The Philadelphia Eagles enter the 2017 NFL draft with currently eight selections. The first round of the draft will be held on April 27th, rounds two and three will be held on April 28th, while rounds four through seven will be held on April 29th.
Let’s dive into my first official Eagles mock draft of the offseason.
1st round, 14th overall: Gareon Conley, cornerback (Ohio State)
Many could view this pick as a reach and a panic move in light of the recent Achilles tear suffered by top cornerback prospect, Sidney Jones, but trust me – it isn’t.
Conley (6’0, 195 lbs) stepped into live game action immediately during his freshman season when he replaced an injured Eli Apple versus the strong passing attack of Michigan State. Conley played poorly, which forced Urban Meyer to put the injured Apple back into action, but the early experience only helped Conley grow into the stud prospect he is today.
Conley has been a full-time starter in Ohio State’s highly praised secondary the last two seasons during his Sophomore and Junior years. He’s finishing his collegiate career with 91 tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass breakups.
Conley averaged 27.8 coverage snaps per reception allowed, which was seventh best in the nation according to pro football focus. Quarterbacks also posted an astounding 0.0 rating throwing at Conley for just four completions on 20 attempts and zero touchdowns.
The Eagles pass defense allowed the 17th most passing touchdowns in 2016. Conley provides the team with a pure-coverage cornerback and a player fans should keep an eye on leading up to the draft. That 4.4 in the 40 yard dash at the NFL combine shouldn’t be overlooked either.
I think Gareon Conley is a top 15 player. His coverage mechanics are very, very good.
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) March 6, 2017
2nd round, 43rd overall: Jordan Willis, defensive end (Kansas State)
The Eagles finished the season with just 33 sacks in total. That is just simply not going to cut it in defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, wide-nine technique.
Enter Jordan Willis (6’4, 255 lbs). Willis has been an incredibly productive pass-rusher during his last 37 games as a starter at Kansas State. He finished his collegiate career with 113 tackles, with 39.5 of them as a loss of yards, 25.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
Willis finished last season as pro football focus’ highest graded edge defender due in large part for his 68 quarterback pressures. Willis’ stock might of also gone up thanks to an impressive combine performance where he ran a 4.5 in the 40 yard dash.
The Eagles gave defensive end, Vinny Curry, a huge contract this past offseason, and he failed to meet expectations. Brandon Graham played well this past season, but as the season wore on in Schwartz’s high paced pass-rushing demands in his scheme, Graham got gassed and was the main focus of the opposition’s offensive lines.
It’s imperative the Eagles replace Connor Barwin, who was recently released, with a more productive rotational edge rusher and help boost a pass-rush that did not live up to their expectations this past season. Willis can be that player for the Eagles.
3rd round, 74th overall: Kareem Hunt, running back (Toledo)
Hunt (5’10, 216 lbs) is the ideal skill set at running back that gives the Eagles backfield a dynamic they’re missing in Doug Pederson’s west coast offense. Hunt has carried the ball 782 times for 4,945 rushing yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, and 44 rushing touchdowns. Another underrated aspect of his game is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Toledo didn’t rely on him doing so up until his senior season and he improved mightily in this category (41 receptions for 403 yards, 9.8 yards per catch and one touchdown).
ESPN NFL Insider, Adam Caplan, has insisted the Eagles will not select a running back in the first-round of the draft and has also hinted at their preference of adding a bigger running back to their backfield. Hunt fits the mold and has a feature back dynamic to his game.
4th round, 119th overall: Corn Elder, cornerback (Miami)
The Eagles must walk away from this draft with at least two cornerbacks, considering the team’s dire need for them, and the overall strength of the class. Elder (5’10, 183 lbs) is an ideal pick for the birds.
The Eagles seem to be firm believers in their 2016 seventh-round pick, Jalen Mills, ability on the outside, which I agree with completely. The team had so much confidence in him they didn’t shy away from lining him up on opposing team’s No.1 wide receivers such as Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr., DeSean Jackson, etc. So if their plans is for Mills to remain on the outside, then Elder is the perfect solution for the team’s nickel position.
