5 Eagles Rookies Who Are Expected to Contribute in 2011-2012
With all the fuss made about the Eagles' free-agent additions, it's easy to ignore their substantial offseason departures.
Before the flurry of signings, the biggest news out of Eagles camp was their decision to let seasoned veterans like Stewart Bradley and Quintin Mikell walk. Positions are left on this team that need to be filled, and the Eagles have historically had no problem playing rookies early.
As long as you show up to play in training camp, Andy Reid and Co. don't care how old you are, where you played college ball or where you were drafted.
Here are five rooks who could make a significant impact this season.
RG Danny Watkins
For the second straight year the Eagles went off-book with their first-round pick and left the fans saying "Huh?"
If Watkins' career gets off to as slow of a start as Brandon Graham's has, the offensive line could be in a lot of trouble this year. At the advanced age of 26, Watkins isn't going to have the same learning curve that most rookies are given—he's expected to perform like a veteran immediately.
Nobody seemed to even bat an eyelash when Max Jean-Gilles walked this offseason (good riddance), which cleared the way for Watkins to start from Day 1. By all accounts, he didn't have the highest upside in the NFL Draft, but he was the most "NFL ready" player in this year's group of lineman.
Let's hope the draft "experts" got this one right for once, and Watkins can shore up a leaky right side of the line.
ILB Casey Matthews
He certainly didn't help his cause against the Steelers. Desperate for a scapegoat following the beatdown in Pittsburgh, Eagles Nation has turned to Casey Matthews' uninspiring performance in the middle. Coming out of Oregon as an outside linebacker prospect, fans have been made a little bit uncomfortable by the fact that he was given the keys to the middle of the defense from Day 1.
When asked about what makes Casey so special, DC Juan Castillo seemed to speak more about his bloodline than he did about his play on the football field. That didn't make anybody feel any safer.
The Eagles haven't made a run at proven free agents like Lofa Tatupu and Kirk Morrison, so it appears Casey is set to start the season at the MIKE linebacker. The Eagles need "The Bloodline" to improve—and quickly.
OLB Brian Rolle
Brian Rolle couldn't have asked for a better team to draft him in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. Not only are the Eagles thin at linebacker, they also have a history of giving late-round linebackers a chance to get on the field early.
Rolle need look no further than starting WILL linebacker Moise Fokou, whom the Eagles selected in the seventh round in 2009.
Rolle is wildly undersized to play linebacker in the NFL, but he excels in pass coverage and has a non-stop motor. Against the Browns, he stepped in to play with the first team on Cleveland's first third down. He looks like he may be primed for a major role (pun intended) as a nickel-backer all year.
K Alex Henery
It's gonna be weird to see somebody other than No. 2 back there kicking field goals for the Eagles. David Akers was a rare fan favorite kicker in Philadelphia, but his three-miss performance against Green Bay in last year's wild card sealed his fate.
Every Eagles fan cringed when they saw Aaron Rodgers lift the Lombardi Trophy, knowing full well that if Akers had made two of those kicks, it could have been Michael Vick standing next to Roger Goodell.
The Eagles felt strongly enough about Alex Henery that they took him in fourth round this year—far higher than anybody projected him to go.
Henery holds the all-time NCAA record for kicking accuracy, so the leg is definitely there. It'll be interesting to see how he responds if he makes a mistake early, particularly considering the less-than-forgiving nature of his new fan base.
C Jason Kelce
Kelce has been making waves since camp opened. He's been splitting reps with incumbent Jamaal Jackson, and the coaches think that—unlike Jackson—he's an ideal physical fit for Howard Mudd's new blocking scheme.
He was also named the starter over Jackson for the third preseason game.
The smart money still has Jackson as the favorite to open the season, but Kelce's presence will still be invaluable when you take Jackson's injury history into account.
In Indianapolis, Mudd relied on Jeff Saturday to be more than just a center—he was a leader and a model of consistency. If and when Kelce is inserted into the lineup, the Eagles will expect a lot of production from him.