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Fan-Demonium: Scouting The Rookies

Posted May 11, 2015

For the past few months, I studied all kinds of NFL Draft prospects and tried to figure out who the best players were and which ones were likely to be of interest to the Eagles. Since the NFL Draft, I've gone back to re-watch the players who were selected to understand how they fit with the Eagles.

The Eagles started by adding a terrific player in the first round where they selected receiver Nelson Agholor from USC. Chip Kelly didn't want to lose Jeremy Maclin in free agency, but when the price got too high he had to let Maclin go. There were a number of good receivers in the NFL Draft and the Eagles were able to get one.

There is always uncertainty when replacing a veteran with a rookie, but Agholor has the potential to be the kind of player Maclin was. They are virtually the same size (height, weight, arm length, hand size). They have similar playing styles. Both players have the speed to get deep, but can also catch short passes and turn them into big plays. Agholor wasn't as dynamic a college player, but could actually turn out to be the better NFL player.

The one thing about Maclin that could be incredibly frustrating is that he shied away from contact at times. He preferred going to the sideline over attacking the middle of the field. Big plays happen in the middle of the field. That's where the most space is. Agholor is more comfortable playing in traffic and battling defenders. That will serve him well in the NFL.

Agholor has the potential to play right away. He is a fairly polished player, having started for two years in USC's pro style offense. He also is an excellent fit for what the Eagles want to do. They love to throw quick passes and then let the receiver see if he can make something happen out in space. Agholor is outstanding when the ball is in his hands. He is elusive enough to make defenders miss, but also runs hard enough to go through arm tackles. The Eagles like to mix in some deep throws to keep the defense honest. Agholor has the speed to get deep and also has the skills to take advantage of his speed. He tracks the ball well. He is a hands catcher so he can reach out, up or back for the ball. He also shows a second gear, where he can accelerate to balls that are out in front of him.

Maclin caught 85 passes and 10 touchdowns last year. I'm not going to tell you to count on that kind of production from Agholor. He is a rookie and there will be some ups and downs. I do think he can contribute right away and it wouldn't shock me at all to see him start and be productive very quickly. One of the best parts of Agholor is his versatility as a receiver. He can play in the slot or outside. He can be a volume receiver (100 catches as a senior) and he can also be a big-play threat. Agholor had seven career receptions of 60 or more yards. He also had four punt return touchdowns of 50 or more yards. Agholor can move the chains down the field or deliver the big play.

I was shocked that the Eagles were able to get Eric Rowe in the second round. I would have been OK with him at No. 20. They did have to trade a pair of fifth-round picks to move up for him, but I think that is a good deal for a prospect with Rowe's potential. He has the size the Eagles covet in cornerbacks. Rowe can be very physical with receivers, but also has the speed to run with them down the field. He is everything you want in a long, tall corner with athletic ability.

Rowe spent his first three years at Utah playing safety. He moved outside as a senior. It took some time for him to adjust to playing cornerback, but I thought he was terrific by the end of the season. That transition is likely what affected his value and helped him to last longer in the NFL Draft than anticipated. Rowe's background at safety could help him a lot in the long run. One of the things I like most about Rowe is that he is a smart, instinctive player.

The Eagles added Byron Maxwell, E.J. Biggers and Walter Thurmond as corners in free agency. Rowe will start off his career at corner. He should be in the mix with Thurmond, Brandon Boykin and Nolan Carroll for the starting spot opposite of Maxwell. Rowe was a four-year starter at Utah. He might still be learning how to play cornerback, but he's a highly experienced player. He understands defensive concepts and how to read offensive formations and what is happening on a given play. He is big enough to be physical with receivers at the line of scrimmage, which is something Bill Davis likes his corners to do. Rowe can also play off and be effective. He's athletic enough to break on the ball and this is where his feel for the game helps.

Kelly made it no secret that the Eagles were going to strengthen the inside linebacker position in the offseason. They traded for Kiko Alonso and signed Brad Jones in free agency. Kelly kept adding talent when he drafted Jordan Hicks from Texas in the third round. Hicks might remind you more than a little of DeMeco Ryans. Both players came into the league at 6-1 and 236 pounds. Hicks ran 4.68. Ryans ran 4.69. Both were productive linebackers who were considered coaches on the field. They got their teammates lined up correctly and made pre-snap adjustments.

Ryans went in the early second round. Hicks lasted longer in part due to his injury history. He tore his achilles in 2013 and missed the rest of the season. Hicks came back and had a terrific year in 2014 so the Eagles didn't have any long-term concerns. Hicks is in a crowded group at inside linebacker. He might not play much this year. Then again, the Eagles had their top three inside linebackers all miss time last year, two of them suffering season-ending injuries. Hicks can be a good backup and special teams player. He has the potential to play on defense as a rookie. I know many fans wanted a safety or offensive lineman with this pick, but the Eagles had Hicks rated highly and he could be a starting player a year from now.

Lawlor

Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.

The Eagles took a pair of defensive backs in the sixth round. The players couldn't be more different. JaCorey Shepherd had the kind of size the Eagles like. He is just under 6-0, but has a thick, strong build. Like many others, I took my attention away from Shepherd after his Pro Day. He ran 4.65 in the 40-yard dash and that's just too slow for an NFL corner. I should have done more homework. Shepherd ran while injured. NFL scouts pressured him and he didn't want to disappoint them. That killed his draft value.

I re-watched several of Shepherd's games after the NFL Draft. We don't have an accurate 40-time for him, but put on the West Virginia game and you'll see Shepherd cover Mario Alford tightly on multiple downfield routes. Alford has been timed in the low 4.4 range. Shepherd most definitely is not a 4.65 player. That's a bogus time. The game tape shows a player who could end up being the steal of the entire draft. Shepherd has the potential to be a starting cornerback in the NFL. I can't tell you how impressed I was the more that I watched him. I'm as excited to watch Shepherd as I am any of the other rookies. The Eagles needed depth at cornerback and Shepherd helps provide that.

The other pick was Randall Evans from Kansas State. He played corner, safety and nickelback, often times all in the same game. That versatility, along with his size and speed, made him attractive to the Eagles. Evans was at his best playing the slot. He generally played off and then reacted to the receiver. This is tough on defenders. Evans looked comfortable doing it.

Evans reminds me a bit of Cary Williams. Both players had moments when they looked really good in coverage. There were other times when they looked lost. Both players could be good hitters and tacklers at times. On other plays, they could be sloppy. I don't know if Evans will ever develop into a starter in the NFL, but he could be a good nickelback. I don't think Evans is consistently physical enough to play safety, but the Eagles do like guys with good cover skills for those spots so that gives Evans a chance.

The Eagles' final pick was defensive end Brian Mihalik. Go back and find his recruiting bio. Mihalik was listed as about 6-6 and 235 pounds when he committed to Boston College. He kept growing. The Eagles are getting a player who is 6-9 and 295 pounds. Mihalik shows flashes of real potential on his game tape, but doesn't stand out on a consistent basis. The problem is that BC used a 4-3 defense. Mihalik's size made him an awkward fit at that spot. He's not meant to play in space. BC occasionally mixed in some three-man fronts. Mihalik looked much better on those plays. They also lined him up at defensive tackle in some nickel sets. Again, he looked comfortable playing there.

Mihalik will be a two-gap end in the Eagles 3-4 scheme. He has the size and length to be an excellent fit for this spot. At his best, Mihalik uses his length to keep blockers away from his body. He is strong enough to shed blocks and provide a good inside pass rush. He has good potential and could eventually be an effective rotational player. I was shocked by how athletic Mihalik was at his Pro Day. The older he gets, the more he will grow into his size and get comfortable. Mihalik may need time to develop before he makes a strong push for a roster spot. Or maybe Jerry Azzinaro can find a way to bring the best out in him in a couple of short months. Mihalik obviously has NFL size. He will need to get stronger and he will have to learn the techniques the Eagles use. I do think the transition to the two-gap defense will be easier for him than others. Mihalik likes to engage blockers.

One thing that all of the Eagles picks have in common is that these are high-character, hard-working players. Agholor talked about wanting to “work like a peasant” the other day. When is the last time you heard a rookie say something like that? Even crazier, it was a rookie wide receiver.

Chip Kelly places a great emphasis on finding players who will fit the Eagles' culture. It sure seems like these players fit in from that point of view. The challenge now is to show they can get the job done on the field.

As for the undrafted players, receiver John Harris from Texas is the guy who caught my eye. He is a very good blocker and had a great senior season. Kelly likes big, strong receivers. Harris has the kind of size and physicality that Kelly should love.

Brett Boyko and Cole Manhart are the offensive linemen who caught my eye. Boyko is a very good run blocker. Manhart is a good athlete who has the kind of movement skills the Eagles like. Jeff Stoutland recruited Malcom Bunche to Miami. Now, he gets a chance to coach him in the NFL.

Eric Tomlinson is a talented tight end with terrific size. He can block and catch. Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo is a linebacker with some potential as a pass rusher.

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