Twice they traded before selecting a single player. For the second straight April, the Eagles moved out of the first round of the NFL Draft and many wondered if they had again moved out of position to make an "immediate impact" during the weekend. As it turned out, the 2008 draft class had more immediate impact than just about any one of Andy Reid's rookie groups, and in fact one day could go down as one of the best this franchise has had in a long, long time.
It is far too early to label the draft as anything other than a contributing factor to the Eagles' run to the NFC Championship Game. History will tell just how much the rookies will develop and how some of the kids who didn't play develop into contributors on this team. The Eagles drafted 10 players in all and traded for running back Lorenzo Booker, who will be included in this analysis.
Three of the draft picks stepped right in and helped immediately. Another couple could push for playing time next year. The Eagles, who have 10 picks in April, got both immediate impact and some depth insurance from the Class of 2008.
TREVOR LAWS, defensive tackle
After suffering some bumps and bruises and aches and pains in the preseason and early in the season, Trevor Laws settled in as the team's third defensive tackle and played better and better each week. A hard worker with a great attitude, Laws has a good burst and strength off the ball. He learned quickly what line coach Pete Jenkins wanted from him. Laws wasn't spectacular by any means, but he made strides.
If you want an accurate gauge of where Laws is where he might be, compare Laws in his season to that of Brodrick Bunkley, a first-round pick in 2006. Bunkley was a washout that season and many wondered if he would ever make the jump. Two seasons later, Bunkley is on his way to being a dominating tackle.
Laws has a very bright future. He needs to improve in a lot of areas, but he has the right work ethic to gain strength and better his technique. He, Bunkley and Mike Patterson give the Eagles an excellent three-man rotation at tackle.
DeSEAN JACKSON, wide receiver
Perhaps the most important and impressive part of DeSean Jackson's outstanding rookie season was not measured in his numbers. Yeah, he led the Eagles with 62 receptions for 912 yards and two touchdowns in the regular season, and Jackson came back wit 11 catches for 207 yards and a score in the playoffs, and his speed and natural ability as a return man revitalized the punt return game. Jackson was just outstanding in every phase of the game as a rookie.
At this level, though, with all the doubts about his attitude and his lack of bulk, many doubted how durable Jackson could be and who willing he would be to do the little things to make it in the NFL.
Jackson passed the test with flying colors.
He started every game, he made every practice, he played with pain and he worked through the exhaustion of three preseason games, 16 regular-season games and three more playoff games. The Eagles ran Jackson hard and they demanded a lot out of him, and Jackson never backed down. He has huge football IQ and is going to be even more devastating when he becomes more experienced at this level and as he gains some strength.
Jackson's off-season agenda is pretty simple: Take things up even higher on a physical conditioning level. Instead of spending the next two months preparing for the draft, Jackson can get ready for the team's conditioning program and refine even further his speed, burst and change of direction.
The Eagles are going to count on Jackson for even more next year, so he needs to be ready for the attention from defenses and the high expectations from the coaches, media and fans. Jackson is something special, as long as he keeps on the same course with hard work and dedication to the game. There is no doubt Jackson loves the game. That much is obvious when he plays. You see it. He has a joy for the game and that will never go away.
*BRYAN SMITH, defensive end *
The third-round pick saw exactly no action all season. He practiced with the team, going through the individual drills and then working with the scout team, and then Bryan Smith stood on the sidelines each week. At an extremely crowded position, Smith was a bystander. He did his work on the side, bulked up to 244 pounds, and took all the mental reps on Sundays.
Smith shined at the tail end of the preseason and the Eagles have high hopes for him. He faces a critical off-season as he attempts to wedge his way into the rotation at end. The Eagles already have Trent Cole, Juqua Parker, Chris Clemons, Victor Abiamiri and Darren Howard, so where does Smith figure in next year?
That's up to him. He needs to continue to get stronger and work on his technique and his recognition at this level. The burst is there. The speed is evident, and Smith's natural pass-rushing ability is a plus.
Year 2 is a key one for Smith, of course. The Eagles have great, great depth at the position, but they could certainly use another top-shelf defensive end.
*MIKE McGLYNN, offensive guard *
A mauler and a tough guy, Mike McGlynn played sparingly and seemed to do a good job in mop-up duty against Cleveland and then on special teams until he tore a hamstring. McGlynn continues to recover from that injury and then he will move to the next phase of his off-season: Using the time wisely to improve his conditioning and his footwork.
McGlynn is one of a handful of young linemen who will challenge for a spot in the interior of the Eagles' offensive line in 2009. His style is not smooth and graceful; rather, McGlynn wants to be physical inside and get down and dirty. To do so, he must improve his strength and that is something he will do between now and July.
*LORENZO BOOKER, running back *
At the cost of a fourth-round draft pick, traded to Miami, the Eagles brought in Lorenzo Booker and hoped he would add speed, pass-catching skills and big-play ability to the backfield mix. He was heavily integrated into the offense through all of the spring drills and even early in training camp, but once the Eagles started playing other teams, Booker just didn't seem the same.
