Leading up to the NFL Draft every offseason, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper looks back on last year’s class and re-grades it.
Last year, for example, Kiper boosted his original grade for the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2016 draft class.
This year, Kiper is looking back on the 2017 draft class. And he’s changing the Eagles’ original grade of a “B+” to ... a “B+” again.
Well, that’s boring. Here’s his explanation via ESPN In$ider:
Here’s what I wrote to close out the Eagles’ grade last year: “It’s not a home run class, but the Eagles got better.”
Well, yeah. Did anyone last April think that these Eagles could win Super Bowl LII? But they made some really smart free-agent signings and trades, their sophomore quarterback took a huge leap (and their backup starred in clutch time) and the rookie class produced a few guys who helped push them over the line.
Pass-rusher Derek Barnett had six total sacks (one in the playoffs), cornerback Rasul Douglas chipped in with two interceptions and seven pass breakups, and wide receiver Mack Hollins added 16 catches, including one for a touchdown, and will likely play a much bigger role in 2018. Undrafted running back Corey Clement played his way onto the field and had six regular-season touchdowns. We also have to count kicker Jake Elliott, the fifth-round pick by the Bengals who was cut and picked up by Philadelphia. He only went on to make some clutch kicks in the Super Bowl (and miss an extra point, to be fair).
This is a solid class, and it could be in the A territory at this time next year if cornerback Sidney Jones sees more playing time after sitting out most of 2017 with an Achilles injury.
Before I share my analysis, here’s a reminder of all the Eagles’ picks from last year.
1st - No. 14 - Derek Barnett, DE, Tennessee
2nd - No. 43 - Sidney Jones, CB, Washington
3rd - No. 99 - Rasul Douglas, CB, West Virginia
4th - No. 118 - Mack Hollins, WR, North Carolina
4th - No. 132 - Donnel Pumphrey, RB, San Diego State
5th - No. 166 - Shelton Gibson, WR, West Virginia
5th - No. 184 - Nathan Gerry, LB, Nebraska
6th - No. 214 - Elijah Qualls, DT, Washington
You also have to keep in mind the Birds traded down in the third round with the Baltimore Ravens in order to acquire Timmy Jernigan. And, as Kiper noted, they finished the 2017 season with some valuable undrafted free agents on the roster in Clement and Elliott.
While I think you could argue the case for an “A-” grade, I think Kiper’s “B+” still sounds fair.
Barnett looks like a strong pick at No. 14. His pass rush numbers as a rookie were good (5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 10 QB hits, 21 QB hurries). He’s still only 21 years old so he’s probably only going to get even better.
Jones is obviously the X-factor for this class. The Eagles said he was a top 10 player on their board prior to his injury. It remains to be seen how he fits in to the Eagles’ corner situation with 2017 starters Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills currently projected to return in 2018. Is he starting on the outside? Is he rotating in on the outside if/when Mills shifts to nickel corner? Is he playing the slot himself?
Douglas had some up and down moments when he played. His lack of speed (4.6 40-yard dash) showed up at times. But so did his ball skills. It seems like he could at least be a solid backup corner, if not an eventual starter.
Hollins flashed potential whenever his number was called on offense. He also contributed on special teams. It’ll be interesting to see if Hollins ends up being Torrey Smith’s replacement in Year 2 of his career.
Pumphrey was the most disastrous pick of this class so far. The Eagles traded up to draft a 5-9, 176 pound running back who didn’t look like he belonged in the NFL last summer. There’s really no precedent of a player with his (lack of) size and (lack of) athleticism having success in the league. Pumphrey attributed his 2017 training camp struggles to a hamstring he tried to play through. Hopefully that’s the case and he’ll look better this offseason. He really needs to, or else he’s not going to make the team.
Gibson, not unlike Pumphrey, really struggled in camp last year. He dropped at least one pass every day, if not more. Gibson started to come on a little bit towards the end of the summer. It’s too early to write him off completely, but perhaps Torrey Smith’s absence opens up a spot for him to step up and be the burner this team could use. If he doesn’t improve, he’s probably gone.
Gerry started the season on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster. It never seemed like he was bound for much defensive playing time in 2017 considering the Eagles were transitioning him from safety to linebacker. Gerry flashed nice coverage ability in practices last year. He could be in the mix to compete for the weakside linebacker job this year, especially if Mychal Kendricks is traded.
Believe or not, Qualls was the highest rated 4-3 defensive tackle by PFF last preseason. He didn’t play much in the regular season. I have my doubts about Qualls ever projecting to be a starter at his size but he could be a decent role player who beats out Destiny Vaeao to be the No. 4 defensive tackle. That’s fine for a sixth-round pick.
Overall, I think the Eagles got two sure-fire starters with Barnett and Jernigan (if you count him). If you want to count Elliott as well, that’s three. Jones and Hollins and maybe even Clement have starting potential but still need to prove more. Pumphrey, Gibson, Gerry, and Qualls are likely fighting for their roster spots this offseason. If you get anything out of them, it only makes the class even better.
My original grade for the Eagles’ 2017 draft class was a “B+” as well. 68% of Bleeding Green Nation readers also voted for the “B” option.
Now’s your chance to change your mind, if you wish. How would you grade the Eagles’ 2017 draft today? Vote in the poll below (or click here if you can’t see it).
How would you re-grade the Eagles 2017 draft class?
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