After a pre-draft period that saw a flurry of key additions in the form of wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, cornerback Patrick Robinson, offensive lineman Chance Warmack, and others, I was very excited to see what the Eagles' plans were entering the NFL Draft. I expected that Howie Roseman, Joe Douglas, and Doug Pederson would allow the board to come to them and take the best players they possibly could to help supplement a young roster on the rise here in Philadelphia. They did just that over the course of the draft's three days, and now that a couple of weeks have gone by I've had time to reflect on the impact that these young players can have on the 2017 team and beyond.
The discussion has to start with first-round pick Derek Barnett, a player who caught my eye as a true sophomore down at Tennessee when he had 15 tackles and a sack in Week 2 against Oklahoma on national television. At 6-3, 259 pounds, he has NFL size and the trait that always stood out to me was how relentless he was in every facet of his game. Whether it was as a pass rusher (where he always shined when the lights were brightest), against the run, or in pursuit, Barnett plays with a non-stop level of urgency that will allow him to fit very well here in Philadelphia.
Barnett has a well-rounded game and a diverse skill set. He's lined up on both sides of the formation as a left and right defensive end. He's played from both a two- and three-point stance. He's lined up as a Wide 9-technique and even as an inside 3-technique defensive tackle in some subpackages. I've seen him run with receivers downfield 20-plus yards and get the ball on the ground in coverage. But when you take an edge player like Barnett in the top 15, you want him to be able to attack the quarterback, and the Tennessee native has a strong knack for being able to do just that.
One of the things that's always talked about with pass rushers is their bend and flexibility. Some analysts in the media have questioned Barnett's flexibility, but the film shows otherwise. That is especially true when you look at his ankles when he turns the corner. Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote about Barnett's "forward lean" when he's on his way to the quarterback. That comes from his ability to bend in his lower half and dip his shoulders past blockers on his way to creating disruption in the backfield.
On both of those shots, Barnett's ankles are almost turned on a 45-degree angle. It's not common to find men his size who are able to bend that way while not only maintaining their balance but also accelerating as they "run the hoop" on the way to the quarterback. Defensive line coach Chris Wilson talked about Barnett's flexibility with me on Eagles Draft Central, while also talking about how in-tune he is with the snap count.
Barnett's first step isn't the most explosive one you'll find, but he more than makes up for it at times because of how well he studies his opponents and keys into their snap counts. That allowed Barnett to consistently win "high side" or outside the offensive tackle, and one of his favorite outside moves was the chop.
Shot 2 - One of Barnett's best pass rush moves; his 'Chop'. Joe Douglas mentioned after the draft Barnett's ability to win at top of rush pic.twitter.com/y9s3Kiw61K — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
Here's a great example of Barnett's chop move, where he violently knocks the blocker's hands down before they can lay a finger on him. He times that move perfectly, allowing him to blow by the right tackle on his way to a sack against Kentucky. Every Eagles fan has probably heard by this point that Barrett broke the immortal Reggie White's career sack record with the Volunteers. What I love about that number, as Cole Cubelic from the SEC Network pointed out last fall, was that a large majority of his sacks came against conference foes. That is something not every top pick can say. Instead of picking up large bunches of sacks against, say, Texas-San Antonio, Tennessee-Chattanooga, and Nevada, Barnett was credited with a sack in every conference game this past season.
I recently went back and watched him in his true freshman season in 2014 against Ole Miss, where he racked up three sacks while spending a majority of his time lined up against Laremy Tunsil, who was considered by most to be one of the top three prospects in the 2015 NFL Draft. Tunsil got the best of Barnett on a few snaps, to be sure, but Barnett routinely made high-effort plays in all phases of the game, got numerous hits on the quarterback, split double teams, and overall had a strong outing on the road against a nationally ranked Rebels team. That was a really impressive game to watch, and in that game I saw a couple of examples of something that consistently popped up with Barnett when watching him throughout his career.
When you're a talented pass rusher, teams are going to get creative with how to block you. If they have a stud tackle like Tunsil, you may see a good amount of straight one-on-one attempts, but sometimes you'll get the protection slid in your direction. Sometimes, however, the protection may slide away from you, leaving you with a tight end and a running back chipping you out of the backfield. This is no easy task when you're trying to get after the quarterback, especially as a young pass rusher, but Barnett showed at a young age that he could make plays like this against Ole Miss. I also saw it numerous times last year as well.
Here against Georgia, the offensive line slides the protection away from Barnett, only to have him matched up against two blockers (a tight end and a running back). Barnett fights through the traffic, maintains his vision on the quarterback, and brings him down for a sack, a forced fumble, and a defensive touchdown.
Here are a few more shots that you need to see if you watch anything of Barnett. Whether it's against the run or the pass, this guy's motor never stops running. These are a few of the best shots, but I could've pulled a dozen or so examples of plays just like the ones below of Barnett running the action down and making plays outside the numbers or downfield.
It's been interesting to read and hear some analysts' feelings on Barnett against the run, citing his sack production and saying that is a one-dimensional' player. That couldn't be further from the truth. As a defensive end in an attacking front like this one under Jim Schwartz, there are multiple ways where Barnett can impact the run game. As a backside run defender, when the play is going away from him, Barnett can use the motor that you see on the plays above to chase down the ball carrier. More importantly, however, are the plays where the ball is run in his direction. Can he set the edge and force the run back inside? Absolutely. There were plenty of examples of him doing just that on tape. In this one-gap scheme, however, he'll be asked to do more than just set the edge. This scheme is about penetration and disruption.
Shot 5 - Barnett is a skilled run defender. Whether he's penetrating or making plays at the point of attack, he's a 3-down player #Eagles pic.twitter.com/xCtjdY8Xz2 — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
Whether he's shooting a gap or being forced to take on a blocker and shed at the point of attack, Barnett can more than handle himself against the run. I expect Barnett to have an impact as a rookie and develop into a lynchpin on the Eagles' defensive line for years to come.
The second day of the draft was all about the secondary with the additions of cornerbacks Sidney Jones from Washington and Rasul Douglas from West Virginia. Both players bring the required toughness, instincts, and ball skills that are required to succeed in the Eagles' secondary. Jones may or may not see the field in 2017 because of his Achilles injury, but his skill set is one that has NFL Films senior producer Greg Cosell extremely excited. In fact, Jones was the No. 1 corner on his board entering the NFL Draft.
Cosell and I were both big fans of the selection of Douglas in the third round. A one-year starter with great size, impressive ball skills, and surprising movement for a prospect with his frame, his competitive nature will fit in well with Schwartz.
Defensive backs coach Cory Undlin joined me on Eagles Draft Central as well to break down both Jones and Douglas and explain why he saw both players as being great fits here in Philadelphia.
Jones was one of the top prospects in the country this year mainly because of his instincts and his ball skills. Douglas put himself on the radar this year after being a backup in 2015 for the very same reason. Both players put those traits on display in the shots below.
Shot 7 - Many coaches and players will tell you that you can't teach 'ballskills'; Rasul Douglas has ballskills. This is textbook. #Eagles pic.twitter.com/8iIyjadqDa — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
Both Jones and Douglas make plays from off-coverage in those two examples. Jones has more experience in press coverage than Douglas, but they both have the length and physicality to be true disruptors at the line of scrimmage. If you watched the segment with Coach Undlin above, Jones and Douglas displayed the ability to find the ball late, which is tough to coach. It's great to see both players showcase that trait on film at the college level.
The third day of the draft began and we were all excited to see some offensive skill players added to the roster. I spoke with Cosell on the podcast about the value of the third day of the draft, and what the best strategy can be for teams picking in the later rounds. Really, it boiled down to two types of players. Teams are either looking for players who fit a specific role, or players who display one or two elite traits that you can groom into an all-around talent down the road. Every player on the third day of the draft has some kind of flaw. Here's the podcast, which I urge you to give a listen to if you haven't already.
The Eagles' first pick of the afternoon was Mack Hollins, a pick that resulted in jubilation from the studio as Greg and I watched the draft. Hollins was a player both we were huge fans of because of his size, speed, and ability to make plays downfield.
Shot 8 - Mack Hollins averaged over 20 ypc during his career. Legit 4.4 speed at 6'4 220 lbs. Can track the ball and adjust too. Fun player! pic.twitter.com/1iQ9pzRNry — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
Hollins ran 4.50 in the 40-yard dash at the Combine, but pulled up late in the run with an injury. As Roseman said to Dave Spadaro after the draft, Hollins is a 6-4, 220-pound wide receiver who can run 4.4. He led the country in yards per catch as a junior in 2015, and he tracks the ball very well downfield. Just take a look at that speed!
Hollins also fits in as an immediate role player because of his special teams ability. The senior was a four-time captain on special teams during his career in Chapel Hill, and right out of the box as a rookie he can perform the role of a fourth receiver because of his abilities in the third phase of the game.
Hollins will fit in the Eagles' culture right away on the best special teams unit in the NFL, as he excels as a blocker and cover guy on kicking teams. With his size, speed and ball skills, Hollins has a floor as a fourth receiver, but the ceiling of a No. 2 option in a passing game.
Later in the fourth round, the Eagles were up again and added another piece to the offense with running back Donnel Pumphrey. An undersized runner with incredible college production, Pumphrey can impact the game as a receiver, but he's also an effective ball carrier as well.
Shot 10 - Had a ton of fun watching Donnel Pumphrey vs Cal. 281yds 3 TDs. Great vision here finding the cutback on the Counter run #Eagles pic.twitter.com/IENUVVqOlG — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
My first exposure to Pumphrey was in that game against Cal, the biggest team on San Diego State's schedule this year. He ran for nearly 300 yards and three scores, displaying toughness, natural instincts, and a competitive streak that really caught my eye. He played with a true chip on his shoulder against the Bears and was out to prove a point. He went to the Senior Bowl in January and brought the same attitude. It goes without saying, however, that Pumphrey's early contributions will likely come in the passing game, where he can impact the game on multiple levels.
There are three plays in the clip above. First, there is an example of Pumphrey winning as a receiver out of the backfield, followed by a shot of him in the slot, and finished with an example of him running a vertical route downfield. Pumphrey can run routes and finish at the catch point with ease, and I'm really excited to see how he's used in Doug Pederson's offense.
In the fifth round, the Eagles went back to the wide receiver position with Shelton Gibson, a burner from West Virginia that can truly take the top off a defense. Don't believe me?
Gibson's speed and explosiveness off the line of scrimmage as well as his ability to track the ball down the field. It's those two traits that set him apart from other receivers who get taken that late in the draft, which was a big point of discussion in our film breakdown on Eagles Draft Central.
Eighteen picks later, the Eagles returned to the defensive side of the football with Nebraska safety Nathan Gerry, who the team projects to linebacker. When I watched Gerry play in college, I didn't necessarily see a player who HAD to move, but he absolutely has the skill set to do it. I explain exactly what I mean when Greg and I go to the board to discuss how Gerry can fit in Schwartz's defense.
In the sixth round, the Eagles closed out their draft with the selection of Washington defensive lineman Elijah Qualls, a player who I expected to go off the board closer to the end of day two rather than the end of day three. Qualls is a big man with light feet, and because of injuries on the Huskies' defense late in the year he wore a number of hats. Qualls lined up at nose tackle, at 3-technique, as a defensive end, and even in a 2-point stance lined up around the formation as a pass rusher at over 310 pounds! Before looking at some film of Qualls, here's how Greg and I project him to fitting in the Eagles' one-gap scheme.
Qualls consistently played with the high motor required to be a mainstay up front for the Eagles, and with his quickness and power he could be a candidate for early playing time as part of rotation as a rookie.
Shot 13 - Elijah Qualls has light feet, quick hands, and can rush the passer as well as he can defend the run. Loved this pick in Round 6 pic.twitter.com/uZ3MPIh9uO — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) May 4, 2017
Qualls has really quick hands, as you can see on that sack against Utah. He has the ability to change the line of scrimmage in the run game with his lower center of gravity and strong lower half. I'm as excited to see Qualls this summer as any Eagles late-round pick in recent memory!
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.