Eagles fans, leaving their legendary skepticism behind, are optimistic and have rising expectations about the 2022 draft.
Why not? The Eagles addressed needs, media experts are lavishing praise on the picks and the team’s drafting apparatus has momentum after a successful 2021 draft.
Getting behind rookies always comes with an abundance of caution. The best thing about rookies is they become second-year players and third-year players.
Rookie draft picks arrive in the NFL as stars, after dominating their college games. Often, they are talented and physically gifted but need to get stronger physically and mentally to meet the demands of the NFL.
Rookies also need seasoning and time to learn the intricacies of how to play pro football. Rookies always talk about the speed of the NFL game. They have to adapt.
Some never learn. Some can’t adjust and can’t negotiate the enormous talent gap and mental demands between college ball and the NFL. They’re playing against teenagers and early-20s guys in college.
In the NFL, they’re playing against full-grown men, who have dedicated their lives to being the strongest and fastest players they can be.
Rookies are investments
Still, rookie draft picks are investments and teams was a return on their expenditure. Teams devote time and resources into their draft picks.
Some teams need that short-term investment filled immediately while some teams, boasting more talent and depth, can afford to wait long-term for a rookie to develop.
Banking on Eagles rookies, when you think about it, isn’t the smartest or most rational line of thinking. These kids haven’t put on the pads and hit anybody and they haven’t absorbed a hit yet.
But it’s spring and Eagles fans are optimistic. They love top pick Jordan Davis, and they think his massive body will clog up the defensive middle and stop a running game.
Fans think second-rounder Cam Jurgens will be a strong backup for the interior offensive line and will be the heir apparent for Jason Kelce at center.
Around the league, folks think the Eagles got a bargain and a steal in third-round linebacker Nakobe Dean.
In most years, anything beyond the third round is a crapshoot. If a team gets production from a lower pick, that’s a huge bonus. Sometimes you get that, sometimes you get a special teams player. Sometimes, you get nothing.
The Eagles rookies are going to play
Davis should see plenty of snaps playing alongside Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Milton Williams. How much he plays depends on his skill level and conditioning.
Should Davis become a force in the middle, the Eagles defense could control the line of scrimmage and give their linebackers more room to make plays.
For now, Dean is listed as a backup linebacker. He has talent and the Eagles are itching to see him perform.
Jurgens might be waiting his time. The offensive line is set — pending any movement with Isaac Seumalo before camp — and the Eagles might be content with Jurgens learning at the pulpit of Kelce.
The Eagles’ other draft picks might be projects. In the sixth round, the Eagles selected linebacker Kyron Johnson, of Kansas. SMU tight end Grant Calcaterra was another sixth-round pick.
Some experts believe they will get some show-me playing time and continue the Eagles’ tradition of turning late-round picks into NFL talent.
- Several undrafted free agents are getting some buzz. Kennedy Brooks is listed as fifth on the running back depth chart. Based on his college career at Oklahoma, he has a chance to make the 53-man roster. He gained 3,320 yards and scored 31 rushing touchdowns in his three years with the Sooners.
- Another undrafted free agent who could have an impact is Nevada quarterback Carson Strong. Given the Eagles’ knack for finding and grooming quarterbacks, Strong is someone to watch closely as he contends to be the third quarterback. He was a two-time Mountain West Player of the Year. He ranked third in passing yards (9,368) and TD passes (74) at Nevada.
- Middle Tennessee free safety Reed Blankenship had 110 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, nine pass breakups and three fumble recoveries in his senior year. He set the Middle Tennessee record for career tackles. The NFL is an enormous step up from Conference USA, so we’ll see.
2021 Eagles rookies were accomplished
The Eagles’ highly successful rookie class in 2021 saw playing time early and often — as is often the case when a losing team is rebuilding. The rookies took advantage of that opportunity.
The Eagles can only hope they get similar productivity from this year’s rookies as they did from last year’s dynamic group.
Top pick DeVonta Smith started Game 1 and 15 more games and showed he can be a breakout star in the league. He led the team with 916 receiving yards on a team that led the NFL in rushing. Oddly, Smith went several games where he wasn’t targeted much, cutting into his stats. He finished with 64 catches and five touchdowns.
Because of an injury, second-rounder Landon Dickerson started Game 2 at guard — a new position for the long-time center — and played exceptional football. By the offseason, he was considered one of the team’s top offensive linemen and showed Pro Bowl potential.
- Third-round pick Williams played all 17 games and had 30 tackles and two sacks while playing everywhere along the defensive front. He was noticeably stronger down the stretch. He seems to have a bright future.
- Fourth-round pick Zech McPhearson started one game at cornerback, played in 16 games, and looked as if he belonged.
- Kenneth Gainwell (5th rounder) gained 291 yards on 68 attempts (4.3 average) and scored five touchdowns. He also caught 33 passes for 253 (7.7 average) and one touchdown. His versatility gave the Eagles a reliable and effective weapon.
- Sixth-round pick Tarron Jackson was a rotational defensive end who, again, looked like he belonged. When he played, he held the line without a noticeable gap in talent.
- Undrafted free agent tight end Jack Stoll became Dallas Goedert’s backup after Zach Ertz was traded to Arizona. Stoll only caught four passes but was an effective run blocker.
The Eagles’ build continues. We’ll see if the right pieces are in place.
Tomorrow: Comparing the NFC East draft classes