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Lawlor: How Do The New Eagles Fit In?

Posted May 4, 2016

The NFL Draft is all about adding talent for the long-term benefit of your organization. That's why some people are so wrong when they obsess on needs. Too often, they are talking about immediate holes to fill when the draft is more about long-term solutions. Even then, the focus should still be on acquiring the best players. The Eagles drafted eight players. None of them are projected to start right away, but several have the potential to be future starters. Let's talk about how the players fit the Eagles, in terms of both scheme and long-term planning.

1. Put Wentz In Positon For Long-Term Success

Carson Wentz is pretty obvious. He is the quarterback of the future. Sam Bradford and Chase Daniel will be the quarterbacks for 2016. Wentz will get a chance to show what he can do this spring and summer. The Eagles will feed him as much of the playbook as they can, trying to test his ability to learn and retain knowledge. There is no question that Wentz has the physical tools to be an NFL starter. He has to master the mental side of things and to develop refined passing skills. That takes time.

The Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb back in 2007. He led the NFL in preseason passing attempts that year. The Eagles gave him a ton of work. They could do that because the quarterbacks ahead of him, Donovan McNabb and A.J. Feeley, knew the offense inside-out and didn't need the reps. Wentz won't have that chance. Bradford is new to this offense and Daniel is new to the team. They need reps. Hopefully, Wentz will get to play the entire preseason finale so we can take a long look at him before he goes quiet for the regular season.

If Wentz does impress this spring and summer, there will be some people beating the drum for him to play this year, even in a limited role. Let me remind you of an old coaching adage. It is better to play a player a week too late rather than a week too early. Wentz is the future of the team. Don't rush him. Get him ready so that when he does play, he can succeed.

2. Seumalo Has Best Chance To Start As A Rookie

The Eagles' next pick didn't come until the third round. They chose offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo. For now, he will be given a chance to compete for the left guard spot. Seumalo has the best chance of starting among all the rookies. He is very experienced and the team has a hole at a spot where he will be competing.

I'm not sure what the team's long-range plan is for Seumalo. He is incredibly versatile. He played all over the offensive line while at Oregon State. Just this year, I watched him play left tackle and right guard. Most of his college experience came at center. Where do you project this guy? The Eagles will see how he does at left guard. If Seumalo wins that competition this summer, maybe he stays there for a decade. If Seumalo doesn't win that job, maybe the team slides him over to be the backup center this year. The Eagles will move him around until they find the right spot for him. Seumalo is smart, tough and physical. That's what you want in an interior lineman. Doug Pederson has said a few times that he really values linemen who are versatile and have a nasty streak. Seumalo is a perfect fit for the Eagles.

3. Eagles Want More Explosiveness From Run Game

Running back Wendell Smallwood was the next pick. He will have a chance to contribute right away. The Eagles have Ryan Mathews as the starting running back and then Darren Sproles and Kenjon Barner are role players. Smallwood could get five to 10 carries a game. He was the Big 12's leading rusher in 2015 and is a very talented player. Howie Roseman talked about how Smallwood led all of college football in runs of 10 yards. The Eagles didn't get enough runs like that in 2015. They want more explosion and think Smallwood can help in that area.

I don't know if Smallwood can become a starting running back. I struggled with that question when evaluating him for the draft. I like him quite a bit and think he is a good fit for the Eagles' offense, but I'm not sure if he can carry the ball 20 times a game consistently in the NFL. Smallwood also has to show he can be an effective blocker. He did a solid job with pass protection at West Virginia, but that's easy compared to what he'll be doing against NFL competition. Smallwood was good value even if he remains a role player. I think it is possible he could start down the line, but it isn't a sure thing.

4. Vaitai Has Rare Traits

Is everyone excited about saying Halapoulivaati Vaitai for the next few years? I loved his college game tape. Vaitai is big and also has good feet. He is very talented, but will need some time to develop. Luckily, the Eagles can be patient with him for now. They have Jason Peters and Lane Johnson as the starters, with Dennis Kelly as the top backup tackle. I think Vaitai has the potential to be a starter in a year or two. He played both left and right tackle at TCU. I thought he looked more natural on the left side, but it won't surprise me if the Eagles work him more on the right side. Vaitai has the length, frame and bulk that I'm sure Pederson loves in an offensive tackle. You can't teach that stuff. You either have it or you don't. The fact that a man with his size also has good feet is what makes him such an intriguing prospect.

5. Countess Draws Comparison To Rodney McLeod

The Eagles took defensive back Blake Countess in the sixth round. Notice I didn't say corner, slot or safety. Countess is so versatile that he could play any of those roles for the Eagles. Howie Roseman brought up the name of Rodney McLeod after the draft when talking to the media about Countess. Both players split time between corner and safety in college. Both were about 5-10 and 185 pounds when entering the NFL. That's interesting. I think the Eagles will move Countess around until they find the right spot for him. He could challenge for the slot role this year or be the No. 3 safety. You get the feeling the team likes Countess quite a bit and is excited to see where he will fit in. At the least, he could be a key special teams player as a rookie.

6. Mills Should Have Been A Day 2 Pick

I was shocked when the team was able to pick Jalen Mills in the seventh round. Based purely on football, Mills probably should have been a third-round pick. He was a four-year starter at LSU which is an incredible accomplishment. Mills split time between corner and safety. Watching him play at LSU, he reminded me a lot of Walter Thurmond. Both players have a cornerback build and cover skills, but were able to be good safeties. Mills is more physical and a better tackler. I expect him to focus on playing safety and to push for playing time this year.


7. McCalister Has Pass Rush Potential

Alex McCalister did not have a great college career, but he has a ton of NFL potential. McCalister slid to the seventh round mainly due to off-field issues. He was suspended for Florida's opening game and then dismissed from the team for the bowl game. The Eagles have done extensive research and feel like this is a young man worth taking a risk on. He could be a key role player in the NFL. McCalister is 6-6 and has long arms. He is a gifted pass rusher and has the potential to become a starting defensive end if he can get bigger and stronger and develop into an effective run defender. The Eagles have three good defensive ends. After the big three, there is a mixture of potential and questions. McCalister is a good enough pass rusher to push for playing time right away. He has to prove he can handle the physicality of the NFL, as well as handing himself the right way off the field.


8. Walker Will Compete For Backup MIKE LB Spot

The Eagles spent their final pick on Joe Walker, a linebacker from Oregon. He was a two-year starter for the Ducks and will come to Philly to fight for the backup spot behind Jordan Hicks. Walker wasn't a huge college star, but was a tough, smart, consistent player who produced on defense and special teams. The Eagles don't have great depth at linebacker so Walker will get the chance to win a job this year. Walker did build some pre-draft buzz with a really good workout at Oregon's Pro Day. I don't anticipate Walker becoming a starter at the NFL level, but he could become a key role player.

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.

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