The Eagles best draft options at every defensive position

Diving into the defensive side of the ball, the Eagles have a number of positions they could address in the draft. At what time during the draft, and which position they will target first is anyone’s guess. So, why not spend a little time examining every position. From defensive tackle to safety, here are the prospects that fit best for the Eagles. In each case where I’ve highlighted a high-end player, I’ve tried to include a mid-to-late round option as well.

For the offensive side of the football, check out part one:

Defensive Tackle

McTelvin Agim | Arkansas

Defensive tackle is one of the few positions in which the Eagles have a ton of depth. There isn’t much need for the Birds to add a rookie early on in the draft. For that reason, it makes sense for Philadelphia to a later round option with some upside.

Agim began his college career as a defensive end before transitioning to the inside. Fittingly, he’s a bit undersized and will likely only be able to occupy the three-technique until he adds some NFL weight. However, this also means he can bump out to the 5-tech in short-yardage and obvious run situations. That versatility has been the calling card of Jim Schwartz’s defensive linemen for years and will give McTelvin a leg up on the competition.

Speaking of his skill set, he’s a bit of a cool case at defensive tackle. A lot of the same gifts that made him a talented defensive end make him an intriguing piece on the inside. He’s more athletic and explosive than typical tackles and a wider range of pass-rushing moves in his arsenal. He really excels as a gap shooter that stops the running back on the way to the QB — I know you’ve heard that before.

As a run stopper, there are some deficiencies. He doesn’t have the anchor to go toe-to-toe with NFL guards, nor does he have the strength to redirect them. His winning on rushing reps depends solely on his ability to shoot the gap and avoid getting locked on to the block. Besides a combination of Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Malik Jackson, it shouldn’t be a problem for Agim to get a one-on-one match up and capitalize on his speed and mobility.

The Eagles have three fourth-round picks, including two consecutive picks at the end of the round. Agim should be an option at any one of these picks, although athletic, undersized 3-techs with pass-rushing upside have been a popular pick as of late.

Defensive End

Early Option

K’Lavon Chaisson | Louisiana State

Physically, Chaisson is cater-made for the Eagles defensive scheme — long, athletic and a talented run defender — he just lacks the on-field production. His skill set meshes perfectly with the wide nine and Schwartz will love the fact that he’s a run stopper first. The first thing that jumps off the screen is his uber-quick first step. He also has the ability to set an edge using his long, powerful arms and has fantastic balance and body control to maintain his assignment through contact. As a run defender, he understands his role and remains disciplined. His effort levels are never in question and he will run until the play is done.

That being said, there are some things he has to work on at the professional level. He does have the length and flexibility to bend the edge from a wide-angle, but can get caught too far downfield and will have to develop a solid counter move. There are some tantalizing stunts where he ends up in the QBs face in the blink of an eye, but there are also some plays he gets lost in the shuffle. Off the line, he doesn’t have a full toolbag of tricks, especially with inside moves. He also had an ACL tear in 2018, which limited his time on-field, but it didn’t seem to hamper his ability when he returned. Realistically, all of these minor concerns are easily remedied with some time in the pros.

If the receiver they covet is gone by pick 21, the Eagles could very well look in Chaisson’s direction. Although, it is equally as plausible that he isn’t around by that time either. An early run on receivers would make his fall more likely.

Mid Round Option

Derrek Tuszka | North Dakota State

Contrary to Chaisson in many ways, Tuszka is a technically sound defensive end with a ton of production at the FCS level. He’s a bit undersized at 251 lbs, but don’t tell him that. He’s not afraid to tussle with the big boys. Technically, he’s as sound as most of the D1 prospects. He shows off some burst on tape and ran a 4.79 at the combine, but he didn’t have the benefit of playing against top tier tackles week in week out.

Now, Tuszka is not as fast as other young defensive ends on the roster and will have to answer some questions about level of competition, but he’s still got some get-off and despite being a smaller DE, seems to have a frame that could support more muscle. Tuszka also has a more control and polish to his game. Even from a quick look at the film you can immediately tell he has fantastic instincts and a motor that won’t quit. Overall, he’s a very fluid mover.

Length will be the biggest concern with the North Dakota State prospect, but the Eagles have Brandon Graham in house to tutor the young man in that regard. He should be available in the fourth or fifth round and with Carson Wentz’s ties to his alma mater I’m sure Howie Roseman has a direct line to NDSU. After adding a few young players with athletic upside, it makes sense that the Eagles search for an option that has some technical refinement to his game.

Outside Linebacker

There are a ton of outside linebackers that fit the Eagles scheme. More so than any drafts in recent memory, this year is primed for the Birds to add to their linebacking corps. So, if by chance there are any Eagles scouts reading along I wanted to include a substantial list of options to entice them to take at least one this year. It will be a long road back to a championship without some form of upgrade.

