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May 14, 2018

Projecting roles in 2018 for each of the Eagles' rookie draft picks

Last offseason, near the conclusion of training camp, we projected roles for each player in the Philadelphia Eagles' 2017 rookie draft class. This year, we'll make some projections far earlier than we did a year ago, then follow up with an update near the end of camp.

Second round: TE Dallas Goedert

Landing Goedert at 49th overall in the draft was good value for the Eagles in my view, as I thought he could potentially sneak into the first round.

As we noted in our 2018 Eagles draft grades, in a video the Eagles put out after they made the pick, Doug Pederson tells Goedert at the 0:52 mark, "Our red zone just got a lot better."

Having Zach Ertz (6'5, 250), Alshon Jeffery (6'3, 218), and Goedert (6'5, 256) all on the field at the same time is going to present difficult matchups for opposing defenses in the red zone, assuming Goedert can display the same type of receiving skills he showed in college, regardless of competition level. 

The top three teams in red zone efficiency last season were the Eagles, Patriots, and Jaguars. I think we can agree all three of those teams had good seasons in 2017. In the NFL, you win and lose games in the red zone. The Eagles recognize that, hence the selection of Goedert.

The Eagles will try to get Goedert up top speed mentally as quickly as they can, though I would bet that they will put a high priority on coaching him up in red zone situations.

After the Eagles signed former Packers tight end Richard Rodgers, we published a film breakdown of his game. After going through that exercise, I'll just say succinctly that if Goedert cannot overtake Rodgers as the No. 2 TE very quickly, that would be very alarming. In other words, there shouldn't much of an impediment to Goedert landing that role when the season begins.

Out of the box, Goedert has a chance to be better than either Trey Burton or Brent Celek (late-career version) as a receiver. A reasonable statistical benchmark could something around 30 catches for 350 yards and 5 TDs as a young role player in an already stacked offense.

Fourth round: CB Avonte Maddox

Last year, we took a look at Jim Schwartz's history of playing rookie cornerbacks. Here's what we found, which we've updated for this post:

Player Round (Pick)*GS 
2017Sidney Jones 2 (43)
2017Rasul Douglas 3 (99) 14 
2016Jalen Mills7 (233)162
2014Ross Cockrell4 (109)70
2013Darius Slay2 (36)134
2012Bill Bentley3 (85)43
2012Chris Greenwood5 (148)00
2012Jonte Green6 (196)155
2010Amari Spievey3 (66)159
2008Cary "Sconces" Williams7 (229)10
2007Ryan Smith6 (206)00
2006Cortland Finnegan7 (215)162
2005Pacman Jones1 (6)1513
2005Vincent Fuller4 (108)20
2005Reynaldo Hill7 (218)1510
2004Rich Garner3 (92)151
2004Michael Waddell4 (124)164
2003Andre Woolfolk1 (28)62
2003Donnie Nickey5 (154)120
2002Mike Echols4 (110)40
2002Tony Beckham4 (115)140
2001Andre Dyson2 (60)1412

*Overall pick

Some observations on the above:

Of the 22 players listed above, 20 played in at least one game in their rookie seasons. 13 started at least one game. Eight started at least four games. In other words, rookies play under Jim Schwartz, so Maddox has a good chance to contribute if he shows anything.

Interestingly, however, none of the above players started every game they appeared in. They all had to wait a few weeks before getting their shot to start. The only player would might have started Week 1 under Schwartz was Pacman Jones, who had a long holdout after he was drafted sixth overall in 2005, and didn't start that season until Week 3.

Schwartz doesn't care where you were drafted. In the above chart, four corners were drafted in the seventh round. Three of them played in at least 15 games their rookie seasons, and all three also started at least two games. 

