Every year in the NFL, there’s bound to be at least one breakout player on each team. For the Eagles last season, Nelson Agholor was that guy.
After two seasons of complete mediocracy, Agholor finally broke out and proved to everyone that he wasn’t just another bust left over from the Chip Kelly era. This season, there’s a few candidates who are on the brink of breaking out into stars.
On offense, second year wide out Mack Hollins has created a lot of buzz during OTAs, making his case for increased playing time on this upcoming season. On the defensive side of the ball, there’s another second-year player who has the potential to become a star, Derek Barnett. Barnett showed flashes of greatness in his rookie season and there’s no reason to think he’ll slow down at all in his sophomore campaign. I’d be surprised if either of these players didn’t have a profound impact next season.
For being a 4th round pick and not having any real expectations coming into the league, Mack Hollins has the swagger and confidence of a 1st overall pick. Even watching him play special team last season, his passion for the game was evident.
His snaps on offense were limited, but with Torrey Smith no longer in town, there’s a receiver spot there for the taking. With Alshon holding it down on the outside, and Nelson Agholor holding it down in the slot, the second outside receiver position will most likely come down to either Mack Hollins or newly acquired wide out Mike Wallace.
Wallace has the pedigree that Hollins does not, but that doesn’t mean he’s a foregone conclusion to snag the starting spot. Wallace doesn’t have the same speed and quickness that made him such a dangerous threat early in his career. He’s 31 now, and hasn’t been in a Pro Bowl since 2011 when he was a member of the Steelers. He didn’t have a bad season last year; he caught 52 passes for 748 yards and 4 touchdowns. Not terrible, but in an offense that features Zach Ertz, Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor, those numbers will most definitely take a dip.
The Mike Wallace signing feels like an insurance move more than anything. If Mack Hollins doesn’t develop into the player the coaches think he can be, then they have the veteran to fall back on. But if I had to bet my money on it, I would bet that Hollins won’t let this opportunity slip through his grasp. He’s too addicted to football to let that happen. Players rave about his work ethic and willingness to do whatever he has to do to get on the field. That’s a trait that can’t be coached into a player, it usually just comes with time. The fact that he already gets it at such a young age means we may be looking at the future of the wide receiver position in Philly. I’m rooting for the kid, and I can’t wait to see what he does this season.
Unlike Hollins, Derek Barnett actually contributed quite a bit to this team’s success last year. He finished the season with 5 sacks which was 5th amongst all rookies. Considering he didn’t start all season and was just a rotational defensive lineman, 5 sacks is pretty impressive.
He seemed to have a nose for the football all season. From the strip sack against Dallas that led to a touchdown, to him recovering the game sealing fumble against the Patriots to win the Super Bowl, the man just has a knack for getting his hands on the ball. And this trait is only going to get better next year, along with his ability to get to the quarterback. Coming into the draft last season he was the purest pass rusher, even more so than the first overall pick, Myles Garrett.
The addition of Michael Bennett may force Barnett into a rotational role again this season, but don’t be surprised if the roles are reversed by the end of the year. While Bennett has had a solid NFL tenure, he’s 32 and entering the back side of his career. I actually like the fact that Barnett won’t be forced to start this season, I like him in exclusively on passing downs. It just plays to his strengths, as he hasn’t proven to be the best run defending lineman just yet. Bennett is heralded as one of the best run stopping defensive ends in the league, which is why I’m predicting he’ll start most games.
It’ll be fun when they move Bennett and Graham down to the tackle positions and bring in Long and Barnett to rush on the outside. That’ll be a scary site for any opposing offensive line. As long as Barnett can get anywhere from 8-10 sacks this season, that’s a step in the right direction. And with a full offseason to work on his craft, there’s no reason he can’t accomplish that.