Deciphering the Eagles options on day 1 of the draft

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It’s the day of the 2018 NFL Draft and for fans and pundits alike, nobody seems to have a firm grip on what the Eagles plans are. Granted the Eagles are picking much later this year which adds to the confusion. The team hasn’t drafted this late in the 1st round since they drafted Mike Patterson 31st overall in 2005. The other aspect to consider is that Howie Roseman and Joe Douglas have done such a good job with this roster that there really aren’t any glaring holes. There really aren’t depth issues at any given position. Most of the positions on the Eagles roster have established depth or a young developmental player waiting in the wings.

The likely outcome is a trade down to secure more picks, but a trade not too deep into the 2nd round can still afford the Eagles the luxury of drafting one of their 1st round targets. So for all the draft fans out there, this year has been truly challenging to narrow down to, let’s say, a group of 5 possible candidates.  The range of possibilities is much wider this year which only heightens the intrigue.  Taking a look at the roster, and what is known of the prospects, let’s see if we can read the tea leaves a little bit and figure out what’s really going on.

Running back has been one of the most popular suggestions for the Eagles pick.  he team has been linked to prospects such as Derrius Guice, Sony Michel and Ronald Jones, all of whom should be drafted in range of the Eagles pick. The team did lose LeGarrette Blount and if they wish to continue with the 3 headed approach he will need to be replaced. The Eagles traded a 4th round pick just last season for the services of Jay Ajayi, a 24-year old running back coming off of a pro bowl season.  Undrafted gem and Super Bowl hero Corey Clement returns as well.  o why is running back being talked about so much as a need?

Well, as mentioned, Blount is gone. The other thing to consider is Ajayi being a free agent at years end. The team is not going to want to pay a RB a significant contract with Carson’s big extension looming. The team is definitely not going to give that extension to a RB with balky knees. The Eagles had him in the building for a good part of last year and may not have liked what they saw. The team spend a good amount of time in last years draft scouting the backs and were prepared to take one high, even being linked to Christian McCaffrey at 14 or potentially trading up in the 2nd for Dalvin Cook. The Eagles want to pair a young stud back with Carson to take some of the pressure off his shoulders and preferably one they don’t have to pay for a couple years.  The problem with running back is that you can find one that can be just as effective later in the draft.  That doesn’t mean they should pass on a stud if they get the chance early.  Running back is a very viable selection early with Derrius Guice being the probable target.

Wide receiver prospects D.J. Moore and Courtland Sutton have both had multiple meetings with the Eagles and are late 1st/early 2nd round prospects. I don’t know how much of an opportunity there is at receiver on this team though. The team likes Sutton a lot and if Alshon Jeffery were later in his contract I would say that replacing him might be an option but Jeffery just signed his deal so there is no need to look for a replacement just yet.  Mike Wallace however is in the last year of his deal.  Could the plan be to pair Sutton WITH Jeffery and put a basketball team on the field?  I’m not sure that’s the dynamic they are looking for.  Having the big possession receiver paired with the deep threat seems to be much more plausible. Drafting D.J. Moore on a first round salary with Jeffery under contract and Agholor due for a possible extension seems like overkill. Wallace already has potential replacements (Gibson, Hollins) on the roster so I wouldn’t think that a receiver is really a high priority.

The tight end position had some veteran losses in Trey Burton and Brent Celek which could necessitate a high draft pick at the position.  The Eagles did bring in a stable vet in Richard Rodgers and have promising Billy Brown in the pipeline. Two tight end sets are a big part of the Eagles offense but it’s mostly with a blocking tight end as opposed to 2 pass catchers. Trey Burton made a much more significant offensive impact on the team last year but it was Celek who played a bigger percentage of snaps (41% to Burton’s 26%) and that includes the game Burton started and took all off Ertz’s snaps. With that in mind, Rodgers figures to be here to push Brown for the pass catching role and the real hole to fill is the blocking tight end. The Eagles have met with some of the top TE pass catchers this year but are more likely to take one who blocks really well on day 3.

Building through the trenches has been a staple of this regime and a primary reason why they’ve been so successful. I know offensive line will always be in the conversation but I just don’t see it as a high priority this year. I don’t understand all the talk of tackle being a high priority need. Did the team not just win the Super Bowl with Halapoulivaati Vaitai at left tackle? When Peters retires I’m sure “Big V” could hold down the right side while Lane Moves over to the left. Vaitai looked more than capable throughout the season and into the playoffs when the competition was tougher and the stakes were higher. None of the tackle prospects at that point in the draft are all that appealing. There’s no need to reach for this position.