Of the 20 cornerbacks drafted while Jim Schwartz was either the head coach or defensive coordinator of his team, only two didn't make the team as rookies. They were Titans 2007 sixth-round pick Ryan Smith, and Lions 2012 fifth-round pick Chris Greenwood. You could also maybe include Blake Countess, who played corner in college, but was always in the Eagles' plans at safety. Maddox would have to be beyond awful in training camp (or he'd have to throw his own poop at Jeffrey Lurie or something) not to make the team.

In regard to Schwartz's Eagles tenure, two of the three corners (Rasul Douglas and Jalen Mills) the Eagles drafted each played in at least 14 games, and started at least two. The Eagles clearly planned for the third corner, Sidney Jones, to play very little, if at all, when they chose to draft him last year.

The Eagles are loaded with outside cornerbacks in Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, Jones, and Douglas. None of the Eagles' corners have extensive experience playing the slot in the NFL, though the team thinks that Mills can handle those responsibilities if need be.

There is an opportunity for Maddox to play in the slot in 2018, whether that be by simply winning that job outright (unlikely), or by being thrown into the fire because of injury, which is how Douglas got his opportunities last season. We'll project that injuries occur at some point, and Maddox does indeed see meaningful snaps in the regular defense in 2018, in addition to finding a role on special teams.

RELATED: Eagles rookie NFL player comparisons: The full series

Fourth round: DE Josh Sweat

The Eagles' depth chart at defensive end (first through third string only) looks something like this at the moment.

 LDEBrandon Graham Chris Long Steven Means
 RDEDerek Barnett Michael Bennett Josh Sweat 

The Eagles were wise to invest in Sweat in the fourth round as a high upside developmental prospect, seeing as a number of Eagles pass rushers many not be in the team's long-term plans:

Chris Long: Long, who is now 33 years old, reportedly contemplated retirement this offseason. It's a decent bet that this will be his final season in the NFL. 

Michael Bennett: To begin, it's still to be determined how Bennett's legal issues will play out. But beyond that, Bennett, like Long, is in the twilight of his career as he will turn 33 during the 2018 season.

Brandon Graham: Graham turned 30 this offseason, and is currently in the final year of his contract. While I anticipate that the Eagles and Graham will work out a contract extension this offseason, Sweat does at least provide some level of insurance if the two sides cannot find middle ground.

For now, however, Sweat is buried behind a very deep and talented group of Eagles defensive ends. In 2018, barring a spate of injuries, Sweat could be a mainstay on the inactive list his rookie season, though he's pretty close to being a lock to make the final 53-man roster.

Sixth round: OT/OG Matt Pryor

I'm of the strong opinion that the Eagles have the best offensive line in the NFL, both in terms of starting five, as well as (starting five + depth). The starting five of Jason Peters, Stefen Wisniewski, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Lane Johnson are obviously locks to make the team. Duh. So is swing tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

Pryor's road to the 53-man roster will be by beating out either Isaac Seumalo, one of the team's rare disappointments a season ago, or Jeff Stoutland fave Chance Warmack. 

It's perhaps worth noting that because teams around the league are so desperate for OL help, Howie Roseman was able to turn Matt Tobin and Allen Barbre into draft assets a year ago via trades. If Pryor looks like a semi-capable backup at guard, Roseman could potentially flip Warmack for late round compensation in 2019, or Seumalo for a slightly higher price. A trade of Warmack would also save over $1.6 million in cap space.

Pryor could also simply make the team as a ninth offensive lineman if the Eagles choose to go heavy there, though he would also have to beat out the crop of 2018 UDFAs and 2017 practice squad carry-overs.

Without any benefit of watching Pryor in practice at all, I'll go out on a limb and project him to make the final 53-man roster.

Seventh round: OT Jordan Mailata

I won't spend a lot of time on Mailata. He's never played football, and has a near zero percent chance of playing in a meaningful game this season. His best hope is to make the 53-man roster while spending the entire season on the inactive list because he showed enough on film that the Eagles don't want him to get poached by some other team at final cutdowns. Otherwise, Mailata has practice squad written all over him.

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