Nine defensive options for the Eagles at pick 21


It’s been all receivers all the time for a bulk of Eagles’ 2020 mock drafts and rightfully so. There has been endless discussion from Eagles’ staff, draft pundits and Philadelphia writers — myself included — of which receiver is the best option, which one best fits the scheme, which one is the best value. Then, Daniel Jeremiah, a man that has been both an Eagles’ staff member and is currently an NFL draft analysis dropped a delicious tidbit of information late this week.

DJ was fairly firm on the fact that Justin Jefferson would be the pick if he’s still available at 21. This is not a new sentiment, but Jeremiah’s words carry some real weight. He goes on to mention that a big move up is not likely, unless to leapfrog the Vikings, who may look to jump a few spots for a receiver. However, it is the last morsel of information that caught my attention: if the “top four” receivers (Lamb, Jeudy, Ruggs, Jefferson) are gone, expect the Eagles to go defense. A move that few expected is becoming more realistic as the draft nears. With the receiving talent available and the inevitable run on pass-catchers early in the draft, there is a real possibility the newest member of the Eagles is a defender.

That’s not all bad news. It means Philadelphia missed out on one of their top targets at receiver, but it also means they may secure a very talented defender that might not otherwise be available in other drafts. More so than most drafts, with all the chaos going on, it is likely that players are overlooked, undervalued and fall down draft boards. It’s also a possibility that teams are antsier to move up for “their guy” because they weren’t able to research every option to the same extent as previous drafts. Both of these possibilities bode well for the Eagles, who sit at a perfect position to snatch up any falling talent.

Up until now, draft coverage has focused on the future of the Eagles’ receiving corps. So, switching gears, who are these defenders that may slip through the cracks?

K’Lavon Chaisson | DE | Louisiana State

Defensive end is never out of the equation when the Eagles are on the clock. In 2020, a first-round defensive end actually makes a ton of sense. As talented as Philadelphia’s defensive line is, the defensive end position is a big question mark outside of Brandon Graham. The up-and-comers have a ton of promise but failed to turn that into on-field production last season. Adding a first-round prospect would do a lot to eschew concerns.

When the Eagles pick at 21, the first name on the list at defensive end is undoubtedly Chaisson. His first step leaves scorch marks on the field and he’s got the length to out-leverage tackles if allowed the jump. Picturing K’Lavon in a wide-9 is what keeps offensive tackles up at night. The man never stops working and plays with a major chip on his shoulder. If he doesn’t beat you one play, he’ll make sure to win the next one. There are some injury concerns after he tore his ACL in 2018, which, given his skill set is a big deal. He’s also a tad undersized but has room to add weight to his frame. This will show up in run defense as well.

The biggest difference between Chaisson and A.J. Epensa is experience and on-field production. In essence: bet on Epensa for his floor, but take a chance on Chaisson for his ceiling.

A.J. Epenesa | DE | Iowa

Epenesa is an absolute handful on the edge. He’s 6’6″, 280 lbs and plays like it. Facing a tackle in a phone booth, my money is on A.J. Although, despite being a physical monster, he does have some finesse and technique to his pass-rush and has enough in his toolbox to keep opposing linemen on their toes. There is no lack of effort in his game either. In fact, he was consistently one of the hardest working players on the field in college.

As a run defender, they don’t come much stouter. However, he will be limited by his athletic shortcomings. His bend, explosiveness, change of direction and closing speed are all average. As a pass-rusher, his potential bag of tricks isn’t as enticing as Chaisson’s, even if it is currently more refined. For the Eagles, Epenesa would be a safe pick ready to start tomorrow, something their other young prospects haven’t proven.

Kristian Fulton | CB | Texas Christian

Fulton is probably the most fluid corner, if not athlete, in the entire draft. He’s fantastic in man coverage but has the versatility and athletic profile to be a good match for any scheme. He has no major flaws, but he was a bit of a late bloomer in college. When compared to other corners, he’s a fairly safe bet, but may not fit what the Eagles want quite as well as some of his colleagues. However, in terms of athleticism and NFL readiness, Fulton has cemented himself in the conversation for the number two corner in the draft.

