Philadelphia Eagles: Grading the Birds' Draft Picks at the Halfway Point

Avi Wolfman-Arent@@awolfmancomethCorrespondent IIAugust 25, 2011

Philadelphia Eagles: Grading the Birds' Draft Picks at the Halfway Point

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    Is it too early to evaluate the Eagles’ 2011 draft class?

    Yes and no.

    Obviously it’s too soon to write any one player off as a failure. There’s more preseason to be played, and even for those who miss the cut there will likely be other opportunities down the road. This is the dawn of their careers.

    But dawn is never far from dusk in the life of an NFL rookie. The average NFL career only lasts 3.5 seasons, so one play here or there usually constitutes the margin of error. NFL players don’t get the luxury of the minor leagues or an NBA summer league; it’s one month and move along.

    So with half of the preseason played its time to check in on who’s moving and staying. First impressions don’t always make for the best impressions, but in the NFL they’re all we’ve got.

    Note: All grades are relative to the position in which the player was drafted. If a fifth round player earns a "B," that rating is to be taken in comparison with other players drafted in a similar position both this year and year's past.

First Round: Danny Watkins, OG

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    When the Eagles drafted Watkins with the 26th overall pick, Eagles insider Sheil Kapadia echoed consensus by calling the Baylor product a “plug and play player.” Experts say Watkins doesn’t have a high ceiling, perhaps because of his advanced age, but that’s just fine for the win-now Eagles.

    Watkins was expected to start right away and so far he’s well on his way to meeting those expectations, running with the first team in practice and in preseason games. Right now he is actually one of the more stable elements on an O-line that has question marks at right tackle and center (more on that later).

    Watkins hasn’t dropped jaws the way 2010 first-rounded Brandon Graham did last year at Lehigh; but then again Graham disappointed in the regular season last year before suffering a year-ending knee injury.

    Considering the Eagles’ needs, Watkins’ steady hand will do just fine.

    Grade: B

Second Round: Jaiquawn Jarrett, S

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    I’ll admit, I don’t have much of a read on Jarrett. All of the analysis I read says Jarrett “suffered from the lockout more than any other Eagle” or that it’s been “extremely difficult to judge” his performance.

    Is that code for “Jarrett hasn’t played well?” Come on experts, help me out.

    Lockout or no lockout, I’m disappointed in a high draft pick that so early in the preseason appears already out of the running for a starting job. With Nate Allen playing poorly and the strong safety position up for grabs, the fact that Jarrett can’t compete at a position of weakness raises a red flag.

    Maybe he’s just playing catch-up and we will eventually him unseat journeyman Jarrad Page during the 2011 campaign. Until then, count me as a skeptic.

    Grade: C -

Third Round: Curtis Marsh, CB

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    The Inquirer’s Jeff McLane calls Marsh a “lock” for the roster, and with the logjam the Eagles have at cornerback that level of certainty tells you something. Marsh was a termed a long-term project out of college because he started his career at Utah State as a running back, but reports out of Lehigh suggest Marsh can contribute much earlier in his career than previously expected.

    At this point he’s ahead of Trevard Lindley and Brandon Hughes and is giving the Eagles reason to shop veteran nickel back Joselio Hanson. Learning alongside Nnamdi Asomugha and Asante Samuel should help Marsh’s progression, and the Eagles may have found a nice value pick here.

    Grade: B+

Fourth Round: Casey Matthews, MLB

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    No rookie has gotten more ink this year than former Oregon Duck Casey Matthews. Between his famous name and his surprise ascendancy to starting middle linebacker, the younger Matthews has fans and pundits alternately raving and ranting about his early prospects.

    In truth, Matthews’ hold on the starting job is tenuous at best, and it’s more of an indictment on the Eagles’ weakness at that position than it is a referendum on his play. That became clear against Pittsburgh last week when the Steelers pummeled Matthews and exploited the Birds’ flaccid interior defense.

    Comcast Sports Net’s Ray Didinger points out that if the Eagles intend to start the undersized Matthews week one, they are going to need to scheme to protect him. It will be hard for Matthews, no matter how good his instincts, to stop the run game with Jim Washburn’s nine-wide defensive line formation in front of him. He simply doesn’t have the size of a Stewart Bradley and won’t be able to shed bigger blockers.

    Lost in all of this is the fact that Matthews, a mid-round pick, will make this team and has a legitimate chance to start. That would be more impressive if the Eagles didn’t have a history of drafting and keeping linebackers in the late rounds (Keenan Clayton, Jamar Chaney, Moise Fokou, Akeem Jordan, Omar Gaither, Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley, etc.), and if Matthews wasn’t fighting for a spot in the weakest part of the Eagles defense.

    No reason to write the kid off yet, but don’t get enamored with his rapid rise either.

    Grade: C

Fourth Round: Alex Henery, K

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    The stakes couldn’t get any higher for Alex Henery.

