The Eagles' 2019 Draft Class returns in 2020 as, in a sense, NFL veterans. They've already had a full week off, the longest breath of fresh air since last spring's draft. They have an entire offseason to train and take their bodies to the next level. Year 1 to Year 2 is so critical to the development of young players.
"It is important that these guys have great offseasons and come back ready to compete in the spring," head coach Doug Pederson said. "You normally see a big jump in that time. It's their first offseason. They have to treat it right."
The five-player draft class became four when the Eagles released quarterback Clayton Thorson (who signed with Dallas and joined the Cowboys' practice squad) as the team cut down to 53 players prior to the 2019 season. We'll include some unsigned rookies who figure to get long looks as second-year players in this "What's Next" segment …
Andre Dillard, OT
The team's first-round draft pick showed just how athletic he is and why the Eagles liked him so much in the 2019 NFL Draft. He was, obviously, much better as a left tackle than in a foreign world on the right side, so he needs to expand his versatility. Dillard said he wants to "catch my breath first" after a whirlwind since the Eagles traded up to select him and then he'll work on his strength and his technique in the months ahead. It will be interesting to see what kind of role he has in 2020. Much of it, it would seem, depends on Jason Peters and what the pending unrestricted free agent does next season.
Miles Sanders, RB
What a terrific and historically outstanding rookie season Miles Sanders had with the Eagles. He did it all, really, and should be in position to be even better in the seasons ahead. Sanders set rookie franchise records for rushing yards (818) and yards from scrimmage (1,327) and he was a dangerous kickoff return man before the Eagles needed him as the lead ball carrier. Sanders can get leaner and meaner and build his leg strength to break more tackles and prepare for more touches in 2020. The Eagles thought they had someone special when they drafted Sanders No. 53 overall and he was exactly what they hoped he would be.
J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, WR
The numbers weren't there for J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who had 10 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in 16 games, including five starts. "I'm going to work hard on everything in my game in the offseason," Arcega-Whiteside said. "I know I have a lot to improve on." He does. It's only fair to give him at least two years to see where his game is at in the NFL. A big body, Arcega-Whiteside has to improve his route running, his separation, his release from the line of scrimmage and his consistency catching the football. He knows it. He embraces it. Arcega-Whiteside should return in the spring in great shape and ready to take the next step in his career.
Shareef Miller, DE
One of seven defensive ends on the roster, fourth-round draft pick Shareef Miller didn't play a single snap on defense as a rookie. It's hard to know what to make of Miller, who clearly is going to face some real competition for a roster spot next season. How Miller treats his offseason and what he looks like when he reports back to the NovaCare Complex in April is going to be very important to his development. The Eagles need him to step up.
Nate Herbig, OL
Undrafted from Stanford, Nate Herbig looked good enough in the preseason to earn a season-long spot on the 53-man roster even though he played only three offensive snaps. He's a big body at 6 feet 4, 334 pounds. He has excellent feet and is a good athlete. He needs to get stronger and report back to the NovaCare Complex in great shape and then prepare to compete at both guard spots and center in an ultra-talented group.
Sua Opeta, OL
Sua Opeta spent 13 weeks on the practice squad before his promotion to the 53-man roster and he didn't play, so he is another young offensive lineman who offensive line coach/run game coordinator Jeff Stoutland is developing. Opeta has strength and he was a standout at Weber State, so we'll see how he looks in the spring and summer competing with Herbig, Matt Pryor, and talented veterans for a roster spot.
T.J. Edwards, LB
The Eagles said they were excited to have signed T.J. Edwards after the draft and they meant it. Edwards ended up playing 11 percent of the defensive snaps as well as playing on special teams, and he had a promising rookie season. He is one who can benefit tremendously from an offseason that builds strength and gets his body where he wants it for season No. 2. The Eagles need more plays from their linebacker corps. Edwards could be in position to compete for a starting job in 2020.
Marcus Epps, S
This is an interesting player to watch through the course of the spring and summer. Marcus Epps joined the Eagles off waivers from Minnesota late in the season and jumped into the safety rotation down the stretch and seemed to acquit himself pretty well as the third man in. With Rodney McLeod slated to be an unrestricted free agent and Malcolm Jenkins looking to have his contract improved, the Eagles have some questions at the position. They looked at a half dozen safeties through the course of 2019 and maybe have found something in Epps, a Vikings sixth-round draft pick last spring.
Anthony Rush, DT
After a bit of a crazy rookie season – Anthony Rush joined the Eagles after the 2019 draft, was on the Raiders' practice squad through much of October, and then was signed to the Philadelphia 53-man roster on October 21 – Rush will enjoy a productive offseason. He played 152 snaps in the regular season and another 22 in the playoff loss to Seattle as the third defensive tackle, so the Eagles have a decent handle on what kind of player he is. He's huge at 6-5, 350 pounds, so Rush can work on his strength, his explosiveness and technique, as well as his conditioning in the offseason. He has a chance to help this defensive line in Year 2.
Elijah Holyfield, RB
Signed off the Carolina practice squad just a couple of weeks ago, Elijah Holyfield is a physical, hard-charging running back. Assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley loves to mold young players and he has something to work with here in Holyfield, who could become a complementary-type back in the rotation. He ran poorly at the NFL Combine last winter. He'll want to work on his explosiveness and his speed in the months ahead.