For rookie draftees in the NFL, it's often a blessing and a curse to be drafted by a team with a sustained run of success. On one hand, you join a franchise that knows how to win and you have an opportunity to learn from some of the best players and coaches in the league. On the other hand, you aren't likely to be given a chance to contribute right away. But that's not the case for the members of the 2009 Eagles' rookie class - they've gotten the best of both worlds.
The Eagles, a team that reached the NFC Championship game last year, have already had three rookies start games in 2009, and they're getting significant contributions from two others to go along with several more waiting in the wings, developing for the future.
Jeremy Maclin, the first player selected by the Eagles in the 2009 NFL Draft, has already entrenched himself as the starting wide receiver opposite DeSean Jackson, who was a rookie starter himself. Maclin's quick immersion into the offense is all the more impressive considering the time he missed in training camp while working out the particulars of his rookie contract.
After exploding onto the scene with a six-catch, 142-yard and two touchdown performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Maclin has been a consistent and reliable target for Donovan McNabb, showcasing great hands and tremendous body control. Coupled with Jackson, Maclin is part of what could prove to be quite the formidable receiving tandem going forward, and he's not the only rookie who has shown glimpses of offensive explosiveness.
When rookie running back LeSean McCoy was taken in the second round of the 2009 draft, it was easy to see that the Eagles had targeted their long-term complement to Brian Westbrook. McCoy's skill set is similar to Westbrook's; he's an elusive runner who also has great hands coming out of the backfield. But McCoy, like Maclin, has accelerated his growth enough that he's been an immediate factor. In two games filling in for the an absent Westbrook, McCoy has averaged 83 yards on 15.5 carries.
And then there's the surprise rookie who came out of nowhere. After Maclin and McCoy, the third M is for Macho. With the starting free safety spot up for grabs in the preseason, no one expected the fifth-round pick, a cornerback at Virginia Tech, to be the opening day starter at a brand new position. But that's exactly what happened.
Consider that no other team that made the playoffs last season has had more rookies start games this season than the Eagles, and only the Indianapolis Colts have matched the Eagles' mark of three. So what exactly has allowed a team that went to the brink of the Super Bowl last season to so seamlessly usher in a new guard without sacrificing any production?
"I don't know about other places, but here they do a great job of getting the young guys prepared to play," McCoy said. "It's kind of preparation I think. From training camp and all the OTA's, it was a matter of getting adjusted and the coaches helping us out a little bit."
But Harris, Maclin, and McCoy aren't the only important pieces of the rookie class. There's Fokou, a linebacker out of Maryland drafted in the seventh round, who has been active for every game of the season so far and has provided superb special teams play and important depth at strongside linebacker. He's versatile enough to have gotten some looks at middle linebacker, and has been praised for his ability to play downhill.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the rookie class, even more so than Harris, has been defensive tackle Antonio Dixon. After spending preseason with the division rival Washington Redskins, Dixon was snatched up to the Eagles' active roster by the keen eye of Tom Heckert after the final round of roster cuts before Dixon could return to the Redskins' practice squad. He's provided invaluable depth at defensive tackle, giving a strong off-the-ball push, especially against the run. Dixon, who always has a smile on his face, figures to be an Eagles fixture moving forward.
Sixth-round draft pick Brandon Gibson was kept as the seventh receiver entering the season because the team thought so much of his potential, and it proved to be a wise move because the front office was able to leverage Gibson into the team's starting middle linebacker Will Witherspoon.Tight end Cornelius Ingram, a fifth-round pick, flashed a dizzying array of athleticism, speed, and hands for a rookie in training camp, only to be lost for the season with an ACL tear. He's rehabbing incessantly with fellow ACL-tear sufferer Stewart Bradley, and the two are always in good spirits about their futures while walking around the NovaCare Complex – limp free that is.
And then there are the long term players like fullback Marcus Mailei, safety Reshard Langford, offensive lineman Paul Fanaika – all members of the practice squad – and fifth-round pick offensive lineman Fenuki Tupou, who is on Injured Reserve.
Of the eight players selected by the Eagles in the 2009 draft, seven are still with the team, with Gibson the only exception. That means that they've gotten quality value out of every pick. The rule in football is that you can't grade drafts until at least three years have passed, but is it too early to call the 2009 rookie class a home run for Andy Reid and co.?
Let's just say that with the contribution the Eagles are getting from the current crop of rookies, along with the six players on the roster from the 2008 draft, that it looks like the future will be plenty sunny in Philadelphia.
-- Posted by Bo Wulf, 2:50 p.m., November 4