It’s been over a month since the Philadelphia Eagles made eight picks in the 2017 NFL Draft. It’s hard to believe time has gone by that fast. In any case, we now have more information on how the Eagles rookies will fit in on the roster this season. Let’s figure out their specific roles and make some predictions.
DE Derek Barnett
The No. 14 overall pick from this year’s draft has the chance to be a starter at defensive end by Week 1. Barnett, who had an incredibly productive college career, has made a strong first impression in OTAs. Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz couldn’t help himself from gushing about the 20-year-old pass rusher.
Although I said Barnett has the chance to start, it’s not a guarantee. The veteran Vinny Curry is currently taking first team snaps on the edge. And even if Barnett does start, there figures to be a heavy rotation at his position. But no matter how it shakes out, Barnett has the potential to be a significant contributor this season.
Barnett’s NFL readiness could catch some people by surprise. I’m not saying he’s a lock to be NFL Defensive Rookie Player of the Year but I do think there will be some buzz about that at some point. I’ll predict Barnett notches five sacks while playing in a rotational role as a rookie. His playing time could increase as the season goes on.
CB Sidney Jones
There’s a very real chance the injured Jones doesn’t suit up for the Eagles at all in 2017. And that’s very much okay. Personally, I think it makes all the sense in the world to not play Jones this year. Even if he fully recovers at some point during the season, he will have already missed all of OTAs/training camp. The Eagles should just be patient with him and make sure he’s fully ready by 2018. In addition, not playing Jones in 2017 means he’d become a restricted free agent (as opposed to an unrestricted free agent) when his rookie contract is up.
Jones starts the season on the non-football injury (NFI) list, which acts just like the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. By having Jones on NFI, he won’t be taking up a roster spot. By rule, he’ll have to miss the first six weeks of the season. From there, the Eagles will have a five week window where they can decide if he’s ready to start practicing. If/once Jones starts practicing, the Eagles will then have 21 days to either activate him or shut him down for the season. If I were calling shots for the Eagles, I’d let Jones practice for three weeks and then place him on the season-ending injured reserve list. This way he gets to experience some practice reps without ever counting against Philadelphia’s roster limit.
Douglas is currently taking first team reps at outside cornerback in the Eagles’ nickel formation. That might not be the case if Ron Brooks was practicing, however, because instead of Jalen Mills shifting to the slot, Mills might just stay on the outside with Brooks playing at nickel cornerback.
With that said, it might be hard for the Eagles to keep Douglas off the field. The Eagles’ third-round draft pick has shown up so far in OTAs. He’s been very active in getting his hands on the ball, which isn’t a surprise considering he led the NCAA in interceptions last year. Douglas has a chance to beat out either Mills or Patrick Robinson for a starting job this season. It’s not a guarantee, but he’ll certainly make a case for himself.
Douglas won’t start the season as a starter. The Eagles will roll with Mills and Robinson on the outside. But then the starters will either struggle or get hurt and Douglas will enter the lineup. OR the Eagles might just set up a rotation at corner like they did last year with Mills and Leodis McKelvin splitting time at one spot. I expect Douglas to get on the field as a rookie. I just don’t know if it’ll be immediate and I don’t expect him to play the majority of the snaps (barring injuries). I’ll say he finishes the season with one interception and a handful of pass deflections.
Some people may have been disappointed/frustrated when they heard Hollins praised for being such a great special teamer immediately after he was drafted. But the truth is Hollins has looked like more than just a ST guy during Eagles practice so far. He certainly hasn’t made any glaring mistakes. Hollins doesn’t figure to be a starter in 2017 since there are receivers on the depth chart ahead of him: Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, and maybe even Nelson Agholor. Still, I think he’ll see some kind of playing time on offense. At the very least, he’ll be active on game day due to his special teams prowess.
In addition to being a four core special teams player, Hollins will play about 15% to 20% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps. He’ll have 10 receptions for 150 yards and one touchdown. I’ll also say he blocks a punt or field goal or something at some point. Maybe a forced fumble on kickoff/punt coverage. Some kind of really big ST play.
Interesting note here from our good friend Dave Spadaro in his latest BGN column:
“Donnel Pumphery isn’t a running back here. He’s a “move” player. He lines up in the slot. He moves around the formation. He takes some handoffs. The idea is to get Pumphery in space in this offense. I say his rookie year is a learning season behind Darren Sproles.”
Who am I to disagree with Spuds? I don’t think there’s a lot of playing time available for Pumphrey with Matthews currently the starter in the slot. Not to mention he’s probably behind LeGarrette Blount, Sproles, and Wendell Smallwood on the running back depth chart.
Pumphrey could have a significantly increased role in 2018 when Sproles is gone. And possibly Matthews, too.
15% to 20% of the Eagles’ offensive snaps could be Pumphrey’s realistic range in 2017. He could also contribute as a returner on special teams. Again, Pumphrey’s role could easily increase in future seasons. In the meantime, Philadelphia has said they want him to gain 5-to-10 pounds.
Gibson’s speed makes him an intriguing talent. However, he hasn’t looked so great at OTAs. The fifth-round pick has struggled with drops. I don’t think Gibson is a lost cause by any means, but it looks like he could take some time to develop. Right now, Gibson is likely behind Jeffery, Smith, Matthews, Agholor, and Hollins on the Eagles’ depth chart. That means he’s the sixth guy at best and the Eagles likely won’t keep six receivers active on game day.
Gibson spends most of the season as a game day inactive unless he proves to provide value on special teams. Maybe as a kick returner?
The Eagles are converting Gerry from safety to linebacker. Although Gerry has played the position before, it’s obviously a whole different transition in the NFL. The Eagles list Gerry at only 218 pounds, which is light for a linebacker. He’ll likely need to add some weight by gaining strength. The feeling here is the Eagles don’t see Gerry as a contributor in 2017 as much as they have long-term hopes for him.
Gerry seems like a prime candidate for the Eagles to stash away on injured reserve for the 2017 season after he stubs his toe this summer. I think the Eagles hope he can eventually be a Mychal Kendricks replacement at WILL linebacker.
Unfortunately, Qualls hasn’t been able to attend Eagles OTA practice yet due to the NCAA’s graduation rules. It’s especially a shame because he would have had a chance at extra reps with Fletcher Cox missing the first week of practice.
In any case, Qualls projects to be a backup defensive tackle in 2016. Cox and Timmy Jernigan are the obvious starters at the position. Beau Allen would have been the obvious first defensive tackle off the bench but his pectoral injury complicates things. It’s not a lock that Allen returns by Week 1 so that injury could open the door for Qualls to step up.
The Eagles used a heavy rotation at defensive tackle last year as well as defensive end. Qualls should get a little bit of playing time. He also could be the team’s new goal line fullback considering he has experience at that position. Plus he was a monster running back in high school.
Undrafted free agents
I don’t have any UDFA players making the team in my latest Eagles 53-man roster prediction. Tyler Orlosky’s odds of making the cut would increase if/when Jason Kelce gets traded, but who knows if that will even happen at this point. Outside of Orlosky, who would be a backup at most in 2017, everyone else seems like a practice squad candidate at best.