So, the week of the NFL Draft is finally here. With all 32 teams making the final tweaks to their pre-draft preparations and traveling to the City of Brotherly Love, excitement is at an all time high. The same can be said for the Eagles, who pick 14th overall in the first round in year two of an exciting new era. But with that in mind, there’s still plenty of questions that the Eagles need to answer throughout the weekend.
Best player available?
It’s a phrase that has echoed around Philadelphia for months now since Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas began to shed light on their evaluation process, but Thursday night will finally answer whether or not the Eagles will take the best player available..or if Howie has an ace or two up his sleeve.
The “BPA” mentality is simple. That regardless of what happens in the 13 picks beforehand, whomever is the top graded talent on the Eagles board at that time, will be read out by the NFL Commissioner. Of course, there is no conclusive overall ranking for talent..and it will vary from team-to-team. There’s also no real way of knowing whether the Eagles have followed through on this mentality as we don’t know how their board is set up.
However, if the Eagles were to take a defensive tackle for instance when Gareon Conley, Corey Davis, or Christian McCaffrey are on the board..it would perhaps lean toward that the Eagles are going off of their own perceptive rankings as opposed to filling positions of need.
What will be really interesting is if the Eagles fill a direct need with their first round pick. If they don’t draft a cornerback and instead decide to bolster a position that already has a lot of talent, then the BPA myth may turn out to be true after all. But what stands out in that instance is that this would represent an entire new direction for the Birds, extending far beyond this years draft and setting them up for the future.
The Eagles had a very strong free agency period, with “prove-it” deals becoming the name of the game. Were they setting themselves up to the player at the top of their board..or filling hols to draft the top corner available at that point?
Running back rotation:
To put it simply, the Eagles have a lot of questions to answer when it comes to running back. Drafting a workhorse such as Dalvin Cook in the first round, Alvin Kamara in the third or potentially Joe Mixon in between, would mean that the Eagles have six running backs on their roster to distribute carries between, or at least work out some kind of structure to utilize what is in reality, an incredibly versatile corps. Drafting McCaffrey early or a dual-threat running back in the later rounds would better utilize the current situation and set it up for an explosive 2017 season..meaning that the team can build around it in the future.
The truth is, nobody knows how this is going to pan out. From the uncertain future of Mathews, to Sproles who aims to retire at the end of next year. But if it’s a back who can carry the ball 20+ times a game that the Eagles crave, they will have to make some big adjustments to both their roster, gameplanning and playcalling to make that a reality.
Doug Pederson has experienced the dominance of Jamaal Charles first hand..and helped carve the Chiefs 2015 committee effort. The 2016 Eagles rushing setup showed a mix of both of these qualities consistently..but failed to really establish an identity. The Draft is where the Eagles backfield will finally take off its mask and reveal how the group will move forward into 2017, supporting Carson Wentz and an arsenal of wideouts.
Is Nickel the way forward?
Ron Brooks, the Eagles starting Nickel corner in 2016 fell victim to an early injury..leaving the Eagles with a decision. Were they comfortable with their 4-3 formation, or would they instead bring down Malcolm Jenkins in nickel situations? Mychal Kendricks would play in just 26.8% of snaps last season..as the Eagles relied on both Hicks and Bradham, with just Tulloch and Kendricks behind them, to carry the load over the middle.
It’s safe to say that the Eagles reason for not utilizing 3 linebackers more often was not because they preferred using nickel formations, adding even more pressure to a cornerback corps struggling already, but instead due to having their hands forced into choosing the more reliable option, a slot cornerback.
Fast forward to the present day and the Eagles now face another crucial decision. Do they draft a slot cornerback and continue to ride that wave? Perhaps they feel comfortable with Patrick Robinson, who shined for the Chargers in such a role..or maybe they wish to give that duty to Jalen Mills. But if they don’t and drafting one is a possibility..they then face another question.
Is drafting a slot cornerback more valuable than drafting a linebacker? As it stands, Mychal Kendricks is still being shopped around and beyond Hicks and Bradham, only Joe Walker stands on the depth chart. Until last season, neither Hicks nor Bradham had played in a full 16 game season without injury. By adding a third linebacker, the Eagles would have far more flexibility in their formations and scheme, while allowing Jenkins to revert to his natural Safety role. But did they feel comfortable enough running the nickel in 2016 to override that concern, and leave the decision to add a linebacker to be decided in the latter rounds of the Draft?
This is a bubble that could have a huge domino effect on the Eagles Defense. We know they’re likely going to add cornerbacks..but how many? And How high on the priority list is the burning need to add another linebacker to grow with Jordan Hicks and give Jim Schwartz another weapon in coverage situations?
Development for the Defensive line?
With Chris Long and Timmy Jernigan brought in on “prove-it” deals to replace Bennie Logan and Connor Barwin, the Eagles still find themselves in a predicament. Beau Allen could miss the start of the season with a pectoral injury, leaving just Destiny Vaeao behind the new DT tandem. At DE, Long will slot in well, but behind him and Brandon Graham is a lineup of guys who are coming toward the end of their lifelines.
It will be extremely intriguing to see how the Eagles broach this scenario. Will they draft an edge rusher early, or perhaps seek a strong defensive tackle in the mid-rounds? Or will they leave that to the bottom of the draft, showing trust and faith in Jernigan and Long to not only get the job done..but perhaps earn their future in Philly.
The Eagles aren’t blessed with cap space..so drafting insurance policies is certainly a good idea. But are they going to be just that, insurance policies incase the Eagles can’t afford to retain the ruthless Timmy Jernigan or Super Bowl winning Chris Long? Or are they developmental prospects? Who will compete for starting roles and spots on the depth chart, potentially dethroning the veterans, exposing them to the same possible fate as Reuben Randle endured just one year ago? It’s Defense that wins championships..but will the Eagles prioritize cementing the trenches over adding playmakers outside?
How confident are the Eagles with their current WR plan?
Adding Torrey Smith and Alshon Jeffery saw the Eagles free agency strategy receive extremely high praise. Carson Wentz finally has stars on the outside, leaving the Eagles in a much better place and driving them in the opposite direction to how Indianapolis drove Andrew Luck’s future initially. But the long term plan isn’t so clear.
Both Jeffery and Smith are still technically on prove-it deals, and as aforementioned, the Eagles are lacking in cap space. Factor in that Jordan Matthews is entering his contract year and there is suddenly a world of uncertainty that will crash down on the Linc after the end of next season. So do the Eagles prepare themselves for that storm now, or are they confident that their culture, their continuity and their corps can all factor in keeping these three players around if they have a big year?
From the first round prospects of Mike Williams and Corey Davis, to the likes of Cooper Kupp, Zay Jones, and even sleeper Chad Williams..the Eagles are blessed with wideout options and we should expect them to draft at least one..but in what round?
Will Nelson Agholor’s future play a part in this as he competes for the WR2 spot with Torrey Smith? Could the Eagles be looking to groom potential replacements for the two wideouts competing for that role..or looking to add long-term security, building a factory of wide receivers that can have the Chris Hogan effect for the Eagles, as well as learning under Mike Groh?
If the Eagles draft a wideout in the first three rounds, it’s safe to say that there will be movement after 2017. Whether it’s a trade for a current wideout, players that allowed to walk into free agency or prove-it deals that weren’t proved..the Eagles are preparing themselves to survive that whirlwind. If they draft after that period, then it could be an indication that development and growth is the way to go..and uncertainty may not be the name of the game after all at wide receiver..
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports