The NFL Draft is just over two weeks away and for the Eagles, excitement is at an all-time high. A slew of free agency additions designed to aid the team’s new direction have left them in an incredibly favorable position as the event draws closer. But as the mock drafts flood in and all 32 teams continue to meet with prospects, the same names continue to be linked with the Birds’. This series will take a look at five very plausible targets for the Eagles in each round of the NFL Draft..starting with round number one. The Eagles pick 14th overall in the opening round of the NFL Draft..so who is likely to be the name read out when the team are on the clock?
RB, Christian McCaffrey, Stanford:
Of the running backs consistently linked with the Eagles, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey may be the best fit for a team still looking to establish a backfield identity. As already noted, the team have a plethora of questions to answer before drafting a running back..especially if they wish to do so in the first round. By drafting McCaffrey, it revokes most of those due to the versatility he would bring and workload he would receive.
The 6’0, 200 lbs, running back ended his career as a Stanford Cardinal with 3,922 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns. Partner this with his career 1,206 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns and what you have is an incredibly dynamic dual threat back. McCaffrey actually broke Barry Sanders record for all-purpose yards in a single season in 2016, averaging over 200 yards per game.
McCaffrey would be the perfect fit for an Eagles Offense that plans to implement a committee rushing attack. The only concern there would be, could the team find a back who can perhaps bring the same qualities but at a much cheaper price given the limited offensive role? If the team plan on drafting a lead back to carry the ball 20+ times per game, McCaffrey isn’t the best option. If the Eagles want to create one of the most dynamic and dangerous committee efforts in the NFL, preparing for a future without Sproles and attain a player who can contribute in numerous facets efficiently, then there may be none better.
TE, O.J. Howard, Alabama:
The Alabama tight end is all but destined to go in the first round, but his stock has been so up and down, it’s almost hard to tel where he will land due to the ever changing landscape of team needs. With Zach Ertz and Brent Celek signed as long-term starters at tight end and Trey Burton signing a one-year tender, there isn’t a clear need at the position..but in a “best player available” scenario, Howard could be a generational talent.
His size and athleticism are rare in tight ends. At 6’5, 251 lbs with 33, 3/4′ arms, Howard is a physical monster. Combine that with a 4.51 second 40-yard dash and 22 reps on the bench and what you have is a freakishly athletic tight end who can contribute in numerous facets of the game.
With 114 receptions for 1,726 yards and seven scores in his career, Howard is a reliable and explosive pass catcher who can also block with the best of them. Ticking all the boxes, he could really flourish in a system as creative as Doug Pederson’s and in an environment with Zach Ertz and Brent Celek.
Drafting him would be very much like acquiring Carson Wentz one year ago. Even though Sam Bradford was signed and a backup was in place, the team traded up for the future of their franchise..and that’s exactly what Howard would be. An incredibly dynamic player who can grow with Carson Wentz. The Eagles have not drafted a tight end in the first round since Keith Jackson in 1988. That went well for the Eagles then but don’t count me on board with the tight end with the first round pick.
CB, Gareon Conley, Ohio State:
The second Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback projected to go in the first round, Conley has largely been under the shadow of Marshon Lattimore, whom many consider to be the top cornerback prospect this year. While Lattimore may dazzle and cement his place inside the top 10, Conley’s style of play is far more suited to the Eagles.
At 6’0, 195 lbs, Conley is a longer cornerback who has an impressive frame. Given that the Eagles will be facing a flurry of lethal wideout threats in their own division this year alone and will enter the year with two new starters, they need a corner who isn’t afraid of contact and will go up and make a play.
Conley ended his final year as a Buckeye with 26 tackles, four picks and eight pass breakups. Where his strengths lie however, are where the Eagles desperately need them. Allowing just a 37% completion rate when targeted, Conley defines a press-coverage specialist. With a wide stance at the line, he’s able to jam efficiently and mirroropposing routes stride for stride.
A true dinner cornerback who feasts at the top of routes, Conley would be a welcome addition to the Eagles Defense and even though his tackling can be sporadic at times, like Jalen Mills, he has the instincts to drive for the ball and make a big hit. In the shadow of Lattimore, Conley could fall snugly into the laps of the Eagles at 14.
DE, Taco Charlton, Michigan:
One player who hasn’t been mocked to the Eagles frequently has been Michigan’s Taco Charlton. The Eagles desperately need some longevity at defensive end..and with the abundance of CB talent available, a smoke-screen in order to attain one of the most explosive pass rushers in the class could well be underway.
The 6’6, 277 lbs, defensive end wreaked havoc as a Wolverine..especially in his final year. With 10 sacks and 40 tackles, the inconsistencies many seemed to have pinned on his shoulders were overrun by sheer dominance. A 4.92 40-yard dash time, 25 reps at the bench and a 3-cone drill of 7.17 seconds define what Charlton brings to the table. Speed..and power. Two things the corps failed to consistently bring to support Brandon Graham one year ago.
With Barwin now in L.A and Chris Long replacing him as a short-term fix, there are still questions over the likes of Vinny Curry and Marcus Smith. Charlton would not only bring competition..but a rare frame and skill set that in a rotational role could see him burst off the line and thrust offensive linemen downhill.
After Cox struggled to have the same dominance as he did in prior to his big contract extension, the Eagles need to add as much unpredictability and explosiveness to the trenches as possible..and even though he may not be the perfect compliment to Brandon Graham on a permanent basis, he’s a time-bomb waiting to explode in a rotational role..who could one day develop into a long-term starter.
LB, Hasson Reddick, Temple:
At 6’1, 237 lbs, Reddick is a local prospect who has again gone under the radar so far. As incredible as it would be to see Reuben Foster line up in Midnight Green..it may not be all that attainable. One player who could fill that role and develop with Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham to create one of the most promising position groups in the NFL, is Hasson Reddick.
An instinctive linebacker who could line up at defensive end, Reddick tied the single-season Temple record for tackles for loss in 2016, registering 22.5 to go with his team-leading 10.5 sacks. A former running back and Safety, Reddick is a natural athlete who has quick footwork and a much leaner frame than a traditional DE. It’s this that could see him slide down boards for some..but he should be rising for the Eagles, who pine for a third coverage linebacker to cut down on plays using the nickel formation.
Malcolm Jenkins was forced into slot duty after the absence of Ron Brooks, with the only other option being an out-of-favor Mychal Kendricks, who struggled in coverage in the limited snaps played. The motor of Reddick and his ability to dissect a play and track down the ball carrier are just two qualities that could see him come in and immediately soar to the third LB spot on the depth chart.
While technically, he may not be one of the most refined linebackers in the draft, his raw frame and production at both spots make him an incredibly interesting prospect if he can be developed. Jim Schwartz has shown a tendency to bring the best out of linebackers, with Bradham having his second best year in 2016..his best being under the Eagles DC back in Buffalo. Jordan Hicks built on a stunning rookie year to show the world just how high his ceiling really is..and it’s not like DeAndre Levy, Tahir Whitehead, or Stephen Tulloch all had average careers either..
If there’s anyone who can take a hybrid DE/LB and turn him into one of the most impressive linebackers in the league, it’s Jim Schwartz. The potential is there..and in the right system, he could very easily become the staple of a Defense. It would give the Eagles longevity at the position, knowing Hicks and Bradham will be seeking extensions soon..and raise the bar even higher for the tenacious defense.
Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports