Monday, December 22, 2014

The Eagles' 2012 and 2013 draft classes could be the franchise's foundation

In the 2010 and 2011 drafts, the Eagles selected 24 players. Only 9 of them remain with the team, and 2 of the 9 (Curtis Marsh and Julian Vandervelde) had previously been cut by the team, but found their way back. The 2nd round pick in 2011, Jaiquawn Jarrett, lasted one season in Philly. The 1st round pick, Danny Watkins, lasted just 2. The Eagles' poor drafts in 2010 and 2011 are well documented by now, and they set the team back, helping lead to the Eagles' regime change.

The Eagles' 2012 and 2013 draft classes could be the franchise's foundation

Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

In the 2010 and 2011 drafts, the Eagles selected 24 players. Only 9 of them remain with the team, and 2 of the 9 (Curtis Marsh and Julian Vandervelde) had previously been cut by the team, but found their way back. The 2nd round pick in 2011, Jaiquawn Jarrett, lasted one season in Philly. The 1st round pick, Danny Watkins, lasted just 2. The Eagles' poor drafts in 2010 and 2011 are well documented by now, and they set the team back, helping lead to the Eagles' regime change.

However, the 2012 and 2013 drafts look to be very promising, with the Eagles getting major contributions from the players taken in those drafts. In addition to young star players like LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson, the following players from those drafts may be the core around which the Eagles will build going forward:

Nick Foles, QB, Arizona, 2012 draft, 3rd round, 88th overall

Nick Foles only leads the NFL in QB rating. (Click here to enlarge):

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No big deal.

The Eagles have 5 games to go. At a minimum, Foles has proven he is an NFL starter. However, being a legit NFL starter and being a guy who can be one of the Top 10 or so QBs in the league are two totally different things. Teams with aspirations of winning a Super Bowl typically have the latter. It's way too early to say that Foles is on that level, but obviously he has put together a very impressive season, and is only going to get smarter. The Eagles may or may not decide to address the QB position in the 2014 draft. It seems crazy to do so after the season Foles has had, but I wouldn't completely rule it out. If Foles continues to be the guy he has been during the Eagles' 3-game win streak, Foles may very well be "the franchise QB."

Fletcher Cox, DE, Mississippi State, 2012 draft, 1st round, 12th overall

Cox is emerging as a dominant defensive lineman who you can build a defense around. As noted by Rich Hofmann of the Daily News, according to ProFootballFocus, Cox leads all 3-4 DEs in pressures, with 32. Here are the top 10 in that category:

There are a lot of really good players on that list. Note the final guy on that list, by the way. We'll get to him in a minute.

Lane Johnson, OT, Oklahoma, 2013 draft, 1st round, 4th overall

Johnson is one of the most impressive athletic specimens to ever be drafted at the OT position in the history of the NFL. Here are Johnson's workout numbers in comparison to the other offensive tackles who have competed at the NFL Combine since 2003:

Here's how those numbers look, in spider graph form (via mockdraftable.com)

There were 3 offensive tackles taken with the first 4 picks in the 2013 draft. Eric Fisher went tho the Chiefs, Luke Joeckel went to the Jaguars, and Johnson of course went to the Eagles. The consensus was that Fisher and Joeckel were more polished players, but that Johnson had the highest celing, based on his ridiculous athleticism.

Johnson has had really good games (both Redskin games), and really bad ones (Chiefs). Johnson has shown that he can eventually be a dominant OT in the NFL. It's just a matter of becoming more consistent, and the Eagles coching staff constantly points out that Johnson rarely makes the same mistake twice.

Brandon Boykin, CB, Georgia, 2012 draft, 4th round, 123rd overall

Boykin is the best CB on the team, but is relegated to the slot corner spot because the Eagles don't yet have a player who can fill that role. For now, Boykin is one of the best slot corners in the game, and he's a tremendous gunner on the punt coverage team. He has 4 INTs, and a slew of downed punts inside the 10 yard line. He has already become one of the most important players on the Eagles' defense. 

Mychal Kendricks, LB, California, 2012 draft, 2nd round, 46th overall

Like Lane Johnson above, Kendricks is an extremely gifted athlete. He too had extremely impressive numbers at the Combine in comparison to other LBs (again, via mockdraftable.com):

While Kendricks is probably the Eagles' best coverage linebacker, he struggled mightily in the first four games. According to data compiled by ProFootballFocus, after the first four games Kendricks led NFL inside linebackers in missed tackles (8), receptions allowed (24), and yards after the catch (164). In Kendricks' next 6 games (one of which he was knocked out early), he had 7 missed tackles (still a lot more than ideal), but he only allowed 13 receptions and 79 yards after the catch.

Kendricks still has a fairly high ceiling, and the more he plays the more he'll adapt to the speed of the game at the NFL level.

Zach Ertz, TE, Stanford, 2013 draft, 2nd round, 35th overall

Zach Ertz has played 40.2% of the Eagles' offensive snaps this season, and has 21 catches for 274 yards, and a TD. Those numbers may not seem like much (and they're not), but it should be noted that rookie TEs rarely put up big numbers, as the great Noah Becker points out:

 

 

Here is what Noah is talking about. Since 2000, only 25 rookie TEs have amassed 30 receptions (via ProFootballReference):

Ertz is on pace for 31 catches and 399 yards.

