The Eagles just held their rookie minicamp last weekend and it offered our first glimpse of their five-man draft class, among many others.
Howie Roseman was pretty consistent that the Eagles weren’t going to draft for need for the 2019 season and because of that, got some players who might not play a ton in the coming season.
But let’s take a look at all five players drafted and how big of an impact I’m expecting them to have in their rookie seasons:
Round 1: OT Andre Dillard
Like a lot of these rookies, his playing time will be dependent upon the health of the players in front of him. I expect Dillard to be the Eagles’ backup left tackle and Jason Peters struggled to stay on the field last season. In 2018, Peters started all 16 games but still played just 79 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps, leaving plenty of games early. Peters played every snap in just seven of 18 total games (including playoffs) last season, so there’s a really good chance Dillard is going to get on the field at some point in 2019.
In a way, this is an unusual situation, to have a first-round offensive lineman who isn’t scheduled to play. Here’s how much recent Eagles’ first-round offensive linemen played in Year 1:
Lane Johnson (2013): 16 games, 16 starts
Danny Watkins (2011): 12 games, 12 starts
Shawn Andrews (2004): 1 game, 1 start
Tra Thomas (1998): 16 games, 16 starts
Jermane Mayberry (1996): 3 games, 1 start
Bernard Williams (1994): 16 games, 16 starts
Lester Holmes (1993): 12 games, 6 starts
Anyone Davis (1991): 16 games, 15 starts
Andrews would have played a lot more in his rookie season, but he broke his leg in the 2004 season opener. And a case of pneumonia delayed Mayberry’s rookie season. So it would be rare for an OL to get drafted in the first round and not play a ton, but that’s the situation we’re looking at here. If Peters is healthy, it’s hard to imagine Dillard playing much. There aren’t even any plans for him to cross-train at guard.
But with Peters’ injury history and because he’s already 37, I’d expect Dillard to get in quite a few games and to possibly start a few in place of the future Hall of Famer. He’ll take over the job full-time in 2020.
Round 2: RB Miles Sanders
Of all the rookies in this draft class, I fully expect Sanders to play the most. Sure, Jordan Howard is still in front of him on the depth chart, but for how long? Howard is signed through just this upcoming season and Sanders could be the future of the team at the position. Sanders also has way more upside as a potential three-down back in the NFL, but he’ll need to prove himself in pass protection before he gets third-down opportunities. Until then, I’d expect him to vulture some first- and second-down carries from Howard.
Just the nature of the Eagles’ running back-by-committee system alone makes it very likely that Sanders will play a good deal immediately as a rookie. And the fact that they used a second-round pick on him means they’ll be in even more of a hurry to give him the rock.
The last time the Eagles used a second-round pick on a running back was in 2009, when they drafted LeSean McCoy. In Shady’s rookie season, Brian Westbrook was limited to eight games because of injuries. Shady rushed for a team-high 637 yards, an Eagles rookie record. It’s hard to know how much the Eagles will use Howard while he’s here, but I’d expect over 500 yards for Sanders with a chance to approach or break Shady’s record. Heck, Josh Adams had 511 yards rushing last year as a rookie and Sanders is a much better prospect, although Adams was forced into a prominent role.
Here are the top five rookie rushing performances in Eagles history:
1. LeSean McCoy (2009): 637
2. Correll Buckhalter (2001): 586
3. Keith Byars (1986): 577
4. Po James (1972): 565
5. Bryce Brown (2012): 564
I think Sanders is going to find himself in that mix and perhaps at the top of that list by the end of 2019.
Round 3: WR JJ Arcega-Whiteside
With Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Nelson Agholor still on the roster, Arcega-Whiteside is very clearly the Eagles’ fourth receiver. If everyone stays healthy, there’s probably not going to be a ton of playing time for JJAW. The most snaps a fourth receiver played in any game last year was 29 (Golden Tate). And there might be even less opportunity this year if the Eagles use their 12 personnel package more; that seems to be the plan.
But based on recent history of two of the receivers in front of him, he should stay ready. Alshon Jeffery hasn’t missed a ton of games, but he has dealt with a couple series injuries the last couple seasons. And Jackson has averaged just 12.75 games per season in his last four seasons. There’s probably going to be some opportunity outside for Arcega-Whiteside (the No. 57 pick) at some point this year.
Last season, there were six receivers drafted in the second round. Here were their rookie numbers:
2-40: Courtland Sutton (DEN) — 42 rec, 704 yards, 4 TDs
2-44: Dante Pettis (SF) — 27 rec, 467 yards, 5 TDs
2-47: Christian Kirk (ARI) — 43 rec, 590 yards, 3 TDs
2-51: Anthony Miller (CHI) — 33 rec, 423 yards, 7 TDs
2-60: James Washington (PIT) — 15 rec, 217 yards, 1 TD
2-61: DJ Chark (JAX) — 14 rec, 174 yards, 0 TDs
This year, JJAW was one of seven receivers taken in the second round. With his skills, the one area where he could really help the Eagles is in the red zone. With leaping and body control ability like Jeffery, Arcega-Whiteside could be a force in the end zone.
A couple years ago, Mack Hollins had a 16/226/1 season as a fourth-round pick. Arcega-Whiteside should be able to top that easily, even with limited opportunity.
Round 4: DE Shareef Miller
At best, Miller will be the Eagles’ fourth defensive end in 2019, but there’s a pretty good chance he’ll be fifth behind Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry and Josh Sweat — and this is with us assuming Chris Long doesn’t come back. There’s still some playing time for deep reserves but not a ton and even less with the addition of Malik Jackson. In the last couple of years, defensive ends would get more snaps because one or two of them would bump inside on passing downs, but Jackson’s presence will make that a less likely occurrence.
It’s also important to note that Miller wasn’t just a fourth-round pick; he was the last pick in the fourth round. There’s a big difference between the top of that round and the bottom. The Eagles used a fourth-round pick on Sweat last year, but he played 68 defensive snaps before ending the season on IR. But even before the injury, the most snaps he played in any game was 20 and he got in double digits just twice.
It’s hard to imagine Miller really pushing for significant playing time in his rookie season unless there are significant injuries to the players in front of him on the depth chart.
Round 5: QB Clayton Thorson
If Thorson plays in 2019, something has gone drastically wrong. The Eagles used a fifth-round pick on Thorson to be a developmental player but it’s not like the Eagles will be rotating quarterbacks. In a perfect world, Nate Sudfeld won’t even see the field unless it’s at the end of blowouts or in a meaningless Week 17 game after the Eagles have their playoff fate sealed.
If Thorson plays this season, it’ll first mean Carson Wentz is hurt. It’ll then mean either Sudfeld got hurt too or he’s playing so poorly that the Eagles have turned to a rookie fifth-round pick from Northwestern. Either case would be an absolute disaster for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
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