Seven players from the Philadelphia Eagles’ 2011 NFL draft saw significant action in their rookie seasons, highlighted by offensive linemen Danny Watkins and Jason Kelce who combined to start 28 of a possible 32 games at their respective positions.
The Eagles missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007, finishing 8-8 despite a four-game winning streak that provided hope for 2012. The Eagles will need to sign key players in free agency (DeMeco Ryans from the Houston Texans was a terrific start), but better performances from their ’11 rookies would also go a long way towards improving the team’s record next season.
Leave it to the Philadelphia Eagles to select the oldest first-round player in NFL history. Danny Watkins, 26, was a former firefighter from British Colombia who didn’t start playing football until the age of 22. Watkins played at a junior college before transferring to Baylor University, where he started 25 games.
Watkins struggled initially in training camp, losing out to Kyle DeVan for the starting right guard spot on an offensive line that all but had a place open for the rookie. DeVan struggled so much that he was waived after four games and Watkins moved into the starting role, starting the final 12 games of the season for the Eagles.
He didn’t miss a beat once he moved into his role, playing all 807 snaps. Watkins was inconsistent over the course of a full season, although he was named to Pro Football Weekly’s All-Rookie Team. Then again, Watkins was also the only guard chosen in the top 50 picks of the 2011 NFL draft.
Considering both Watkins and center Jason Kelce were rookies, Watkins played at an acceptable level. The growing pains are to be expected, but there were also some highlights, such as the fact that Watkins didn’t give up a single sack all season. Watkins is surrounded by three Pro Bowl caliber offensive linemen in Jason Peters, Evan Mathis, and Todd Herremans, which definitely helps the guard out.
This marks the second consecutive season the Philadelphia Eagles picked a safety in the second round, as Andy Reid continues his quest to find a safety to replace the legendary Brian Dawkins.
Jaiquawn Jarrett was a four-year starter at Temple, although the Eagles may have reached a little by taking Jarrett with the 54th overall pick. He was largely a disappointment his rookie season, starting just two games in a safety rotation that was up for grabs. Jarrett struggled in all aspects of the game but especially in pass coverage, where he surrendered a 107.0 passer rating on balls thrown his way and was beaten badly by Larry Fitzgerald late in the year.
One year isn't enough to write Jarrett off, but a bounceback sophomore season would be an excellent sign for the Temple alum.
Curtis Marsh had a miserable rookie season on special teams, fumbling away punt returns in consecutive weeks, each time when he wasn’t expected to touch the ball on the play.
Marsh is a converted running back who played just two years of cornerback in college, so the Philadelphia Eagles knew they were taking a risk when they picked Marsh with the 90th overall pick. He appeared in just 13 snaps on defense as a rookie, despite an injury to Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie that should have opened the door for Marsh to make an impact.
Marsh was drafted because he shows promise; at 6’1” and 197 pounds, he has good size for a cornerback and plays physically. Marsh wasn’t activated for the first four games of the 2011 season and doesn’t show a lot of promise to work his way into the defensive rotation next season.
This pick is all Clay Matthews’ fault. If he wasn’t such a stud pass-rushing linebacker in Green Bay, the Philadelphia Eagles likely wouldn’t have taken a chance on his younger brother, Casey, a player that just simply doesn’t possess his older brother's talents.
Casey Matthews began the season as the team’s starter at middle linebacker and struggled mightily for three games before being benched after getting beat on a touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs. In all fairness, Matthews shouldn’t have been starting at the most important defensive position as a rookie, especially after a lockout-shortened offseason with no OTAs and a new defensive scheme with an inexperienced coordinator.
But Matthews looked awful when he played. After starting three games, he appeared in just 13 defensive snaps in the next nine weeks before working his way back into the linebacker rotation as a nickel linebacker. He was significantly better later in the season, even registering a sack against the Miami Dolphins, although he wasn’t exactly playing four playoff teams to close out the year.
Matthews will almost assuredly be back in 2012, but let’s hope he doesn’t see much action in the field.
Initially, I was extremely disappointed that the Philadelphia Eagles chose not to re-sign longtime kicker David Akers, and especially in the way Andy Reid handled the situation.
Alex Henery had a standout collegiate career, finishing as the NCAA’s most accurate field goal kicker ever. He didn’t have a good start with the Eagles, though, missing two field goals in a one-point loss to the San Francisco 49ers that eventually would cost the Eagles a playoff berth (and give the New York Giants one).
Henery finished the season strong for the Eagles, hitting an NFL rookie accuracy record on field goals in 2011. Henery didn’t really have any clutch attempts, and I’m not sure how much I would trust him with the game on the line, but overall he was solid enough in 2011.
The Philadelphia Eagles thought they might have another LeSean McCoy type of player, as both Dion Lewis and McCoy are undersized runners that attended the University of Pittsburgh.
But Lewis didn’t make much of an impact in 2011, rushing just 23 times for 102 yards (4.4 YPC) and one touchdown. He was extremely mediocre in his quest to become the team’s kick returner, running back 31 kicks for an average of just 21.6 yards per return and a long of 33.
Lewis will probably get a chance to be the team’s No. 2 rusher behind McCoy in 2012, although if McCoy goes down with an injury, Lewis isn’t good enough to hold down the fort.
Julian Vandervelde spent the majority of the 2011 season learning from Danny Watkins and Evan Mathis, the two starters at guard for the Philadelphia Eagles.
Vandervelde saw action for just one snap in his rookie campaign, appearing in a goal-line situation against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 10. He doesn’t offer much promise as a future starter for the team although he may spend 2012 in a backup capacity again.
Howard Mudd got a player he loves in Jason Kelce, a sixth round pick out of Cincinnati who fell so far in the draft largely because he is undersized. Mudd liked Kelce enough that he promoted him to the team’s starter in training camp, ahead of five-year starter Jamaal Jackson.
Kelce started all 16 games in 2011, and although he struggled (Pro Football Focus rated him 33rd among 35 qualifying centers), he offers promise for the future. Kelce was ineffective as a pass blocker, although he did allow just one sack all season. He is already one of the league’s best centers on screen passes, likely because he is small enough and quick enough to get out in front of the ballcarrier.
Kelce should hold down the fort at center for the Eagles for the next several seasons. He may never develop into a Pro Bowler, but he should be at least a league-average center on an offensive line that will likely be the team’s strength in 2012.
Like Jason Kelce two picks before, Brian Rolle fell so far in the draft because he is undersized and seen by some as too small to play linebacker in the NFL. In reality, Rolle was probably the team’s best linebacker in 2011, starting 13 of 16 games while registering 40 tackles, one sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery.
He rated as a slightly above average outside ‘backer, according to Pro Football Focus, although he could stand to work on his skills in pass coverage (4 TD, 0 INT, 113.0 rating). Rolle offers intensity and grit to a position that largely underachieved in 2011, and he should fare well with a playmaker like DeMeco Ryans next to him in ’12.
Greg Lloyd is the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Greg Lloyd, Sr, a five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro in the 1990s.
This Lloyd failed to make an impact with the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles, joining Casey Matthews as a disappointing relative of a standout.
Lloyd was inactive for the majority of the season before he was activated prior to the Eagles’ 38-20 loss to the New England Patriots. He never appeared in an NFL snap though and likely won’t be back with the team in 2012.
Fullback is a dying breed in the NFL, so I don’t really blame Stanley Havili for not making an impact with the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles. Owen Schmitt only appeared in about 17 percent of snaps on the season, and Havili likely wasn’t going to make the team from the time he was drafted.