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A Look At Draft Class And Road Ahead

Posted Jun 22, 2017

For the 2017 Rookie Class, the final day of the Eagles’ mandatory minicamp and the resulting final whistle allowed them all to take a collective, and huge, sigh of relief. It had been a crazy many months since their college football careers ended. The pre-draft schedule was demanding. The post-draft weeks had been exhausting ...

For the 2017 Rookie Class, the final day of the Eagles’ mandatory minicamp and the resulting final whistle allowed them all to take a collective, and huge, sigh of relief. It had been a crazy many months since their college football careers ended. The pre-draft schedule was demanding. The post-draft weeks had been exhausting.

But when that final practice concluded and the players could pack up and go home for a few weeks, it meant so much.

“It’s been a crazy, hectic time with everything going on before the draft and then after,” first-round draft pick Derek Barnett said. “I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been a great experience. But it will be nice to have some down time, work out hard, and get ready for Training Camp.”

When they return to the NovaCare Complex, the Rookie Class will have a sense of what to expect. They experienced the cadence of a Training Camp day during the team’s mandatory minicamp. They have a good feel for the playbook. They had a taste of the veteran level of speed, strength and experience.

So what can we expect? Here is a rundown of the team’s 2017 draft class and perspective of where each player stands at this point in time.

DEREK BARNETT, defensive end

The Eagles are raving about Derek Barnett. Everything they thought about him before the draft, when they used the 14th overall pick on the standout from the University of Tennessee, was verified, and then some, through the spring.

“Special player with special qualities,” defensive line coach Chris Wilson said of Barnett.

Barnett may or may not start, but it really doesn’t matter. The Eagles are going to rotate their defensive ends – they think they have four who will be really, really productive in Barnett, Brandon Graham, Chris Long and Vinny Curry – and they will all get a lot of reps. Coordinator Jim Schwartz wants an attacking, relentless group and the Eagles think that all four provide just that.

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Barnett looked like the real deal in the spring. The game changes when the pads go on, of course, but Wilson said he thinks that will make Barnett better. The rookie can be more physical. He’s got so many natural skills and the next step is to do it in a full-scale environment.

Barnett lived up to his draft status in the spring. Training Camp and the preseason games will be great tests.

SIDNEY JONES, cornerback

The recovery from a torn Achilles tendon continues for Sidney Jones, and there really is no timetable on when the second-round draft pick will return to the football field. Jones remains at the NovaCare Complex rehabbing his injury and getting into the weight room to build strength.

Everybody wants to make sure that Jones comes all the way back. As he takes those steps, Jones will work on building strength, regaining his confidence in his Achilles tendon and learning the Eagles’ defense. If he plays this year, great. If he doesn’t, great. The Eagles and Jones want him right, all the way back to 100 percent with added body strength and knowledge of how things work in the NFL, when he suits up for practice for the first time.

RASUL DOUGLAS, cornerback

All eyes were on Rasul Douglas in the spring and the third-round draft pick showed what everyone expected: Great length and athletic ability, and the ups and downs of playing the position against a good group of NFL wide receivers. He’s raw. He’s talented. He’s driven to be great. And Douglas is a work in progress, just like the entire group at cornerback.

Every rep matters in the summer for Douglas.

MACK HOLLINS, wide receiver

An impressive spring for Mack Hollins as far as how he ran routes and caught the football, puts him in the mix at wide receiver in Training Camp and throughout the preseason. It won’t be easy to earn playing time with a suddenly very promising wide receiver corps, but Hollins’ ability to play on special teams could earn him some reps.

Hollins is big, and he runs well, and he catches the football away from his body. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh has a lot to work with here.

DONNEL PUMPHREY, running back

So productive as a running back in college, Donnel Pumphrey lined up in the slot, as a wide receiver and as a running back in the spring. The Eagles want to see how he catches the football and runs routes and in what ways they can use him in space. Pumphrey had some inconsistency early in the spring but really came on late. What’s his role for 2017? Can the Eagles find a way to use him on game days? He’s got a lot to show in the summer to earn playing time.

SHELTON GIBSON, wide receiver

A fifth-round draft pick with a lot of speed and burst, Shelton Gibson flashed late in the minicamp after some inconsistencies earlier in the spring. As expected, Gibson had his ups and downs as he makes the transition to the NFL.

It’s going to be interesting to see Gibson upon his return for Training Camp. He and Hollins aren’t givens to make the roster, and with a more competitive wide receiver room than the team has had in some years, the rookies are going to have to prove they are ready to help now.

NATHAN GERRY, linebacker

A strong mandatory minicamp sent Nate Gerry off to the mini-vacation with a lot of confidence as he makes the transition from college safety to NFL linebacker. Gerry has bulked up to 230 pounds from 212 earlier in the spring and he hasn’t sacrificed any speed. Now he just has to cram all the nuances of the position into his repertoire in an extremely short period of time. Not easy.

How he plays on special teams and how well he knows the playbook are the keys for Gerry to make the roster and contribute as a rookie.

ELIJAH QUALLS, defensive tackle

A late arrival after waiting for his University of Washington class to graduate, Elijah Qualls stepped right in and showed that he is athletic and that he learns quickly. More work is needed, of course. Qualls isn’t going to take these next four weeks lightly – none of the rookies will, in fact – so he needs to come into camp and jump right into the mix. No player will benefit more from the early, pre-veteran work than Qualls as he gets up to speed after missing so much spring work.

The Eagles need depth at defensive tackle with Beau Allen still coming back from his torn pectoral muscle and not sure if he can play in September. Qualls will get his reps, that’s for sure.

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