C.J. Henderson | CB | Florida

Henderson’s name has been climbing up draft boards and there’s a very real chance he will be unavailable at pick 21. Regardless, I thought it important to include him in the event that he does fall on draft day. I wasn’t very high on Henderson’s fit for the Eagles when scouting corners and not much has changed since. There’s no denying the talent, particularly in man coverage, and Henderson is one of the best pure athletes at the position. Nevertheless, his deficiencies in run support and physical profile simply do not fit what the Eagles have favored at the position. I wouldn’t be entirely disappointed with the pick — he’d be good value at 21 — just puzzled.

Jeff Gladney | CB | Texas Christian

Fit-wise, there won’t be many better for the Eagles. Gladney has the long speed to drop into cover 3, the athleticism for off man and the physicality and willingness to be a factor in run support. The biggest question mark is his size. However, at 5’10”, 191 lbs, he’s right in the wheelhouse of the other corners on the Philadelphia roster. The Eagles may be able to capitalize on other teams wanting long, rangy corners and scoop up a very talented playmaker in Gladney.

* Regarding corners: there are plenty of options for the Eagles that may not be one of these three players. I could write a whole article, another article (see below) on just cornerback options at 21. However, these are the three guys most scouts have with first-round valuations. Other names to be on the lookout for are Auburn’s Noah Igbinoghene and Ohio State’s Damon Arnette.

Kenneth Murray | LB | Oklahoma

With how little the Eagles seem to value the linebacker position, in stark contrast to other teams in the league, it’s very likely Murray is off the board by the time the Birds are on the clock. Even if he is available, it seems improbable Philadelphia finally grabs a first-round backer. That won’t stop me from pounding the table.

Murray is a tackle machine and many people’s top linebacker in the draft (aside from the position-less Isaiah Simmonds). He doesn’t have the versatility the Eagles covet and would have to play MLB — a role which is seemingly filled by last year’s rookie standout T.J. Edwards. For that reason, among others, I think LSU’s Patrick Queen is a better fit.

Patrick Queen | LB | Louisiana State

If it were up to me, Patrick Queen would be the pick at 21 nine times out of ten. As much as the Eagles need a receiver, there should be plenty of options available on day two, and the cupboards are not fully devoid of talent. I would argue that Philadelphia would benefit from adding premier player at linebacker more than any other position. If the stars align, then Queen is the best fit, hands down.

He played inside at LSU but has the sideline to sideline speed to make plays regardless of where he lines up. The transition to WILL seems like it would be fairly seamless. Explosiveness, speed and a lighting quick play recognition ensure he is consistently the first man to the football, and he’s a sure tackler when he arrives. A rarity at the position, coverage is actually one of his best attributes due to his incredible athleticism and uncanny football IQ. When the Eagles go to their dime package with two linebackers, the combo of Edwards and Queen would make for a deadly duo. The negatives? He’s a bit small.

Grant Delpit | S | Louisiana State

After all the spending (although the Eagles got everyone on a budget) at the safety position, it seems unlikely the Birds double — triple? — dip in the draft. Spending a first-round pick on a safety that may very well come off the bench in his rookie season doesn’t seem like a very Howie Roseman move. However, the Birds have always subscribed to getting the best player available regardless of position and the future at safety is still widely up in the air.

Both safeties featured here have the versatility to play the Malcolm Jenkins (sigh) role for the Birds. Delpit had some significant struggles as a tackler, which improved as his college career went on. That is a talent you simply need to have as a box safety in the NFL. If teams can overlook that flaw, there is a ton to like about Delpit. He’s rangy, aggressive, smart, and his all-around effort is tangible on tape. It’s also important to note that he was the leader and safety valve of a very talented LSU defense that could feature multiple first-rounders.

Xavier McKinney | S | Alabama

The Alabama alum’s skill set is very similar to that of Grant Delpit. McKinney’s toolbox sacrifices some athleticism for tackling prowess and physicality. He’s not only a sure tackler, but a physical one that loves to lay a hit. However, tied in with the drop in physical acumen is a slight drop off in coverage skills and ability to man the deep thirds. Put simply, McKinney is better in the box and Delpit is better as a roaming free safety. It all depends which the Eagles feel they are more in need of. That being said, McKinney and Delpit are absolutely capable of doing both and are both very solid fits for Jim Schwartz’s scheme.

Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports