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Eagles counting on some big contributions from 2016 NFL Draft class in Year 2

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Time to step up.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles2016 NFL Draft class is obviously defined by their first round pick: Carson Wentz. The success of the class (as well as the entire franchise) ultimately depends on him.

But that doesn’t mean the other players are completely irrelevant. The Eagles are counting on some big contributions from several members of their 2016 class this season and moving forward. It’s often said players make their biggest leap from Year 1 to Year 2. Let’s take at what to expect from the Eagles’ 2016 class in 2017.

Carson Wentz

The Eagles traded a big haul to acquire Wentz because they believed he could be their franchise quarterback for the next decade. He certainly showed that kind of potential as a rookie in 2016. He also went through a stretch of rookie struggles.

It goes without saying that the Eagles really need Wentz to take a significant step forward this year. He’s not a rookie anymore. He’s not in a situation where he misses most of the preseason due to injury and unexpectedly becomes the starter eight days before the season starts. His supporting cast is much improved on paper. He’s had time to work on his mechanics in the offseason. Improvement is expected.

Wentz was up and down in spring practices this year. The bad news is he had some accuracy issues akin to the ones on display in 2016. The good news is he finished minicamp strong. The hope is he’ll pick up where he left off when Eagles training camp begins later this month.

Wentz’s performance will determine the overall success team. Philadelphia’s offseason additions don’t really matter much if Wentz struggles this season. If he takes a big step forward, however, the playoffs could easily be within reach. No Eagles player will be under the microscope more often than Wentz this year.

Isaac Seumalo

Back when there was talk that the Eagles were reportedly considering moving on from Jason Kelce, it was thought Isaac Seumalo would be his replacement. But Kelce doesn’t seem to be going anywhere this season. And thus Seumalo is taking reps at left guard instead.

Seumalo won’t just be handed the starting job. He split reps with incumbent starter Allen Barbre during spring practices. It would seem Seumalo is the favorite given his youth and ability. But it’s just not official just yet.

Seumalo made four starts as a rookie: two of them were at right guard, one of them was at right tackle, and the other one of them was at his current projected spot. He showed some nice potential but now he’ll be tested over a larger period of time if he ends up being the starter. The team’s 2016 third-round pick still has a lot to prove.

Wendell Smallwood

Smallwood had an OK rookie season. The fifth-round pick rushed for 312 yards (4.1 average) and one touchdown. He also had six receptions for 55 yards. But Smallwood didn’t do enough to inspire a lot of confidence as a full-time three-down back. Putting performance aside, he dealt with some injury issues that caused him to miss a significant portion of training camp and then three games at the end of the 2016 season.

This offseason wasn’t a great one for Smallwood’s playing time aspirations. The Eagles signed LeGarrette Blount to be their main ball-carrier. They also drafted Donnel Pumphrey in the fourth round. Darren Sproles is still on the roster for one more year at least. As it currently stands, there won’t be a ton of carries for Smallwood to work with.

With that said, he should still have some kind of role moving forward. Running back coach Duce Staley likes him. Smallwood also showed some kickoff return ability in 2016. If Blount gets hurt or struggles, Smallwood could be counted upon to carry a sizeable amount of the veteran’s workload. It’ll be interesting to see how Smallwood is utilized this year.

Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Big V got absolutely destroyed by Ryan Kerrigan in his first NFL game. Then he settled in at right tackle before suffering a season-ending injury. He wasn’t a great starter by any means, but he did enough to get by.

The ideal situation for the Eagles is that Vaitai won’t have to play at all this season. Hopefully Jason Peters and Lane Johnson are able to stay on the field for all 16 games. If not, Vaitai will likely be counted on to fill in as the team’s swing tackle. I feel OK about Vaitai starting a game if he has to. I don’t feel as confident if he’s seeing an extended amount of playing time.

Looking beyond 2017, Vaitai could potentially be the starter at right tackle when Peters finally retires and Johnson moves to left tackle. I’d imagine he’d have to compete for that job, though, as opposed to it just being handed to him.

Blake Countess

Countess is the only member of Philadelphia’s 2016 class no longer on the roster. He was waived in final cuts last summer. The Eagles were playing him at safety but he’s now a cornerback with the Rams.

Jalen Mills

Mills really caught everyone’s attention in training camp last year, and not just because he dyed his hair green. He recorded a lot of pass breakups and seemed to always be making plays on the ball. The Eagles thought so highly of Mills that they decided they were OK with shipping 2015 second-round pick Eric Rowe to the Patriots.

Mills didn’t go on to have a strong rookie season. Pro Football Focus graded him out as their worst cornerback in the league last year. Despite these struggles, the team is still high on him. Players and coaches alike believe he’s poised for a breakout season.

The Eagles are counting on Mills to be one starting cornerbacks on the outside this season. The position is considered to easily be the biggest weakness on Philadelphia’s roster. Mills will have a chance to defy expectations and prove he can play. The good news is Mills had a good spring. He did have his down moments as well, though, proving once again he’s vulnerable to getting beat deep due to a lack of long speed.

Alex McCalister

Every year teams try to stash a guy on injured reserve after he suffers a phantom injury prior to final cuts. McCalister was that guy last year.

The Florida alumnus reportedly gained 12 pounds this offseason. That’s good because he was way too light to play defensive end last year. I have to say that McCalister doesn’t look much bigger, though. He still looks slight to me and I have my doubts he’ll make the roster.

Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Derek Barnett, and Chris Long are definitely ahead of him on the depth chart. I’d say Steven Means easily is too, so that makes McCalister the sixth defensive end at best. The 2016 seventh-round pick could end up on the practice squad this year.

Joe Walker

Walker is quietly one of the team’s most intriguing roster bubble players. He looked pretty good playing at second string middle linebacker before suffering a season-ending injury last preseason. He could end up being a key depth player behind the injury-prone Jordan Hicks. Walker also has the potential to be an important special teams contributor.

Walker didn’t participate in team drills during the spring as he continues to make his way back from the ACL tear. Hopefully he’ll be ready for training camp.

Undrafted Free Agents

The Eagles acquired a number of undrafted free agents in 2016 who are still on their roster.

Destiny Vaeao and Dillon Gordon were on the team for all 16 games last year. Vaeao was a rotational defensive tackle while Gordon is a developmental offensive lineman/blocking tight end/fullback the Eagles are working on. Both players could make the team again this year.

C.J. Smith, Paul Turner, and Byron Marshall were on the practice squad before getting called up to the active roster. I’d say Smith has the best chance of cracking the team this year due to open spots at his position. All three guys could be practice squad candidates again.

Marcus Johnson could push for the Eagles’ fifth or sixth receiver spot depending on how many they keep. Yes, he might beat out Shelton Gibson. The team is reportedly high on Johnson.

Bryce Treggs was an UDFA last year who wasn’t signed by the Eagles but instead claimed by Philadelphia after final cuts took place. Treggs might be a practice squad consideration.

David Watford, Don Cherry, Aaron Neary, and Darrell Greene are long shots to make the roster but could end up on the practice squad again.

OVERALL

The Eagles drafted eight players in 2016. Seven are still on the roster. Of those seven, three will likely be starters in 2017 (Wentz, Seumalo, Mills). The remaining four consistent of one rotational player (Smallwood), two key backups (Vaitai and Walker), and one likely cut (McCalister). So that leaves six players remaining this season. Then there will be some undrafted free agents who make the team as depth players.

It’s obviously early still, but that’s not a bad looking class so far. The 2017 season will give us a better idea of how this class holds up over time.

No pressure, Carson.