April 15, 2007

One Year Later, How Do 2006 Rookies Stack Up Here?

by Dave Spadaro

In the big picture, nobody would have thought for a second that the Eagles would have gained their most significant rookie contributions a year ago from a fifth-round linebacker (Omar Gaither) and a wide receiver (Hank Baskett) none of the 32 teams wanted through seven rounds of the draft.
That very fact sparked emotional, and rash, rush to judgments on the Eagles' 2006 rookie class.

One party of thought made the case that the rookies were a vast disappointment top to bottom, and another followed the rule of thumb in football that a draft class -- including the non-drafted rookies -- should be evaluated for two to three seasons.
This is think-tank stuff here as the draft nears. While the Eagles prepare for the 2007 NFL draft and their annual evaluation, they are also monitoring and factoring in how the second-year players fit into the picture.
We have discussed this throughout the off-season, but now it becomes even more apparent. In a very real way, the Eagles have a whole set of players here who made virtually no impact on last year's team, kids like Brodrick Bunkley and Winston Justice and Chris Gocong and Jason Avant and Max Jean-Gilles and Jeremy Bloom and Pat McCoy and Nick Cole.
I think it's exciting to project how these players are going to work their way onto the playing field. Do these young offensive linemen, notably Justice and Jean-Gilles, have any chance of moving past a bunch of veterans and talented young veterans to play? And if not, do you think about when they will get their time?
And what about Bunkley? Is he for real this year? Is he taking this NFL thing seriously? Are we going to see the ability that every single NFL team believed he had coming out of Florida State?
Gocong is an especially intriguing case. A dominating defensive end in college, Gocong missed all of last season and is now expected to be part of the defense. That is something that everyone wants. It is just that maybe only Jim Johnson, and maybe not even Jim Johnson, knows where Gocong will play.
Bloom is fit as a fiddle and working hard and making a concerted effort to beome an NFL receiver/return man. He has his legs under him and has a shot. He is in the game. We'll see in the preseason about Bloom.
You get the idea. If the Eagles can get some real production from the second-year players, they are going to be in outstanding position. The roster would be filled with competition -- on paper, anyway.
A boost from the rookie class of 2006 can be enough to get this team right where it needs to be.
And on the other side of the production scale? What happens if the second-year Eagles don't pan out? I shudder at the thought. A lot is riding on this group of players.
The Eagles have considered all of the possibilities, of course. That is how they do business. They consider scenarios and put their faith in players they think have developed to the point where they have earned playing time. Avant, for example, isn't projected to start, but he should be a key piece of the passing game. Baskett, who played so well last year, should have even more success this year. Gaither showed well as the WILL linebacker, so the natural progression should be one that lands him in a significant role, at whichever position the Eagles use him.
This is food for thought, that's all. I don't evaluate draft classes early, but I look for signs. Bunkley was a major disappointment, so there are major questions. Justice has the athletic ability and the promise, but he needs playing time. Gocong has me excited based on what he did in college and what the coaches and scouts have told me and from the very little he played in the spring and summer.
But it's all guesswork for me, and for you. To a degree, it's a guessing game for the Eagles, too. The draft this year comprises more than six players in seven rounds. It includes last year's rookies, who have to grow up in a hurry and help this team take the next steps now.

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