Elder is physical enough to the point where he plays past his size, which is a great quality to have in a slot cornerback. His 4.5 speed, which he posted during the combine, isn’t ideal, but solid enough to be a consistent cover corner in the slot. He finished his collegiate career with 158 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions and most importantly 27 pass-breakups.
This past season, Elder only allowed more than 50 passing yards in one game, so you can see where he gets all his confidence from.
4th round, 139 overall (from Cleveland): K.D. Cannon, wide receiver (Baylor)
The Eagles made some huge splashes revamping their receiving corps during free agency so far with the signings of Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery, but this shouldn’t stop them from adding one in the draft.
Jeffery and Jordan Matthews are on one-year deals, and in all honesty, I wouldn’t be completely sold on Matthews as a slot wide receiver in Pederson’s west coast offense just yet. This is where Cannon comes as an eventual replacement.
Cannon (5’11, 182 lbs) has that elusive and speed (4.4 in 40 yard dash) that can be very well utilized in the slot, especially for Pederson’s bubble-screen play calls. The abundance of receiver talent the Eagles added also allows Cannon to develop as a rotational receiver his rookie year and adjusts his craft before stepping up into a larger role.
Cannon finishes his Baylor career with 195 receptions for 3,113 receiving yards, averaging 16.0 yards per catch and 27 touchdowns.
That is how you make a play on a 50/50 ball KD Cannon pic.twitter.com/kh179QePqc
— Eliot Crist (@EliotCrist) February 17, 2017
5th round, 155th overall: Charles Walker, defensive tackle (Oklahoma)
This pick is a low-risk/high-reward value selection here in the fifth-round. Walker (6’2, 304 lbs) is a very good pass-rusher in the interior part of the defensive line, which bodes well for him in Schwartz’s wide-nine.
The risks with Walker are mainly his health concerns. Walker has only played in 21 games during his three years at Oklahoma and the most alarming part of it is his history with concussions. Walker could only take part in four games this season due to a severe concussion and it was also reported he suffered a concussion in last year’s Orange Bowl versus Clemson.
Walker was also called out by the Sooners defensive coordinator, Mike Stoops, for quitting on the team after he seemed to make it clear during the season that he would be returning for his senior season. Nevertheless the talented defensive lineman has entered the 2017 draft and his pass-rushing skills (ten tackles for loss, six sacks in 2015, his lone full season of play) could be coveted by the Eagles.
Right now, Eagles long-time starter at defensive tackle, Bennie Logan, is a free agent and there’s questions if he’ll be back with the team in 2017. Regardless the defensive line depth should still be addressed to remain productive in the pace it plays in for a grueling season under Schwartz, and Walker is worth the risk here in the fifth.
6th round, 194th overall: Alex Anzalone, linebacker (Florida)
The Eagles are perhaps looking for an eventual replacement for weakside linebacker, Mychal Kendricks, and Anzalone can definitely develop into that player for them. The team has yet to move on from Kendricks, but are looking to trade him during the draft. Linebacker depth should be addressed regardless, especially factoring in Nigel Bradham is also on the last year of his contract.
Anzalone (6’3, 241 lbs) offers great size for the position. This, again, is another low-risk/high-reward pick for the Eagles due in large part to Anzalone’s long injury history. He’s only made ten starts for the Gators during his four seasons, but as an NFC Personnel Director pointed out to Lance Zierlin of NFL.com at the Senior Bowl, “You can see how gifted he is athletically.”
If Anzalone can finally string together consistent health at the next level, this selection can really become a steal for the Eagles.
7th round, 230th overall: Conor McDermott, offensive tackle (UCLA)
I know what you’re thinking, he just picked this guy because they have the same first name. Close, but the Eagles need to find a replacement for Matt Tobin as a swing tackle, and I believe McDermott could be that.
McDermott (6’8, 307 lbs) became the Bruins starting left tackle during the last seven games of the 2014 season. The former high school basketball player has manned the left side of UCLA’s offensive line ever since, which earned him PAC-12 second-team all-conference honors in 2016.
McDermott would be a project player for Eagles offensive line coach, Jeff Stoutland, but given the attention to detail the team has shown the offensive line during Pederson’s era, this seems like the right pick here in the seventh-round.
Mandatory Photo Credits: Geoff Burke, USA Today Sports Images