Interior line is more of a question  I guess the answers lies in whether the team believes in Isaac Seumalo or not. Seumalo was a massive flop last year. He was supposed to be a sure-fire part of the future here, whether at guard or center but that future is really in doubt as he was rag-dolled the first couple games of the season and put on the bench. As much as we love Kelce, he’s in his 30’s now and coming up on the back end of that contract. This is a great year for interior line prospects and the Eagles have had their eye on 2 in particular in James Daniels and Isaiah Wynn.  This might be a stronger possibility than people think.

Defensive line is another position you always have to keep an eye on with the Eagles.  he Eagles have not met with any of the top edge rushers this year and rightfully so.  A first or high 2nd round pick would be expected to at least be part of the rotation but with the depth chart the Eagles have, any pick is likely to be inactive on game day. This will be a need in the very near future however with both Bennett and Long possibly in their final seasons and Graham also turning 30. Expect a pass rusher later but we won’t see one drafted high this year.

Defensive tackle is a slightly higher possibility but not by much  Haloti Ngata is a nice stop-gap and he will get most of Beau Alllen’s departing snaps. If the team likes the progress or young players Destiny Vaeao and Elijah Qualls then there is no need to draft one high. Even with the high cap numbers of Cox and Jernigan, we shouldn’t expect them to be cap casualties any time soon. This position is only a possibility if the team loves someone like Taven Bryan or Maurice Hurst, both of whom could be available.

Bringing back Nigel Bradham was a huge boost to the linebacking corps. Mychal Kendricks is always on the verge of being shipped out and Jordan Hicks is always injured. Hicks’ injuries aren’t minor either. He’s had 2 very major injuries in 3 seasons and his future with the team is in serious jeopardy. The likelihood of linebacker being the pick depends on who’s available.  I wholeheartedly believe that if someone like Leighton Vander Esch or even Rashaan Evans were available they would be the pick.  The Eagles met both players multiple times and are said to be particularly high on Vander Esch. That being said I don’t believe either will be available when the Eagles pick at 32 and there are no other linebackers of note in that range. Based on that I would say linebacker is not the pick.

Of all the players that left this offseason, most have been replaced with some form of stop gap player, but the glaring hole that has yet to be filled is Patrick Robinson’s departure, making cornerback, specifically slot corner a very high need for the Eagles.  Robinson played 69% of the defensive snaps last year, the 5th highest amount on the team. None of the internal options the Eagles have are really a good fit. The most likely candidate would be Jalen Mills but like all of the other corners he’s better suited for the outside. In a case of available talent matching team need the Eagles are in a good spot here with slot corners Jaire Alexander, Mike Hughes, and Donte Jackson all in range of the Eagles pick. The thing about specifically targeting a slot corner is that there will be specialty players for that position later in the draft. This is definitely a position to keep an eye on.

Another player who’s departure has yet to be filled in Corey Graham. Graham played in nearly 35% of the snaps last year as the Eagles third safety. Jim Schwartz likes to go to the 3 safety look just to give the offense a different wrinkle to prepare for but after Graham and Jaylen Watkins left the Eagles don’t have the personnel to do it anymore. Not only is there a depth issue at safety but the starters are getting older and have significant contracts that will need to be replaced soon. This makes safety a very high priority.  A safety out there that would fill in perfectly for what the Eagles do is Stanford’s Justin Reid. The Eagles have prioritized safeties who can cover and that are interchangeable and that is Reid’s strength. He spent time all over the secondary but here’s the kicker, he spent a good portion of time lined up in the slot. He has the kind or versatility very reminiscent of Malcolm Jenkins and could fill both the 3rd safety role and the slot corner role for this defense. Outside of Reid, you would just have to take a day 3 project.

So think about all the departing players (Blount, Smith, Burton, Celek, Curry, Allen, Robinson, Graham, Watkins) and consider what positions have been filled ( Wallace, Rodgers, Bennett, Ngata) and you see there’s still holes at RB, Slot CB and S.  Also keep in mind that this team is probably drafting more for 2019 and 2020 and that talent has to match the need. Taking everything into account, and based on who the Eagles have heavily scouted over the last couple of months, here are the names Eagles fans should be looking out for late Thursday or early Friday…

Derrius Guice, RB LSU

Dallas Goedert, TE  South Dakota St.

James Daniels, C/G Iowa

Jaire Alexander, CB Louisville

Mike Hughes, CB Central Florida

Justin Reid, S Stanford

There’s so much up in the air but based on how Howie and Joe operate, expect one of these players to be the newest member of the Eagles.

The draft can’t get here soon enough!

 

Mandatory Credit: Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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