Early Option

Patrick Queen | Louisiana State

I’m convinced Queen was molded by the Jim Schwartz linebacker gods. Many scouts are starting to believe he is even a better prospect Kenneth Murray. I don’t think I’m there yet, but as a fit for the Birds, there aren’t any better.

One of the smoothest movers in the draft, Queen makes a lot of what makes a good linebacker look easy. In coverage, he has all the athleticism and wherewithal to stick with both tight ends and running backs. When tasked with covering a zone he clearly understands his assignment and has the lateral quickness and agility to tighten windows and affect the catch point.

Queen really shines against the run. He’s light on his feet, quick to diagnose and has the technique and strength to set the edge. He scrapes well and uses fantastic body control to slice through blocks and find the football. However, what is most impressive is his mental processing. His reaction time is instant and he won’t make too many mistakes when filling gaps. As a tackler, he is reliable although he doesn’t have the tackle radius of some of the longer options in the draft.

There are two big concerns for Queen’s transition to the NFL. The first is on-field production. For many teams, they are willing to take a chance and bet on the physical upside of a young player. The Eagles have not been one of those teams, especially when drafting linebackers. In Philadelphia, college production has been of premium value when considering prospects and that may affect Queen’s valuation. The other unanswered question about his game is consistency. When examining his film, he can tend to disappear. Whether it’s falling asleep a bit in his zone or getting lost in the wash when attacking the line of scrimmage, there are some negative plays that simply take away from his overall game.

That being said, there is a ton to like about Patrick Queen’s fit on the Eagles. The Birds have had a history of undervaluing the position, but if the top four receivers are gone by the time they select at 21, you can bet they’ll give Queen the once over. An electric linebacker would do wonders to take this defense to the next level.

Mid-Round Option

If the Eagles expectedly go wide receiver in the early goings, there will be plenty of linebacker options later on in the draft. Rounds three to four seem to be the sweet spot and the Birds happen to have 4 picks in that range. Two prospects that fit the bill also happen to be friends of PSN’s own Flippin’ the Birds.

Akeem Davis-Gaither | Appalachian State

Davis-Gaither is a quick-twitch athlete built like a strong safety that shows a lot of upside as a sub-package linebacker. Even at 6’2″, 219 lbs he isn’t afraid to stick his nose into contact. He uses length and speed to duck under and out-maneuver blockers to find his way to the football, although he can sometimes work too hard to find clean paths to the running back. His ability to contort his body to maximize his leverage is really special. I really like his patience when diagnosing runs, allowing the play to develop before shooting into the scum to make a tackle.

When coming downhill, he’s a forceful tackler and is dependable in space despite a limited tackle radius. Realistically, he doesn’t have the length to affect the play when engaged with blockers. Because of his size, when he is locked on, he can have difficulty shaking blocks from linemen if he can’t knife to the side of them.

Athletically, Davis-Gaither has all the tools to be a fantastic cover linebacker at the NFL level. He’s a natural mover with quick feet, smooth hips and effortless change of direction. However, the mental side of the game is up and down for Akeem. There are some really strong plays and some confusing ones. All in all, there are reasons to believe that he can improve in this regard, but he won’t come as pro-ready as some of the other backers available.

Most likely Davis-Gaither will cost a third round selection. For a starting linebacker that’s pretty solid value. The question is whether or not Howie considers it worth it to invest in the position at that point in the draft. There will be some less exciting options available on day three and that may be a more viable route.

Justin Strnad | Wake Forest

Strnad is a long, athletic linebacker that excels in zone coverage and is disruptive in throwing lanes. He was a two-year starter in college although his second season was cut short by injury. There is a noticeable jump between his film in 2018 and 2019, which is hopeful for his NFL trajectory.

That being said, there is limited film for that season, which will leave a question of consistency lingering in the air as Justin heads into the draft. What you do see on that film is a big leap in mental processing, patience and reaction time. His feet are active and he has the agility and short-area quickness to make quick breaks on the football. His length adds to this, allowing him to affect a wide range of plays, both in coverage and against the run. Coverage is where he really shines, able to translate his skill set to both zone and man. He seems to understand his responsibilities and diagnoses pass schemes relatively quickly.

The thing to remember about Strnad is range. His athleticism, hustle and football IQ lead him all over the field to make stops. He has fluid hips and can turn and run with any assignment. He is a very smooth athlete in space. Against the run, he is an effective slasher and diagnoses well. When allowed to get the jump on opposing linemen, he makes a ton of plays. However, he isn’t the strongest of athletes and if caught up in the shuffle, he can struggle to disengage. His motor is always running, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

Overall, Strnad is a great fit. Playing behind one of the best defensive lines in football would keep him untouched and allow him to capitalize on his burst and play recognition. Jim Schwartz will require him to drop into zones and man cover, both of which come naturally to Justin. He would likely cost a third or fourth-round pick to obtain and I think if the Eagles are to target a linebacker, that is the right time to do so.

