When the regular season began in 2017, running back Corey Clement was the only rookie free agent to make the roster. Behind running backs like LeGarrette Blount and Darren Sproles, he wasn’t expected - or needed - to produce much.
But Clement shocked everyone. He went on to lead the Eagles with four rushing touchdowns and added two more receiving, marking the most offensive scores (6) by an Eagles rookie running back since 1953. In the Super Bowl, he gained 100 receiving yards, had a receiving touchdown, and took the direct snap in the Philly Special.
So as the 2018 regular season gets underway, the question arises: Who is the next Corey Clement? Eagles players were asked to give their breakout candidates of the year based on what they observed in Training Camp and the preseason. There were a lot of potential breakout players mentioned.
The leading candidate with three votes was second-round draft pick Dallas Goedert. The rookie tight end was a reception machine in the red zone in practice. In the preseason, he racked up 149 yards, third most on the team, on just nine catches with a touchdown.
“Goedert. I want to see what he do. I’m just excited to see what he can be. You can see the little glimpses in practice and then in the preseason. I’m just excited to see what he can do on the field. - Jay Ajayi
“You see a lot of good things from some of the young guys. I don't know how that will translate but I think Dallas Goedert is going to contribute a lot and he’s going to have a good year.” - Jake Elliott
“Dallas. I think Dallas because he’s from South Dakota. He’s SoDak strong so we can count on him. Defense, I’d say Avonte (Maddox). Those are the two I’d say. - Nate Gerry, South Dakota native
Maddox, the rookie cornerback who had an interception and four tackles in the preseason, was mentioned twice. So was second-year corner Sidney Jones who had eight tackles, one for loss, and two pass deflections. Both competed for the nickel corner spot in Training Camp.
“I think everyone is excited to see Sidney Jones this year to see if he can contribute. Avonte Maddox, Josh Sweat is another guy on the D-line I think can be very productive that no one is really thinking about.” - Malcolm Jenkins
“Sidney Jones is going to have a good year. He’s making plays, showing athleticism, being aggressive, and understanding and learning the playbook.” - Ronald Darby
Darby himself hopes to play his first full season with the Eagles on 2018 after missing eight games last year with an ankle injury. Head coach Doug Pederson called him the most improved player in the offseason.
“Ronald Darby. It just seems like he’s so much on top of his game. He knows what’s going on a lot better than he did last year. He’s playing a lot faster, his movements are amazing. If he catches the ball, I think he might lead the league in interceptions. I think he’ll definitely lead the league in at least pass breakups.
“Of course, he’s coming back from a bad injury so obviously we never really felt his full presence last year so that was a huge factor in it. Obviously, he’s feeling a lot better now, you can tell. If I can pick someone to have a breakout year, it would definitely be him.” - Corey Graham
“I think Darby is going to have a great year. He’s had a great offseason, great camp. He wasn’t really around last season, so I think he’s primed for a big year.” - Zach Ertz
Another player who missed most of last season with an Achilles injury is linebacker Jordan Hicks, who suffered his season-ending tear in Week 7 against Washington.
“Jordan Hicks. I think a guy who is really trying to prove a point, trying to come back from injury is Jordan Hicks. He's been very impressive coming off his injury to Training Camp to being one of the leaders on the team. I'm looking forward to watching him play and fly around.” - Fletcher Cox
“I think Jordan Hicks. Coming off an injury, the guy looks phenomenal out there. In OTAs, Training Camp, preseason games, so that’s my only pick. Jordan Hicks, man.” - Corey Clement
Despite last year truly being a breakout season for Clement, some of his teammates expect to see more out of him in 2018. Coming in as an established back in the league now, he will be featured along with Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles.
“I think Corey Clement. He looks tremendous. Across the board, there are a lot of great looking players honestly. But Corey is a good one.” - Nate Sudfeld
“I think it’s going to be Corey Clement. Yeah, that’s my bro. That dude may lead the league in all-purpose yards or something. To me, he can do everything. He’s like a bigger Darren Sproles. He’s a guy that can catch the ball in the backfield, we line him up at receiver, you can put him in the backfield and he’s a hard runner, everything you see out of Sproles, that’s just a bigger body from him.” - Jalen Mills
Another second-year player to keep an eye on is Mack Hollins. He spent most of his time last year on special teams but still was able to grab 16 catches for 226 yards with one explosive touchdown. He sat out for much of preseason with a lower-body injury but will be healthy for Week 1.
“I’m going to say Mack Hollins. The guy is just a workhorse. Just to see the way he works, obviously right now he’s dealing with his own thing, but he’ll be ready for the year and I think he’s going to have a great season.” - Kamu Grugier-Hill
“Mack Hollins Just the work ethic, that’s the first part of it. Then you know he has the ability and now it’s his second year. It’s about gaining that second year of experience. He already went through the first year, he knows what to expect, and he’s got a good group around him that’s going to make him better.” - Brandon Graham
Shelton Gibson is another second-year wide receiver who carved out a role on special teams last season. But after leading the team in preseason receiving yards with 195 on nine receptions and a team-high two touchdowns, Gibson could see more offensive snaps in 2018.
“Shelton Gibson. I just feel like he can do it. If there’s anybody, he can do it. Once he’s confident man, he can do whatever he wants honestly.” - Rasul Douglas
“I’d say Gibby. Gibby had a good one, man. Gibby had a good preseason. I think he’s done a really good job for us. He’s going to be big on special teams. He’s going to be big on the offense.” - Jordan Hicks
Also receiving votes were defensive end Derek Barnett, linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill as well as two established players coming off of injuries in Sproles and left tackle Jason Peters. Another wide receiver who received one vote is Nelson Agholor. He arguably had a breakout year last year with 57 catches for 789 yards and nine touchdowns.
But the goal of a breakout season is to become well-known across the league. Veteran wide receiver Mike Wallace believes that’s exactly what will happen for Agholor this year.
“I think he’s going to surprise a lot of people even though he’s already known. I think he’s going to take a huge step forward and become a household name this year." - Mike Wallace