By Paul Bowman, Sports Talk Philly Editor
Up until last week, the Eagles had received very little impact from their rookies outside of second-round pick Miles Sanders. Sanders has his foot in nearly every aspect of the game possible for a running back and while his running game could use some improvement, he has been very productive. In fact, he is third in the league for yards per touch among running backs with 50 or more touches. Sanders has averaged 5.97 yards per touch with only Dalvin Cook and Matt Breida doing better in that area.
Aside from Sanders, however, the Eagles had almost no production from the rookies they brought in.
First-rounder Andre Dillard had been warming the bench. Second-rounder JJ Arcega-Whiteside got to play a few games and did nothing with that time, making a dropped pass to lose the game his signature play. Defensive end Shareef Miller has been inactive for every game. Quarterback Clayton Thorson is on the Dallas Cowboys practice squad. Linebacker TJ Edwards, the only rookie undrafted free agent to crack the roster, had been limited to special teams snaps.
That will change this week in Dallas.
Andre Dillard played a significant portion of the snaps against the Vikings, but for the first time in his career, he is slated to start a game at left tackle.
While he wasn’t bad, his first game was underwhelming. Sunday will be a huge test of the rookie that the franchise is counting on to protect Carson Wentz’s blindside for years to come.
One would hope, that Dillard improves simply by virtue of getting first-team reps at practice all week and coming into the game ready rather than cold off the bench mid-drive.
Adding to this showcase is that it occurs in Dallas against a bitter rival. If Dillard shows up how fans want him to, the Eagles will be in great shape as Dillard will be doing it against the toughest team the Eagles face twice each year as well as in a hostile environment on the road. That’s without even mentioning that this is a prime-time match-up.
Of concern for Dillard is still a lack of experience/tape run blocking and the way he was simply overpowered by Everson Griffith so many times last week. These two area will be deciding factors in the game and likely the season as it will almost certainly not be the last time Dillard sees the field in 2019 with Jason Peter’s recent injury history.
On the other side of the ball, rookie linebacker TJ Edwards looks like he will be pressed into service.
After the injury to Nigel Bradham last week and the surprising but not totally unwarranted release of Zach Brown The Eagles will be without their two starting linebackers. That means that Kamu Grugier-Hill and Nate Gerry, who has been one of the best coverage linebackers in the league this season, will likely be the two starters.
Behind those two are TJ Edwards, Duke Riley, who the team acquired for the now injured Johnathan Cyprien just a few weeks ago, and Alex Singleton, a former CFL star and preseason standout who was promoted from the practice squad on Wednesday afternoon.
Certainly Riley and Singleton could play, but in a span of just 10 plays at the end of the Vikings game last week, Edwards recorded four tackles. Expect him to get the first shot at the third linebacker snaps.
Edwards was a productive player in college and I was utterly surprised he went undrafted. He has a chip on his shoulder and wants to prove that it was a mistake to not take a chance on him.
While not expected, Edwards has the potential to be more productive than Zach Brown was in his time in Philadelphia. If he can do that, the team may have found a major player in the team’s future at one of their weakest positions.
The knock on Edwards was his speed. Many thought that he did not have the speed needed to play in coverage or get to the outside and stop a runner. These will be things to look for as he plays his first significant amount of snaps.
Eagles fans may be disappointed with the season so far and Howie Roseman not mortgaging the future on arguably the top corner in the NFL, but Dillard and Edwards stepping up could turn that view around.
It will turn a draft class that has yielded only one successful talent to one that looks to have yielded three quality players and an additional yet unknown out of a class consisting of just five picks and UDFAs. That’s far from a poor draft.
It will also give the Eagles a few more young talents to build around with those high picks that Howie decided not to deal.