Round 1 (14) – Derek Barnett | DE | Tennessee | 6’3” | 259
There was a lot of buzz that the Eagles were interested in a pass rusher with the 14th pick, and they ended up taking the one that was most linked to them. They hosted Barnett for a pre-draft visit on April 17th (http://bit.ly/2oXUH4O). I think the most interesting part of this selection is it marks a departure from what the Eagles typically looked for in the past. This time, the Eagles emphasized production over projection. He is the most prolific pass rusher in Tennessee history, surpassing Reggie White’s sack record this season. This past season, he had 13 sacks and 19 tackles-for-loss. The Eagles were middle of the pack when it came to pass rush this season, tied for 16th in sacks with 34 on the season; however, they lost Connor Barwin and had very disappointing output from Vinny Curry, who got a huge contract extension in the offseason (http://bit.ly/2pP1h2n). The Eagles are going to needed a contributor at that position.
As a prospect, Barnett displays many of the traits you look for in an edge rusher. His best trait is how fast he gets off the ball, exploding around the edge as soon as the ball is snapped, often times before the opposing tackle is out of his stance. One of the most important aspects of evaluating a pass rusher is bending around the edge. He displays excellent bend when rushing and is able to flatten to the quarterback after getting past the opposing tackle. He is also a relentless pass rusher, never giving up on a play, pursuing ball carriers and getting coverage sacks when the opportunity presents itself. Barnett is a good fit in Jim Schwartz’s wide-9 scheme that enables undersized players to produce.
Here is a video of Barnett exploding off the ball and using his hands to get to the quarterback:
I’m giving the Barnett selection a “B” because of who was left on the board when the Eagles made the selection. Players like Jonathan Allen, Malik Hooker, OJ Howard, and Reuben Foster were all still on the board when the Eagles picked Barnett at 14, all of whom I had graded higher than him.
Barnett doesn’t come without shortcomings. If you look at the measurables, he has a lot working against him. Measuring 6’3” and 259 pounds, he is on the smaller end for defensive ends, and 32-inch arms are less than ideal. Arm length is an indicator of how he will be able to disengage once an offensive tackle gets his hands out there to block him. When it came to athletic testing, he didn’t do much better. Barnett tested in the 27th percentile athletically, meaning 73 percent of defensive ends tested better. This is not to say that he won’t be successful; Terrell Suggs had a very similar experience at his combine and pro day, and he turned out just fine. But with those numbers, he would be the exception and not the rule. He did go through the combine with the flu and participated in his pro-day with a hamstring injury, so his numbers could be deceptively bad. The major drawback of Barnett on tape is his lack of a countermove. Most young edge rushers need to develop a countermove coming out of college, so I don’t put a lot of stock in that criticism.
The Eagles made a very safe selection with Derek Barnett, and I think it will pay off with a very consistent, productive career.
Round 2 (43) – Sidney Jones | CB | Washington | 6’0” | 186
This is the riskiest pick that the Eagles made, and I love it. In this historically deep cornerback draft, the Eagles selected arguably the best corner in the draft. The Eagles had a glaring need at cornerback entering the draft. Prior to the draft, the cornerbacks on the Eagles roster were Ron Brooks (recovering from a ruptured quad tendon), Dwayne Gratz, Aaron Grymes, Jalen Mills, Patrick Robinson, C.J. Smith, and Mitchell White–not an ideal group in a division with Odell Beckham Jr., Brandon Marshall, Dez Bryant, and Terrelle Pryor. There were a plethora of cornerbacks when the Eagles chose Sidney Jones. Picking another player probably would have been the safer route, but it’s very difficult to pass up an elite talent like Jones. Before his Achilles injury, he was in the running to be the first cornerback taken and almost certainly would have been the Eagles preference with the 14th pick. Sticking to their focus on production, the Eagles noticed his eight career interceptions and 21 career passes defended in Washington.
As a prospect, Jones is an aggressive corner that is extremely smooth in coverage. Washington plays a scheme that displays various coverages; press, off-man, and zone. In press, he has a good jam at the line of scrimmage rerouting the receiver and disrupting the route. He is smart in press coverage, engaging the receiver as much as possible. He has a fluid backpedal and is able to flip his hips and drive on the ball once the ball is in the air. He ran a more than adequate 40-yard dash (4.47 seconds), but his ability to close on a receiver once the ball is in the air may be his best attribute. He uses his eyes to read the quarterback without losing his man in coverage, which enables him to create turnovers and make plays on the ball.
Here Jones gets a jam at the line, pins the receiver between him and the sideline, and makes a great play on the ball:
The drawback to the Jones pick is obviously the Achilles injury he sustained during his pro day workout on March 11th. I’m not a medical professional, but Achilles injuries seem to be a harder injury to recover from than ACL tears. Howie Roseman wouldn’t commit to a timetable for his return, and given the shortcomings at the position, it would be tough for the Eagles to not have him for a whole season. That being said, the Eagles’ medical staff does have experience treating these injuries. Players like Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks, and DeMeco Ryans have all successfully recovered from Achilles injuries to be productive players after recovery. If he is able to recover to the level he was before the injury, it will be like having two first-round picks for the Eagles. The Eagles are at best a wild card team next season, so I’m willing to wait for an elite talent like Jones.