    The kicker for Nebraska is not simply expected to start for a contending team, he’s also being asked to replace the legendary David Akers.

    I hope the Cornhusker likes the limelight.

    So far Henery’s been true during preseason games, but erratic during camp. Reports say he’s got plenty of leg; most quibbles have centered on his accuracy. Since the Eagles have no other placekickers in camp, they better hope Henery can hold his own when the temperatures drop, the wind picks up and the crowds get louder.

    Remember, Henery was the first kicker taken in this draft and he’s a very high selection for someone at his position. Kickers taken this early are expected to perform as well as, say, a Mason Crosby. So far I think Henery has fallen short of those expectations.

    Grade: C+

Fifth Round: Dion Lewis, RB

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    Outside of his fumble in the Steelers game (come on dude, same stadium where you played college ball!), all indicators on Lewis are positive. He’s shown enough open-field elusiveness to pass stalwart Eldra Buckley on the depth chart. According to Reuben Frank, the diminutive back has even shown surprising moxie in pass protection.

    I loved watching Lewis play in college, and the Birds’ recent success drafting Pitt running backs (LeSean McCoy) gives me an irrational reason for optimism. Lewis could also factor into the return game, adding value to what already looks like a nice pick.

    Grade: B

Fifth Round: Julian Vandervelde, OG

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    There hasn’t been much buzz about the cerebral Vandervelde, who likely landed with the Eagles because he played along side former O-line coach and current defensive coordinator Juan Castillo’s son in college. I haven’t heard a lot of negatives and I haven’t heard any real positives.

    According to Jeff McLane, Vandervelde is unlikely to make the team and also a pretty safe bet to land on the practice squad, meaning he’s not enticing enough for a competitor to steal him away.

    With nothing further to report, Vandervelde’s time with the Eagles hasn’t amounted to much. Considering how unstable the Birds are on the offensive line right now, I would have hoped for more.

    Grade: D+

Sixth Round: Jason Kelce, C

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    Following in the fine Eagles tradition of late-round steals from the University of Cincinnati (Trent Cole, Brent Celek), Kelce has been the surprise of the 2011 draft class. Surging past 2010 starter Mike McGlynn and presumptive first-teamer Jamaal Jackson, Kelce will play with the first unit against the Cleveland Browns tonight.

    That alone tells you all you need to know about Kelce’s play so far this preseason. Because center is such a cerebral position, it’s rare to see a rookie get a serious look, especially considering the condensed nature of training camp this year. So far Kelce has shown he can handle the physical and mental rigors of the position and new O-Line coach Howard Mudd clearly wants to give the young man a chance.

    The real test comes Thursday, where Kelce will have to prove he can develop chemistry with QB Michael Vick in a game situation. With both of the Eagles’ first two games coming on the road in domed stadiums, Kelce must assure Andy Reid that he can handle the confusions created by a hostile environment.

    Either way, Kelce looks like a lock to make the roster—no small feat for a sixth-round pick.

    Grade: A

    Side note: It was only five years ago that Jamaal Jackson appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated battling against, and eventually usurping, incumbent center Hank Fraley. How quickly time passes in the NFL.

Sixth Round: Brian Rolle, OLB

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    Rolle is on the roster bubble, but that’s not such a terrible thing for a sixth-rounder. He’s short, an obvious concern, but has demonstrated the ability to hit hard. That ought to play well on special teams, where Rolle is likely headed if he makes the squad. There is some talk of moving Rolle to safety, a situation to monitor if Nate Allen continues to struggle.

    And although the Rolle name is not quite as high profile as the Matthews moniker, it certainly carries a pedigree. Cousin Antrell plays for the Giants and another cousin, Samari, had a distinguished career in the league.

    So far Rolle has stood out among the young linebacking corps, and he’ll get some first team snaps with nickel defense against the Browns tonight. He’s becoming a player to watch.

    Grade: B

Seventh Round: Greg Lloyd Jr., MLB

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    Lloyd, like the MIKE in front of him, has NFL genes in his family. His father, Greg Lloyd Sr., was a five-time pro bowl player for the Steelers during the early 1990s. Unlike Casey Matthews, Lloyd has yet to distinguish himself from the rest of the pack.

    Right now he’s firmly behind Matthews and Brian Rolle in terms of rookie LBs, and his chances to make this team look slim. It could be a quick exit.

    Grade: C -

Seventh Round: Stanley Havili, FB

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    The USC product doesn’t appear much in reports out of camp, and apparently has had trouble blocking. Seeing as he is a fullback, that could prove an issue.

    Right now he finds himself behind established veteran Owen Schmitt, and with the Eagles extremely unlikely to carry two fullbacks he’ll have to hope for an injury in order to make this team. At this point his best outcome for Havili would be a spot on the practice squad.

    Grade: D