Let’s talk about how the Eagles rookies fit into the lineup and what some realistic expectations are for 2014. Some people have questions about just how much this group can contribute this season.
I’ll add some additional thoughts here.
* Jordan Matthews has a chance to be a key player right away. He will take over Jason Avant’s role in the slot. Matthews can also play outside, which Avant couldn’t really do. He simply lacked the speed to be effective outside the slot. While Matthews brings speed and athleticism, I wondered about his ability to be a clutch receiver. Avant was very reliable. I was shocked when I checked last year’s stats and saw Avant only had 6 catches on 3rd down.
I think Matthews will catch at least 30 passes this year. It wouldn’t shock me to see him get closer to 45 or so. Fantasy football experts think he will be a player to watch. He’s 10th among rookies here. And this guy really loves Matthews, ranking him 5th among rookies. I’m not a big fantasy football guy, but they do a good job with statistical research and projections.
Matthews can become a workhorse receiver in the future. We’ll have to see how things play out with Maclin and his contract before we know the Eagles WR situation, but Matthews has the ability. Heck, he could push Riley Cooper to being more of a role player in the future.
* I covered Marcus Smith in the article as a guy who could be both a backup OLB and a role player in some sub-packages. He will play as much as he earns. The Eagles don’t have to force him into the lineup, but Smith also isn’t a project that absolutely needs years to develop. He has the size, skills and ability to play as a rookie.
The key hindrance for Smith is adjusting to the NFL. The line of scrimmage is much different in the pros than in college. The level of power and physicality can be overwhelming to some rookies. Smith might take time to adjust or he could be one of those rare rookies that adapts quickly. You never know.
Just because Smith isn’t likely to start doesn’t mean he won’t have some impact. The guy is an athlete and he can rush the passer. Something tells me that Bill Davis will find a way to use him.
* If one of the Eagles rookies is going to steal a starting role, Jaylen Watkins could be the guy. He has NFL measurables and good man-to-man cover skills. My guess is that Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher keep their jobs, but they’ll get pushed more by Watkins than they did by Curtis Marsh and the backups last year.
* Taylor Hart will contribute as a rookie. He will be the backup LDE. Clifton Geathers had that role in 2013 and was awkward. For every play where he flashed big time ability, there would be 4 to 5 where he looked marginal. Hart is new to the NFL, but he knows how to play DE in a 3-4 that uses 2-gap technique. I think fans will enjoy Hart. He’s a big guy with some athletic ability and a good motor.
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The x-factors to all of this are injuries and performance. We all expected Isaac Sopoaga to be the NT last year. He was underwhelming and got traded. That cleared the way for Bennie Logan to start. You never know which veterans will struggle and need to be replaced.
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I know most of you know this, but it can’t be said enough…The Draft is About the Future.
When the Steelers were at their best, they sat as many rookies as possible. They drafted for the future and let their veterans play while the young guys learned and got worked into the lineup.
Smith, Matthews and Watkins could all be starters as soon as 2015 and should all be starting by 2016 for sure. If not, that’s when we know the Eagles missed on picks or there were some extenuating circumstances (like injuries).