Eagles DE Brandon Graham faces a make it or break it year in 2012. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Setting expectations for the Eagles 2010 draft class as they enter the pivotal 3rd year of their NFL careers
While we love to give draft classes a grade the second the they shut off the lights at Radio City, most all analysts agree that you really need 3 years to fully judge a draft class. After year 3, most guys who are going to be stars are well on their way, guys who will be long term starters will have locked down their spot and guys who will be busts are probably close to being cut if they weren't already.
Year 3 is when all the excuses stop. A guy has had time to learn the playbook, he's had time to adjust to the speed of the game and he's had several offseasons in an NFL training program to build his body to the point where he can stand up to the punishments of a 16 game season.
So for the Eagles' draft class of 2010, this season represent a moment of reckoning. Disappointments at the top of the draft have a chance to turn around their perceptions while the pleasant surprises later in the draft need to prove whether they're "good for a late round pick" or just plain old "good." The 2010 draft for the Eagles was heavy on defense and if these guys emerge in year 3, we could certainly see a dramatic improvement on that side of the ball.
Brandon Graham, DE - There's probably no player on this roster who better exemplifies how year 3 is a make it or break it one in the NFL. Even though Graham has yet to play a full season and therefore hasn't really had the opportunity to go through all the growing pains most guys do, the fact is that when you're as high a pick as Graham is your expectations are a lot higher. And three years in, the expectations are that Graham has to produce and do so at a pretty high level. For me to feel really good about Graham this season, I'd like to see him relegate Jason Babin to a pass down only specialist at some point. Whether that means he's technically called a starter or not isn't really that important, but he should be playing as many if not more snaps than Babin before this year is over.
Nate Allen, S - Allen's career has followed a pretty solid trajectory so far and heading into year 3 things seem to be on track. He showed a lot of early promise as a rookie, but his play fell off later in the year. Last season he struggled early, both with injuries and consistency but really finished strong. He looks to have the starting free safety spot locked down heading into year 3, so it's really time for him to make it his own. That means not only playing well with consistency, but also staying healthy.
Trevard Lindley CB - Lindley was cut prior to last season, but re-signed after it was over. So while he may be a long shot, he's here. The good news for Lindley is that CB spot is a little more open than it was last season. The Eagles had 4 corners heading into last year all but assured of a roster spot (Samuel, Asomugha, DRC & Hanson) as well as a rookie in Curtis Marsh who they weren't going to cut. With Samuel out, that mean an extra roster spot is there to be had. Plus, Hanson's place isn't as secure as it was and neither is Marsh's. However, Boykin probably takes that place as the unlikely to be cut rookie. I'd be surprised if Lindley makes the team, but in a lot of ways he's got a better shot this year than he did last.
Keenan Clayton, OLB - Another great example of a make it or break it guy. Clayton undoubtedly has a lot of athletic ability, but he may be a man without a position. He's fast, but probably not fast enough to play safety. He's got some size at 6-1, but may be a little light at around 230 to be an every down LB. In year 3 though, he's got to be something. There's more competition at LB than in recent years, so Clayton has to separate himself somewhere. That somewhere, by the way, may be on special teams.
Mike Kafka, QB - The challenges Kafka faces is as clear as it gets, it's him vs veteran Trent Edwards for the backup job to Michael Vick. Unless rookie Nick Foles really wows in preseason, he's likely going to spend the year as the #3 man. For Kafka or Edwards, being the #3 guy would more or less be a waste. So I think one gets the backup job and the other gets the boot. The Eagles would obviously prefer Kafka to win the job, but given how important the backup is here, that job will be won by merit. If Trent Edwards, who has started 33 games in this league, outplays him in preseason I feel very confident is saying that Kafka will be out the door. You don't get a much better example or make it or break it than this.
Clay Harbor TE - For Clay, year 3 is just about doing more. He's got a pretty good TE in front of him on the depth chart in Brent Celek and the Eagles love to go 3 wide, so there aren't tons of 2 TE sets for him to work in. So he's really got to maximize the chances he gets. There's not really notable competition for his job at this point, so he's pretty secure. But really we'd just like to see more. He's a pretty good blocker, but he can become really good. He's a decent pass catcher, but he could do more.
Riley Cooper WR - While I think Clay Harbor is ahead of Riley Cooper development wise, I would say that what he needs to do is pretty much the same. Just do more. Cooper has made some really stand out plays in his time here, but one great play every 6 weeks isn't going to secure your place on the roster if you do almost nothing the rest of the time. With Jackson, Maclin & Avant likely having the top 3 spots locked down Cooper has to stand out. When the Eagles are looking at the 4th and 5th spots on the depth chart, they may be looking for upside than experience. That's where guys like Marvin McNutt (who is the same size as Cooper), Mardy Gilyard, Elvis Akpla etc could find roster spots. Using the 5th spot on the depth chart for a 3rd year player like Cooper who should have blown away these rookies would be a waste.
Jamar Chaney, LB - Jamar has far more competition than Coleman at this point. He could play either MIKE or WILL and has competition at both. At MIKE, he really only has a shot at a backup gig with DeMeco Ryans now in town. At the WILL side, he'll likely be in a 3 way battle with Casey Matthews and Brian Rolle for a starting gig. His versatility could certainly win him a job as backup to all three spots, but that really represents a step back for Chaney. This is a guy who has started as many games as Matthews and Rolle combined. If he now falls behind them on the depth chart, the Eagles could very well look for someone with more potential next season (or earlier) to fill out the depth chart.
Kurt Coleman, S - Unlike Chaney, Coleman has a good grip on a starting job heading into training camp. The question is whether he can hold it. Jaiquwan Jarrett didn't do much last season, but with a full offseason here he's going to be coming after Coleman's job. And as a second round pick, whether the team wants to admit it or not, there probably will be a little bias in his favor. After all, your 2nd round pick should outplay your 7th rounder right?
So it's really up to Coleman to make this job his own this season. If he doesn't, the team could certainly toss Jarrett into the fire to see what he's got and they definitely could spend another high pick or sign a free agent next year to try and solve the position once and for all. This year, Kurt Coleman "playing pretty well for a 7th round pick" is enough to earn him a starting job heading into camp. Next year, it won't be. After your 3rd year, your expectations aren't tied to your draft spot the same way they are after years 1 and 2. You can either play or you can't.