The 2017 NFL Draft was definitely one to remember, especially for the city of Philadelphia. The “City of Brotherly Love” played host to the 3-day event for the first time ever, and it was an incredible success. The setup and atmosphere had sort of a festival type of vibe and feel to it with numerous booths, games, food vendors, and other stations set up along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Art Museum steps served as the main stage which provided an absolutely amazing backdrop. And to top it all off, there were no arrests! Fans of all teams (yes, including Philly fans) behaved accordingly and there were no mishaps that were noteworthy.
Being more than a year removed from it now, it’s starting to reach a point where our focus shifts from the event itself to the actual selections the Eagles made. They say you can’t completely judge a team’s draft class until about 3 years after, which for the most part is true. However, looking at the Eagles’ 2017 draft class, the team has already felt a significant impact from it, and for the most part it hasn’t been too positive.
Let’s start with the positive first. We all know about 1st round pick Derek Barnett. The defensive end from Tennessee has had his flaws, particularly from a pure pass rushing standpoint, but he’s developed nicely almost halfway into his second year in the league, especially as an EDGE run defender where he’s been very impressive. Barnett has also made a few plays in crucial moments in his short career already. The forced fumble against the Vikings in the NFC Championship game, the game-changing fumble recovery in the Super Bowl, and the sack of Andrew Luck late in the 4th quarter in Week 3 are plays that have started to give him the reputation of being a clutch player. Despite the criticism Howie took for drafting him over guys like Reuben Foster, OJ Howard, and Malik Hooker, Barnett is most certainly turning out to be a pick that he “hit” on. Unfortunately Barnett’s season has been cut short though. He suffered a shoulder injury that required season-ending surgery.
Sidney Jones might be a selection that’s still in the “wait and see” stage. He essentially missed his entire rookie season (save for a few meaningless plays against the Cowboys in Week 17) due to the Achilles injury he suffered before the draft, which was the whole reason he dropped to the Eagles in the 2nd round in the first place. Jones has served as Patrick Robinson’s replacement as the defense’s nickel corner, and overall he’s played very well. He suffered a hamstring injury against the Giants in Week 6 and is week-to-week right now.
Shot 3 – I thought Sidney Jones had one of his better games in the slot. Easy to see how his skillset transitions so well inside. Excels close to the LOS. Very competitive. He’s really settled in the last couple of weeks on the inside. #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/khnYGBenw4
— Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) October 9, 2018
After those two names however, the “hits” start to turn into serious question marks, especially when you look at the team’s next 3 picks in the 3rd and 4th rounds.
Rasul Douglas, Mack Hollins, and Donnel Pumphrey.
A cornerback, wide receiver, and running back.
And what are the biggest needs on the Eagles team right now?
A cornerback, wide receiver, and running back.
Mike Wallace was supposed to takeover for Torrey Smith as the team’s deep threat, but he’s been injured in Week 2 and his exact timeframe for his return is still up in the air, if he even returns at all. That would have been an opportunity for Mack Hollins to fill in as the deep threat, except for the fact that Hollins was put on injured reserve before the season even started. There’s been no recent update on his status and whether he’d be able to return this year. And not having that explosive element in the passing game has hindered this offense significantly.
How about Rasul Douglas? Well we’re obviously all aware of the struggles Jalen Mills has had this season. The flaws about his game that have always been there have been exposed even more this season, and a good portion of the fan base has been screaming for him to be moved to either safety or the slot. Now I’m not sure if this has more to do with Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz’s devotion to Mills, or if Douglas just isn’t ready yet (or maybe it’s both), but the fact that the young cornerback that the team drafted in the 3rd round hasn’t been able to win a starting spot at cornerback over Mills or at safety due to the McLeod injury is pretty concerning. Yes, Mills is a leader and is physical, and it’s not like Douglas has been a lockdown corner the times he has played, but he’s also shown to have tremendous ball skills and doesn’t lack confidence either. Douglas also has come out and said on Twitter that he has experience playing some safety in college. If that’s the case, then why is Avonte Maddox, a rookie who played only outside corner in college and was being groomed to be the team’s nickel corner of the future, getting the starting safety spot over Douglas? If it’s because Maddox is that much better than him right now then that’s saying a lot because based off of the few games Maddox has played at safety he hasn’t been anything special. If Douglas could even take Mills’ spot as the outside corner then maybe Mills could be moved over to safety and Maddox over to the slot where he belongs. Would that definitely improve our secondary? I’m not completely sure. But at this point it’s safe to say that Douglas’ lack of development to make the coaches even consider that option is not a good sign and it has definitely impacted this defense.
Finally, that leaves me with Donnel Pumphrey and the running back position. Just to remind everyone, that 2017 running back draft class was projected to be one of the best in a long time, and so far that’s held true. Below is a list of running backs drafted that year who are now playing a significant role for their respective teams:
Leonard Fournette, Round 1 Pick 4
Christian McCaffrey, Round 1 Pick 8
Dalvin Cook, Round 2 Pick 9
Joe Mixon, Round 2 Pick 16
Alvin Kamara, Round 3 Pick 3
Kareem Hunt, Round 3 Pick 22
James Conner, Round 3 Pick 41
Tarik Cohen, Round 4 Pick 13
Jamaal Williams, Round 4 Pick 28
Marlon Mack, Round 4 Pick 37
Aaron Jones, Round 5 Pick 39
Chris Carson, Round 7 Pick 31
That is a long list of running backs that would without a doubt be a significant upgrade from the group of guys the Eagles have right now (granted, we didn’t really have a shot at Fournette or McCaffrey). The fact that there was this much talent available but Howie decided to trade up in the 4th round to take Donnel Pumphrey, who was on injured reserve all of 2017, was cut after the preseason, and was just recently added back onto the practice squad, is an absolute horrendous miss by Howie. He’s made a number of great moves since coming back after the Chip Kelly debacle (the team did win a Super Bowl in large part because of him), but this is one that he has to be regretting. It’s a miss that is severely impacting this team for the worse.
And yes, a big part of why I’m addressing this is because Howie missed out on Kareem Hunt. Of all the running backs that the team could have gotten, Hunt was my guy. I’ve never wanted the Eagles to draft a player as badly as Hunt since 2002 when the young football fan in me wanted them to draft Brian Westbrook. The Chiefs selected him in the 3rd round before the Eagles had the opportunity to, and even though I don’t know if Hunt would have definitely been their selection there over Rasul Douglas had he been available I still would like to assume (and hope) that if a mere passionate fan like me could see the enormous potential Hunt had then the team most certainly did as well. I will always believe that Howie should have found a way to trade up and grab him. And as I stated earlier, it’s not like Douglas is even playing a significant role on this team at the moment.
There’s nothing any of us can do now, obviously. The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone, and the Eagles are going to have to find alternate ways to address their needs at wide receiver, cornerback, and running back. Maybe by the time this article comes out Howie would have pulled off a trade or two. But looking back and seeing what could have been just further proves just how important drafting well is in the NFL. If Howie had drafted better in those middle rounds then he wouldn’t have to be looking to make these trades right now, and maybe the Eagles wouldn’t be sitting at 3-4 looking for playmakers to turn their season around.