Late Round Option

Davion Taylor | Colorado

Taylor’s name has been associated with the Eagles a ton over the last few weeks, which made me reconsider the viability of Philadelphia selecting him with a late-round pick. Mostly because in my heart of hearts I desperately hope Howie Roseman does more to address the linebacker position than just bringing in a late-round rookie. The truth is, there are a lot of flashes to like about Davion’s game, but there is a long way to go.

Taylor took a different route than most to the NFL, which is important to understand when diagnosing him as a player. He didn’t get much game experience before college due to religious beliefs preventing him from playing games on Fridays or Saturdays. He then spent two years at Junior College before Colorado took a chance on him.

Fittingly, Taylor’s biggest shortcomings are instincts and technique. Inexperience rears its head in almost every aspect of his game. However, he has been climbing up draft boards due to his athletic upside. He ran a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine, which definitely translates on the field. He’s got great size and length for an NFL prospect and is a very fluid athlete overall.

As of now, he offers little value in his rookie year outside of special teams. However, if he is able to learn quickly and capitalize on his athletic gifts, he could be one of the bigger steals in the draft. The Eagles have a pick each in the fifth and sixth round — a great place to take a chance on an enticing project like Taylor.

Inside Linebacker

Logan Wilson | Wyoming

Frankly, I don’t feel Philadelphia needs to spend a pick on an inside linebacker. T.J. Edwards looked the part in his time occupying the middle of the defense and he will need playing time to improve. However, competition is never a bad thing. If the Eagles do decide to add a middle linebacker, the safe assumption is that it will be a player in the mold of Edwards or former Eagle Jordan Hicks. That means a smart, cerebral player with the ability to diagnose the run quickly. Size and sheer athleticism are secondary.

That’s pretty much Logan Wilson to a T. That’s why it makes sense that I’ve heard murmurings that the Eagles are interested. He loves to play downhill and is very quick to diagnose and blow up run plays. He’s a solid tackler with textbook form and his length and tackle radius are above average. There’s no concern with his ability to shed blocks and if he’s allowed a free run at the runner, he makes no mistake. That being said, his adherence to stopping the run can make him vulnerable to play fakes, but those occasions are few and far in between.

In coverage, you wouldn’t want to task him with man covering quicker tight ends or running backs very often. He has all the instincts to be a factor in short zone coverage but doesn’t necessarily offer a sideline to sideline presence. For many teams, he’s still a three-down linebacker. However, for the Eagles, who love their two-backer looks on third down Wilson may have to come off the field early on in his career.

I don’t think there’s any question that he’s a day two talent, but with teams looking for more athletic backers with cover skills, his projections are all over the place. The Eagles may get lucky and find him in the fourth round, but would likely have to use their third to be sure.

Cornerback

After finally securing a CB1 for the near future, the Eagles will now have to turn their attention to the spot opposite Darius Slay. While as of now it is Avonte Maddox’s job to lose, he was brought in to play the slot and may have to return to that position if Nickell Robey-Coleman doesn’t stick around past this season. Or perhaps Howie Roseman’s eyes are on a future slot corner. Outside of Slay, the future of the cornerback position is still a relative question mark. It makes sense, therefore, to target a defender that could play both outside and in the slot.

Early Option

Jeff Gladney | Texas Christian

There are a lot of reasons to like Gladney’s fit in Jim Schwartz’s scheme. An athletic, physical, technically sound corner he excels in man coverage also has the long speed to match deep threat receivers. He’s got smooth feet when mirroring routes and shows patience in off man, which he did a lot of at TCU. He also had plenty of reps on the outside and in the slot. Physically, he is undersized, although he has a good frame for the position and his tenacity and edge generally mask any shortcomings.

Gladney isn’t the strongest of corners in the draft, but he uses his length and careful hand placement to jar receivers in press and at the top of their routes. That length also lends to him being disruptive at the catch point. He’s also clearly a very intelligent player and often anticipates and diagnoses plays before they are even run.

His ball production is so-so, and he has dropped some should-be interceptions. Also, he can be tightly hipped, both when turning in running and in change of direction. He can recover well enough so those plays usually just result in some extra cushion, not broken plays. Against bigger receivers, he doesn’t have the size to challenge them in the air as much as you’d like.

Even at his size, Gladney is a standout against the run. He’s feisty and takes on blocks without hesitation. Not really an imposing tackler, you can trust him to wrap up all the same. I really like him against screens. It’s almost as if he takes it upon himself to blow them up single-handedly. His angles are solid and he trusts his instincts. Everything you want in a corner in this regard.

There’s no denying Gladney would be a superb fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense. It will be interesting to see how the Eagles see their current cornerback situation heading into the draft. Most likely, Gladney will cost a second-rounder and that may be too rich for Howie.

Mid Round Option

Amik Robertson | Louisiana Tech

If the Eagles are to target a corner, it is more likely to be later in the draft. Robertson reminds me a lot of another mid-round corner on the roster: Avonte Maddox. Both undersized for the position, they carry huge chips on their shoulders and almost look to prove their doubters wrong with every hit. Robertson has the ability to play outside, but will likely have to transition to full-time slot due to his size (5’9″, 172 lbs). However, in a pinch, he does have the experience and the skill to play outside.

From watching the tape it is immediately evident that Robertson loves to compete. He fights on every play and can be found all over the field. He explodes into his strides, which when he reaches top speed are a blur. Change of direction, speed and turn and run ability are all fantastic. His feet seem to always be moving. In press coverage, he’s surprisingly effective. Like a bulldog, he gets up in your face and understands how to use his leverage and foot speed to outmatch even bigger receivers. Still, due to his size, he’s a better fit for off coverage.

That’s why the move into the slot is likely necessary. Try as he might, he’s simply not big enough to fight off blocks from bigger receivers; although he does enough in most cases to slow down the play. He’s also been moss’d more than once when matched up against jump ball specialists. I like him against the run — he’s more than willing and has good form — but there are obvious limitations due to his size.

The Eagles have shown when targeting defensive backs in the past that size is not a primary concern. That may open them up to getting fantastic value later in the draft with Robertson. Fourth round seems like the right window for him, which matches up perfectly with the picks the Birds have in hand.

Strong Safety

Kyle Dugger | Lenior – Rhyne

One of my favorite prospects in the draft, Dugger is simply a freakish athlete. Frankly, he could hold his own at multiple positions simply based on his otherworldly athleticism. It’s just not fair. Going into the 2020 draft, he’s labeled as that sort of new-age linebacker/safety hybrid — or as Philly fans know it, the Malcolm Jenkins (sigh) role. That role, in particular, would fit Dugger like a sweater fresh out of the dryer.

Regarding his skill set, he has a lot of the same knocks as many DII players — level of competition, a shade slow in diagnosing and some sloppy technique. That doesn’t stop him from making plays all over the football field, and I mean all over. He played all phases of special teams, including returning punts, which he did with incredible success (6 punt return TDs in 3 years). He even played some running back.

Because he was the best athlete on the field for most of his career, he has developed some lazy habits. He will take some plays off, he allows himself to see the play happen before reacting and he is susceptible to the occasional blunder. His first taste of NFL football will be an eye-opening experience.

Against the run, he’s at the football in the blink of an eye. At 6’1″, 217 lbs with that kind of speed, he can really lay a lick as well. Nevertheless, he needs to learn to trust his instinct a little more to truly capitalize on his ability. Athletically, he has the ability to cover any route from any receiver, but his technique can fail him. Overall, he fits much better as a box safety because of his electric breaks to the football and questionable discipline in deep zone. Still, there is no denying the talent.

Jalen Mills occupies the strong safety role for now and the Eagles brought in Will Parks to compete in a rotational role. However, both are on one-year contracts and the Birds need to start planning for the future. Dugger also is an immediate solution at the punt returner position, which has been in limbo for years. If he’s available in the second round (and he should be), the Eagles need to consider pulling the trigger.

Free Safety

Ashtyn Davis | California

Liam told me I wouldn’t be allowed to write draft articles anymore if I didn’t include Davis.

Jokes aside, the Cal prospect makes a lot of sense as a future option to overtake Rodney McLeod. Davis has a ton of athletic upside and has very few glaring holes in his game. He has an impressive gear when tasked with covering the back end of the defense and pairs quick-twitch change of direction with an overall football savvy. There’s also some versatility to his game, with some experience playing in the slot.

That being said, as the last line of defense, he’ll simply have to improve his tackling. Whether it’s bad angles, dropping his head into contact or just whiffing, there are too many misses to stir up undaunted confidence. Closer to the line, he becomes more dependable, but it’s clear he doesn’t love coming downhill in support. He also could improve his discipline as a single high safety. I think many scouts would tell you he’s a better fit in a cover 2 system, but I’ll defer to Liam on that one.

The Eagles won’t take two safeties at the top of the draft, so it can’t be Dugger and Davis. Both project as late second round, early third round players with the edge going to Dugger on overall athleticism and the added bonus of being a return man. However, if either starts to fall in the third round, pick up the phone Howie.

Mandatory Photo Credit: AP Photo/Butch Dill

Leave a Reply