One of the biggest stories this offseason involving the Eagles has been the situation regarding the future of Jacksonville Jaguars’ defensive end, Yannick Ngakoue. For weeks upon weeks, the Eagles and Ngakoue have been linked at the hip, with the latter even teasing Eagles fans by posting pictures of team legends and some of the city’s most notable music artists. While it would be incredible to see Yannick added to Philly’s already stacked to the brim defensive line, it’s far more complex than clicking fingers. But that doesn’t mean help isn’t on the way.
The Eagles have eight picks in this year’s draft and there’s a strong chance they will add to a positional group headed towards a transitional period. With all of this in mind, I decided to look at some targets that may interest Howie in the earlier rounds of the NFL Draft.
K’Lavon Chaisson, DE, LSU:
Chaisson has seen his draft stock fall a little bit from where it was a few months ago, but that’s through no fault of his own. Teams have since made trades and so the need for an EDGE, outside of Chase Young, has dropped. This is a phenomenal athlete who can play as both a defensive end in a 4-3 setup or an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. His explosiveness on his first step is seriously scary and that’s where he excels the most, he’s that quick that most tackles can’t deal with him from the snap.
His pass-rushing skills are still raw but they got better and better by the snap in 2019, and some of that rawness is due to the fact he missed the entire 2018 season, bar the opening game, due to a torn ACL. There’s no doubt in my mind that the potential is there. With a nose for the football when plugging gaps and an unrelenting motor, the 6’3, 254 lbs, DE fits the bill for the Eagles, but there’s a cherry on the cake we’re yet to mention.
The one thing that sets apart Chaisson from the rest of the class is the fact he has legit pass coverage skills and has successfully covered TE’s in the endzone and jammed guys up in the slot.
However, he’s projected to go in the teens right now, meaning the Eagles would have to move up in order to snatch him away from a team potentially licking their lips.
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
Gross-Matos is another first-round prospect who is well within reach at pick 21. His explosiveness is a massive asset and he covers ground extremely quickly, given his 6-foot-5 frame. His flexibility allows him to be an elite speed rusher and sets him up to pull off spin moves and twists to beat his assignment with ease.
Yetur doesn’t have the upside at a stand-up role like Chaisson, but he does have the skill to potentially add that to his arsenal down the line. The Penn State prospect’s football IQ majorly improved in 2019 and he showed no signs of lapsing at the line of scrimmage.
We all know the love and connection Penn State and Philly have for each other, and as I mentioned previously, Howie loves his linemen in the first round, so when you pair them up it’s almost too good to be true.
A.J. Epensa, DE, Iowa
The final first-round prospect on my list is Iowa prospect A.J Epensa. Some people had Epensa as a better prospect than Chase Young at the end of 2018. Internet scouts, huh Caplan?
A.J. is the polar opposite to Chaisson and Gross-Matos in the way that he doesn’t have elite explosiveness from the off, however, his hand technique and placement is absolutely insane. He doesn’t need the speed to beat tackles, he just bullies them with his punch and power counters. At 6-foot-6, he isn’t an EDGE who will stick to the outside when making his moves, he’ll cut inside and bully the tackle with his long arms and inside rip move.
Epensa is a bulldozing power rusher, but he’s just as good as a run defender as any in this class with how he bullies guys. A.J. crashes the pocket with ease and swallows the QB up like it’s his breakfast in the morning.
Many people think A.J. is a little overrated because he is mainly a one-dimensional guy, and while I see what they mean, he excels so much at his niche, he doesn’t need to be anything else.
A.J is another elite EDGE prospect that Howie can definitely make a case for, however, with reports that the team is looking to become more speed-based, it definitely hurts the chances of Epensa becoming an Eagles player.
Julian Okwara, DE, Notre Dame
Julian Okwara is another EDGE prospect that was cut from the ‘phenomenal athlete’ cloth. This kid’s explosiveness is scarily good. There are a lot of times in his tape where he fake steps and still manages to take the edge with ease. I think he will find it pretty easy taking the edge against the majority of NFL tackles from the first moment he takes the field.
His stock was hurt a lot as he missed a good portion of the 2019 season with Notre Dame due to a broken left fibula but with videos emerging the past few weeks of him training, he looks just as good as he was when he was out on the field. Okwara’s run-stuffing ability is out of this world. Power and plugging are struggles for him however, which hurt his run defense.
Julian’s hand placement and technique are pretty good for a guy who missed a lot of snaps in 2019, however, he needs to learn how to close his chest more as tackles seem to find it easier than most to get their hands on his pads and slow him down. One thing that many EDGE prospects don’t have that Julian does is his tackling ability. It’s outstanding and he constantly hunts the football rather than the man. Whenever he goes in for a tackle, he instantly starts ripping at the ball and trying to force turnover opportunities.
Another talent Julian has in his locker is his stand-up ability, he played a lot of snaps where he dropped back and covered routes such as flats and slant patterns and he was decently successful. He definitely has the potential to play a role from the stand-up position and he could be useful in 3 down situations here.
If Howie isn’t interested in taking an EDGE at 21, or even in the first for that matter, Okwara should definitely be up there on his list when it comes to the late 2nd round and lower. He’s an outstanding athlete who has numerous positives and the only two negatives are an injury in 2019 and just adding some more strength to his game.
Curtis Weaver, DE, Boise State
Curtis Weaver isn’t like most of the EDGE’s in this draft class. He has good speed and explosiveness but nothing to get too excited about, however, his hand placement and technique are scary good. His hands are constantly active, he’s always looking for a way to beat his man with sudden and precise placements. Weaver constantly resets his pads and attacks on the wrist and forearm to precisely beat his man and get to the ball carrier. Unlike the others I have mentioned in this article, Weaver is fantastic at closing his chest, making sure he’s the one with the first hit, which is a brilliant attribute to have.
Weaver stands at 6-foot-3 so his extension is hurt a little bit by this and can cost him occasionally in the run-stuffing game but overall, he’s a solid run defender who will wrap up his target and target the football just like Okwara. His motor constantly runs hot and he never shows any signs of fatigue late in the game, he’s tough and is constantly giving his all on every snap he plays.
Curtis would be a great addition for the Eagles and Howie should definitely have him up there with Okwara in terms of where he’s predicted to go.
Would any of us really be surprised if Howie and the Eagles took an EDGE prospect in the first few rounds, or even take one at 21? The answer should be no, it’s Howie. We all know how much he values both the offensive and defensive lines. I also can’t really understand why anyone would be too upset if he did take one in the higher rounds. Some are willing to give up a lot of high-value draft picks for Ngakoue but wouldn’t even give taking a high-end prospect in the draft, a single thought.
The third round, in my opinion, would be the best place for the Eagles to take an EDGE prospect, unless Chaisson falls to 21. Guys like Okwara and Weaver will be there and then you factor in the prospects I didn’t mention like Okwara’s Notre Dame teammate Khalid Kareem, Michigan prospect Joshua Uche, Florida prospect Jabari Zuniga, Tennessee’s Darrell Taylor and Florida’s Jonathan Greenard.
The main point I’ve tried to achieve with this piece is to show Philly fans that it’s not Ngakoue or bust if you want them to add an EDGE. The draft class this year is pretty damn good and there’s a lot of top guys who you can take and have them rotate in and out, whilst giving Barnett the chance to prove himself in his final contract year and the prospect gets to learn off an elite guy like Brandon Graham.
Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports