Projecting 2012 Roles for Philadelphia Eagles 2011 Draft Class
In the past two weeks, we have beaten the 2012 NFL Draft to death, in a good way. We have analyzed every single draft pick and discussed where those players will fit into the 2012 season. But let's not forget about the 2011 draft class just yet.
Last year's draft class has gotten a lot of criticism, unfairly. Casey Matthews was thrown into the fire way too quickly during a short offseason while Curtis Marsh barely saw the field at all. Marsh was viewed as more of a project player. He was recruited as a running back at Utah State before he made the switch to cornerback.
Nine of the 11 draft picks from 2011 made the 53 man roster while the other two, Stanley Havili and Greg Lloyd Jr., made the practice squad. That is truly an incredible stat. You aren't going to get starters at every draft pick. What you want to get is players that can push some of the veterans for playing time and also make some type of immediate impact in year one.
You can't judge a draft class after just one season. Year two of three is where you start to see how good these players actually are. In 2012, you will get a better sense of how good these players will actually become. Keep in mind though, the Eagles drafted four players in 2011 that turned into full time starters by the end of the season.
Here is a look at how each of the Eagles 11 draft picks will fit into the 2012 season.
Danny Watkins got off to a very slow start in his rookie season, but once he was inserted into the starting lineup the offensive line became complete. The Eagles were 5-1 when both Danny Watkins and Michael Vick started in 2011.
Watkins' role for the 2012 season is pretty obvious. He is the starting right guard unless Brandon Washington or Julian Vandervelde are just dominant in both training camp and preseason. Even then, he still probably keeps his starting job.
It will be interesting to see how Watkins improves over his rookie season. He was the only starting offensive linemen down the stretch that didn't make a case for the Pro Bowl. He wasn't bad in 2011, just didn't wow anyone.
I would expect Danny Watkins to make great strides in year two under offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He was a decent starter in year one but I expect him to be a more dominating run blocker in year two.
Jaiquawn Jarrett has been declared a bust by far too many. He has played just one season that gave him very little time to get comfortable in the defense. He was not mentally ready to be a starting strong safety.
Year two will be a completely different story for Jarrett. Physically, he is exactly what you want in a strong safety. He is as physical as they come with the speed and athleticism to be relied on in pass coverage. Once he gets the mental part of his game down, he will be a solid starting strong safety.
Safety was a huge problem for the Eagles last season. Nate Allen wasn't fully recovered from knee surgery, forcing Kurt Coleman and Jarrad Page to start in the first part of the season. Now Allen's knee is 100 percent and Jarrett should be ready to be the starting strong safety.
It's difficult to predict exactly how Curtis Marsh will be used in 2012. He was drafted as a project player in the third round who had just picked up the cornerback position a couple years ago at Utah State after starting out as a running back.
He has great size at 6'0, 197 pounds and the athleticism to match. He showed great cover skills at Utah State but lacked the footwork and technique to be a starting corner as a rookie.
He could see some time as a slot corner in dime packages in 2012, depending on if the Eagles keep Joselio Hanson or not. If they do, then Hanson and Boykin would be the top two slot corners. At the very least, Marsh figures to be a backup outside corner in 2012.
Marsh's value will be determined when Nnamdi Asomugha starts to decline and the Eagles look for Marsh to be a possible replacement in a couple years.
Alex Henery proved to be worth a fourth round draft pick in 2011. Very few kickers get taken before the sixth round, but Henery proved to be a steal in the fourth. Outside of two missed field goals in a Week 4 loss to the 49ers, he was perfect under 50 yards.
Henery made 24 out of 27 field goals in 2011. For a rookie kicker, those numbers are outstanding. He not only was trying to prove his worth as a starting kicker, but he was also replacing a legend in David Akers. Akers was selected to the Pro Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers but you can argue that Henery had just as good a season.
As long as Henery continues to be a very accurate kicker, the Eagles will have found a starter for the next 15 years.
Casey Matthews is a very good linebacker when used properly. Unfortunately for the Eagles, they used him improperly last season. Matthews has good cover skills and great football instincts. He isn't a physical linebacker and doesn't have great speed. He has to be utilized properly to succeed in the NFL.
Last season, he was thrown to the lions as a starting middle linebacker. He was undersized and overwhelmed. He is at his best in space where he is most comfortable. He found a spot as a nickel linebacker in the final month of the season. He played in space and didn't have to think so much. His great football instincts are negated when he is uncomfortable and has to think too much. The linebacker position is all about instincts. Every split second counts. The more you have to think, the slower you react. Running backs are too quick these days to not play with your instincts alone.
I expect Casey Matthews to compete at the WILL linebacker spot with Brian Rolle. He won't see much time in nickel packages as both Demeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are expected to play every down. Matthews has the ability to be a really good two down linebacker on the weak side. He will also be able to contribute on special teams.
I wouldn't call Matthews a bust because he didn't succeed as the starting MIKE linebacker in year one. He is better served as a weak side linebacker. Fourth round draft picks aren't expected to become starters right away. If he becomes a solid contributor on either special teams or as the starting WILL linebacker, then he is a successful pick.
Dion Lewis had just 34 fewer yards than Ronnie Brown in 2011 despite getting 19 fewer carries. Lewis is a solid number two running back with a very strong lower body who always keeps his legs moving. He should have had better numbers than his 102 rushing yards in 2011 but the Eagles coaching staff believed Brown was the better backup running back and LeSean McCoy was too good to take away carries.
I believe that Andy Reid and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will want to give more carries to Dion Lewis in 2012 in an effort to conserve McCoy. Lewis won't be handed the number two running back this summer. He will get some serious competition from seventh round draft pick Bryce Brown and undrafted free agent Chris Polk.
Lewis has the upper hand by having played a full season in both the NFL and the Eagles offense in 2011. Polk and Brown are rookies. Brown hasn't played more than one game in a season since 2009 while Polk has some serious shoulder and hip injury concerns.
Lewis probably wins the number two back spot but he could easily lose his roster spot altogether to both Polk and Brown.
Julian Vandervelde's roster spot is in serious jeopardy this summer. The Eagles signed Mike Gibson, who can play at both guard and center, and also drafted Brandon Washington, another guard, in the sixth round of this year's draft. Washington has more upside than Vandervelde and Gibson has more value as he can play all three interior line positions.
Vandervelde has a full season playing under offensive line coach Howard Mudd. He even saw some time with the first unit in camp while Danny Watkins was negotiating his rookie contract. If the Eagles want to carry just nine offensive linemen, Vandervelde would be the casualty. He doesn't have the upside that Washington does and he doesn't have experience lining up at center.
He has to impress early in camp. He is a good fit for Mudd's blocking scheme, but he isn't the only one. A slow start in camp could cost him his roster spot in 2012. It will be interesting to see how he responds in training camp and in preseason.
Jason Kelce was the steal of the draft in 2011. It's rare that you find an immediate starter in the second to last round in the draft who becomes one of the best at his position that early. Kelce was the best center in the NFL at getting upfield and making blocks on screen passes.
Kelce isn't as strong as you would normally want your center to be, but that can be fixed in the weight room. What can't be fixed is a lack of athletic ability. You also can't teach the level of intensity that Kelce brings on each and every play.
Howard Mudd had a player like him in Jeff Saturday when he was with the Colts. Neither player was highly regarded coming out of college but Saturday had great success as Mudd's starting center in Indianapolis. Kelce has the potential to be even better.
The one area of Kelce's game that has to get better is his ability to move tackles backwards on quarterback sneaks and inside runs. Early on in the 2011 season, the Eagles struggled to convert third and fourth and inches situations on the quarterback sneak when they ran behind Kelce. They adjusted and Vick started running behind Evan Mathis. You would rather your quarterback run behind your center than either guard position. We all know the quickest way from point A to point B is a straight line.
If he hits the weight room hard this offseason, I see Kelce earning, or at least deserving the starting spot in the Pro Bowl(assuming we still have one) at center.
Brian Rolle has the type of mentality you want in your starting linebacker. He just doesn't have the height. Sam Mills had the same problem when he was a starting linebacker in the NFL in the 80s and 90s. He had a very similar build as Rolle at about 5'9, 232 pounds. Rolle is about 5'10, 228 pounds. Mills, like Rolle, was a great athlete who played with great intensity on every snap.
Rolle is a terrific athlete. He ran a 4.56 40 at his combine in 2011 and also showed off his upper body strength with 28 reps in the bench press. The only real knock on Rolle is his lack of height.
He won the starting job as the WILL linebacker after outplaying Casey Matthews at the position in Week 3. As long as he continues to get better at shedding blocks and covering running backs all over the field, he should keep his starting WILL spot in 2012.
Casey Matthews will be his biggest competition this summer, but he beat him out during the season last year and I expect him to do the same in training camp.
Greg Lloyd Jr.
Greg Lloyd Jr. is a good run stuffing middle linebacker. He was a complete linebacker before suffering a really nasty ACL tear his junior season at UCONN. He wasn't the same player during his senior season and still looked to be getting his speed back in his rookie campaign. He won a spot on the practice squad last season.
It will be interesting to see if he finally gets his speed back or if he will be forever a shell of his former self. It will be a make it or break it type of year for Lloyd. He will be competition with Jamar Chaney for a backup middle linebacker spot. Chaney looked lost in 2011. His roster spot is far from safe this summer.
Stanley Havili has a great opportunity being laid out right in front of him this season. The Eagles let their fullback Owen Schmitt walk in free agency. The position is Havili's for the taking. The Eagles didn't sign any veterans or draft anyone at the position. They did sign undrafted free agent Emil Igwenagu who played both full back and tight end at UMASS.
Igwenagu lacks the size and straight line speed to play tight end. He also lacks the experience and blocking skills to play full back at the next level. He was most likely signed to push Havili at the full back spot, but also as a potential third tight end.
If Havili shows any ability as a lead blocker he will earn a starting spot at full back. The Eagles seem to be looking for more of an athlete at full back. Owen Schmitt was a nice starting full back, but he doesn't really wow you with anything that he can do. Havili is a great athlete at full back. Defenses will have to worry about his ability as both a runner and a receiver.
Havili had 1,799 total yards in his college career at USC along with 15 total touchdowns. He averaged 9.1 yards per touch. That's the type of player the Eagles are looking for at full back. Someone who can be a theat on offense in both the ground game and in the air while also serving as a decent run blocker.
He spent the entire 2011 season on the practice squad. If he can't make it as a starter this season, he probably never will. If he does, that could make it six starters from this draft class with Rolle, Kelce, Henery, Jarrett and Watkins.