myles Garrett. Barnett has enough athleticism, I think. But certainly has that three years of production. Just knows how to beat blocks. Knowing how to beat blockers translates to the NFL, believe it or not.
SAM: The other thing is, he’s athletic in the right ways. He doesn’t have a great 40 time, but he has a ridiculously good three cone time, I’m pretty sure. And doesn’t have a great vertical leap, but I would imagine he can, you know when they do that drill at the Combine, where they basically run around a big hoop? With speed? I would imagine his time on that is phenomenal, because that’s what he does well. […]
STEVE: I agree with you on the Sidney Jones thing, first round talent. One of my draft axioms, Sam, that I tweeted out before the draft: you’re not just drafting for this year. And if you have that long term aspect to it, you have two first round talents. I mean, Sidney Jones was going to be a top fifteen pick. And a lot of what I kept saying was the other cornerbacks, Marlon Humphrey, Adoree’ Jackson, those guys were drafted in the spot that should have been Sidney Jones if he did not get hurt.
SAM: And there’s a lot of teams out there that don’t even play these guys year one. If you look at the Minnesota Vikings last year, the Arizona Cardinals, those guys basically didn’t play any of their rookies last year. So even if Sidney Jones misses this entire year, the worst case scenario is you’re in that kind of situation. You’re in exactly the situation as those guys who voluntarily didn’t play their top rookies.
STEVE: Very true. So I like that pick, they doubled up at corner with Rasul Douglas, cornerback out of West Virginia. A little bit different. 6-2, with press coverage ability. Played a lot of off coverage at West Virginia, but if you saw him at the Senior Bowl, he was playing press, he was trying to figure out just how much he could get away with from a contact standpoint. Certainly worth — he has the frame and the body to play press. And good ball skills. Love that value at that point in the draft.
And then I have to talk about Mack Hollins in the fourth. That guy just has a second gear at wide receiver that most guys don’t have. And there was so many plays on tape where he’s just on top of the cornerback and then by him. I know he only ran in the low 4.5’s at the Combine, but he pulled up, was hurt. I don’t care what his 40 time says. He’s the guy that has that build up speed that shows up on the field. 20 out of 81 catches went for touchdowns. Averaged over 20 yards per catch at North Carolina. Love the value in the fourth. He’s a special teams ace. He’s an ace. He’s going to provide a lot of value, I think. Has a chance to become a deep threat for Carson Wentz.
Donnel Pumphrey, the little — the little, little running back — at 160 something pounds, but he plays bigger than that. He’s going to look like [Darren] Sproles but not as built, not as stout as Sproles. But man, they just added a lot of good, productive talent. Shelton Gibson, another deep threat wide receiver out of West Virginia.
And one other guy I want to highlight: Nathan Gerry, fifth round safety out of Nebraska. I kept saying in the right scheme, scheme that plays a lot of Cover 2, Cover 4, two high type of looks, he’s a very, very good safety. No. 2 coverage grade in both 2014 and 2016 coming out of Nebraska. Had some tackling issues his first couple years that we graded, tied those up a little bit last year, I think that was really good value in the fifth.
Hey, the Eagles added a lot of talent in this draft.
SAM: Yeah, the Eagles are one of my favorite drafts of the league this season. I think they did an excellent job.
STEVE: I’ve done a lot of radio this week, and I kept deferring to two other teams, the Cowboys as one of my favorite, the 49ers as one of my favorites. I think I forgot about the Eagles to highlight them.
It was already known PFF liked the Eagles’ draft class before they even said so, though. A number of the players the Eagles drafted graded out favorably by PFF’s system. Barnett ranked third on PFF’s top 32 prospects while Jones ranked 19th. Barnett, Hollins, and Gerry all appear in PFF’s list of of top 10 prospects they’re higher on than everyone else.
1 - Derek Barnett - This one should come as no surprise. We’ve been pumping Barnett as the closest thing to Myles Garrett in this class for the last couple of years. The athleticism numbers are certainly concerning, but they aren’t devastatingly prohibitive—especially considering that the former Volunteer was still well above average in the 3-cone (6.96 seconds). Barnett led the entire FBS by a good margin with 37 combined sacks and hits last season. In each of the past two seasons, he’s actually graded out higher overall than Myles Garrett. Barnett is a special talent, just without special athleticism.
4 - Nathan Gerry - In terms of production grades at the safety position in 2016, LSU’s Jamal Adams was PFF’s top safety. It may surprise that second on that list was the unheralded Nebraska safety, Nathan Gerry, who collected four interceptions and six more pass breakups. What’s even more impressive, though, is that he allowed only one completion of 20-plus yards into his coverage all season long. That reliability on the back end has considerable value in the NFL.
8 - Mack Hollins - It’s difficult to get too excited about a receiver with 81 catches on 144 targets over the past three seasons, but that’s exactly how we feel about Mack Hollins. Hollins turned those 81 catches into 1,667 yards for a per catch average of 20.6 yards. At 6-foot-4 and 221 pounds, that is ridiculous big-play ability. His speed is so easy and formidable at his size that he could develop into a terrifying deep threat.
Of course, only time will tell if the hype surrounding the Eagles’ 2017 draft class is worth it. In the meantime it’s fair to wonder if Howie Roseman and/or Joe Douglas have a PFF subscription.