On the eye test, based on his play so far in the games that matter and what he did in training camp, Ertz's biggest flaw is dropped passes. However, he runs excellent routes, is a willing blocker (although in need of improvement there), and has good athleticism. As he gets more playing time, Ertz's production will increase, but obviously, it is difficult to put up big numbers when you're only getting on the field for 40% of your team's snaps.

Ertz is right about where you would expect a rookie 2nd round TE should be. Tight ends typically take a little more time to develop than normal, and Ertz looks like he'll eventually be a quality starter.

Bennie Logan, DL, LSU, 2013 draft, 3rd round, 67th overall

A few weeks ago, it could have been argued that the Eagles' 3 biggest needs heading into the offseason would be QB, an edge pass rusher, and NT.

When the Eagles traded Isaac Sopoaga, the starting NT job became Logan's, and he has been great. While Logan has played well at NT, that's only part of his value. Logan can play several positions along the defensive line, but because NT is where the Eagles need him right now, that's where he is. While the Eagles could certainly bring in a massive body to be a run stuffer, it's not something that is an urgent need anymore. Logan has stepped up in a big way, and looks like he'll be a fixture on the Eagles DL.

Vinny Curry, DE, Marshall, 2012 draft, 2nd round, 59th overall

According to data found on ProFootballFocus.com, Vinny Curry gets a pressure on the QB on every 12.2 snaps he's on the field. Among 3-4 DEs in the NFL with at least 15 pressures, that is tops in the NFL. In the chart below, the smaller the number of "snaps per pressure," the better:

To be fair, of Curry's 195 snaps, 147 of them (75.4%) are on passing downs, while most of the above players are in on pass plays somewhere closer to 55-60% of the time.

Still, anyone with eyes can clearly see that Curry is a very good situational pass rusher who makes plays.

Earl Wolff, S, North Carolina State, 5th round, 136th overall

Wolff was forced into action when Patrick Chung was hurt, and his first start was against Peyton Manning. Wolff had a rough afternoon, but survived, and has gotten better as the season progressed. At a minimum, Wolff has shown that he has the athleticism to compete in the NFL, and has held his own as a rookie. Wolff's athleticism should not come as a surprise. Like Lane Johnson and Mychal Kendricks above, Wolff is a player with outstanding Combine measurables (via mockdraftable.com):

Whenever he gets healthy, Wolff will continue to get a lot of snaps, and should compete for a starting job next year.

Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas State, 2012 draft, 7th round, 229th overall

Last season, Brown had two monster performances against the Cowboys and Panthers:

In the wake of those performances, Brown was drawing comparisons to Bo Jackson. While those comparisons were a little ridiculous, The point that Brown has a rare combination of size and speed is well taken.

In addition to the big games last season, Brown also fumbled a lot. This year, Brown is devoid of both the monster performances, but also the fumbling.

Brown is only 22 and had a grand total of 3 carries his last 2 years in college. It'll take some time for him to become a polished runner in the NFL. If the Eagles coaching staff can get Brown to stop bouncing everything to the outside and keep from slipping on the Lincoln Financial Field turf so often, Brown can be a really good #2. He has already proven to be a steal in the 7th round. 

Matt Barkley, QB, USC, 2013 draft, 4th round, 98th overall

Barkley's numbers on the season are obviously not very good. He's 30 of 49 for 300 yards, 0 TD, 4 INT, 3 fumbles, and a QB rating of 44.6.

Three of those interceptions came in a very difficult situation, down 14 in the 4th quarter against the Cowboys. The opposing defense knew the Eagles would be passing, so they could pin their ears back and attack the QB.

Young QBs like RG3, Colin Kaepernick, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, and now maybe even Nick Foles have ruined it for rookie QBs entering the league. They had tremendous early success, and have wrecked the expectation curve. It used to be that young QBs were allowed to be bad for a few seasons before you expected them to make strides. Now fans expect more immediate results.

While his numbers would say otherwise, Barkley showed enough in his two appearances that he can hang in the NFL. While he will always have some limitations in terms of arm strength and physical ability, Barkley's intangibles are off the charts. He has an opportunity to carve out a long NFL career. I don't think he'll ever be anything close to a top tier QB in the NFL, but at a minimum, he could be either a decent starter or a very good #2 QB, which is a highly underrated position. 

Dennis Kelly, OT, Purdue, 2012 draft, 5th round, 153rd overall

Kelly has not yet played this season partly because he was injured, and also because the Eagles OL has largely stayed healthy. However, he got some good experience last season both as a OG and an OT, as he got 703 snaps. The Eagles made a great signing this past offseason in Allen Barbre, who has filled in at times nicely for Jason Peters, but Kelly could also be a competent backup in the NFL.

Joe Kruger, DE/OLB, Utah, 2013 draft, 7th round, 212nd overall

Kruger was put on IR with a (cough) season-ending shoulder injury. We'll find out next season if he can carve out a role in the Eagles' defense. 

The busts (if that's what you could call guys drafted in the 6th round or later):

Only 4 players from the 2012 and 2013 drafts are no longer with the team, and all of them were drafted in the 6th or 7th rounds. They are Marvin McNutt (6th round, 2012), Brandon Washington (6th round, 2012), Jordan Poyer (7th round, 2013), and David King (7th round, 2013).

Eagles GM Howie Roseman has come under fire quite a bit, but he deserves to be praised for the early promising returns on the players selected in the 2012 and 2013 drafts.

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