One pick, one need: A look at realistic first round targets for the Philadelphia Eagles

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Draft week is finally here ladies and gentlemen. Hold on to your Horses, this is going to be one wild rollercoaster. This series will take a look at players available to the Birds in a variety of draft situations, starting off with the most obvious.

The Eagles sit at pick #32 (you know, because they won the Super Bowl) and reports all seem to be pointing toward a potential trade out of the first round. This of course means leverage is at a minimum, with everyone else in the realm knowing fully well that the team won’t be picking again until the bottom of the fourth round. But in the event that the Eagles do indeed decide to draft a player in the bottom of the first round, who are the players most likely to be donning Midnight green next season?

 

Ronnie Harrison | S | Alabama
Harrison is a product of Nick Saban’s defense, which should tell you all you need to know. With Jim Schwartz craving versatile defensive backs who pack a punch, Harrison is arguably a bitter fit than Stanford’s Justin Reid with the 32nd overall pick. The Eagles need Safety help. Without Jaylen Watkins or Corey Graham, the unit is light on depth which would marginalize Malcolm Jenkins. Adding in an impact-player like Harrison in round one of the 2018 Draft makes a ton of sense.

Harrison was named to the second-team All-SEC after posting 74 tackles, 3.5 sacks and three interceptions. He has all the intangibles an NFL defense could ask for. Standing at 6’3?, weighing 214 pounds, Harrison is one of the bigger safeties in this year’s Draft class.

What is the difference between a good safety and a great one? As the last line of defense, you’re expected to have the upmost composure, complete command of the defense and a willingness to risk it all to save the day. Ronnie Harrison PERSONIFIES those traits. His tackling angles, positioning, ability to narrow the field is just remarkable. There is no questioning Harrison’s potential and when you factor in his accolades while at Bama, the rest speaks for itself.

 

Derrius Guice | RB | LSU
While his 2017 season was hurt by an early injury that he later bounced back from and progressively became more and more  impressive, Guise followed his 1,251 yard campaign with a solid combine workout. A tough, instinctive runner who has all the strength and speed to match, Guise flashes elite potential whenever you turn on the tape. But if you are to watch any of the footage from 2016, it’s clear Guise contains first-round production. It’s strange to see someone so physically imposing move so easily and possess such impressive footwork, but Guise is everything you look for in a three-down back and then some.

The Eagles already have a strong backfield, with Corey Clement and Jay Ajayi making up a two-headed monster that can punish opposing defenses with an ever-changing sense of dynamism. While Sony Michel is an attractive alternative, Guice would best replace what they’re losing in Blount. Without the worry of needing a workhorse, Guice would be able to flourish in Philadelphia without a worry of the rubber wearing thin, only adding to the explosiveness this dominant downhill runner can provide.

 

 

Leighton Vander Esch | LB | Boise State 
(Snippet taken from Quentin Blount’s linebacker breakdown)
In his first year starting for the Broncos, Leighton Vander Esch propelled himself into the national contention of elite linebackers. He may actually be a safer pick than Evans, due to his well-rounded game. According to PFF, Vander Esch led all FBS linebackers in both run-stops (57) and run-stop percentage (15.9 percent).

Vander Esch seemingly went from a no-name, spot-duty player to an elite first-round prospect overnight. At 6’4”, he’s got the size and length to not only play the run effectively well, but he has the potential to matchup on opposing tight ends.

Between the physical skillset, character makeup, and tape, it’s safe to say Vander Esch is garnering first-round consideration. Although he’s a bit inexperienced, Vander Esch possesses the kind of underdog mentality that led to him walking on at Boise State, and eventually, paved his way to the NFL. He looks like a true three-down linebacker that could serve the Eagles very well. 

 

Dallas Goedert | TE| South Dakota State |
How can you not love a small-school sleeper who has emerged as this year’s leading tight end prospect? Not only did this 6’5 tight end post back-to-back 1,000 yard season’s, but he also tallied a total of 13 100-yard receiving games during that span. The man is a complete monster and if the Eagles are looking for a tight end to hang their hat on alongside Zach Ertz, they needn’t look any further.

Goedert’s route-running is simply exceptional and he launches off the line with tremendous burst. Soft hands and an impressive pro-day round out a skillset that is only lacking blocking fundamentals. In fact, if Goedert was a capable blocker at the next level too, he’d be a bonafide top-10 pick.

What the Eagles are losing in Trey Burton, they’d be getting back in a slightly bigger prospect who can move just as fluently through the route tree and is arguably even more athletic.

 

Orlando Brown | OT | Oklahoma:
The 6’8, 345 lbs tackle with a stunning 85 1/8? wingspan was the first casualty of the NFL Combine, struggling in the benchpress by benching 225 just 14 times, the third lowest amount of reps in 20 years. Now, the bench press isn’t exactly the be-all, end-all of the NFL Combine, especially for offensive tackles. As for his play on the field, it’s easy to see how he’s so dominant. Taller than any other OL prospect in Indianapolis, Brown mauled defenders during his time as a Sooner and kept Baker Mayfield’s blindside relatively clean.

The Eagles are now a run-heavy team and a first-team AP All-American with this level of size of sheer power would be a huge asset. If his combine performance sees him slip down boards, you can bank on the Eagles at least considering taking a shot.

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Mike Hughes | CB | UCF
Mike Hughes truly baffles me as a prospect. On one hand, he’s one of the most aggressive press-corners in his class and plays with such great technique in such minimal experience that it’s hard not to say ‘wow’. On the other, there’s a player with plenty of growing room and a tendency to tip-toe around running backs and wideouts when it comes to tackles.

Let’s start with the positives. Hughes doesn’t just pack a punch at the line of scrimmage, but he actively aims to completely stop the route progressing. There were several occasions on screen-blocks where he mauled the receiver to the ground he was jamming that hard.

As the route develops, Hughes then begins to show signs of that large ceiling. He has great acceleration and is able to close over the top of routes with relative ease or more impressively, come soaring down over the top if playing in off-coverage or trying to hunt out a screen.

His weaknesses begin to show at the tail end of the route, especially deep down the field. Hughes tends to keep his back to the ball in key situations which is a common trait among more inexperienced corners…

… and given that Hughes has just one year of starting experience under his belt, it’s not exactly expected that he ends his time at UCF as a complete corner. However it is a big hole in his game and when matched up against bigger wideouts (standing at just 5’11), he can often get boxed out or can fall victim to pushing the receiver to the back of the endzone rather than adjusting his body for the catch.

Talking of adjustments, the way he opens his hips in transition is impressive. Hughes is smooth in his backpedal, although he stands a little too tall which can make it inviting for receivers to try and put a move on him.

Hughes plays with the grit you want in a cornerback and the scary part is with such limited experience, the sky really is the limit for him. He’d be suited to a zone scheme to begin with, or maybe a rotational role elsewhere so he’s able to find his feet and swim his way out of the deep end, refining his craft on the outside.

 

Who do you want the Eagles to draft in the first round?

 

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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