Philadelphia Eagles News

This Draft Class ... Future Projections

Drafts are not to be judged for three seasons. That's what they say in NFL circles, and it's really true. But for the moment, at this midseason time for the 2016 Eagles, let's project what it might look like in three years for a draft class that has already played a significant part in the team's 4-4 start.

CARSON WENTZ, quarterback

He is, obviously, the centerpiece of the 2016 draft and the foundation of the franchise. Carson Wentz got off to a red-hot start in the team's 3-0 September and since then has gone through the usual ups and downs that a rookie quarterback experiences. But what's different here is that Wentz is being asked to do things that 10-year veterans do – change plays at the line of scrimmage, call blocking schemes, the way he's being asked to lead – and he's handled everything. Wentz is the face of the Eagles and he's displayed tremendous poise and maturity. Now, Wentz has a lot of improving to do. He's thrown five interceptions. He has not been able to pull off a fourth-quarter comeback victory. He has missed some open receivers. But that's to be expected. Wentz is on the right track to franchise-quarterback status. He needs to continue to work, and he will, and the Eagles need to continue to build around him.

ISAAC SEUMALO, offensive lineman

Missing most of the summer Organized Team Activities due to the NCAA's graduation rule really set Isaac Seumalo back quite a bit, but he has worked hard to make up for lost time. Seumalo was active for the first time against New York on Sunday and he saw action, interestingly enough, as a fullback on a fourth-and-1 handoff to Darren Sproles. The play failed, but not because of Seumalo. He is on the come, says offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland.

"He's explosive, he's strong and he's a good athlete," Stoutland said. "He's made great progress. I want to see if there are ways we can use him in the second half of the season."

  has 31 carries for 135 yards, a 4.4-yard-per-carry average, with one touchdown. He's also had one critical fumble, in the loss at Dallas. Smallwood's role could increase in the second half of this season. He's very quick to and through the hole and he has some power. Smallwood also has a kickoff return for a touchdown and he is a threat in that phase of the game.

He may not be a featured back in the big picture, but Smallwood is certainly a running back who can play a big part of things in the years to come. He runs instinctively and with purpose. He's a good receiver and a willing blocker. The Eagles may very well add to the running back position next year and beyond, but Smallwood should have a big impact here.

HALAPOULIVAATI VAITAI, offensive tackle

The first start, at Washington, was rough for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. He was in a bit of shock after the loss. But since then, Vaitai has gotten better and better. Stoutland raves about how Vaitai has improved "day to day, much less week to week. He played a very good player in New York, Olivier Vernon, and did an outstanding job against him. I'm very pleased with the way he's come along," said Stoutland.

Vaitai projects as the right tackle of the future, with Lane Johnson moving to left tackle. When that happens depends on when Jason Peters takes a step back, and right now Peters is still playing at a high level. In the present, Vaitai is starting at right tackle and he's doing a very nice job, and improving at a rapid pace.

JALEN MILLS, cornerback

A seventh-round pick with a much higher draft grade, Jalen Mills is a keeper. He's started and he's gone against some of the best receivers in the league. Mills has mostly played outside, but he has also seen some time in the slot. While Mills does not have top-end speed, he is extremely competitive and he is physical and confident. He'll continue to gain a lot of playing time as the Eagles develop him to find out just how much he fits in for 2017 and beyond. Is Mills a starter? Is he is a high-level starter? Is he better served as a rotational cornerback? This is all to be determined. Mills works so hard and wants to be great so badly that it would be foolish to count him out.

ALEX McCALISTER, defensive end

A project when he was drafted in the seventh-round, Alex McCalister weighed 239 pounds and had some questions about his character. He suffered a leg injury in Training Camp and landed on Injured Reserve, and McCalister has used the time on the sideline to make himself bigger, better and stronger. Once he's totally healed, he will work on the "faster" part. McCalister weighs over 250 pounds now and his physique reflects the hard work he has put in.

Next spring, McCalister is going to have to show that he's got the get-off and technique to get to the quarterback. The Eagles are always on the lookout for pass rushers and with a 72-inch wingspan, McCalister is going to get his chance. It's too early to tell how he fits in, but McCalister made some nice strides in the summer.

JOE WALKER, linebacker

Joe Walker opened eyes in the preseason with the way he played middle linebacker. He was all over the field. He tackled well and he played smart, instinctive football. Walker showed he was tough and athletic enough to make a roster run, and then he tore his ACL and his season was over.

So Walker has a rehab stint in front of him. He's attacking it so far and could very well put himself in position to earn a 53-man roster spot in 2017 and maybe earn some playing time. Walker was playing well before the injury. A strong year in the weight room as he recovers from the injury will help Walker in his second NFL season.

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