Upon further review, Eagles' young DBs can flat-out play

Upon further review, Eagles' young DBs can flat-out play

Cre’Von LeBlanc is 24 years old, undrafted, released by three teams before the Eagles snapped him up on the waiver wire.

Tre Sullivan is 24 years old, an undrafted rookie and began the year on the practice squad.

Avonte Maddox is 22, a rookie fourth-round pick, missed a month of the season with injuries.

Rasul Douglas is 23, began the season buried behind Jalen Mills, Ronald Darby and Sidney Jones in the Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy.

This unlikely collection of no-name defensive backs that nobody else wanted — “The Legion of Whom,” as Twitter has taken to calling them — is one of the biggest reasons the Eagles are still playing football.

It took a while. The Eagles signed and released defensive backs all year before figuring this thing out.

But they return to New Orleans with a secondary that bears little resemblance to the one that began the season.

They’re really good, and Malcolm Jenkins knows it.

We have so many young guys who are contributing, and all of them have really been forced to elevate their games. They’ve been in the fire and they’ve been learning. … I think it’s a credit to those individuals and the time they put into it, how much it means to them. I’ve seen young guys come into the league and not really understand the magnitude of having to be consistent every single week, to detail your preparation every single week, to take care of your body every single week and find something to get better at every single week. That endurance is usually kind of short with young guys, but they’ve done a great job of really I think finding their role, improving and not trying to do too much but steadily (gone from) one of the areas that everybody kind of identified as the Achilles heel and have been playing well and it just elevated our entire team, our entire defense.

Those four defensive backs, Sullivan, LeBlanc, Douglas and Maddox, played a combined 228 of 256 snaps Sunday in the win over the Bears. Douglas and Maddox never left the field.

To watch their progress has been remarkable.

“Over the course of this entire season we’ve had a lot of young guys contribute, especially on the back end, and they’ve been thrown into the fire,” Jenkins said.

“Whether it was a good game or a bad game they’ve learned over time and gotten a ton of experience and I think grown substantially each week. We’ve seen that — and I think it’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to excel as a team, especially on defense — these young guys getting that experience.”

The Eagles won a Super Bowl last year with Mills, Darby and Patrick Robinson playing virtually all the cornerback snaps.

Now they’re in the conference semifinals with an entirely different group of corners.

Without someone like Sullivan coming into his own, Jim Schwartz wouldn’t have been able to play six-DBs on nearly two-thirds of the Eagles’ defensive snaps Sunday in Chicago.

Without that flexibility, the Eagles probably aren’t still playing football.

Secondary coaches Cory Undlin and Tim Hauck deserve a ton of credit for coaching these young guys up and keeping them engaged and confident when the season looked lost.

They all survived 48-7 the first time around in New Orleans and instead of crying or pouting or giving up, they just rolled up their sleeves and worked harder.

And look where they are now.

We’re a prideful group, which is one of the reasons we’ve been able to even keep it together,” Jenkins said. “Because you’ve got guys that actually care about what we’re doing, that care about each other, that care about what they put out on the field and take pride in their preparation and pride in the way that they’re going to compete … and I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve been able to turn it around. It’s something we’re very proud to be a part of. It wasn’t what we planned, but we’re right where we wanted to be.

There’s an important lesson here for all of us. It’s not all about what you see at the beginning of the season or the middle of the season.

Things change. Players grow. Teams evolve.

It’s all about how you deal with adversity, and it’s hard to imagine this group of young defensive backs dealing with it any better.

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NFL Draft 2020: Top analyst has a ‘home run’ pick for the Eagles

NFL Draft 2020: Top analyst has a ‘home run’ pick for the Eagles

The Eagles have a pretty obvious and pressing need at wide receiver as the 2020 NFL Draft nears and here’s some good news: 

NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, on a national conference call Friday afternoon, called this class of receivers “phenomenal,” adding that he has 27 (!) receivers with top-three round grades. 

With all that in mind, I asked Jeremiah which receivers might be available when the Eagles pick at No. 21 and which players of that group would really fit what they do offensively. 

One name rose above the rest. 

If you were to say, ‘Home run pick for the Eagles, who is it?’ Henry Ruggs. Just because how much speed and juice he would give to that offense.

In his first mock draft of the season released on Jan. 21, Jeremiah actually had the Eagles taking Ruggs with the 21st pick. But on Friday said he expects Ruggs to be “long gone” by the time the Eagles on on the clock at 21. 

Ruggs (6-0, 190) didn’t put up monster numbers at Alabama but there’s a chance the Eagles this year won’t care about college production as they have in the past. And Ruggs certainly has one key attribute: speed. 

Jeremiah, who was once a scout with the Eagles, said he thinks the Birds will prefer the element of speed, which Ruggs certainly has. There’s a chance Ruggs might blow the doors off the combine, which would only hurt the Eagles’ odds of landing him. 

An interesting thought is a possible trade up. The Eagles are expected to have a total of 10 picks in this draft and perhaps they could use some of those picks to move up and take a player like Ruggs. 

But if they don’t, Jeremiah said the Eagles could use different styles of receivers and had some other options with that No. 21 pick: 

Justin Jefferson: The 6-3, 192 LSU receiver is coming off an incredible junior season. He caught 111 passes for 1,540 yards and 18 touchdowns. 

“I think Justin Jefferson has got a chance to be a high, high volume slot receiver who is a lot like Keenan Allen,” Jeremiah said. “He can fill that role, he can work in traffic, he’s really good down in the red zone. He led the entire draft class down in the red zone this year. He had 12. He’s a point producer and he’d be a great fit for them.”

Brandon Aiyuk: At 6-1, 206 pounds, Aiyuk is known for his YAC ability. He averaged 18.3 yards per catch in 2019 (65 catches, 1,192 yards, 8 touchdowns). 

“I love Brandon Aiyuk from Arizona State,” Jeremiah said. “I think he’s a stud. He’s tough, competitive, run after catch guy. Needs a little polish but he can return as well so has some value there.”

Tee Higgins: At 6-4, 215, Higgins is a very different player than a guy like Ruggs. He did catch 59 balls for 1,167 yards and 13 touchdowns in his junior season at Clemson. 

“And then Tee Higgins will probably be there, who’s long, tall and rangy,” Jeremiah said. “You’re hoping you’re drafting A.J. Green but I don’t think he’s on that level. But that’s the style which he plays. There’s a little bit of concern with him just getting off press. Some of the better competition he played later in the year, he struggled a little bit with that. 

“I would say that group of wide receivers is the one they’ll be staring at.”

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Ranking all of Howie Roseman’s Eagles 2nd-round picks

Ranking all of Howie Roseman’s Eagles 2nd-round picks

As we near the 2020 NFL draft, the Eagles are expected to have 10 selections and a real opportunity to pick up some important young players for the future of the franchise. 

During his time as GM (2010-14, 2016-present), Howie Roseman has had some hits and he’s had some misses. 

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to rank all of his draft picks (excluding the 2015 year when Chip Kelly was in charge) by round. 

We already looked at the first round.

Today, we’ll get to his 10 second-round picks: 

1. Zach Ertz (2013, No. 35) 

It’s hard to believe that Ertz is 29 already and just finished his seventh NFL season. While he’s playing in an era with some other really great tight ends, Ertz is having the type of season that will one day likely warrant a discussion about the Hall of Fame. He’s the only player in Eagles history with five straight seasons with 70+ catches and 800+ yards. And his 525 receptions are the most ever for a tight end through their first seven seasons. 

2. Miles Sanders (2019, No. 53) 

Maybe this is too early but I’m sold on Sanders. I think he’s going to be a star and I think the Eagles nailed this pick. Going by merit, he’s too high here but I’m projecting some. Sanders set an Eagles rookie record for scrimmage yards with 1,327. I expect him to continue to get better too. 

3. Mychal Kendricks (2012, No. 46) 

Kendricks played six seasons with the Eagles and even signed a pretty significant contract with the team. His last game as an Eagle was Super Bowl LII. While the Eagles moved on from him after the Super Bowl and while his play the last couple years wasn’t up to his previous level, Kendricks was a pretty darn good player for several years. In six years with the Eagles he had 3 Ints, 7 FFs and 14.0 sacks. 

4. Dallas Goedert (2018, No. 49) 

If Ertz wasn’t already an Eagle, I have no doubt Goedert would be a clear No. 1 tight end and his stats would be much better. Even with Ertz in front of him, Goedert has caught 91 passes for 941 yards and nine touchdowns in his first two seasons and he’s been a really good blocker. He has allowed the Eagles to utilize 12 personnel and make their offense more diversified. 

5. Jordan Matthews (2014, No. 42) 

He never had a 1,000-yard season but the Vanderbilt product in a three-season span (2014-16) caught 225 passes for 2,673 yards and 19 touchdowns. While he was never a great receiver, it’s hard to argue with those numbers. But his two stints with the Eagles since then haven’t been very productive. 

6. Vinny Curry (2012, No. 59) 

Curry has had a strange career in Philly. For the first few years of his career, he was a pass-rush specialists and was later a run-stuffing first- and second-down player. His best season came in 2014, when he piled up 9.0 sacks. In his second stint in 2019, he actually had 5.0 sacks but is set to be a free agent again. 

7. Nate Allen (2010, No. 37) 

Allen didn’t become the Eagles’ next great safety but he’s better than you remember. In five years with the Eagles he played 74 games (69 starts) and had 10 interceptions and four sacks. 

8. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (2019, No. 57) 

We have just one year to work off of so maybe JJAW rises quickly. But early returns certainly aren’t good for the receiver out of Stanford. As a rookie, Arcega-Whiteside caught 10 passes for 169 yards and a touchdown. The Eagles could have used more production in 2019. 

9. Sidney Jones (2017, No. 43) 

Jones made some clutch plays late in the 2019 regular season but he clearly hasn’t lived up to his extremely high potential. The Eagles took a gamble when they drafted him coming off an Achilles tear and so far that hasn’t paid off. The Eagles would have loved if Jones could have taken over a starting gig but he’s struggled to stay healthy and when he’s been on the field he hasn’t been the great corner we saw at Washington. I have Jones lower than JJAW simply because he’s had more opportunities. 

10. Jaiquawn Jarrett (2011, No 54) 

Once billed as a hard-hitting safety in the mold of Brian Dawkins, the Temple draft pick lasted just over one season with the Eagles. He played a total of 13 games with the Eagles and started two games. He was released the September after his rookie season. 

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