Early signs point to the Eagles drafting a receiver in the first round

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 13 CFP National Championship – LSU v Clemson
NEW ORLEANS, LA – JANUARY 13: LSU Tigers wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) reacts during the second half of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the LSU Tigers and the Clemson Tigers on January 13, 2020 in New Orleans LA. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire)

Last season, this article would have written itself. Eagles GM Howie Roseman came forward and bluntly stated that the plan for the 2020 draft was to get faster. While the rookies performed to mixed reviews, Howie accomplished what he set out to do. He drafted the most athletic draft class in the league, rife with speed merchants and sideline-to-sideline defenders.

Whether the perceived discord between Doug Pederson and management was as prevalent as the media suggested or not; on paper, the 2020 draft fetched exactly what Pederson needed for his offense to succeed. In hindsight, Justin Jefferson might have been a better choice. However, the Eagles’ offense was lacking speed and YAC specialists and Roseman brought in three rookies to fill that void.

The same could be said for the defensive side of the football. Jim Schwartz‘s defense required quick-twitch linebackers with the ability to cover and fill gaps and Howie went out and got two. Again, their progression remains to be seen, but both rookies had their moments on special teams in 2020.

Regardless of the outcome, it seems as if Howie Roseman has been locked in on key words heading into his draft. In 2020, the goal was to get faster. In 2019, the Eagles drafted size, outside of Miles Sanders. 2018 was a year for versatility, and in 2017, Howie zeroed in on college production. The list goes on.

So what is the key for the new-look coaching staff?

In his first press conference, Nick Sirianni harped on intelligence. He made it clear that his team would be mentally prepared for each game and that his playbook — while simplified — would have many variations to confuse defenses. The obvious lesson from that is that the Eagles need smart players. Don’t expect Howie to target players for their sheer athletic ability, if they aren’t able to back it up with football IQ.

Both DeVonta Smith and Ja’Marr Chase are savvy route runners with clear knowledge of the game. At Alabama, Smith and Jaylen Waddle played in a pro-style offense with a lot of moving around which would translate well to Sirianni’s supposed scheme. As it stands, especially with a year off to study film and hone his craft, Chase may have a slight advantage, but it’s very close. Therefore, interviews will be incredibly important for both receivers.

The second notion to glean from Sirianni’s inferences is that he will need players that can move around the formation. If he plans on presenting opponents multiple looks, he will need players that can play multiple positions. Luckily enough, the Eagles have some of those in house. However, it’s unlikely that the team selects a receiver that is pigeon-holed in the slot, no matter talented he may be.

In this regard, Smith or Waddle might make more sense than Chase simply due to the scheme they played in. However, Chase’s ability to do all things well essentially makes him a positionless receiver. The Eagles will love his blocking ability. Also, if drafting for need, the Eagles have a player very similar to Waddle in Jalen Reagor. On top of that, it may mean the Birds are more likely to take a chance on a player like Kyle Pitts, who is tagged as a tight end, but can really play anywhere.

Fire the Gannons!

The defensive side of the football is harder to figure out. Jonathan Gannon has never been a defensive coordinator and it’s difficult to hypothesize what his defense will look like in 2020. We do know that his background is in the secondary, and an emphasis will likely be placed there as a result. With so much talent on the defensive line, it would make sense to maintain a relatively simple game plan up-front. However, the team may look to add more to their cupboards in the defensive end room, with BG getting older.

The Eagles have seven guaranteed selections, and should also receive a sixth-round compensatory. With the first pick likely being used on the offensive side of the football (see below), the Birds will have to find defensive talent deeper in the draft. The strength of the 2021 draft class is all over the place, but there should absolutely be some starting caliber secondary players available in the second round.

The X Factor

As always, Howie will need to pay some mind to his boss, Mr. Lurie. In his press conference following Doug Pederson’s firing, Lurie made a few concrete statements regarding the future of this team.

It seems as if Sirianni will have a few years to build his foundation. The goal for this franchise is no longer to win now but to get back to winning ways as a standard. That means emphasis will be placed on the midterm and long term — i.e. the best player available.

The Eagles have holes all over the field and reaching for a player at a position of need does not serve them in the long term. It may also mean they are willing to take a chance on some players with high upside, with a little less experience or pedigree than their peers.

In terms of which side of the ball the focus will go to, Lurie puts a heavy emphasis on offense.

“If you want to be a dominant team, you need to be a top offensive unit.”

In other words, you can expect the first-round pick to be spent on a receiver. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Eagles replenish their stocks along the offensive line later in the draft. They have had success developing young talent and retained OL Coach Jeff Stoutland.

Photo by Todd Kirkland/Icon Sportswire