BY PAUL MANCANO—It’s hard to find much fault with a team that’s 7-2, sitting squarely at the top of its division with just seven games to play. True, the offense has struggled at times and the defense has had its fair share of miscues, but overall, the Eagles are playing great team football—each unit is usually doing just enough to best the opponent on a weekly basis. So it’s not hard to be content with the product on the field. Right now, we’re winning, and that’s all that matters.
But what about next year? And the year after that? Can Chip Kelly sustain the kind of success he has incurred in his freshman and sophomore years?
That answer lies in the success or failure of the draft. The 2014 NFL Draft was Chip’s second as a head coach, and was supposed to be chockfull of future playmakers and hysterical names (well, just one). According to Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay, a.k.a. Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne, talent was abounding in this crop of 19-22 year olds. Over the course of draft weekend, the Eagles made four trades, unloaded their backup running back, and hoarded Pac-12 products. When all was said and done, the Birds added seven new players.
Nine games into the 2014 season, six of those players remain on the active roster. Five have seen game action. Three have played more than 10% of all snaps on their respective sides of the ball. Only one has contributed significantly to the team.
One would hope for a little more production from the rookie class this far into the season.
However, this comes as little surprise. Not many expected the rookies to be able to take jobs from starters, as most of the team’s first-stringers are doing pretty well (hence, the 7-2 record). But was this really what Howie Roseman and Chip expected from this group?
The success of Jordan Matthews has been much discussed in the media. The kid is experiencing tremendous success so far, even while competing for targets with a top-ten receiver and two of the league’s best pass-catching running backs. (Gee, who could’ve predicted that?)
His workload should only increase from here, too. He looks set to experience a midseason boost from Mark Sanchez, much like the one Riley Cooper received from Nick Foles last year. Getting Matthews in the second round is turning out to be an A+ pick thus far, without a doubt.
But beyond Matthews, #TheRooks haven’t added much to the team. First-round pick Marcus Smith has barely seen the field, and has had trouble while trying to adjust to a very different scheme and switching positions multiple times. Josh Huff only has six receptions. In the kick return game, his season long is a measly 26 yards. He’s also got a red-zone fumble on his record. Taylor Hart has yet to play. Ed Reynolds was cut. The big guy, Beau Allen, has played OK as a backup defensive tackle.
Not much production in there.
Perhaps the plan is for these guys to slowly take over. Guys like Smith are projects; perhaps Chip is being extra patient with this crop, but expects them to eventually overtake veterans like Trent Cole years down the line.
But it is disheartening to see your first-round pick inactive for four out of your first nine games (and give up an embarrassing touchdown in an important game). It’s also disheartening to see a fairly highly touted defensive back like Jaylen Watkins benched at a position that’s been a week spot for the Eagles. The same goes for fifth-rounder Reynolds, who failed to make the team and is sitting on the practice squad.
By no means do I intend to imply the 2014 Eagles draft class has been a “bust.” I’m a firm believer that the “bust” label label should not be used until the class is at least three or four years removed from its inception. But if Chip Kelly intends to keep his incredible run going for years to come, he’s going to need more production from his draftees, especially the 2014 class.