Round 3 (99) – Rasul Douglas | CB | West Virginia | 6’2” | 209
The Eagles selected another corner in the third round, and it’s a good thing they did; corners were flying off the board at that point. In the time that the Eagles selected Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas, nine cornerbacks were taken. It was obvious that the Eagles needed a starting corner who could come in and contribute right away, and the need fit the board with Douglas. Again the Eagles selected an extremely productive player. As a one-year starter at West Virginia, he had eight interceptions and eight passes defended.
Douglas is an extremely long cornerback who most people would probably associate with the Seahawks. His long athletic frame looks good and he has all the makings of a press corner, even though he did not often play press coverage at West Virginia. Something I think made him intriguing to the Eagles is his familiarity playing off-man coverage, which the Eagles play a decent amount. He also has a good catch radius, which is an asset in zone coverage. Limited athletically, he makes up for it with instincts and vision. He is able to read the quarterback very well, which enables him to make plays on the ball. When he gets behind a receiver, he doesn’t panic, but keeps composure and recovers well. Douglas also closes on the football well, given his athletic limitations.
On this play Douglas is able to plant his left foot and drive on the football to make the interception:
The drawbacks of Rasul Douglas are much like the drawbacks of Derek Barnett. He tested very poorly at this year’s combine. I typically use the 4.55-second 40-yard dash time as a cutoff for a starting outside corner, and he ran a 4.59. He did have better numbers in the broad jump (10 feet), short shuttle (4.26 seconds) and three-cone drill (6.97 seconds); he’s not a top performer, but acceptable. On the tape, his height sometimes works against him. He has a tendency to rise in his backpedal, making it harder to flip his hips and drive on the ball. He is probably best-suited covering bigger, slower receivers at the NFL level, rather than burners.
Douglas’ play reminds me a lot of ex-Eagle Bobby Taylor, and that should excite people.
Round 4 (118) – Mack Hollins | WR | North Carolina | 6’4” | 221
Thus far in their careers, the two young receivers on the Eagles have not been able to put it together. Both Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham have been below average and the Eagles clearly had to do something to improve the group. This offseason they added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, which was a good start, but they really needed to overhaul the group. From a roster perspective, the Eagles receiving corps last season didn’t contribute on special teams. That didn’t hurt the special teams unit, but, historically, fourth and fifth receivers should be able to contribute on special teams. Hollins brings a presence on special teams, having captained the special teams unit while at North Carolina.
Hollins is a good height/weight/speed prospect who ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash at the combine at 6’4” and 221 pounds. He was able to use his height and speed to his advantage averaging 20.6 yards-per-reception for his career and scoring a touchdown on almost a quarter of his receptions. This is somewhat of a departure from the first three Eagles picks in that he was never a huge contributor for North Carolina. His highest reception total was only 35. However, his immediate contributions on special teams should offset any impatience with his development.
Here Hollins gets past the secondary and makes a nice adjustment to the ball away from the defensive back:
Hollins shares many weaknesses with other young receivers entering the NFL. He runs a limited route tree and was sent on deep patterns down the field a majority of the time at North Carolina. Entering this season, many people thought that he would be drafted earlier than the fourth round; however, a collarbone injury cut his season short. He is a high potential pick for the Eagles who will come in and contribute while developing.
Round 4 (132) – Donnel Pumphrey | RB | San Diego State | 5’8” | 176
One of the biggest areas of need for the Eagles entering the draft was running back. Prior to the draft, the only running backs currently on the Eagles’ roster were Darren Sproles (retiring after this season), Wendell Smallwood, Terrell Watson, and Ryan Mathews (will most likely be cut when healthy). Going into the draft, I thought this wasn’t a bad problem to have, given the depth at the position in this draft class. When the Eagles drafted Donnel Pumphrey, I was a little surprised and disappointed. At the 132nd pick, players like Jamaal Williams, Marlon Mack, Jeremy McNichols, T.J. Logan, and Aaron Jones were still on the board, all of whom were players I had a higher grade on than him. This is another pick emphasizing production. While at San Diego State, Pumphrey rushed for over 6,400 yards and 62 touchdowns.
Pumphrey is a player you want to do well. At 5’8” and 176 pounds, he’s not dissimilar to Darren Sproles, and having set the all-time rushing record in NCAA history is pretty incredible. I think it’s safe to say that he was drafted to be Sproles’ replacement. On tape, he has good vision and is very decisive when he decides to plant his foot and head upfield. He displays rare change of direction ability; planting his feet and making people miss in the open field. He is a good route runner in the receiving game and is a natural hands catcher. He is very elusive and rarely takes a big hit before going down, which contributed to his durability at San Diego State. Pumphrey also has a knack for finding the end zone, and once he finds daylight, he is almost never brought down from behind.
On this play, Pumphrey finds a cutback lane and is able to turn a little open field into a touchdown:
Unlike Darren Sproles, Pumphrey does not possess the same build. He looks very thin in pads and it’s hard to imagine his frame being able to add much more weight. His play strength is weak and he’s often brought down by arm tackles and often doesn’t move forward after contact. As an indication of the strength difference, Darren Sproles completed 23 reps at 225 pounds, whereas he completed just five. The Bench press isn’t very important for a running back, but it provides an indication of the players overall strength and right now, his strength is lacking. Pumphrey may prove me wrong, but I’m not sure he will be able to handle the grind of an NFL season.
Round 5 (166) – Shelton Gibson | WR | West Virginia | 5’11” | 191
I don’t think the Eagles intended to draft two receivers going into the draft; however, Gibson fell to them in the fifth round and there was a run on a few corners I believe they liked (Corn Elder & Damontae Kazee). He is excellent value in the fifth round. This pick really rounds out the receiving corps this season with Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith, Jordan Matthews, Mack Hollins, Nelson Agholor, and Gibson.
Like Mack Hollins, Gibson brings a dimension to the Eagles offense that they have missed since the departure of DeSean Jackson; the ability to stretch the field. At West Virginia, he averaged 22.6 yards-per-reception. That average may look like a lot given his underwhelming 40-yard-dash time (4.5 seconds), but on tape, he plays much faster than he was timed. He routinely blows by defensive backs and causes a defense to account for him on every play. Gibson’s weaknesses are not unlike other receivers. He runs a limited route tree specializing in vertical routes. He also suffers from some concentration drops, which can be corrected with coaching.
Here is Gibson tracking a deep ball:
This was a real value pick for the Eagles, and although Gibson may not catch a lot of passes, each pass he catches has the ability to change a game.
Round 5 (184) – Nate Gerry | LB | Nebraska | 6’2” | 218
When the selection was first made, I thought it was a head scratcher. I didn’t think Nate Gerry was a draftable prospect as a safety; however, shortly after the pick, the team announced on twitter that he would be moved to linebacker. That move makes a lot of sense for both Gerry and the Eagles. He will probably have to add a little weight to play full-time LB in the NFL, but he fits the mold of a modern weak side linebacker in a 4-3 defense at 6’2” and 218 pounds. The Eagles’ current linebacker corps is thin, and the Eagles will most likely release Mychal Kendricks if they can’t find a trade partner before June first. The Eagles are in nickel 73.3 percent of snaps, so losing Kendricks isn’t the end of the world.
Gerry is a projection to play linebacker in the NFL, and he already plays the game with that mentality, coming downhill and making plays in both the running game and passing game. He played most of his time at Nebraska as a box safety, so he is used to being closer to the line of scrimmage. He also becomes one of the most athletic linebackers in the draft with a 4.58-second 40-yard dash time, which would have been tied for the fastest linebacker time with Duke Riley. When playing near the line of scrimmage, he can go sideline-to-sideline in run support and isn’t afraid to engage larger players. He plays with intensity and urgency that coaches love. He may have been a liability in coverage for Nebraska, but he showed he can make plays on the ball having 13 career interceptions. Gerry can also contribute immediately on special teams, while he learns how to play linebacker.
Here is Gerry diagnosing the toss and avoiding the lead blocker to make the tackle:
Many of Gerry’s weaknesses on tape are masked by a move to linebacker, his hip stiffness and lack of range are not as glaring. The main thing he will have to work on with his move to linebacker is consistency as a tackler. He often misses tackles by not wrapping up and trying to knock out the ball carrier. Tackling is something that can be improved with coaching. The key for the coaching staff will be to clean up the technique without taking away Gerry’s edge.
Round 6 (214) Elijah Qualls | DT | Washington | 6’1” | 313
The Eagles’ last pick in the 2017 NFL Draft may have been their best. After the Eagles acquired Timmy Jernigan, I really didn’t think they would add another defensive tackle; however, the value of Qualls was too good to pass up. Qualls, a former running back, rushed for 1,847 yards at 260 pounds and was a very disruptive player for Washington this past season. This pick was exactly what NFL general managers are supposed to do, take the best player on the board regardless of need. When evaluating Qualls, I had given him a third round grade, and to get a player with that ability in the sixth round is rare.
Qualls’ athleticism really stands out. Even though Washington plays a two-gap system, he consistently moved offensive lineman around and won at the point of attack. He was extremely productive in Washington’s system having 7.5 career sacks and 11.5 tackles-for-loss during his career. He is quick off the ball and is strong enough to hold up against any offensive lineman at the point of attack. At this year’s scouting combine, he performed 33 bench reps at 225 pounds, tied for the second-best total for a defensive lineman. He has an ideal build for a defensive tackle and is well proportioned throughout his frame. Very light on his feet, Qualls stands to gain a lot by changing schemes to a one-gapping three-technique.
Even though Qualls doesn’t make the play here, this is a good of his athleticism:
Qualls probably slipped in this year’s draft because he has extremely short arms, which could make it harder for him to disengage from blockers at the NFL level. There were also reports that he got too heavy during his time at Washington and would be best-suited losing some of that weight.
Personally, I don’t put much stock in the weight issue and think that in an NFL environment, the Eagles will be able to control his intake. The Eagles could look back at Qualls as the steal of the draft this season.