As June keeps moving along week by week, we have reached a dry patch in the NFL offseason schedule. Free agency, the draft, OTA’s and Minicamps have all come and gone. The next important date on the Eagles calendar is July 29th, as that date is the Birds first training camp practice. Since that is over a month away let’s debate what Eagles’ rookies will make the biggest impact on the field in 2017.
Obviously the rookie with the highest expectations going into this season is first round pick DE Derek Barnett out of the University of Tennessee. Last year for the Vols, Barnett had 56 total tackles, 13 sacks, and two forced fumbles. At 6’3, 265 pounds Barnett has a long wingspan which will help him with pass rushing in the NFL. Barnett had a strong minicamp, which got the attention of some of his veteran teammates. After getting beat by Barnett in practice Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson said, “If a rookie beats me, its going to be all over Twitter and all that.” With the joking aside Johnson complemented Barnett by saying “The thing about him, he has such a good bend, so if you miss with your hands (you’re going to get beat),” Johnson said. “I think he’s going to have a great year for us. He’s got a great motor. Every play. That’s a good thing for us.” Johnson also compared the first round draft pick to fellow Eagle Brandon Graham. If Barnett can bring this explosiveness to the field come September, he will be a force for the Eagles pass rush all season long.
In this years NFL Draft the Eagles took two cornerbacks, Sidney Jones and Rasul Douglas. While Jones was the more popular and sought after prospect, he is coming off a serious achilles injury and is not expected to be on the field until at least October. Starting this year Douglas has a very good opportunity to step in and play a lot of snaps right away. At 6’2, 209 pounds, the former West Virginia Mountaineer led the NCAA in interceptions last season with eight. With his long arms, Douglas has always been great around the ball, also tallying eight pass deflections with West Virginia. Since the Eagles cornerback group greatly lacks depth, Douglas has had a chance to go against the Birds top receivers in mini camp and he definitely caught the eye of some veterans, including WR Alshon Jeffery. When asked about Douglas guarding him everyday in practice Jeffery said, “I look for him to have, my prediction, is probably to say about three to five picks this year,” Jeffery said. “I believe he can do that. Maybe more, we’ll see. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s already pretty good. He’s going to be a good corner in this league. He’s just got to keep working, keep learning from what his coaches tell him. He’s not intimidated by anything. He’s just ready to compete. He’s ready to play ball. I just let him do his thing and I let him get better because he’s getting me better. It’s a mutual thing.” If Jeffery is right, the Eagles could have found their two future starting cornerbacks with Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones.
This last one might surprise some people, but one player who is bound for some first year success in the NFL is, linebacker Nathan Gerry out of the University of Nebraska. While suiting up for the Cornhuskers, Gerry was a dominant safety, who recored 273 tackles and 13 interceptions during his four years in college. Even though during the draft process Gerry interviewed with the Eagles while still listed as a safety he is all in on the plan to begin his professional career at the linebacker position. When asked about the switch Gerry said, “I would say a good handful of teams mentioned it to me. I think it’s the versatility that I had freshman year I was playing linebacker because we had a lack of depth there, so just being able to play multiple roles is kind of what benefited me and is why the Eagles picked me. So I think that a lot of teams did have me switching to linebacker.” Recently linebackers Deone Buchanan with the Cardinals and Mark Barron, now with the Rams made the switch from safety to linebacker and saw instant success. Another reason why Gerry will see a lot of playing time this season is Mychal Kendricks. The Eagles and defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz do not seem to be big fans of Kendricks, as his play time drastically decreased last season. Come September, look for Gerry to receive a lot more snaps then Kendricks at outside linebacker, especially in obvious passing downs. If Gerry progresses the way the Eagles hope, along with Jordan Hicks the Birds could have a dynamic linebacker duo for years to come.