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How did the Eagles’ rookies do during the regular season? | Early Birds

Grading the Eagles’ picks from last April’s NFL draft.

Eagles tackle Andre Dillard (77) celebrates with running back Miles Sanders  after Sanders scored a two-point conversion during a game against the Buffalo Bills.
Eagles tackle Andre Dillard (77) celebrates with running back Miles Sanders after Sanders scored a two-point conversion during a game against the Buffalo Bills.Read moreTim Tai / File Photograph

Good morning, Eagles fans. Happy New Year’s Eve. The Eagles finished off the decade pretty well, and I’m guessing you’re still buzzing from the team’s NFC East-clinching victory against the Giants on Sunday. The Eagles coaching staff is turning its focus for the new year toward the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles left Sunday’s game pretty banged up, so they’ll take a day off before returning to the practice field on Wednesday.

The Eagles’ season isn’t over, but the regular season is behind us. Now that we’ve got a 16-game sample size, we’ll take a look at how each Eagles draft pick from last April performed in their first year. More on that later.

Mike Groh and Jim Schwartz will meet with reporters this afternoon, so be sure to keep an eye out for updates.

If you like what you’re reading, tell your friends it’s free to sign up here​. I want to know what you think, what we should add, and what you want to read, so send me feedback by email or on Twitter @EJSmith94.

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Grading the rookies

The Eagles drafted five players in last April’s NFL draft, and they’ve gotten mixed results through their first seasons.

Here’s how each drafted player did, and if any notable players were drafted immediately after them.

Andre Dillard, No. 22 overall

The offensive tackle out of Washington State spent his first season primarily as a backup, and played quite well when Jason Peters missed three games with a knee injury midway through the year. But Dillard had a catastrophic afternoon against the Seattle Seahawks in relief of Lane Johnson, leading to his getting benched during the 17-9 loss.

When Johnson went down with a high-ankle sprain in Week 14, Halapoulivaati Vaitai was named the right tackle in his stead over Dillard, who has played left tackle his whole life and compared switching sides to writing an important essay with your nondominant hand.

Regardless, Dillard has a lot of potential on the left side. It’s a premium position, and it’s getting harder to find two solid offensive tackles with the way the NFL is going, it seems. That, coupled with Peters’ eventual retirement looming (whenever that might be) made the selection of Dillard a good choice. The Eagles have an organizational philosophy of building along the offensive and defensive lines first and foremost, and Dillard has a chance to be a very good starter who can stymie opposing pass rushers and keep Carson Wentz clean.

Notable player drafted afterward: Ravens WR Marquis Brown (No. 25).

Grade: B+

Miles Sanders, No. 53 overall

Sanders’ first half of the year was spent mostly as a complementary runner and a big-play threat as a receiver out of the backfield, but he seemingly has improved with each game. He has become one of the best offensive rookies in the class, if not the best when you consider his impact on the offense he’s in.

He had a class-high 1,327 yards from scrimmage, which includes rushing and receiving yards, edging Oakland Raiders first-round pick Josh Jacobs in Week 17. The only reason he doesn’t get an A-plus is because you could argue that moving up for Titans receiver A.J. Brown would’ve made a greater impact on the Eagles’ receiver-desperate offense.

Notable player drafted just before: Titans WR A.J. Brown (No. 51).

Grade: A

J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, No. 57 overall

Even though plenty of mid-round wideouts have put up big numbers this season, Arcega-Whiteside has struggled to make an impact as a rookie. He has shown a few flashes of potential as a physical receiver capable of making contested catches recently, but his production isn’t nearly as high as you’d expect considering the state of the Eagles’ wide receiving corps.

It’s fair to say that Arcega-Whiteside was probably not expected to play a major role this season after he started the year backing up Alshon Jeffery, but it’s still staggering to see so many young receivers drafted after him playing so much better. The jury is still out, but the early returns aren’t good.

Notable players drafted afterward: Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf, Washington WR Terry McLaurin, Giants WR Darius Slayton.

Grade: D

Shareef Miller, No. 138 overall

I still think it’s too early to make a call on this one. Fourth-round picks typically take longer than one season to become contributors on good teams, and Miller fits that description. He didn’t show much in training camp, and made the roster as a developmental player who was only active as a special teamer once all year.

In a perfect world, Miller would have shown more in training camp and been in the defensive end rotation, but it’s too soon to say definitively whether the pick was good or not.

Notable player drafted afterward: 49ers LB Dre Greenlaw (No. 148).

Grade: C

Clayton Thorson, No. 167 overall

This one is quite easy. Thorson was very unimpressive in camp and was cut at the end of the preseason. He spent the year on the Dallas Cowboys’ practice squad, which I imagine wasn’t very useful to the Eagles.

Notable player drafted afterward: Giants WR Darius Slayton.

Grade: F

What you need to know about the Eagles

  1. Brandon Brooks’ season is over after suffering a separated shoulder. Les Bowen writes about the magnitude of that loss, along with other injuries, for the Eagles heading into the playoffs.

  2. The Eagles have seen the Seahawks once already this season. What can they learn from that first matchup? Erin McCarthy discusses it here.

  3. Carson Wentz turned 27 yesterday. Marcus Hayes wished him a happy birthday, and pointed out the fact that the quarterback has played well just about all season, not just the last four weeks.

  4. Still hoping to relive Sunday’s win? Paul Domowitch examines the five main reasons the Eagles left MetLife Stadium with a win.

  5. Wanna study up on the Seahawks before Sunday afternoon? Ed Barkowitz offers 20 things to know about the team.

  6. From Rob Tornoe: Ex-Eagles defender turned Cowboys troll reemerges on FS1: ‘I was wrong’

  7. The NFC East may have three first-year head coaches game-planning against Doug Pederson next year. As Tornoe writes, Pat Shurmur was let go by the Giants yesterday, is Jason Garrett next?

  8. Did you see Brandon Graham troll a Cowboys fan after the Eagles win? If not, watch the video here: Eagles’ Brandon Graham taunts Cowboys fan during live TV interview.

  9. After Sunday’s game, the Eagles will have played every NFC team at least once in the postseason. That, and other facts and figures, from Frank Fitzpatrick.

From the mailbag

EJ, do you think they’re holding [Agholor] on the roster as a placeholder to keep a spot for [DeSean Jackson] so they don’t have to waive someone if/when the time comes? — Danny (@DKane1012) via Twitter

Great question, Danny. I think the team was hoping to have Nelson Agholor back by now, but his knee is definitely not cooperating. In the few times he’s been in the locker room the last few weeks, it’s obvious how swollen it is. I don’t think the team would leave him on the roster as a placeholder, though. They needed him in Sunday’s game, and the game before. If they were 100 percent certain Agholor wasn’t playing, I would imagine they’d call up Marken Michel or Marcus Green from the practice squad. It’s early in this week, though. If they don’t think there’s at least a slight chance Agholor can play, they would probably make a move to get someone who can.

If they get to the divisional round and DeSean Jackson is ready to return, they can always release a player they recently called up. Lastly, they can place Brandon Brooks and/or Daeshon Hall on injured reserve for an extra roster spot, so it’s not like they’re desperate for roster spots.