Outside of wide receiver Jordan Matthews and nose tackle Beau Allen, the 2014 NFL Draft class for the Philadelphia Eagles was widely labeled as a failure. First-round pick Marcus Smith II played just 74 total snaps throughout his entire rookie season, racking up a grand total of 0 tackles, 2 quarterback hurries and 1 quarterback hit. But like many of the other Eagles’ draft picks in the 2012 NFL Draft, Smith was labeled as a “project” before he even made the jump.
That led the Eagles to essentially “redshirt” a few of their other rookies, most notably, fourth-round pick defensive back Jaylen Watkins, fifth-round picks defensive end Taylor Hart and safety Ed Reynolds II. While Reynolds mostly failed to impress during training camp and preseason, he was kept around on the team’s practice squad. But both Watkins and Hart were kept on the final 53-man roster yet rarely active.
Hart is quite a bit like the bird’s seventh-round pick this year, defensive end Brian Mihalik. He’s a giant, versatile defensive linemen that still has to fill out their tall frame. But Hart is now done with his redshirt season and should battle for a rotational role this year in training camp. He’s reportedly put on nearly 20 pounds, according to the Eagles’ insider Dave Spadaro which shows that Hart is ready to take on an actual role on the team in 2015. After weighing in at just 281 pounds at the combine, Hart is now up to around 300-305 “muscle-strapped” pounds.
With fellow defensive ends Cedric Thornton and Vinny Curry both heading into the final year of their contracts, now would be a good time for Hart to prove he can contribute at a high level. Who knows? If he can produce at the level he did as an Oregon Duck, he could potentially be the starter in Thornton’s place in 2016. While that may seem unlikely since he didn’t play a single snap during the 2014 regular season, it’s certainly possible given his brand-new bigger build and potential.
On the other hand, Watkins is in a completely different situation. Following a rookie season, where he only saw the field for just 31 snaps during the team’s final game of the year, Watkins should be in the running for a starting spot in the Eagles’ secondary at safety. Having played multiple positions in the defensive backfield at Florida, Watkins has the experience in coverage that defensive coordinator Bill Davis likes in his system’s safeties.
Watkins also spoke to Eagles’ insider Dave Spadaro recently regarding his potential role in the team’s defense in 2015. Spadaro points out that Watkins spent time during his rookie season learning every single position in the Eagles’ secondary including both outside and slot cornerback as well as safety. Having that experience and both mental and physical repetitions at each of those positions will only help Watkins heading into this important second year of his career.
While Reynolds failed to even make the final roster, which isn’t a good sign, the team obviously drafted him for a reason in the first place. He has intriguing size at 6-1, 207 pounds but he has to polish up his game on the field. But with a wide open competition for the starting safety spot, Reynolds could surprise everyone and throw his name in the running with a good performance during training camp and preseason action.
It may sound cheesy but when you really think about it, the Eagles may actually have 10 “rookies” heading into the 2015 season instead of the 6 that they actually drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. But with a year of learning the ropes in Philadelphia under their belts, they could be on the rise in the City of Brotherly Love. While it’s unlikely that most of them will make a significant impact in 2015, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on each of them leading up to the regular season.
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