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Eagles Rookies Have Team on Right Track

By Tucker Bagley, Sports Talk Philly staff writer 

The judgement of the Eagles 2016 draft class will always begin and end with Carson Wentz. That's how it works when a team gives up such a huge bounty to take a chance on a quarterback with the second-overall pick, (see Redskins, 2012).

But one player a draft class does not make. 

Although Wentz may have the biggest impact on the future of this franchise, there are other guys who have stepped up in a way that we haven't seen from an Eagles' rookie class in quite some time.

Take Jalen Mills, for instance. Since being selected by the Birds in the seventh-round, the LSU product has developed from roster long shot to spring workouts darling to starting cornerback. Mills has certain physical limitations that may limit his potential moving forward, but to find a starter-at a premium position like cornerback no less-in the seventh round is tremendous value. 

Another guy who has been thrust into a starting role these last few weeks has been Halapoulivaati Vaitai. The fifth-round pick had his share of struggles in his first career start, but had rebounded and turned in some solid performances before a knee injury shut him down for Monday night's loss against the Packers.

Like Mills, Big V was a Day 3 pick and may not become a perennial Pro Bowler, but getting a solid starter, or, at the very least, a rotational tackle who can step up in case of emergency is good value.

Wendell Smallwood has also proven his worth over the past few weeks, averaging almost 4.4 yards per carry and shouldering the load for the Eagles rushing attack while Ryan Mathews is sidelined with a knee injury. The Eagles have not really used the former Mountaineer as a receiving option, instead leaving those touches for Darren Sproles, but the rookie has averaged 9.2 yards per catch and shows signs of being a capable every-down back. 

Looking back at some of the late round picks that Kelly made, it is no wonder why the team has such little depth across the board. The Eagles made 12 picks on the third day of the draft during Kelly's tenure and only three are still on the roster: Taylor Hart, who was cut and brought back this year; Jaylen Watkins, who was cut and re-signed in 2015; and Beau Allen, a solid backup defensive tackle.

Drafting in the NFL is a very difficult process, nobody is going to argue otherwise. But drafting valuable players in later rounds is how teams are able to sustain success over long periods of time. The Eagles cannot afford to keep going through free agency in order to fill all the holes on their roster. An influx of cheap, young talent is necessary for this franchise to keep moving forward.

Howie Roseman has always put a huge emphasis on getting more draft picks, comparing them, and their value, to lottery tickets. After trading Sam Bradford, the Eagles currently are scheduled to make eight picks in next year's draft. If Roseman can hit on as many players as he did in 2016, it will put the franchise one step closer to being a true contender.

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