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2 Eagles players featured on list of top 25 NFL breakout prospects

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It might be a year too early for these guys.

NFL: Super Bowl LII-Philadelphia Eagles vs New England Patriots John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The folks at Football Outsiders put together a list of the NFL’s top 25 breakout prospects for the 2018 season. This list is compromised of young players who haven’t received a lot of playing time in the league to this point.

As it turns out, two Philadelphia Eagles players made the cut. But they might not be the ones you expected to see. Let’s look at the first player, via ESPN In$ider:

18) Mack Hollins — Hollins had 20 touchdown receptions on just 81 catches in college for North Carolina. A hulking, 6-foot-4, 221-pound frame that comes at you like a freight train with 4.5 40-yard dash speed, Hollins checked a lot of boxes as a physical downfield receiver who could also contribute on special teams right away.

In his rookie season, he was a go-to for the Eagles on their short plays. Hollins led all Eagles receivers in DVOA at 24.2 percent. (Only Nelson Agholor also finished with an above-average DVOA.) He did this despite only one long touchdown catch. Generally, receivers with this sort of DVOA in a small sample are boosted by a few big catches; Hollins was not.

The offseason saw Torrey Smith replaced by Mike Wallace, but Hollins could still force his way on to the field with a good training camp. He’s got all the requisite physical attributes, and Philadelphia loved to chuck it down the field last season with Carson Wentz. All it would take is one injury for Hollins to have massive fantasy football appeal.

Hollins is definitely an intriguing player. As the blurb notes, he was an incredibly efficient player not only in college but last year as well. I think efficiency is the name of Hollins’ game, at least in this stage of his career. I don’t know if he’ll ever be a volume guy who catches a ton of passes as much as he’ll be a reliable target you can sprinkle in to the offense.

That’s not to say I’m down on Hollins; I’m definitely intrigued by his potential. It’s just that I don’t see him having much of a bigger role than he had last year when he only played 25% of Philadelphia’s offensive snaps. He still has Alshon Jeffery, Mike Wallace, and Nelson Agholor in front of him on the depth chart. When you add tight ends Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert to the mix, you realize that Hollins’ targets will be even more limited. And that’s not even accounting for how the running backs, with Darren Sproles returning, will factor into the passing game.

With Jeffery missing the entire offseason so far, Hollins has gotten a lot of first team action. He’s had his share of flashes but he also hasn’t stepped up to the point where the Eagles MUST get him on the field.

The only thing that’ll likely change Hollins’ playing time is if there are injuries in front of him. Last year, Jeffery, Torrey Smith, and Agholor missed a combined zero games. It’ll be hard to always stay that healthy. Hollins will get his opportunity sooner or later. I don’t doubt he can be a valuable contributor if/when that time comes. I don’t think it’s likely this will be a “breakout” year for him, though. 2019 could be a different story with Wallace potentially gone.

Let’s shift to the defense for the next Eagles player on the list. No, it’s not Sidney Jones. Checking in at number THREE overall, it’s ...

3) Rasul Douglas — A junior college guy who had the light turn on for him, Douglas was heavily recruited but chose West Virginia to stay closer to his home in New Jersey. He led the NCAA with eight interceptions in 2016, and his stellar size (6-foot-2, 209 pounds) and play made him a pretty safe third-round pick.

With rookie corners playing outside, all you’re hoping for is for them to be respectable. Douglas was oft-targeted when he played, but his 57 percent success rate was in the top 30 among all qualifying cornerbacks. He broke up a ton of balls on his targets, finishing with two picks and 11 deflections in just 53 targets. Yes, that number is buttressed by the fact that Philadelphia’s front seven has been excellent. But even still, it was an admirable rookie year.

Douglas will have to play less hot-and-cold in 2018 to take the next leap in his skill level. He also isn’t guaranteed a steady role, as the Eagles will break in second-rounder Sidney Jones off injury and return Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby. But Douglas flashed in his early snaps and has earned more playing time.

The only two players ahead of Douglas on the list: Bengals pass rusher Carl Lawson and Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

As is the case with Hollins, though, I don’t think Douglas has an easy path to playing time in 2018. He’s not in the mix for the nickel corner job, so you can rule that out. The aforementioned Darby and Mills are the outside starting corners. Even if one of those two guys gets hurt, the Eagles might shift Jones to the outside with someone else coming in to play in the slot. Or it COULD be Douglas on the outside with Jones staying inside.

Either way, the point is that Douglas doesn’t project to get on the field a lot if the corners ahead of him stay healthy. A potential trade (Darby?) would free up playing time for Douglas, of course, but we’ll have to see if one comes to fruition.

The note about Douglas being hot-and-cold is spot on. That’s the kind of corner he seems to be, and the kind of corner defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz ultimately prefers. I mean, in a perfect world, he wants guys who just stay hot all the time. But the reality is corners are going to get beat and he doesn’t want his guys who get down on themselves. He wants players with unshakable confidence who can make plays on the ball. Guys who might give up some plays but will ultimately come out on top with the good plays they make. Douglas is going to get burnt deep, yes, but he’ll also get you a number of picks and deflections.

As is the case with Hollins, I think Douglas is more likely to break out in 2019 than 2018. At that point Darby could be gone and Douglas could be competing for a starting job with Jones. Or Douglas could be rotating in if/when Jones shifts to the nickel next season.

Hollins and Douglas could very well be important contributors to the Eagles in the long-term. For now, they still project to be valuable depth pieces and role players.