Philadelphia Eagles News

Don't Sleep On This Eagles Rookie Class

The first-round draft pick, quarterback Carson Wentz, could very well spend the 2016 season in the NFL's version of mothballs, on the sidelines on gamedays holding a clipboard. We'll see how that transpires. You know the vision for the quarterback position, and barring a sudden change of plans, that's not going to change. But it doesn't mean the 2016 Rookie Class will be idle for the Eagles.

In fact, and this is a way-too-early call, it is possible the Eagles could have at least three significant contributors from the draft in Year 1. Third-round pick Isaac Seumalo is still catching up after missing most of the spring practices due to the NCAA graduation rule, but he's here now and he cuts an impressive figure at left guard with his size, athletic feet and natural movement. He will compete with Allen Barbre for the starting job along the offensive line before the summer is over. Fifth-round draft pick Wendell Smallwood is in the mix at running back and, should he show that he can take on pass rushers and that he can catch passes and run sharp routes, and run with the same burst in pads that he ran with in the spring, he'll get some reps this season.

Then there's seventh-round draft pick cornerback Jalen Mills, he of the green-dyed hair (a festive touch) and the sense of purpose. A third-round draft talent on some NFL draft boards, Mills slipped down the ladder and was there for the Eagles at No. 233 overall.

A seventh-round draft pick making an instant impact? It could happen with Mills, who opened eyes in the non-contact, no-pads spring practices with his athleticism and competitiveness.

"Everything flies by, I know that," Mills said on Monday as Training Camp opened at the NovaCare Complex. "Those five or six weeks when we had a break went by quickly. I worked a lot on my conditioning and I lifted a lot, and got in my playbook. You think about it and we're playing a preseason game in 2 1/2 or 3 weeks. The first thing you notice is the tempo at this level, how fast everything is. I'm getting there. I'm not sure I will ever be satisfied, but I know I'm working hard and I'll be ready for any role they have for me. I want to show these coaches that I play football, whether it's on special teams or on the defense."

The rookies aren't getting ahead of themselves. Smallwood, when asked what his goal for the season is, simply said, "Make the team. That's it. I just want to be here." It's the right approach, given that one whole day is in the Training Camp books and the players wore helmets and shorts, and nobody tackled (that starts on Saturday morning).

Training Camp is a grind, the kind the rookies are experiencing for the first time. They want to keep their heads above water.

"It's really fast and it's tough mentally as well as physically," Smallwood said. "I learned that in the spring, even though we didn't tackle. You have to be on point for everything. I think I've gotten a lot better. There is no comparison to the player I was at West Virginia. It's a complete difference. I've learned so much. I'm trying to take what I learned in the offseason and take it to another level and fine-tune my game. Today I did pretty well using some of the stuff that I did last year."

The biggest adjustment for rookies is the attention to detail. The most-talented players generally win in the college ranks. In the NFL, every player is talented, and often the player who is best at the small things wins the job and earns the playing time.

Smallwood hasn't been tackled since January 2 when West Virginia beat Arizona State 43-42 in the Cactus Bowl (Smallwood gained 72 yards on 13 rushing attempts, averaging 5.5 yards per carry), so he's looking forward to the full-scale nature that these practices will take starting on Saturday. He wants to improve in every facet of his game, mostly his quickness in and out of his breaks every time.

"I have a tendency to get exhausted, so I need to push through that and not think about it," Smallwood said. "I'm looking forward to being explosive and more upbeat."

We've got a long way to go here, of course. There are going to be many twists and turns on the way to a 53-man roster and a firmed-up depth chart. And Wentz, the prize of the draft class and the one who attracted dozens of reporters and cameras as he came off the field on Monday, won't play much of a lick, if at all, if the plan the Eagles have stays in place. But that doesn't mean the Rookie Class will be silent in 2016.

Seumalo, Smallwood and Mills are making the most early noise, but there could be more coming with the rest of the rookies. The opportunities are there and the rookies hope to step up and force the issue and give the coaching staff something long and hard to think about as September nears.

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