And the coaches quickly decided that Booker didn't quite fit in. Maybe he didn't block as well as the Eagles need their backs to block. Maybe he wasn't as quick in game situations as he was in the spring and in the summer. Maybe his slight frame was too easily knocked over when the Eagles needed him to play a little bigger than his size.
Whatever the reasons, Booker played in just 10 games, carried only 20 times (for 53 yards) and caught just 11 passes.
Booker's production was clearly less than the Eagles wanted, and now he is a question mark heading into the off-season. Where does Booker fit in for next year? Will the Eagles hope that another year in the system and a year in the team's conditioning program make a difference?
To his credit, Booker handled everything like a pro. He is going to do his work in the off-season and present a credible reason to keep him and use him and see what he can do with some extended playing time. It is a tough spot for Booker and for the Eagles, who made a substantial investment to obtain Booker.
*QUINTIN DEMPS, safety/return man *
It was an eventful and, ultimately, productive rookie season for Quintin Demps, who averaged 25.3 yards per kickoff return with one touchdown and also worked his way into the rotation in Jim Johnson's defensive backfield. Demps played some cornerback and did well there, and then was used more and more late in the season as a safety.
Demps is a player the Eagles think has a very high ceiling. He can run and tackle, and he has good coverage skills. Yeah, Demps had a tough game in the NFC title match on Sunday in Arizona, but he will learn from that outing and become a better player.
Depending on what happens with Brian Dawkins -- and my opinion is that Dawkins will return -- Demps will be in position to play a more expanded role in the defense next season. He will continue to learn the scheme and get himself bigger and stronger, and he will be a factor in his second NFL campaign.
*JACK IKEGWUONO, cornerback *
When the Eagles drafted Jack Ikegwuono, they knew he would spend the season on Injured Reserve. He did that, rehabbing his injured knee, sitting in on meetings and showing the coaches how much he retained of the X's and O's as they tested him on the scheme.
When the Eagles get on the field in the spring, they will get their first look at Ikegwuono. He has good size -- 5 feet 10, 197 pounds -- and he is a tremendous athlete. Can Ikegwuono get everything mentally? Is he mature enough to handle things at this level, after having some off-the-field issues in college?
The Eagles have their starters set with Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown, but after that there are questions. Joselio Hanson is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in February, and Lito Sheppard is unhappy in his situation. Ikegwuono could find himself with an opportunity to earn some significant playing time in his first year on the active roster.
That's a long time away for Ikegwuono, who is clamoring to get on the field and knock off the rust from a full season of inactivity. He was considered a first-round talent prior to his injury. The Eagles would have a huge benefit should Ikegwuono get all the way back in 2009.
*MIKE GIBSON, offensive guard *
Mike Gibson is in a similar position as McGlynn in that there is a need for depth along the offensive line. Gibson suffered an injury in preseason and spent the year on IR, so at least he has been in the system for a full year and knows the tempo of a regular season.
Gibson has a chance to be a player with his strength inside, and he will be somebody to watch in the spring and summer drills.
*JOE MAYS, linebacker *
A superb preseason opened eyes as Joe Mays made plays all over the field. He was physical and fast to the ball and gave the Eagles promise that Mays could develop into a prospect at middle linebacker.
Curiously, Mays played in only two regular-season games. He was unable to convince the coaches that he could help on special teams, and that is something Mays must do in the 2009 preseason. Mays won't budge Stewart Bradley as the starter at middle linebacker, but he could add depth and some more youth to a talented group.
Mays has to build on his excellent preseason, when he recorded 7 solo tackles against New England and then had 9 solos and 13 total tackles against the Jets. He got to the ball and made plays, very encouraging signs for a rookie who then had to exercise tremendous patience the remainder of the season.
*ANDY STUDEBAKER, linebacker *
After spending part of the season on the team's practice squad, Andy Studebaker was added to Kansas City's active roster. He saw minimal time and recorded three tackles this year for the Chiefs.
KING DUNLAP, offensive tackle
Another rookie who showed promise in the preseason, King Dunlap spent the entire year on IR recovering from ankle surgery. He suffered the injury in the preseason and may have seen it as a blessing in the long run. Dunlap was able to use the season to build his body and learn his way around the NFL, and now he is in position to take things up a notch and make a push at left tackle in 2009.
It is probably too much to expect Dunlap to be a starting candidate at left tackle next season, but he is likely to get a lot of playing time. Dunlap has unusual size at 6 feet 8, 310 pounds. He has to continue to improve his leverage, his strength and his footwork.
There were times in the summer when Dunlap looked absolutely terrific and there were other times when he looked like an overmatched rookie. The reality is somewhere in between. Dunlap's task in the off-season is to become more consistent and show the coaches he is ready to be a trusted player at one of the most important spots on the field.