The 2017 NFL season is officially upon us! But even after the Philadelphia Eagles made their preseason debut against the Green Bay Packers, GM Howie Roseman had an ace in the hole.
The mad (financial) scientist was back at it today. In a trade that shook Eagles fans, the Eagles acquired 23-year old CB Ronald Darby in exchange for WR Jordan Matthews and a 2018 3rd round draft pick. More on this later, but first we’ll discuss the game.
QB Carson Wentz played one drive, completing 4 passes on 4 attempts, and ending it off with a 38-yard touchdown strike to rookie WR Mack Hollins. In the absence of Alshon Jeffery, Hollins stepped up and delivered a big play. After Wentz shed Pro Bowl LB Clay Matthews like snakeskin, he hit a crossing Hollins who proceeded to break two tackles and turned it up for 6. What a beautiful sight!
The Eagles’ OL looked half asleep as the Packers sent blitzes that they clearly weren’t ready to see. Wentz had to dip out of pressure a few times and converted a 3rd and 4th down on the drive.
One thing that went unnoticed on the Hollins touchdown was WR Torrey Smith’s route. He ran a deep pattern and drew the safety, opening up what looked like acres of space for Hollins to maneuver. If the safety came down to Hollins, or shaded the opposite side of the field, Smith would have walked into the end zone. The Eagles’ offense, since the departures of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, has missed a field-stretching wideout that can dictate the deep safeties. They seem to have found one in Smith, and he looks to revamp his career in Philly.
The backup unit was nothing to write home about. With poor quarterback play and sloppy ball handling, the Eagles consistently stopped before they could even get a flow going. Hopefully the return of backup QB Nick Foles provides these young wide receivers with more opportunities in next week’s game.
Rookie running back Donnel Pumphrey had an up-and-down night. He fumbled and muffed a punt, but he also looked natural catching the ball and finding room to work in the flats. Surprisingly, he looked decent running between the tackles. He’s got fight in him and there is no doubt that he has the potential to make a career for himself in the NFL.
The first team defense looked solid. They generated some nice push against the Packers’ first team offensive line. DT Fletcher Cox and LB Jordan Hicks were in on a forced fumble of starting RB Ty Montgomery. Cornerback has been noted as the weak spot on the defense (and entire team), but they didn’t look all that bad. Jalen Mills made a great, physical stop on a screen to WR Randall Cobb. He was tight in coverage on various plays. Yes, the finger wag came out!
As for rookie DE Derek Barnett, he could not have had a better debut. He started with a few big bull rushes to generate pressure, setting up OT Jason Spriggs to beat him easily a few plays later. Barnett’s combine times were his only knocks, and that didn’t look like it mattered in the slightest.
If you can remember, Spriggs was a late-riser in the 2016 NFL Draft. His combine performance increased his stock. Barnett used his hands and a subtle upfield step to turn Spriggs who seemingly braced for a power move, and in a few strides back inside he had Hundley wrapped up. From that point on, he dominated. He was in the backfield hitting the quarterback, he had another sack and he made stops behind the line of scrimmage.
For perspective, Barnett is just 21 years old. You can tell by simply looking at him that he hasn’t even grown into his body yet. When he is heading into his 5th season he’ll be just 25, and still 3 years away from entering his prime. It’s absolutely incredible.
Back to the shocking trade — Matthews for Darby.
Cornerback has been a position in flux since the season ended. The Eagles cut Leodis McKelvin and let Nolan Carroll walk in free agency. They signed another stopgap in Patrick Robinson. They lucked into the injured Sidney Jones (a top 15 prospect who fell to the 2nd round due to injury) and plucked Rasul Douglas in the 3rd round. With Jones, Douglas and the aforementioned Mills, the belief was that this young group could grow.
However, the Eagles’ brass continued to say that they were looking to add a piece there. Rumors surfaced that the Eagles were willing to part ways with WR Jordan Matthews mostly due to the fact that re-signing him after this season would be difficult. And then, it happened.
So, what can fans expect from Ronald Darby?
He was a 2nd round pick in 2015, and he excels in man coverage. It’s easy to see why the Eagles were interested in him. He fits the mold of what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz looks for in a cornerback. With a strong front seven, a top flight safety duo and a group of young corners, the Eagles are molding what could be a very dangerous defense in 2017 and beyond.