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Early grades on the Eagles’ 2020 draft class | Early Birds

This evaluation of the 2020 class — we’re not even through its first season — comes with the qualifier that all appraisals are subject to change.

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver Quez Watkins celebrate Watkins' second-quarter touchdown against Arizona on Sunday.
Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and wide receiver Quez Watkins celebrate Watkins' second-quarter touchdown against Arizona on Sunday.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

Good morning, Eagles fans! Happy holidays. This will be my last newsletter of the season. So it seems like a good time as any to assess the 2020 draft class. There are still two games remaining, of course, and the last-place Eagles have yet to be eliminated from what is perhaps the most indifferent division race in NFL history.

It could be all over by Sunday, but the 4-9-1 Eagles, should they win at the 5-9 Cowboys, won’t know whether they’re still alive until after Washington-Panthers matchup. The NFL moved the latter game back to 4:05 so that it is played concurrently with the former game.

The Eagles will be eliminated if the Football Team wins. But if 6-8 Washington were to lose — and the Eagles win — the season-finale meeting would still have meaning. Either team would still need the 5-9 New York Giants to lose one of their two final games against the Ravens or Cowboys.

A title is unlikely, but it’s also possible considering the overall dysfunction of the division. Many fans would rather the Eagles lose out as to improve their draft standing. Right now, they are seventh behind the Jaguars (1-13), New York Jets (1-13), Bengals (3-10-1), Panthers (4-10), Falcons (4-10), and Texans (4-10), who have traded their first-round pick to the Dolphins.

But, first, there is still meaningful business. The Eagles have played better the last two weeks with Jalen Hurts at quarterback. It’s hard to argue against a playoff appearance, no matter the circumstances, because as we’ve seen this season, anything is possible.

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How has the Eagles’ 2020 draft class done?

As the adage goes, it takes at least three years to assess a draft class. But no group can truly be graded until each player is no longer in the NFL. Imagine if Brandon Graham’s career had been summed up after his third season? So my early evaluation of the 2020 class — we’re not even through its first season — comes with the qualifier that all appraisals are subject to change.

That being said, we have gathered some early intel on the Eagles’ 10 picks. Here are their letter grades for the draftees so far.

Jalen Reagor (first round): C-plus. In nine games, Reagor has 27 catches for 351 yards (13.0 average) and a touchdown. The wide receiver missed Weeks 3-7 with a thumb injury, and if his averages were projected over the full allotment of games, his numbers would only be marginally below most other first- and second-round receivers.

It’s hard to judge Reagor without comparing him to Justin Jefferson, who was on the board when the Eagles picked at No. 21. Jefferson (73 catches for 1,182 yards and seven touchdowns) became only the fifth rookie receiver in NFL history to make the Pro Bowl Monday. While Reagor has shown some promise, Jefferson looks like he will be elite.

Reagor has struggled with route running and understanding certain concepts. He’s certainly quick, but he hasn’t flashed the game-breaking speed the Eagles touted when they chose him. The fastest he’s looked came on a 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Packers. But the Eagles, for some reason, have chosen to use Greg Ward more on punt returns. They clearly don’t want to overload the rookie, who has looked overwhelmed at times.

Jalen Hurts (second round): B-minus. I struggled with this grade because he still has at least two starts and has clearly displayed an aptitude for playing quarterback in the NFL. I still don’t agree with the Eagles’ decision to draft Hurts, especially when they had so many other needs. But I won’t hold that completely against him in this forum.

Hurts clearly has the tools to be a starter. How good of a starter is up for debate. But he would need to be as good or better than Carson Wentz at his best to justify a selection that came at the expense of the Eagles’ $128 million investment.

Davion Taylor (third round): D. To industry insiders, the Taylor pick was more shocking at the time than the Hurts one. The Colorado linebacker had only played football for several years, and despite impressive athleticism, was clearly going to be a project. You just don’t normally draft projects on the second day.

Taylor, to no surprise, hardly ever got on the field on defense before a knee injury ended his season a few weeks back. When he did, he often looked completely lost. He flashed his speed a few times, but if that were all that mattered, the NFL would be scouting only college track meets instead of football games.

K’Von Wallace (fourth round): C. Wallace has had his ups and downs, some of them injury-related. He played sparingly on defense through the first three months of the season and didn’t really stand out much. Injuries have forced him into the lineup the last few weeks and he’s been used situationally.

He’s struggled in coverage, but didn’t appear to give up any big plays Sunday against Arizona. Tackling has been an issue. He needs time to develop, but I don’t know if he projects as a starter.

Jack Driscoll (fourth round): B-plus. His season ended last week when he suffered an MCL tear. Driscoll was also banged up a bunch, but you can’t question his toughness. He finished the Saints game with the injured knee. He fared well in the start, considering he often had to face perennial Pro Bowler Cam Jordan.

Driscoll has all the trademarks of an Andy Weidl draft pick: Smart, tough, and disciplined. I don’t know if he’s a future starter, but if he pans out to be a reserve swing tackle, that’s a hit for the fourth round.

John Hightower (fifth round): C. If Hightower’s grade were based on training camp alone, he might have scored an A. But once the games started, the receiver struggled. He dropped passes, had trouble tracking balls, and often looked like a deer caught in headlights.

He improved some and had a few moments down the field, but only because the Eagles were insistent on throwing deep. Once they decided to simplify the game plan following the bye, Hightower was on the outs. It’s way too early to give up on him, considering his quickness. He could benefit from a full offseason.

Shaun Bradley (sixth round): B-minus. Bradley’s decisive read on a key fourth-down stop against the Saints alone gives him one of the better grades. He’s been used mostly in base defense and has done fine as a run stopper. He’s had some struggles in coverage, hence New Orleans’ design to attack him deep on that play.

Bradley has shown up at times on special teams, although he’s taken his share of penalties, as well. If he ends up only being a special-teams guy, that ain’t bad for a sixth-rounder.

Quez Watkins (sixth round): C-plus. The speedy receiver spent most of the season inactive, but he’s been up for the last two weeks because of his supposed chemistry with Hurts. We didn’t see much of Watkins against the Saints, but he had three catches for 40 yards and a touchdown against the Cardinals.

The touchdown was impressive. Watkins took a bubble screen 32 yards to the house after he spun away from defenders. I was most impressed with his second gear. He seems to have more giddy-up than the other two rookie receivers.

Prince Tega Wanogho (sixth round): C-minus. The tackle was released before the season and brought back to the practice squad. Injuries forced his call-up to the 53-man roster last week. It’s hard to say if Tega Wanogho is just a raw rookie who needs time or a body filling out a roster spot.

Casey Toohill (seventh round): C-minus. Toohill stood out in camp and was a surprise selection to the roster. He played in only one game with the Eagles before roster shuffling left him unprotected and Washington snatched him.

The defensive end hasn’t played much for the Football Team, but considering its depth on the line, it’s little surprise. The grade here isn’t as much a reflection on Toohill as it is on the Eagles for letting him slip away.

What you need to know about the Eagles

From the mailbag

“Based on how well TE Dallas Goedert has performed down the stretch — combined with the salary cap impact of re-signing Super Bowl hero TE Zach Ertz — what is your feeling about the Eagles looking for a trade partner for Ertz this offseason?” — Jeremy Conn (@connman21) via Twitter

Ertz has two years left on his contract. His base salary and cap number jump significantly in 2021 ($15 million and $23.9 million) and 2022 ($16.1 million and $23.8 million). Considering his past production and future ages (30 and 31) they aren’t ridiculous numbers. But they are numbers that aren’t likely feasible for the team considering its cap issues.

So the Eagles likely have two choices here: They can extend and restructure Ertz’s contract as to lower the cap hits, or they can trade him. I find it hard to believe they will bring him back at those numbers. If the Eagles wanted to do the former, they probably would have had more substantial negotiations before last season, when Ertz made it clear he wanted an extension.

Both sides drew lines in the sand and now we’re probably closer to the latter. Ertz hasn’t had a good season, but he also missed five games to an injury. Carson Wentz’s struggles clearly affected his once-favorite target. But the fact is Ertz’s leverage isn’t as strong as it was in August. And Goedert does factor into Ertz’s future here.

It hasn’t been mentioned much, but Goedert has clearly become the favored tight end. He’s played more snaps than Ertz since his return, which had previously never been the case.

I think Ertz has plenty left in the tank. I think he’s got at least three more years of starting-caliber football, which will make it harder for the Eagles to deal one of their homegrown, core players. But the Goedert pick long ago set in motion this possibility. And Goedert, despite some flaws, has obvious talent. He’s more of a two-way tight end than Ertz.

But Ertz is/was a ball-catching machine. He’s been maybe the best route-running tight end in the NFL for the last eight seasons. He’s got great hands. He’s managed to stay relatively healthy and unscathed. He was a Super Bowl hero, as you mentioned. But the Eagles may be in complete rebuild mode next offseason and tough decisions will have to be made.