Back to the future: What if Eagles drafted in the same way as they did in historic 2002 Draft?

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It’s finally here. Today’s the day that can singlehandedly change lives, franchises, and start a new era. For the Eagles, that is still absolutely the case. After drafting Carson Wentz with the second overall pick last year, it’s now time for the Birds to surround him with talent and stack up on Defense to create a ruthless playoff competitor. By now, you have probably read hundreds of mock drafts and the thought of digesting another one might not wet your appetite. But this isn’t an ordinary mock. This mock draft simply poses a question:

What if the Eagles follow the same formula that saw Andy Reid complete his most successful draft of all time, and arguably one of the greatest Eagles drafts of all time?

The draft I’m referencing, is of course the 2002 NFL Draft. With three pro bowlers and players who would go on to become legends, Reid not only strengthened the roster with a plethora of talent..but went about it in a way where looking back, could be in line to be replicated. From the legendary Brian Westbrook, to the iconic memories created by Lito Sheppard and Sheldon Brown, 2002 was a draft to remember..and one that helped propel the Eagles franchise towards the promised land. It’s also no coincidence, that the needs of the Eagles coming into the big day also tie in nicely with what the needs were 15 years ago.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to pose a what if scenario. What if the Eagles followed the same positional template they did in 2002? So, round for round, here’s how the Eagles picks would look if they drafted the same positions in the same rounds as they did back in 2002. The only difference is, that the second round 2 pick from 2002 has been moved to the second fourth round pick that the Eagles have this year..because that makes sense.

 

Round 1: CB, Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado
2002 Round 1: CB, Lito Sheppard, Florida

The Eagles hit a home-run with Sheppard back in 2002..and I think that the best chance of doing the same in this years draft comes from picking Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie. With the stock of Gareon Conley currently unknown due to the recent devastating allegations, and only two corners who stack up on big board ahead of Awuzie, the Eagles could snatch the Colorado corner at 14 due to the conveyor belt that has moved forward considerably. From the injury of Sidney Jones, to the recent allegations against Conley, Awuzie may be the best option for the Eagles if they are to take a corner in the first round not named Marshon Lattimore.

Here’s what I wrote about him in my last mock draft: 

Awuzie is one of very few breakfast cornerbacks in this year’s draft..with a strong punch at the line of scrimmage and a knack for wrapping up receivers and knocking balls loose. As a freshman, he made 59 tackles and broke up 4 passes. One year later, he led the team with 64 tackles before suffering an injury in practice. Next season, he amassed 90 tackles from the nickel spot, as well as four sacks, 10 pass breakups and two picks. A sterling 2016 went hand in hand with his career to date and if he plays alongside a dinner cornerback, he could be the perfect weapon to combat multi-dimensional offenses.

With an ability to play in the slot or hold his own outside, the versatility of Awuzie would be a huge asset to a team that is looking to build a young corps that can help unleash the pass rush. Playing four positions on the back end in his college career (free-safety, Strong-Safety, outside Corner, and nickel), Awuzie has developed into a playmaker who has great top end speed to cover faster WR’s and would easily become a strong option for the Birds’ defense.

More than willing to get down and dirty in the run, Awuzie may be the perfect fit for the Jim Schwartz Defense..and if the Eagles can grab him at 25, it’s a move that needs no hesitation.

 

Round 2: CB, Tre’Davious White, LSU
2002 Round 2: CB Sheldon Brown, South Carolina
The hard hitting legacy of Sheldon Brown isn’t lost on Eagles fans..and it’s something that can be seen just as prominently in the game of LSU cornerback, Tre’Davious White.

In my cornerback rankings series, I broke down why White would be a snug fit in the Jim Schwartz secondary:

If it’s a secure tackler that the Eagles want, then it’s the former teammate of Jalen Mills who may be the best option on the outside. Over the last two seasons, Tre’Davious White has emerged as a true shutdown corner for the Tigers. Being used as both an outside corner and in the slot, his lean frame has helped him keep up with some of the biggest receivers in the game, including the likes of Amari Cooper.

In 2016, White defended 15 passes out of the 42 that were thrown his way and like Reuben Foster, his aggression has been a trait that has been subject to praise and criticism. There is no denying his production however. Over his four year career, White racked up 167 tackles, with 111 being solo. That may not sound like a big deal but if we compare that to what Jim Schwartz covets in a corner, it speaks volumes. Combine that with his six picks and a forced fumble..and the numbers do all the talking.

While his frame may see him experience some of the same flaws that Jalen Mills endured during 2016, he may be one of the best mirror corners in the draft. Impressive footwork, patient play and a quick recovery time make him one of the most dangerous “dinner” cornerbacks in his class. White’s fluid style of play combined with a tenacious attitude make him the perfect fit in the Eagles 4-3 scheme.

If that wasn’t enticing enough, White was also used as both a gunner and a punt-returner..with a return touchdown in every year throughout his career..and we all know how valuable special teams are to the Eagles.

 

Round 3: RB, James Conner, Pitt
2002 round 3: RB, Brian Westbrook, Villanova

We’re not saying that James Conner will leave the same legacy as Brian Westbrook, but the Eagles have found incredible value at running back in the heart of the Draft..and looking to do so again leaves them open to adding numerous defensive backs in the opening rounds, cementing a new starting tandem for years to come, while potentially still adding that franchise rusher in round 3.

Here’s a breakdown on what Conner could bring to a versatile Eagles backfield:

After working out with Carson Wentz due to having the same agent, Conner approached the combine with a clean bill of health, something crucial for his draft stock. The Pitt rusher amassed 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016, as well as receiving for 302 yards and four more scores. The Eagles have plenty of questions to answer before even thinking of drafting a running back, but drafting one in the third round would at least silence a few..giving them options and leverage.

Conner could be a great fit for Pederson’s offense, if it’s a power back he wants. A dominant runner who has exceptional vision and burst through the trenches, bringing Conner down appears to be a task very few are able to do successfully. His 6’1, 233 lbs frame means he can also be a weapon in pass protection looks, as well as punching the ball up the gut with an aggressive style of rushing.

He may not be a running back who can take on 20 carries a game out of the box, but he’s certainly a player who has plenty of potential and natural athleticism. His physical style of rushing would give the Eagles a new sense of optionality when combined with the dual-threat and zonal natures of backs already on the roster..and in the third round, would be a perfect compliment to Pederson’s offense.

 

Round 4: C/OG, Dorian Johnson, Pittsburgh
2002 round 4: C, Scott Peters, Arizona State

Although the Eagles have Jason Kelce and Stefen Wisniewski at Center as of right now, the team could still be looking to add some depth to their offensive line, bolstering the trenches and building the fortress for Carson Wentz, just as they did for esteemed signal caller Donovan McNabb in 2002.

This 6’5, 300 lbs, center may not have the same athletic traits as Jason Kelce, but he has the durability of Jason Peters, starting 39 consecutive games for the Panthers and playing a large role in the rushing success of the running back taken just one round earlier in this mock. A stern run blocker, Johnson carries his frame well and is able to seek and destroy when it comes to the second level. His technique is among the most well rounded at the position in this year’s class, something that Jeff Stoutland could covet when looking to add to his unit.

 
Round 4: DB, Rasul Douglas, West Virginia
2002 Round 2: DB, Michael Lewis, Colorado
One of the most overlooked corners coming into the Draft, Douglas has great length at 6’2, and size at 209lbs. The Eagles don’t just crave a long cornerback..but a playmaker. In his senior year, Douglas intercepted 8 passes and broke up 8 more. Douglas contributed heavily to a Mountaineers defense that dominated the Big-12, and has all the makings of a strong press corner.

Douglas is a true dinner corner..and one with rare length. In 2015 he amassed 8 tackles and one pick in 11 games, before his eye popping senior year that along with the aforementioned 8 picks, saw him rack up 70 tackles.

The problem is that with a 4.59 40-yard dash time, there are concerns he doesn’t have the gas to keep up with some of the faster NFL wideouts. When playing in zone coverage, he’s able to read the eyes of the opposing quarterback incredibly well and come down to make a play on the ball. He shows no fear in jumping routes or leaping up to catch a 50-50 ball, but if he’s not in position, exploited on a complex route, or beaten at the line..the recovery can act as an achilles heel.

Contrarily, the size of Douglas means he could play at Safety with a moments notice. Long-term depth behind McLeod and Jenkins is anything but stable and versatility is a quality that the Eagles love on Defense.

There’s no doubting that Douglas has playmaker potential..but he isn’t as polished in man-coverage as some of the other players mentioned in this article, or as aggressive as some of the higher round picks. This is what has allowed Douglas to slip into the heart of the Draft, where he’s projected to go between rounds 3-5.

If Douglas is still on the board in the 5th round, it’s a no brainer for the Eagles..but even if taken in the 4th, Douglas would be a perfect project cornerback to learn under Patrick Robinson in 2017..who in my opinion is the most technically sound corner on the roster.

Round 5: WR, KD Cannon, Baylor
2002 Round 5: WR, Freddie Milons, Alabama
Just like in 2002, the Eagles could be looking to add an extra burst to their receiving corps..and they still realistically crave that speedy deep threat who can catch unsuspecting defenses off guard. Cannon fits this mold perfectly.
There hasn’t been much buzz around Cannon, but he is a player the Eagles should keep an eye on in the later rounds. He is an athletic deep threat who put up impressive numbers at Baylor. Cannon would add some much needed speed and ​athleticism​ to the Eagles’ wide receiving group.
At 5’11, 182 lbs, Cannon used his lean frame to sneak past defenders with ease, racking up 1,215 yards in 2016 on 87 receptions, to go along with 13 touchdowns. A true deep threat, Cannon could well be that hidden ace that the Eagles need when all eyes are on Alshon Jeffery, Jordan Matthews, and Torrey Smith.
Round 6: LB, Ben Gedeon, Michigan
2002 Round 6: LB, Tyrero Harrison, Notre Dame
The Eagles are still looking for a third linebacker to complete the thunderous triple package, someone to partner and develop with Hicks and Bradham for the foreseeable future. Enter Michigan’s Ben Gedeon. With his team leading 106 tackles, 15.5 for a loss and 4.5 sacks, the 6’3, 247 lbs, linebacker proved he had all the tools to become successful at the next level.
While shedding blocks comes naturally, his ability to go sideline-to-sideline, as well as contribute heavily on special teams make him an incredibly attractive late round prospect for the Eagles.

 

Round 7: DE, Fadol Brown, Ole Miss
2002 round 7: DE Raheem Brock, Temple

To round out the draft, the Eagles need some speed on the outside to help set the edge and support Brandon Graham. Despite missing some time with a foot injury, the 6’4, 273 lbs, Brown, still racked up 39 tackles and 2.5 sacks. After previously leading his team in QB hurries, it’s clear that he has the athleticism to potentially develop into a rotational asset at the next level..and in the seventh round, that’s all a team could ask for. With injury concerns holding his stock back, landing with one of the healthiest teams in the league may give Brown a chance to exceed those expectations.

 

Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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