The Eagles’ youth movement is finally starting to look like one.
If there’s one encouraging thing that’s come out of the first seven weeks of this strange season, it’s the emergence of a promising group of young players who came into the season unproven, untested and unknown.
The Eagles had been throwing the youth movement tag around since last season ended, but when you’re counting so heavily on guys like Jason Peters, DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Jason Kelce, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry, it sure doesn’t feel like one.
Lately, it’s started to.
While numerous over-30 Eagles - Peters, Jackson, Jeffery, Vinny Curry, Brandon Brooks, Lane Johnson - have missed significant time with injuries this season, there are signs that help is on the way.
Some 34 players 25 and under have played at least one game for the Eagles this year and 18 of them have made at least one start. Eighteen of the 34 had never played in the NFL before (or had played fewer than 10 snaps), and 10 of the 18 starters had never started a game in the NFL.
This isn’t to say they'll all be stars. Or even productive role players. But for a team that was aging dangerously - the NFL’s 3rd-oldest roster last year - it’s a positive sign.
Jordan Mailata, Jack Driscoll and Nate Herbig have all looked like potential future starters on the offensive line, and they’re all 23 or younger.
Travis Fulgham, John Hightower and Jalen Reagor have all made big plays in the receiving game, and that’s a pretty good nucleus of wide receivers to build on. And until two months ago, none of them had caught an NFL pass.
The rookie defensive draft picks - K’Von Wallace, Shaun Bradley and Davion Taylor - have shined on special teams and gotten a taste on defense.
And guys like Greg Ward, Josh Sweat, Derek Barnett, T.J. Edwards and Josh Sweat - all still 24 or 25 - have looked like key pieces when they’ve been healthy. Avonte Maddox has been banged up, but he’s only 24. Heck, Miles Sanders is only 23 and Dallas Goedert 25, and we all know how good they are.
All these guys are 25 or younger, and they’re all contributing to various degrees.
“I do believe that it really lifts everybody,” Doug Pederson said Tuesday. “There's a sense of energy I think with a younger player, youthfulness, a guy that's out there and kind of flying around. You see him making plays in practice and then it carries over in games and I think everybody really kind of feeds off that.”
Now, I’m not under any illusions that this is a Super Bowl roster. It’s not. There’s a lot of work to do. A lot more young, impact players to find.
But anytime you can have productive players on cheap rookie deals, that means more cap space available to re-sign valuable veterans or maybe pick up a free agent or two.
And generally, young players won't get hurt as much as older guys.
But it goes deeper than that.
Homegrown players always have more of a kinship to the team they came up with, and the more homegrown players you have who’ve grown up at the NovaCare Complex, the easier it is to maintain that locker room culture. Because guys coming and going from team to team don’t always buy into that. Why should they? They’re just passing through.
“It's been really exciting to see our young players have such an impact on our first seven games,” Pederson said. “And then really, I think, quite frankly, they're going to have an impact on the rest of the season, as they get more and more playing time. I know I get energized and I get jazzed up when you see these guys come in and do the things that we see in practice and it carries over into games.”
And for the first time in a while, it seems like there’s a coaching staff here that can recognize these young players' talent and develop it.
It’s tough to build with youth when you keep missing on premium draft picks.
But you find players where you can, and Howie Roseman and his staff have done well with late-round picks, undrafted guys and waiver-wire pickups, and those count just as much.
Some of the Eagles’ best players are still their oldest players – Graham, Kelce, Fletcher Cox, Rodney McLeod. And there’s a long way to go before the Eagles’ level of young talent is where it needs to be.
But it’s a promising start, and that’s more than they’ve had around here in quite a while.