In football, size matters, but speed kills, and when the Philadelphia Eagles selected former Cal standout DeSean Jackson in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft, there were a lot of skeptics that questioned if the 5-foot-10, 170-pound wide receiver could withstand the punishment he’d face in the NFL. After just one season, the skeptics, including myself, are now believers.
From the start, the Eagles No. 1 prospect, Jackson, was a perfect fit in the West Coast offense. He impressed the coaching staff with his ability to comprehend Andy Reid’s complex offensive system, and he was able to take what he learned in the classroom and perform it masterfully on the practice field. Jackson played in all 16 games as a rookie, starting 15, and was the Eagles leading receiver catching 62 passes for 912 yards and two touchdowns. Not only was he impressive catching passes from Donovan McNabb, he was also a dynamic weapon on special teams. Jackson was the team’s primary punt returner in ’08 and fielded 50 punts - one in which he returned for a 68-yard touchdown against the Washington Redskins - for 440 yards (8.8 YPR). Jackson enters his sophomore campaign in the NFL with high expectations and a heavy heart. This offseason, Jackson’s father, Bill, passed away, and DeSean has dedicated the ’09 season to him. With Jackson gaining more and more confidence each time he’s on the field and his father’s memory entrenched in his mind, the rest of the league is about to witness something special.
The No. 2 rated prospect in the Eagles organization is a player that everyone in Philadelphia is excited about, middle linebacker Stewart Bradley. At 6-foot-4, 254 pounds, Bradley brings tremendous size and athleticism to the middle of the Eagles defense; a presence that will eventually get the acclaim it deserves league-wide. A third round selection from Nebraska, Bradley played in all 16 games and started one as a rookie. In his first career start against New Orleans, Bradley dominated the Saints, recording six tackles, and also came away with his first career sack and interception. They say that a first impression is a lasting one; Bradley did nothing to suggest otherwise in year two. In his first full season as a starter, Bradley started all 16 games in ’08 and was a consistent force racking up 108 tackles, a sack and an interception. Bradley is a player that the coaching staff will look to in ’09 to advance his leadership skills on a team that lost long time locker room presence Brian Dawkins. And judging from what he’s displayed on the field so far in his young career, Bradley’s ready to become a perennial All Pro.
When the Eagles drafted Kevin Kolb in the second round of the 2007 draft, it was a shock, because the Eagles had traded out of the first round with their division rival the Dallas Cowboys, and drafting a quarterback wasn’t a high priority, even though Donovan McNabb had injury woes. Since being drafted, Kolb, the No. 3 rated prospect in the Eagles organization, has barely gotten his jersey dirty, and when he’s seen game action, he’s squandered opportunities to prove to the organization that he’s ready to supplant McNabb as the starting quarterback. The chance of a lifetime slipped between the fingers of Kolb like a muffed punt. In a Week 12 matchup against Baltimore, McNabb was benched after a horrendous outing in favor of Kolb. When this occurred, seemingly a new era in Philadelphia had begun – that was until Kolb threw the game away after a comeback looked possible. After throwing two interceptions, one crucial one that was returned for a 106-yard touchdown by Ed Reed, a frustrated Kolb realized that the opportunity he waited for was wasted. With the Eagles showing McNabb some love this offseason by granting him more wealth, the fact is that both McNabb and Kolb’s contracts run out after the 2010 season. And without any knowledge of what kind of player Kolb truly is, the market value of a then 26-year old quarterback with limited NFL experience is hard to judge. With all of that said, Kolb is still a top prospect in the organization and should be considered that, because in reality he’s one injury away from being a full time starter.
Judging from the collegiate career that Jeremy Maclin put together at Missouri, being ranked as the fourth best prospect in the Eagles organization before he’s even played a game in the NFL isn’t a stretch. The multi-dimensional Maclin offers a variety of skills on the field, and as a redshirt sophomore he had 102 receptions for 1,260 yards and 13 touchdowns. Those statistics display his ability as a wide receiver, but playing in a receiver friendly offense like the spread formation at Missouri, the transition to the Eagles West Coast offense could be challenging. Maclin is an intelligent player who should be able to pick up the terminology rather quickly, and playing with a player like Jackson should help his progress immediately. However, don’t expect Maclin to have the same production this year that he had last year, but it’s possible that he approaches the same statistical output that Jackson had as a rookie; it will just depend on his playing time. The Eagles offense has plenty of weapons for McNabb to choose from, and having Maclin paired with Jackson makes for quite an interesting tandem that will be dynamic for years to come.
Maybe the most surprising prospect of all for the Eagles is a former fifth round selection, tight end Brent Celek. An unknown out of Cincinnati in the ’07 draft, the hard working Celek has improved greatly since entering the NFL and checks in as the fifth rated prospect in the Eagles organization. Known more for his receiving ability than his blocking, Celek has developed his overall game and enters the ’09 season as the team’s starter. As a rookie, Celek was listed third on the depth chart, but played in all 16 games, starting four, and caught 16 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown. Last season, Celek emerged as the backup to L.J. Smith and played in all 16 games once again, but this time started seven and nearly doubled his offensive production from the year before hauling in 27 passes for 318 yards and a touchdown. But it was in the playoffs last year when Celek really showcased his talents, especially in the NFC Championship game against the Arizona Cardinals. In that contest, McNabb found Celek on ten different occasions for 83 yards and two touchdowns in a heart breaking loss. If that game was any indication of the type of player Celek is set to become in ‘09, the Eagles will finally have a tight end that can compete with Jason Witten and Chris Cooley in the NFC East.
The Eagles have many intriguing prospects with nice futures ahead of them, but since the team usually redshirts a lot of their young players, you don’t really know who’s about to emerge as a contributor. So, selecting player the bottom half of the top-ten was a bit challenging, but hard to argue with. At No. 6 is 2009 second round draft pick, running back LeSean McCoy. A perfect fit for the West Coast offense who brings a complete game to the field, McCoy is an outstanding receiver out of the backfield and possesses great vision and cutback ability as a runner. He’s the heir apparent to Brian Westbrook and should receive between 8 – 10 touches a game this season. Another 2009 draft pick, former Florida tight end Cornelius Ingram, breaks into the top-ten at No. 9. After missing the entire 2008 college football season with a serious knee injury, Ingram showed up at the Combine and proved that his knee is back to full health. When healthy, he’s a dangerous receiving threat with great upside as a blocker. If all goes well in training camp, look for Ingram to be Celek’s backup this season.
Three defensive prospects also make the top-ten. Two former Notre Dame stars, defensive end Victor Abiamiri and defensive tackle Trevor Laws, are ranked No. 7 and 8 respectively, and 2008 fourth round pick Quintin Demps makes the cut as the 10th ranked prospect in the organization. All three players are expected to be major contributors this season, but Demps is the only one currently listed as a starter and finds himself as Dawkins’ replacement at free safety.
A member of the Pro Football Writers of America and the Football Writers Association of America, Chris Steuber has provided his analysis of the NFL and NFL Draft prospects on the web and on the radio since 1999. Steuber’s features are published across the Scout.com network and on FoxSports.com. If you wish to contact Chris Steuber, email him at: email@example.com.