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Big Roles Ahead For 2017 Rookie Class

Posted Feb 22, 2018

Derek Barnett recovered a late fourth-quarter fumble and played 34 defensive snaps and seven special teams snaps in Super Bowl LII. Corey Clement accounted for 108 yards of offense on 24 snaps from the line of scrimmage. Jake Elliott booted three field goals. Mack Hollins played 17 snaps at wide receiver. Nathan Gerry was a core piece on special teams. Rasul Douglas saw seven snaps of action on special teams ...

Derek Barnett recovered a late fourth-quarter fumble and played 34 defensive snaps and seven special teams snaps in Super Bowl LII. Corey Clement accounted for 108 yards of offense on 24 snaps from the line of scrimmage. Jake Elliott booted three field goals. Mack Hollins played 17 snaps at wide receiver. Nathan Gerry was a core piece on special teams. Rasul Douglas saw seven snaps of action on special teams.

The 2017 Rookie Class delivered as the Eagles won the Super Bowl.

What is next for that group of players? Here is a look, a very early one, as we wait for this offseason to heat up …

Derek Barnett, DE

In 41 percent of the snaps as a rookie, Barnett produced five quarterback sacks, two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble, 32 quarterback pressure/hurries, and 25 total tackles. Barnett was a good player as a rookie and we saw greatness in his game. Barnett proved to be durable and resilient in that he never really hit the rookie wall. In the postseason, Barnett had six quarterback pressure/hurries against Atlanta, a strip-sack against Minnesota, and the big fumble recovery in the Super Bowl.

If Barnett takes that big leap from Year 1 to Year 2 that many young players take in the NFL, he’s going to play a lot more in 2018. The Eagles want to see him add strength and have a great offseason of training. Barnett should really benefit from an offseason of work, rather than auditioning for the NFL Draft. He’s everything the Eagles thought he would be.

Sidney Jones, CB

Who said the regular-season finale against Dallas was meaningless? For Sidney Jones, it meant everything.

Jones made his NFL debut and played 29 snaps at cornerback and another seven on special teams on punt return duty after tearing his Achilles tendon in March at the University of Washington’s Pro Day.

Thus, Jones moves into his second season understanding the tempo of the NFL play and how much more work he needs to do to get all the way back to his pre-injury days.

Jones is a supremely talented player who figures to push for playing time at cornerback in 2018. He’s certainly a player to watch in the spring and in Training Camp as the Eagles evaluate their corners.

Rasul Douglas, CB

After stepping in and playing good football when Ronald Darby was injured, Douglas’ playing time diminished as the season grew longer. That doesn’t mean the Eagles were or are down on Douglas. In fact, he’s a player expected to take a big step forward in the offseason and, like Jones, compete for serious playing time at a young and talented cornerback position in 2018.

Long and physical, Douglas has to improve his technique and learn the game at this NFL level. The Eagles feel like they have an enviable situation at cornerback with Darby, Jalen Mills, Jones, Douglas, and some young players who were on the practice squad in 2017. Veteran Patrick Robinson is due to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Talented position with some questions.

Mack Hollins, WR

Hollins proved to be a reliable target in the passing game, and he also showed he was a very good blocker in the running game. He will make a push for more reps in 2018. Hollins has good size and speed and the Eagles are a team that likes to take shots down the field. A productive offseason during which Hollins adds strength is going to put him in a place where he has a chance to contribute in a big way to the offense in 2018.

As a rookie, Hollins caught 16 passes, averaged 14.1 yards per reception, and scored a touchdown. Those numbers could take a significant jump in the season ahead.

Donnel Pumphrey, RB

No question, Pumphrey will get an opportunity to show what he can do both in the backfield and in the return game after a rookie season spent on Injured Reserve. In retrospect, it was the perfect landing spot for Pumphrey after his incredible four-year workload (more than 1,000 carries) at San Diego State. Pumphrey certainly benefitted from a year of building strength and explosiveness and getting his legs back.

So how does he fit in? Well, nothing is going to be given to him. The Eagles used a running back-by-committee approach to win the Super Bowl and, while Darren Sproles, LeGarrette Blount, and Kenjon Barner are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents and there is no certainty that they will be back as Eagles, the offense still has Jay Ajayi and Clement.

But the Eagles want to see Pumphrey another year stronger and more assured in the offense. He’ll have his chances to win a job and help this football team.

Shelton Gibson, WR

This is an intriguing young man. Gibson has the speed to help this offense as a vertical threat, but we saw him early in 2017 as a raw prospect with his route running who was extremely inconsistent catching the football. Gibson, truthfully, looked like he wouldn’t help at all in his rookie season.

But to his credit, Gibson earned playing time on special teams as a gunner on punt coverage. That’s something to build on for Year 2. Gibson is one of those players who needs a strong offseason during which he improves his strength and works on his pass-catching concentration and consistency. If he can be a reliable pass catcher who improves his all-around game, Gibson could be an explosive part of the offense.

Nathan Gerry, LB

After spending the first six games of the season on the practice squad, Gerry was added to the 53-man roster and made an impact on special teams. Gerry looks to be, at the very least, one of those players who can be a core member on special teams and, perhaps, become a difference-making player there.

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As for his game at linebacker, we haven’t seen enough. Remember that Gerry converted to linebacker from the safety position at Nebraska, so he’s a relative newcomer to the position, at least the way it’s played in the NFL.

The Eagles have some roster questions at linebacker – Nigel Bradham is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, Jordan Hicks is returning from his injury – so Gerry could end up being a pivotal part of the picture there as well.

Elijah Qualls, DT

A hard-working interior defensive lineman, Qualls has a chance to get some backup reps in his second season. The Eagles have to find out what happens with Beau Allen, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. Qualls and players like Destiny Vaeao and Aziz Shittu will challenge for a role behind Fletcher Cox and Tim Jernigan.

Corey Clement, RB

A player who wasn’t drafted became a huge part of the Eagles’ offensive attack as a rookie, and Clement’s rise should be a lesson for every NFL hopeful: Work hard, keep your head down, and don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t achieve success.

Clement is an all-around back who should have a larger role in the offense in 2018 with Ajayi and whomever else the Eagles use in the backfield. He can do it all – strong runner, excellent receiver, and a very willing blocker in pass protection.

An offseason of hard work will serve Clement well as he takes the next step as a running back in the NFL.

Jake Elliott, K

Including the postseason, Elliott made 33 of 38 field goals (86.8 percent), a franchise-most six from 50-plus yards. The kid has a big leg and, with a 7-of-7 performance in the postseason, nerves of steel. His kickoffs are great and, no doubt, Elliott has a very bright future.

He wasn’t great on PATs, missing five of 49 attempts. Very strange. And those chip-shot field goals? Not gimmes for Elliott at times. So he has some things to work on. But Elliott, on many occasions, proved to be a game-saver as a rookie and with his compact, mechanically excellent style, steely demeanor, and focus-on-now level of concentration, could be the next great kicker in Philadelphia. Fingers crossed.

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