Preparations for the NFL Draft are fully underway, with the calm before the storm setting in. By this point, team needs seem to be locked in place, at least for the most part. For the reigning Super Bowl champions, being meticulous is part of the culture instilled from the top down. However with all the talk of tight ends, linebackers and defensive backs, there’s one position of need that many seem to have overlooked…
The Eagles have the best offensive line in football. Perhaps that’s why the left guard position has fallen so deeply beneath the radar. But let’s not forget that it took the Eagles nearly a quarter of the season to find a victor in a positional battle that transcended Training Camp. Nor Isaac Seumalo or Chance Warmack would come out on top, but instead, versatile veteran Stefen Wisniewski. Wis went unchallenged for the remainder of the year, making some dominant plays in the run and showing an incredible amount of athleticism in getting to the second level. But in week 14, the Eagles faced an interesting scenario.
Wisniewski went down with an ankle injury and the team rolled out a committee effort involving both Warmack and Seumalo, neither of whom set the game on fire. There’s no clear backup at left guard. In fact, it wasn’t until Wisniewski secured his starting role against the Cardinals that there was a clear number one guard either. After that game and very much in the few games before, the Eagles rushing efficiency exploded. Powerful downhill running headlined the show while the Birds amassed a ten-game streak of 100+ rushing yards. With Wis out of the game, it was back to square one.
His impact, as aforementioned, was felt deep into the postseason and of course in the Super Bowl, where the former Jags lineman played the game of his life. Contracted through 2020, the Eagles should find stability in their starter, but if the injury bug should strike, they need to come prepared.
Now entering his third season, Isaac Seumalo has shown signs of improvement from his rookie year, but nowhere near enough to earn a full-time starting role. The former Oregon State guard was benched after the week two loss to Kansas City and after sneaking his way back into the fray as the team’s sixth offensive lineman in jumbo formations, he did begin to find his feet. But as a third-round pick, the production has simply not been there in the early days of his career. While Seumalo will still be a competent backup moving forward, there’s a lot of growing room to fill before he earns another shot at the starting job.
Beyond Seumalo lies just one man, Chance Warmack. A ‘prove-it’ contract for Jeff Stoutland’s former standout at Alabama, Warmack was serviceable at best but was never able to win out a starting role as originally hoped. Considering his age, it’s unlikely that the Eagles can afford to pay Warmack the money traditionally sought out by Super Bowl winners and the team may instead opt to invest in depth through the draft.
The Eagles may well retain all three of these players and why wouldn’t they? They’re all contracted through at least 2019 which gives Seumalo and Warmack a large window to turn their tenures around, but if the offensive line is stung by a lack of interior guard depth, there could be a problem. Especially with no real designated backup behind Brandon Brooks.
This alone could push the Eagles to invest in this year’s NFL Draft and there’s an array of talent to choose from. While Quentin Nelson isn’t a realistic option for the Birds, there are plenty options that will present themselves in the later rounds. Here are three players who the Eagles met with at the NFL Combine.
Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
Much has been said of the second-team AP All American, but the bottom line is this. Wynn helped pave the way for Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to gain the most career tandem rushing yards in FBS history, passing SMU’s Eric Dickerson and Craig James. The 6’2, 300 lbs guard has played both outside and inside, showing great balance and patience when it comes to sustaining blocks.
Martinas Rankin, Mississippi State
Having played at all five spots along the offensive front, many regard Rankin to be naturally suited to center. For the Eagles, this would mean an insurance policy behind Jason Kelce, knowing that Isaac Seumalo has a little way to go and Stefen Wisniewski both has other duties.
The 6’5, 305 lbs, lineman is one of the more patient in the class. He lets the play come to him and almost allows opposing defenders to get their array of fancy moves off first before initiating a punch and maintaining balance. A projected day two pick, the Birds’ currently don’t have a pick that could scoop up his services, but they’re doing their due diligence on the first-team All-SEC pick.
Mason Cole, Michigan
There may be no offensive lineman more versatile or ‘pro-ready’ than Mason Cole. He may have started and finished his career at LT, but played at center during his junior year. Partner that with the nature of Harbaugh’s offense and what you have is a versatile lineman who would be quick to pick up the intricacies of a pro-style scheme.
With 51 consecutive starts (a school record), Cole’s 6’5, 297 lbs, frame lends his durability to a center position, although he could well be plugged in at any spot when asked.
Will the Eagles end up dipping at the interior guard position in this year’s draft? It’s likely. Depth is not a commodity at either spot and as we learned last season, a competitive training camp brings the best out of the players. The Eagles have shown an intent to build through the trenches and with Jeff Stoutland working his wonders as usual, there is no questioning that the Birds are primed to develop one of the most complete offensive line machines for year’s to come. With that in mind, bolstering the interior guard spot should be a priority.
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